Wednesday 29 July 2020

My sashiko stitch along sampler quilt - what's it all about?

The sashiko sampler quilts I made for 'The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook' and 'Japanese Quilt Blocks to Mix and Match have always been popular, and I have used a sampler format for the longer sashiko courses I've taught over many years. When Olympus Thread Mfg. Co. initially asked me to design some pre-printed sashiko panels for them, I immediately thought that the panels would be great for a sampler quilt format, but I wanted to wait to start mine until the second panel set came out in June 2020, so I would have sixteen large geometric and sixteen kamon crest 9 1/2in blocks to play with, plus thirty two smaller 4 1/2in square blocks.

Now the new panels (coded C and D) are available, I have designed a brand new sashiko sampler quilt, which blends my love of the traditional British medallion or 'frame' patchwork with sashiko, with the sashiko thread colours coordinated around the print fabric used for the central panel and cornerstones. Like the panels, I wanted this design to be flexible, so I've come up with several different centre and border options, so the patchwork ranges from a fairly easy version (shown above), which uses striped fabric for the outer border and centre sashing, to a more complex design with multiple narrow borders around the centre and a 'cracked ice' design in applique on the outer border (scroll down for this diagram). Each quilt uses two panels - two kamon crest designs, two geometric designs, or one of each kind - in the same colour or two different colours. The design could also be adapted to replace the long outer borders squares pieced from two more panels, so you could use four panels and have all the designs in one quilt (this is going to be my fourth version). There are many, many possibilities. This blog post introduces you to the designs and the materials you will need.

How to join in

All you need to do is keep following the instructions as I post them on this blog. There's no need to sign up to take part and, best of all, it is FREE! You will need either the printed panels or some other way of marking up the sashiko designs (most of the patterns are in my books, and of course you could choose alternative patterns from those too). For those who are marking up their own panels, I'll post some info about sashiko marking.

What you do need to do now is to start gathering your materials together. The printed panels, sashiko threads and border fabrics are available on my website,, along with some of the printed fabrics I am using (to be added shortly).  As I should have been at Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham this weekend, with the show opening on Thursday 30th July and running until Sunday 2nd August, I will be having FREE UK SHIPPING from my website for the duration of the show, and £3.20 off all the international shipping rates. As (inevitably) the live exhibition has been cancelled for this year, Festival of Quilts are running a virtual version of the show on their website called 'Beyond the Festival of Quilts', so do check it out. Stuart Hillard will be announcing the winners of the virtual quilt competition live on Thursday 30th at 12.00 noon, and there are live workshops online, plus a traders' gallery. I'm sure many other traders will be offering 'show specials' online, so have a browse and check out their own websites too.

I'm still stitching my first set of panels, so I will start posting the tutorials in a few day's time. You will be able to dip in and out of them as you wish, and can work through the stitch along at your own pace. The tutorials will be left up permanently on this blog, so you will be able to return to them any time you like (so long as Google doesn't decide to delete Blogger!) I also have a Facebook group called 'The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook', which you are most welcome to join, where members will be able to share photos of their stitch along progress.

Towards the end of the stitch along, I will be adding a pdf pattern to my website, including all the patchwork quilt variations in the one pattern. For customers buying their sashiko panels from my website, I will be supplying a discount code so this pattern will be free. Information about the pattern release will be added here, on my Facebook artist page and in my website newsletter (you can sign up by sending me an email via the contact form).

About the sashiko designs

Many of the kamon crests were based on those I stitched for 'Japanese Quilt Blocks to Mix and Match', although many have been tweaked a little over the years, as I've come up with slight improvements to the stitching, mainly through teaching the designs repeatedly in workshops. We also included some kamon on the 2020 panels that were featured either in the 'Motifs' chapter of 'The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook', or have been used for kits or class samples. The new panels include kanji characters for the seasons - spring (haru), summer (natsu), autumn (aki) and winter (fuyu), in that order - plus four variations on hitomezashi (one stitch sashiko) patterns. All the panels measure 110cm wide x 60cm.

The geometric designs were from traditional patterns in 'The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook', and the new C panel series includes old geometric square sashiko designs from Sakata city for the 4 1/2in blocks. The A series (2019) features some of the flower and leaf motifs I originally drew from traditional Japanese designs for coasters and smaller projects (these were also included in the Sourcebook).

The patchwork designs

I love traditional British medallion or 'frame' patchwork quilts and coverlets, although this isn't a layout I've used for a sashiko quilt before. Many antique medallion quilts feature specially printed centre panels as a large square, circle, oval or octagon, and a large scale fabric print makes a great substitute for one of these. It would also be a good place to use a cushion panel or a large scale Japanese printed panel. With a half metre of 42 - 43in wide fabric, there's enough for a 15 1/2in centre panel, plus four 9 1/2in cornerstones. With slightly wider 54in wide furnishing fabric, I should be able to just about squeeze out four applique circles too, for the most challenging version of the patchwork (shown below) - 3/4 yard of 42in wide fabric would be ample for this detail.

I am planning to make the quilt with several different fabric and panel combinations, starting with the easiest patchwork design (at the start of this post) and finishing with the most complex one (above, with applique details), using a different combination of sashiko panels, feature fabric and border designs each time. The panels are available in six different 'regular' colours, hand printed in Japan on Kofu Tsumugi (a lovely fabric for both sashiko and patchwork, woven with a coloured warp and black weft) - ink black, indigo blue, light blue (slate), light grey (taupe), dark green, and deep red - which are all available from my online shop.

I still have some of last autumn's 'special limited edition' A and B panels, in mustard yellow, brick red and russet too. As the special edition colours are running out now, these could be combined with a different panel colour for the second one, either choosing a closely related shade, such as deep red with brick red or light grey (taupe) with mustard yellow - or going for a more dramatic contrast like mustard yellow and ink black, as shown below. The 'checkerboard' sashiko panel effect is also a good idea if you are combining a panel you bought last year with one of the 2020 series, as there may be a tiny colour variation in the fabric. Another option, if you love the limited edition colours, would be to get the kamon crest designs as a pre-printed panel and draw a selection of geometric panels yourself, using the designs from 'The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook' and 'Japanese Quilt Blocks to Mix and Match', as I have the same plain fabrics in stock - Kofu Tsumugi - as precuts and yardage.

Thread and fabric combinations

So far, I have put together three combinations for my sashiko sampler quilts. As sashiko thread is available in so many beautiful colours, I thought it would be fun to stitch the sashiko in colours that coordinate with the fabric prints, using threads from the 6ply 20m medium sashiko thread range. The panels were designed to be stitched with this thread, used as a single strand or doubled, as is more traditional in sashiko. The kamon crest designs work best with either a combination of doubled and single thread, or single thread throughout, as some parts are more detailed and doubled thread might look a bit too chunky. I have been using single medium thread (6ply) for leaves, leaf veins, flower stamens etc. with doubled thread for some flower petals, which also gives an interesting effect with the shaded threads (I'll post photos of some of my panels soon). The 80m fine (3ply) sashiko thread range could also be used doubled (a single strand would look a little too fine I think), and this range has a handy miniskeins pack, with 20 x 10m skeins of thread, useful if just a touch of colour is needed. 

My original sampler quilts for the two books, shown towards the top of the page, actually used the 4ply fine sashiko thread I stock as 370m skeins, used doubled, but that would be a lot of left over thread thread, unless you are going to stitch the sashiko panels all in the same colour.  However, the 4ply fine makes a great thread for big stitch quilting, so perhaps having a more limited thread colour palette and using it both for the sashiko and the quilting would be another idea. One sashiko panel with eight large and eight small squares can be comfortably stitched with one 100m skein of medium sashiko thread too.

There are plenty of threads to choose from, so you can get whatever effect you want. I decided to go ultra colourful for my panels! Here are my print fabric, panel, and thread combinations.  In the end, I probably won't use every thread I've shown for each quilt, as I am further refining the thread selection as I go. I am trying to make sure that any thread is used in at least two different sashiko blocks.

1) Kamon panels B and D in black, with 1/2 metres 'Ming Embroidery' in black, from Philip Jacob's Silk Road collection, a half width of 1.5 metres deep red Kofu Tsumugi, and 2m of striped Japanese Shima cotton in shade 2720E. This combination is shown in my drawing at the start of this post.  I will be adding the 'Ming Embroidery' fabric to my website in the next day or two, available by the half metre. This is definitely the brightest and most colourful thread selection.

2) Kamon panels A and B in russet (special limited edition), with 1/2 metre vintage furnishing fabric,  'Matsue' by Jonelle, with a classical Chinese landscape (I will be adding some of this to my website soon), a plain Kofu Tsumugi cotton fabric for the wide border and centre sashing (possibly 2501, light grey (taupe)), and one of the Japanese striped cottons for the main sashing (I haven't yet decided which!)  Lightweight vintage furnishing fabrics are only slightly thicker than ordinary patchwork cottons and almost the same weight as the Kofu Tsumugi used for the sashiko, so they make a great combination. As this fabric doesn't have any pink or red tones, I may use cream for the plum and cherry blossoms instead. My plan for this quilt is to use the same 'cracked ice' pattern for the wide borders as in version 3, but this time to simply quilt the lines as big stitch, rather than applique narrow strips (easier!)

3) My third fabric and thread combination will be for the more complicated version of the patchwork, with applique circles and strips on the outer borders. Once again, the feature fabric is a lightweight vintage furnishing fabric. I only have a couple of pieces of this, found on eBay, with a very Victorian take on Japanese designs. I am still deciding the exact fabric combination for this, but I may use the A and B panel in mustard yellow, as I kept a set for myself when the limited edition colours were launched. I am sold out of panel A in mustard yellow, but still have a few B's, and it would combine very well with the light grey (taupe) as an alternative (I've shown my threads with the mustard yellow panels in first photo and the light grey in the second).

4) Once I've got these tops finished, I want to make a fourth sampler, using one A, B, C and D panel, perhaps using the A and C panels (geometrics) to make the outer long border, and the B and D panels (kamon) for the two inner borders. Perhaps this might be the more traditional one re colour! I have some new Takumi panels which will be added to the website shortly, featuring two stunning dragon designs - I used one to make this cushion recently. The dragon is available on black and indigo blue, and would make a stunning centre panel.

At the moment, I am stitching the kamon crest panels for the first sampler, using the really bright colours, and I will post photos of these very soon. I will be using this blog to deliver all the instructions and I hope to be able to add some short videos as well as step by step photos and instructions.

Let's have fun stitching sashiko!


Calire3 said...

Looks really interesting and fun, so will try and get organised to give it a go! :)

Maureen said...

So excited to see what you are doing.

Bagpuss said...

Wow lots of different options. Need to check what I’ve already stitched waiting to be made into something. This is a great way of getting them out on show