Sashiko is a traditional Japanese embroidery style which dates back to the Edo period (1615 – 1868). It was mostly used by the working class farming and fishing families as to make stronger more practical workwear. A worn-out piece was stitched with layers of old cloth, producing a sturdy garment passed down through generations.

At that time, cloth was a precious commodity, and home spinning fabric was a time-intensive task. Natural fibers like cotton, silk and hemp were handspun, handwoven, and dyed. Silk and cotton were reserved for a specific section of society and were expensive; hemp was what the ordinary man wore, which was more prone to tearing. Given the circumstances mending prowess was a skill needed to survive, which has evolved over the centuries from a frugal necessity into decorative stitching.

 

By the Meiji Era (1868-1912), this folk textile was a well-established craft. Even personal protective garments, such as the firemen's coat (hikeshibaten) during the Edo and Meiji period, were modelled using the Sashiko technique of stitching several indigo-colored layers. This garment was worn wet after soaking in water before performing duties, and typically dragons, mythological heroes, and symbols of water and bravery decorated the uniforms. The generic style of sashiko embroidery follows a geometric pattern divided into five main kinds. Moyozashi uses running stitches to create linear designs, while in  hitomezashi, the structures emerge from the alignment of many single stitches made on a grid. Kogin, which means small cloth, is a type of darned embroidery from the Tsugaru district of Honshu. Shonai sashiko, which comes from the Shonai region of Yamagata prefecture, has straight lines that cross each other. And if the art uses indigo-dyed threads, it is called kakurezashi.

 

One indispensable aspect of any evolving handicraft is its potential, in which sashiko is particularly rich. Sashiko is today used in any number of products from clothing, bags, accessories like sunglasses, jewelry, and shoes to home linen, like cushions, rugs, blankets, bedspreads, and wall art.

 

Sashiko and Boro are both intertwined in history but not interchangeable. Sashiko refers to the style of embroidery, whereas the word Boro meaning rags or tattered cloth and indicates the textiles used rather than how they are put together. These techniques were born sometime in the Edo period (1615-1868) and often used white-on-indigo threadwork to repair and repurpose a fabric.

 

Boro can be best defined as the mindful Japanese art of mending textiles, while Sashiko is a form of sustainable embroidery to strengthen the fabric. Boro textiles are restored by overlapping and stitching spare or discharged scraps of fabric together, essentially using a sashiko stitch, to reinforce the material.

 

Boro fabrics were typically indigo-dyed as it was the cheapest natural dye available, and a remarkable number of boro pieces also showcase kasuri dye work, a form of ikat dyeing. The thread used for making boro is the same as sashiko, primarily because boro mending deals with old vintage fabrics. The tightly spun yarn of standard line thread would tear the antique instead of unifying the garment. A valued vintage piece of sashiko often incorporates some Boro patches without appearing to be a patchwork, blending as a part of the garment.

 

Following the golden Meiji period, when the standard of life began to improve and money reached the lower classes, boro garments were discarded by families as visible sign of poverty. Today's visible mending is a modern form of boro that has become a movement challenging us to rethink how we consume clothing in the era of convenience.

 

Today boro has regained popularity blending in with the wabi-sabi Japanese aesthetic. On a global platform, Boro reproductions have been made by retail lines to spruce up a garment, and at a grass-root level, it's practised as a craft. A legacy of 1500 antique items of Boro are at a permanent exhibition at Amuse Museum in Asakusa, Tokyo, and the government for preservation has designated a few choicest pieces as Tangible Cultural property.

 

Over the years, sashiko's resurgence has seen even fashion veterans like Issey Miyake use sashiko in his collections, and it has appeared on the runway for Maison Margiela. If fashion is a barometer of the culture in which it’s born then truly Japanese sashiko embroidery is one traditional craft skill that is on the up.