I’ll be Needing Stitches – Part I

The Rise of the DIY Army

Over the past few years, upcycled and DIY fashion has picked up steam globally, alongside the culture of thrifting. As people, especially the newly empowered gen Z, take it upon themselves to pimp out their clothes, we are exposed to lesser-known ways of manipulating fabric and new expressions in the way we dress.

Equipped with some degree of craft skill and access to YouTube tutorials, a new movement was born and it is unlikely to go away any time soon as sustainability becomes an important aspect of our lives.

Visible Mending

With an increased focus on sustainability, more and more people are now looking to repair their clothes instead of throwing them away immediately. And while they’re at it, they might add embellishments to add character to these pieces which already hold history and meaning.

Enter visible mending.

Visible mending involves repairing clothing in a way that makes the mending process obvious, instead of hiding it. From using coloured threads to provide some extra colour and attitude, to patchworking with contrasting patches of a different colour or pattern, the possibilities are endless.

Sashiko embroidery is particularly well-suited to visible mending because of its simple yet bold designs that not only embellish the original fabric, but also reinforces and repairs.

A patch over a hole in a pair of shorts. A little odd at first, but with more mends over time, the patches will grow on you.

Close-up of beige patch held together by hemming stitches.

Sashiko?

Sashiko, 刺し子 is a traditional Japanese embroidery technique that literally means “little stabs” in Japanese, and refers to the small, even stitches that make up the distinctive geometric patterns characteristic of the technique.

Traditionally, sashiko was done by stitching white thread on indigo fabric. However, modern interpretations and retelling of the craft have introduced a whole range of colours.

Modern artists like Junale (@Junale) utilising multi coloured threads and unorthodox materials such as nylon to stitch. Photos courtesy of Junale.

Sashiko stitches are typically small and even, and are used to create a variety of raised geometric patterns, from running lines that form stripes to waves.

Virtues of Sashiko

Using sashiko embroidery for visible mending involves stitching over visible tears, holes, or frayed edges with a contrasting thread colour. This not only adds a decorative element to the clothing. The fabric and clothing now becomes a unique piece of wearable art, one that is personalised and one-of-a-kind as each repair is different.

Aside from its decorative function, sashiko was originally used as a form of functional mending for worn and damaged clothing. The technique was used to reinforce the fabric and make it stronger and more durable as the added stitches now serve as new anchors in the fabric – any new tears or rips will now have to contend with an intricate network on patterns before the fabric unravels completely.

Patches on a pair of Oniarai 鬼洗い denim jeans from Singapore-based thrift shop, HONSIEPONSIE (@honsieponsie)

Sashiko stitching helps to extend the life of clothing, reducing the need for new purchases and promoting a more sustainable approach to fashion.

Moreover, the meditative practice of sashiko from the repetitive stitching and the focus required helps soothe the mind and centers the stitcher in the present. While stitching, you have to pay attention to ensure each stitch is even and consistent – you are forced to part ways with any distractions from past or future thoughts. Furthermore, sashiko also helps foster the relationship between you and the sewing materials.

Takeaway

Traditional sashiko, as beautiful and intricate as they look, can be intimidating and daunting to newcomers but don’t feel bad if you can’t create complex patterns (yet). One tip is to mark out the grids with chalk on the fabric if you do not have transfer paper.

Also, you’ll start to notice that the stitches you create become two artworks altogether – one seen from the outside (as it is meant to be) and another on the inside, which usually leaves a pattern that is different from the front-facing one),

Keep practising and experimenting! You’re still carrying on the spirit of sashiko if you use sashiko-inspired designs and techniques to mend and make your own mark! Have fun while you’re at it!

– The Kind Oddball, 優しく個性的な人

Above Left: Organic shapes with patchwork and sashiko surrounding the ‘cell’ almost like a wall. Above Right: The same pattern on the inside of the jeans.

Combine patterns with other stitches like blanket stitches or hemming stitches. Try using different coloured threads too!

The beauty of stitching patterns – the one on the outside is different from the one on the reverse side.

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