April 07, 2020

With sashiko quilting, the stitching stands out

Art teacher and quilter Annette Houston of Newport is enchanted with the Japanese art of sashiko quilting. “I love Japanese designs, the linearity appeals to me,” she said. Traditionally, sashiko is done with white stitching on blue fabric. “I love that indigo and white contrast.”

Sashiko, she said, began like many traditional needle arts – out of necessity, in this case to mend worn clothing. The technique used in sashiko is as simple as using a running stitch to define the allover, repetitive designs, often simplified renderings of themes drawn from nature, such as clouds, plants, animals, birds, or characters from the Japanese language. Other designs may be geometric or based on family crests. The patterns have names, such as Seven Treasures of Buddha, Fishing Nets, Thunderbolts, Passes in the Mountains, Pine Bark and Woven Bamboo. The designs make use of negative space to achieve their effects.

Sashiko is an old form of sewing used to stitch layers of fabric together. At first the skill was a matter of utility, used to keep clothing mended and to add layers for warmth, but today it is used decoratively on clothing and household linens.

Houston, who taught herself the art of sashiko, doesn’t have access to traditional indigo-dyed fabrics so she uses what she finds at fabric stores to approximate the look. “I’m always looking for designs that can be done by hand or by machine,” she said.

In sashiko, the thread and the stitches are meant to be seen, and the craft takes “a thicker than normal thread,” Houston said. She uses Perle cotton, crochet cotton or several strands of cotton embroidery floss with which to stitch the designs. The stitches are larger than in traditional American-style quilting and spaced in such a way that more of the thread shows on the work and less space is between the stitches to create an almost continuous line, she said.

One of Houston’s favorite books about sashiko done on the sewing machine is Mary Parker’s “Sashiko: Easy Elegant Designs for Decorative Machine Embroidery.”

Houston has been a quilter since 1980 and is a member of Maine Art Quilts of the Pine Tree Quilters Guild. She was an art teacher in the Waterville area for 25 years, and is a part-time teacher of gifted and talented children in Newport schools, which she has been doing for 18 years.

She also teaches quilting at various venues, the most recent at the Fiber College weekend in Searsport in September. “As a teacher, I always learn new things, and that’s exciting,” she said.

Currently, she’s all tangled up in Celtic quilting designs. “I like being exposed to many different cultures – and the handwork that goes with it,” she said.

Visit www.sew-whats-new.com and www.quilt.com to learn more about sashiko. Also visit your local library and ask for books about sashiko.


. Margaret Parker, a knitter from Orrington, called to say that she spent a perfect three-day weekend in September at a knitter’s retreat on Monhegan Island, offered by Stitchery Square, a yarn shop in Camden. “I was impressed by the peace and quiet, the serenity and the caliber of women who attended,” she said. The 17 women at the retreat brought current projects or projects they had given up on years ago, but wanted to finish. Because there is no electricity where the retreat was held, “we were knitting by oil lamp or wearing miner’s lights on our heads,” Parker said. During the retreat, she ripped out the sleeve of a sweater she was stuck on. “I don’t like to follow directions, and I had to redesign it,” she said.

Women from various parts of the United States attended the retreat, including a contingent of family and friends from Ohio. The women were free to knit in groups or by themselves.

Parker isn’t sure what her next knitting project will be but she does know this: “It will be something made of the wool from the Hebrides [from her stash] – I even met the woman who spun it,” she said, recalling a trip to the islands off the coast of Scotland.

. The Castine Art Association will sponsor an exhibit of hooked rugs, created by the Bagaduce Rug Hookers, through November at the Trinity Episcopal Church on Perkins Street in Castine. An opening reception will be held 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, at the church.

Bagaduce Rug Hookers members are Karen Stanley, Judy Wylie, Kathy Eaton, Sue Macdonald, Joan Bragdon, Carol Clouse and Lynda Mac Arthur. To learn more about the group, call Stanley at 326-9361.

The Trinity Episcopal Church Gallery is open 9-4 p.m. Monday through Friday and after the service on Sundays.

. The Bangor Area Sewing Guild is offering a Simple Serger Sewing class 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Hampden Municipal Building in Hampden. Participants will make polar fleece socks and hats. The cost is $10 for guild members, $15 for others. To register or for more information, call Kathy at 941-8815.

Call Ardeana Hamlin at 990-8153, or e-mail ahamlin@bangordailynews.net

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