Over the years, as Japanese culture has gained popularity in the West, one utilitarian art form has increasingly emerged: sashiko, the art of functional embroidery. Originally born out of necessity among lower-class Japanese individuals for reinforcing, repairing, and strengthening garments, sashiko has evolved over time from a symbol of the lower class into an ornate and patterned art, deeply embedded in Japanese culture and history.
The term "sashiko" (刺し子 さしこ) translates to "small stabs" or "small pricks" and was initially employed to mend and fortify worn-out clothing. It is often recognized by its white embroidery on indigo fabric. Tracing back to the Edo era (1603-1867), sashiko began as a pragmatic technique to mend and reinforce garments, particularly for farmers who needed to strengthen areas prone to quick wear or for impoverished individuals living in colder northern climates seeking to add extra layers for warmth. The repeated application of sashiko eventually led to the creation of "Boro" (ぼろ) garments, which are patchwork clothes made from intersecting layers of scrap cloth or rags. Unfortunately, these clothes carried the stigma of lower-class status and were often discarded once families achieved social and financial advancement.
Nowadays, however, popular fashion brands such as Kapital have embraced the “boro” aesthetic, creating bespoke denim pieces that showcase the craftsmanship and character of well-worn garments. Modern applications of sashiko have adopted the notions of mottainai into its ethos of practice. "Mottainai" is a well-known concept that emphasizes the avoidance of waste. It gained widespread recognition after being popularized in a speech by Dr. Wangari Maathai at the United Nations, promoting the ideas of reduce, reuse, recycle, and repair.
About the author:
Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen. Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!