Sashiko: Repair and revive your denim with this technique
Sashiko is a style of stitching originating from Japan that is both decorative and practical. It was originally used as a way of reinforcing points of wear on clothes to make them both warmer and more durable.
Requiring only the simplest of sewing materials, it's easy to get started with repairing and mending your denim with Sashiko.
We spoke to expert sewer and passionate upcycler Barley Massey, to learn her top tips on getting started with sashiko at home.
Hi Barley, can you tell us more about sashiko? What is the difference between sashiko and boro?
Sashiko is a form of Japanese embroidery translating as “little stabs” or “little piece” as it relates to the action of working a needle and thread in rows of running stitches to repair an item of clothing or cloth to create decorative reinforcement. The term “boro” derives from Japanese “boroboro” meaning something tattered or repaired.
Where, when and why did it originate?
It started out of practical need during the Edo era (1615-1868), a time of great poverty and also scarcity of textiles, the techniques prolonged the life of clothes and bedding. Our British wartime “Make do and Mend” followed a similar ethos.
What is sashiko used for?
Traditionally the techniques were used to reinforce points of wear or to repair worn places or tears with patches, making the darned piece ultimately stronger and warmer.
How do you do it, and what materials does it use?
Traditionally, white cotton thread was used on natural indigo dyed handwoven cotton, linen or hemp cloth. It is said the white stitches recall snow falling around old farmhouses and gives sashiko its distinctive appearance, though decorative items sometimes use red thread.
Why does sashiko remain popular? And how is it evolving?
Sashiko is a very portable and accessible craft as you only need a needle and thread and some cloth. The craft has developed into creating seemingly complex designs from the running stitches, but once broken down into linear parts becomes a very mindful or meditative practice.
How can Sashiko be used to upcycle or revive old clothes or homewares?
The craft is currently receiving a resurgence of interest as a positive response to our current culture of disposability and fast fashion. The rise of 'visible menders' are turning repair, reuse and upcycling into a form of activism or a desirable fashion statement.
On a practical level, sashiko & boro are an ideal way to repair and transform our denims especially. Many of us have experienced our favourite jeans wearing out in certain areas while the rest of the item is still in good condition.
Is it easy to do at home?
Definitely! Even in your lunch break during work or whilst travelling.
What's the best way to get started?
There is much inspiration online from historical Japanese pieces – stunning repaired kimonos and quilts with layers of small indigo dyed patches in different shades of blue to current catwalk trends incorporating sashiko and boro to modern day menders show off their “clothing scars” on Instagram.
Pick up a needle and thread and have a go!