Stitched Up: Visible mend on denim, inspired by the beautiful art of Sashiko

Lots of our workshops encourage exploration of the creative ways you can reinforce and mend your clothes. Darning, patching, and embroidery are beautiful tecniques that lend themselves very well to visible mending and upcycling. In our upcoming Re-do your Denim workshop at Manchester Art Gallery, we’ll be sharing a variety of hand stitch and patching techniques that you can use to repair and create a totally unique pair of jeans.

One technique we love to talk about is Sashiko, which has a rich history in Japanese folk art. We wanted to talk a bit about the history of this craft, and show some stunning examples of it here.

Sashiko translates to ‘little stabs’, referring to the little regular stitches made on the fabric.

Originating from Japan in the Edo period, Sashiko was developed out of a necessity for women to make the most of small pieces of fabric. As is often the case with folk arts and women created crafts, the exact timing and knowledge of the original inventor has been lost – the Edo period stretches from 1603- 1867. This was typically done on indigo dyed hemp, because it was cheap and abundant, and using affordable undyed white thread, they would reinforce clothes with patches by sewing regular lines and patterns, to create a warmer and stronger cloth, with a distinctive look.

Late 19th Century coat made by sewing two layers of indigo dyed cotton together using sashiko. From the V&A collections

Sashiko Kimono, 19th century Japan, Meiji period (1868–1912) Indigo-dyed plain-weave cotton, quilted and embroidered with white cotton thread; Overall: 51 1/8 x 49 1/2 in. (129.9 x 125.7 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Seymour Fund, 1967 (67.172.1)

Sashiko can be made with simple lines of running stitches, but many pieces since its creation have been more decorative.

Typically the designs are geometric and repeating, which ties together the disparate scraps into a unified fabric. 

Detail of a mid-19th century kimono decorated using sashiko, with white cotton threads on an indigo-dyed plain weave background (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

You can see some Sashiko patterns and the meanings behind their names here.


Boro, a related craft, is the act of reworking or repairing textiles through piecing, patching or stitching with a technique such as Sashiko.

Boro shikimono, or child’s sleeping mat, from the 1800s

The distinctive white stitches on indigo fabric of traditional Japanese Sashiko have become celebrated across the world by textile artists, sewists and menders.

Alongside this new popularity, the practice of Sashiko has been the subject of debates about cultural appropriation in recent years, specifically regarding whether non Japanese people can even partake in it.

Cultural appropriation, a careless or inappropriate adoption of styles or art forms from another’s culture or history, is a larger problem when members of a dominant culture take cultural touchstones from a minority culture, due to the uneven power dynamic.

It’s really important to honour the history and purpose behind Sashiko to respectfully enjoy the craft. Using it in the way it was intended, to mend and reinforce fabric, helps keep Sashiko alive for new audiences to enjoy.

We really benefited from this video by Upcycle Stitches, and their accompanying blog post, where they talk about how a thoughtful understanding of Sashiko is crucial to going forward and trying it yourself. They also have some great tips for getting started with Sashiko yourself.

We hope this has inspired you to think about repair and the conservation of textiles in a different way. If you decide to give Sashiko stitching a go, let us know! We’d love to see what you create.

Our Re-do Your Denim workshop is on Saturday 18th March and tickets are available here

Stitched Up: Visible mending on denim using embroidery stitching and patching reinforced by Sashiko stitching