Sashiko is a Japanese term meaning “little stabs”. It’s a running stitch used in embroidery or quilting, a running stitch, useful for structural work: repairing and strengthening clothing and other textiles. I’ve been making quilts over the past year in which I use a running stitch and heavy cotton thread, almost string really, and I love to see the results. I love to feel the results, a very satisfying texture as my needle binds three layers together — the top of the quilt (often a heavy linen I’ve dyed with indigo), the batting (and I mostly use organic cotton for this), and the backing. For the first little bit, my fingers get sore. Over the summer, for example, they are used to weeding, turning taps, hanging laundry out. The needles are often reluctant to pass through the layers easily, though I’ve discovered that there are actually special needles for sashiko, polished steel with fine grooves running their length. I’m going to order some. In the meantime I have some sturdy chenille needles. They’re sharp, with big eyes to hold the heavy thread.
The photograph above is a corner of the quilt I made for my grandson Arthur’s 3rd birthday in October. He was visiting with his parents and brother from Ottawa and so I snuck into his room and put the quilt on his bed while he was having breakfast. When he went into his room, he saw what I’d made him: a single-cloth bedcover with a loose spiral of salmon taking up 2/3s of the top and then 3 constellations outlined in shell buttons across the top 1/3. I used deep blue cotton for the body of the quilt and saffron yellow to border it. With John’s help, I chose constellations visible in our western sky on the night of Arthur’s birth: Cassiopeia, Orion, and Cygnus. Stars and salmon: constants here in our wild corner of the earth. We sent Arthur binoculars for Christmas and he told me on the phone that he’d seen Cassiopeia on Christmas night. We saw Orion on December 29th, on our way home from a party, and it reminded me that we took Arthur on a starry walk, as John once took our children, just before bedtime on the last night of his visit. Orion was stretched out across the sky, the 3 stars of his belt as clear as anything, and Cygnus was flying the Milky Way. I love to think of him sleeping under the quilt that remembers the fish in a nearby creek and the stars that help to guide them home.
A little stab is a good thing to think of this time of year when the months wait to unfold in front of me, the baskets of fabric wait for their moment, and the needles with their generous eyes are willing to carry thread in and out to strengthen the structure.