One of my friends in Yuza-machi, Reiko Domon, is the leader of the local quilt group, Peaceful Hearts. Her work has increasingly used the traditional Yuza Sashiko hitomezashi patterns in new and innovative ways, helping to breathe new life into sashiko by finding modern uses for these traditional designs. She sent me two books which arrived while I was away - one is "Craftspeople's craft work of Japan" (book - click here to go to the website (Japanese)) and the other is 'Patchwork Club" magazine, both of which have features about Yuza Sashiko.
The first book features Reiko's work, with many small articles made from Yuza-sashiko, while the patchwork magazine shows the work of Yuza Sashiko School, classes run by Reiko and my sashiko teacher, Chie Ikeda, with many works by different stitchers. I will post scans from that magazine in another post soon. Please be patient - these are large scans and the blog will take slightly longer to load than with regular photos! Also, if you don't have Japanese language fonts enabled on your computer, the Japanese text I'm typing will look like a series of punctuation marks etc. all mixed up.
職人仕事の日本 (Craftspeople's craft work of Japan) Vol 4 - cover
The article title refers to teaching Yuza Sashiko.
I will see if I can get some help re translating the longer sections of text, as my Japanese reading abilities aren't very good! As usual, click the images to see them full size.
Reiko stitching - the photos on the right show the front and back of the same pattern, which combines hexagons (longevity) with diamonds (increase), filled in with little lozenge-shaped motifs inspired by kasuri (ikat) designs.
Sashiko is a skill which has undergone many changes in the last hundred years, from being a mostly ultilitarian necsssity, but with decorative possibilities, to a craft that can be used for modern items that need to be just as hardwearing as the old farmer's waistcoats (like the one in the second photo above) - Yuza Sashiko is excellent for modern items like handbags, shopping bags, wallets, sewing goods, and any items that need to be handled and used a lot. It reinforces the fabric while adding traditional decorative designs, which also have symbolic meanings, such as long life for hexagonal patterns (the pattern of a turtle shell). Many Yuza Sashiko patterns have similar designs to the small komon stencilled patterns that were used for samurai kamishimo (a formal waistcoat and hakama pants set).
Like any tradition, it has to evolve to survive. I don't agree with the idea that sashiko is a dying art. It is just too popular in Japan and, today, all over the world for that to be the case. It is not an exaggeration to state that you can buy sashiko books, threads, fabrics, needles etc. in almost any sewing shop in Japan, which is hardly the mark of a craft which is dying out, and most Japanese homes probably have something made in sashiko (even if only toilet paper covers!) It is true that today the items people are making will not be hanten workjackets any more than quilters in the UK will be making huge North Country or Welsh wholecloth quilts - we are taking the traditional designs and using them to make smaller articles suitable to our lives today, but this does not imply that the patterns are any less meaningful or symbolic for contemporary quilters. Think of how many times a quilter tells you that they included a particular pattern, fabric or colour because they were making a piece of work with a special person in mind. A modern British quilter stitching a sashiko quilt for her husband is just as likely to include patterns like urokozashi ((fish) scale stitch) or a koi motif if his hobby is fishing as a Japanese stitcher at the end of the nineteenth century might have decorated her fisherman husband's waistcoat with the same urokozashi.