I am excited (and nervous) to announce the first piece of a personal project I will be working on over 2017. It is the first of 12 in a series I’m calling “Body Text” that explores our complicated relationship to our clothing. Follow along on my instagram and/or tumblr blog, hope you all enjoy!
The topic of my first piece is sashiko stitching. I felt that this was a perfect topic to kick off my project with, as there is not only a lot to work with visually, but the idea behind it resonates with me personally as well.
Sashiko was originally used by Japanese peasants to reinforce and winterize their clothing. The small running stitches would reinforce stress points, and repair worn places or tears. Seamwork.com has a good short history on it. It originated in the rural north of Japan, where it was too cold to grow cotton. Industrialized fabric production didn’t reach Japan until the 1870’s, and even then, it was very expensive. Therefore, cloth was mostly made by hand, and represented a huge amount of labor. Not wanting to waste any scraps, sashiko stitching enabled old fabric to be pieced together, and greatly extended the life of the cloth. It became a decorative thing as well as a functional one, with it’s own technique and designs.
Conceptually, what I like about sashiko is the idea of embracing the flawed or imperfect. Patches and wear are not hidden, but made their own thing, more beautiful. I think this is a good metaphor for how to live life- acceptance of change and fate as aspects of human life. It’s interesting to me because clothes are often worn as a shield, or a mask- they project an image of how we would like to be seen. And this is often a good thing- you don’t wear the same thing to a job interview as you would wear around the house, because you want your potential boss to know that you will take the job seriously and be professional. If you go to a party, it helps make an exciting atmosphere if the guests dress in special outfits. However, I think that this idea can be taken too far; with clothing so cheap, it can become a substitute for real interests and personality.
I am trying to now repair my clothing rather than buy new, and embrace the wear. I think it is important to let the mask down a little, and hopefully by appearing a more vulnerable, let others know that it’s ok to as well.
The words on the back are based off of the idea that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.
Sashiko was originally done in white thread on indigo fabric, and is geometric, with the pattern based on a grid. The traditional patterns are really beautiful, and look like abstracted hills, clouds, or waves. Here is a pinboard I made of some that I liked. Looking at them, I wonder if the different designs were influenced by the nature surrounding the places they originated from? I tried to keep this in mind when figuring out my own design.
Sashiko is relatively easy, but there are a few rules. I couldn’t adhere to all of them for this project, and what I’ve made isn’t super authentic- but then, traditional sashiko didn’t incorporate lettering. I just used it as a jumping off point. Most of the rules are about what should happen when the thread lines intersect, and usually, they just shouldn’t cross. Stitches should end at the turn of a corner, and intersections should be open. Here is a good run-down of the rules. I realized while doing this why those rules are in place- leaving a little space where the threads cross really creates a nice design when the piece is finished. I mostly got that right, except for a few areas on the “clouds” in the center, especially where I had different types of patterns intersecting.
I discovered a pretty amazing product for this project- Sulky Solvy. I’ve used water soluble interfacing in the past, but never a water soluble stabilizer. This stuff worked perfectly to transfer my complicated design, as it is transparent, and I could trace my design directly on it. I tried seamstress chalk first, and it was a total failure. My usual method of drawing straight on the fabric with a chalk pencil didn’t work for this, either, as it was based on such a specific grid. The Sulky Solvy was perfect for this project, especially since denim and sashiko thread are made to stand up to washings! I was also surprised with how well it took all the drawing, stitching, and general manhandling I subjected it to. I’d highly recommend trying it.
I have a few things I would change about the lettering. After I’d already started and there was no turning back, I received 2 books I ordered about lettering: “Lettering Charts for Students and Artists” by Phyllis Brown, and “In Progress” by Jessica Hische. With my first reading of these excellent books, I realized there were some spacing and letterform things that I could have done better. In this project, it’s not such a huge deal because the letters are so tactile, but in the future, I think I can do better on the technical aspects of lettering.