Sashiko Inspired Embroidered Pillow

Sashiko is a Japanese hand-stitching technique that translates to mean “little stabs” and is an age old way to reinforce worn fabric with decorative stitching. It’s another ancient tradition that’s showing up in maker’s circles as part of the slow fashion movement. Patterns can vary from densely stitched waves, repeating diamonds, and linked squares to simple parallel lines made of running stitches. While I am intrigued by the more intricate designs, I thought I’d start with something simple and turned some leftover denim into a Sashiko-style bolster pillow. The project was pretty easy and you don’t have to be really great at embroidery for this to look good, thanks to the magic of tailor’s chalk!

For this project, I upcycled a pair of wide leg jeans that I had cut off to wear as summer shorts, but the excess denim was so wide and the denim was such good quality, I knew I might be able to use them in the future. Hoarding gone right? Hmmm … maybe that’s still pushing it. I didn’t have a thimble on hand, but it does help to use one when you’re working with such tiny stitches.

-sturdy denim or dyed cotton canvas measuring 24″ x 24″. Avoid using stretch denim.
-12″ embroidery hoop
-cotton embroidery thread
-embroidery needle
-Poly-Fil or similar stuffing
-cutting mat
-acrylic ruler
-rotary cutter
-tailor’s chalk
-sewing machine

Use your rotary cutter, acrylic ruler, and cutting mat to cut your denim so that you have two pieces that measure about 12″ x 24″.Set one rectangle aside and then find the center of the other rectangle. Mark it with your tailor’s chalk. Then measure 5″ above and 5″ below and draw a straight line with your chalk. Find that center mark again and measure out 7″ to the left and 7″ to the right. Mark a straight line with your chalk. Then connect the points with four more lines to create a diamond shape as shown.

Measure about 1/2″ from your center vertical line and draw another vertical line. Continue measuring and drawing on either side about 1/2″ apart. This will all get washed off at a later step, but makes it so much easier to stitch straight lines. Then put your fabric in your embroidery hoop so that it’s mostly centered. If you’re using a smaller hoop, you can just adjust it as you go.

The rest is simple. Start with a 3′ length of thread with a large knot at the end. Thread your needle so that you have a 6″ tail and start from the back of the hoop. Stitch 4-5 short lines that are as close together as you can manage. It helps to stitch these all at the same time before pulling your thread through for the most consistently straight lines.

Follow your vertical lines and then stitch your horizontal lines so that they cross over your vertical lines. I didn’t stitch along my perimeter because I wanted the crosses to create the diamond shape themselves.

This is what mine looked like when I finished. I added more thread as I ran out, always tying a double knot at the beginning and end of each length and starting from the back side. Remove your hoop and adjust your denim if you need to.

To get rid of the chalk lines, run your fabric under running water and let it air dry.

Place your two sides of fabric together with the right sides facing each other and pin around the edges every 4″ or so. Use your sewing machine and stitch almost all of the way around the perimeter of your pinned fabric except for a space of 5″. Back stitch at the start and end of this space. Remove your pins after stitching the two pieces together and use the 5″ opening to turn your fabric right side out. Fill with stuffing and then hand-stitch your opening closed using a blind stitch.

Fluff your new pillow and enjoy your new handiwork!

Interested in learning more about Sashiko? Check out @katrinarodabaugh‘s work or The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook by Susan Briscoe. –Rachel

Credits//Author: Rachel Denbow. Photography: Rachel and Elise Abigail. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

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