Next up from my adventures at the Creativ Festival is a workshop on sashiko, taught by Alma Laidlaw of Sew Fancy Inc. I had no idea what sashiko was when I signed up for this workshop. All I knew was that it was a type of embroidery, and I’m always game to learn a new embroidery technique.

Turns out it’s a Japanese technique that uses small running stitches to create geometric designs. The craft dates back to the Edo era (1615-1868) and was originally used to help strengthen fabrics or patch together worn out pieces of fabric. Although it is unknown exactly when or where in Japan this craft first emerged, during the Edo era laws prevented the lower classes from wearing bright colours or large patterns so small stitch designs of white thread on indigo fabric became common place. Today sashiko is prized for the beauty of these geometric patterns and many stitchers enjoy the relaxing, repetitive action of creating the designs.

Sashiko thread today comes in many different colours and sashiko can be stitched on many types of fabric, however, white cotton sashiko thread stitched on indigo cotton fabric is still a common and popular combination.

There are two types of sashiko so the workshop focused on creating two small samples. The first is moyōzashi, which is made up of continuous, uncrossing lines of running stitch.

Moyozashi sashiko stitch sample

Notice how even in the corners of this design the stitches don’t actually meet. Your eye naturally fills in the spaces to make it work.

The second type is hitomezashi which is also worked as running stitch but the stitches meet or cross to make up the design.

Hitomezashi sashiko fan stitch sample

In this particular sample, the outline of the fan is moyōzashi and the design filling the fan body is hitomezashi.

It was interesting learning about the history of sashiko and getting to try out this historical technique, and I may even do some more of it in the future. But to me it’s pretty much just blackwork with more initial set up effort. First you need to find the specialty sashiko thread and needles and an appropriate piece of fabric. Then you need to meticulously transfer the design to your fabric using transfer paper or stencils. I’d much rather just grab a piece of counted fabric and some standard embroidery floss from my local craft store and be on my way. The advantage of sashiko of course is the beautiful curves that are so difficult to create on counted fabrics. And no one wants to wear a piece of aida.

Lilies Biscornu

Biscornus seem to have exploded in popularity over the last few years. For those unfamiliar with these strange needlework creations, a biscornu is essentially an eight-pointed pillow made by stitching together two offset squares of fabric. They are primarily used as pincushions. Since I’d never made one before, and I have done very little actually embroidery (I’m mostly a cross stitch girl), I decided to take a Punto Antico biscornu workshop at the Creativ Festival. The workshop was taught by Kathryn Drummond, the designer behind Gingerbread Girl Designs, and an active member of the Embroiderers’ Association of Canada. The project in the workshop was Kathryn’s Lilies Biscornu pattern.

Here’s my final result. For a first attempt at Punto Antico I’m pretty pleased!

Punto Antico biscornu top Punto Antico biscornu side

I’m not always great with the finishing end of my stitching projects. Many of my stitches end up stuffed in the cupboard in an unframed or ‘this was meant to be a pillow cover, but I don’t really sew’ state. It was a refreshing change to stitch something where the finishing was as simple as whipstitching together two backstitched borders. No additional materials or skills required. I can see why biscornus are so addictive! However, a girl only needs so many pincushions. (In my case that number is zero – I use the magnetic dish that came with my screwdriver set and love the heck out of it). If any one has any innovative uses for these neat creations I’d love to hear about it!