I went to a wonderful exhibition of textiles at York Art Gallery yesterday. Sashiko means "small stitches" and refers to clothing made from multiple layers of cloth held together with lines of running stitches. It was the traditional clothing worn by the poorest working people of Japan until the Second World War - and later in some areas. The clothing was mainly workwear, so very functional, but the sashiko stitching is very decorative as well as functional. Some of the garments have simple parallel lines of white stitching on indigo fabric, others have intricate patterns made purely by masses of tiny stitches. Because cloth was expensive, when parts of the garments wore out, they were patched with new fabric and more stitching. The shapes of the garments are very simple - just rectangles of cloth assembled into a T-shaped coat. The exhibition has garments that were worn for work for years and mended many times, others in their original state - they are all beautiful.
The exhibition has some examples of how sashiko has influenced present-day artists. There are garments made in a Western style, but with a form of sashiko stitching. The stitching is crude in comparison with the traditional garments and I didn't find the results very appealing. An interesting approach to using sashiko ideas is some fabric made by the Nuno Corporation, which has two layers of different coloured cloth, with an overall pattern of (machine) stitching holding the two layers together - I think that would be an exciting fabric to work with.
The exhibition closes on Friday (24th January) although it then moves on to Glasgow (27 February - 11 April) and Plymouth (31 July - 26 September). A couple of illustrated publications about the exhibition (pdf) are available - well worth looking at. And I recommend a visit to the exhibition if you can get to any of the venues.