Denim Inspiration: Sashiko Stitch

After our recent trip to Japan, we wanted to share some of our inspiration from a progressive trend we have seen emerging within the denim market. While in Okayama, we were introduced to a traditional Japanese stitch technique, called sashiko, which we saw emerging at Denim by P.V. last season and touched on in our Denim Outlook: Construction report.

Associated with traditional Judo fabrications, the sashiko stitch (meaning “little stabs”) originated in rural Japan in the 18th century where wives of farmers, fishermen and lumberjacks made work garments for the men. This running stitch technique was traditionally designed for reinforcing and repairing damaged fabrics but later became used for decorative purposes in quilting and embroidery. In Japan, sashiko is most commonly seen on indigo-dyed cotton fabric with a white cotton thread giving it its distinctive appearance.

Although the market has been overrun by patch-and-repair work for the past few seasons, the trend for indigo-on-indigo and homespun stitch techniques has offered further scope to for new handcrafted looks. Leading brands like Tokyo’s Kapital and Sasquatchfabrix have been breaking away from structured design philosophies and exploring these naive stitch-works, using layered indigo patches and artful styling to create well crafted and timeless pieces.


The stitch can be identified through naive stitch-work in contrast threads, creating an artisanal look. As the clothes were made from homespun materials, people developed ways to recycle fabric and extend the life of their clothes. Once the Sunday best kimono showed signs of wear, it was worn as every day dress, later used as a sleeping gown or shortened to make a jacket. Contrast patches in tonal indigos would be hand-stitched or machine-stitched effects, creating the graphic appeal. The use of different stitches and thread colors give it a more messy appearance and a “rough” machine-stitched feel.


By the 18th and 19th centuries, cotton fabric, softer and easier to sew, became accessible to peasants, and so sashiko quilting began to be used for decorative purposes – wall hangings, table centers, bags – and was no longer exclusively utilitarian. Patterns were adopted from traditional Japanese patterns and motifs like pampas grass, hemp leaf, lighting and ocean waves. A distinctive element in all sashiko patterns is the use of space; Japanese designs especially make full use of blank or “negative” space as an integral part of the overall pattern.

For more information on Sashiko, take a look at this Quilt.com article, or for more inspiration you can explore Bandana Almanac, a great photography and fabric blog from Osaka, Japan.

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