Spool fabric shop is owned and operated by Michelle Quallich Lancet and Jennifer Swartzwelder, friends who share a love of both sewing and their creative community in Pittsburgh, PA. The Spool online shop features a carefully curated selection of fabrics: organics, double gauze, voiles, knits, and linen along with modern printed quilting cottons and AMB solids. Michelle and Jen aim to inspire everyone to bring out their inner maker and sew something lovely!

Michelle and Jen designed these Sashiko Tea Towels for you to work on in quiet fall moments. Enjoy the rhythm of the traditional Sashiko stitches and create something beautiful. Stop by the Spool fabric shop for some pretty new fabric too! There is currently a 25% off sale on all fabric and patterns at Spool, with free U.S. shipping on orders over $50.

We love having a bit of handwork ready to be picked up whenever we have a quiet moment to sit, so today we’re sharing a hand-stitching project using a traditional Sashiko pattern paired with fall colors.

Sashiko refers to a Japanese running stitch technique traditionally done with indigo dyed fabric and white cotton thread. You may be familiar with Sashiko, but if not, the designs are plentiful, including linear, curvy and simple single stitch patterns. We want to show our modern approach using cream linen and a variegated, fall-colored thread.

Our materials for this project include:

  • White/natural cotton or linen woven fabric (you may also use a pre-made tea towels from your local fabric or craft shop)
  • One skein of DMC Pearl Cotton size 5 (we used color variations 4130)
  • Sashiko needle
  • Scissors
  • DMC tracing paper or fabric marking pencil/marker
  • Pine Bark Sashiko PDF pattern
  • Optional: Sashiko thimble

When choosing your fabric, keep in mind that a large, open weave will limit your ability to work smaller stitches. However, you also don’t want your fabric to be too finely woven as it may pucker when stitched.

If you are using yardage, prepare you tea towel by cutting a rectangle approximately 16” wide x 36” long. Finish all four sides with your method of choice. We used a narrow hem with mitered corners for a neatly finished look.

You can always design your own Sashiko pattern using a graphing paper to draft straight lines or curves. We love the look of the traditional Pine Bark pattern for fall and drafted one of our own using a 1 cm square grid. You can download our pattern here and use it to create your own layout or copy ours. This is what our finished stitch design looks like:

Print the PDF pattern and decide which lines you want to transfer to your fabric. It may help to use a highlighter on the pattern to visualize your design.

Once you’ve selected your layout and decided on placement on your towel, transfer your stitch lines using tracing paper or other chosen fabric marking tool. Be sure that your pattern lines transfer well as you will be handling the fabric quite a bit as you stitch.

Cut a length of your Pearl cotton– we like to work with an arm’s length at a time– and thread your Sashiko needle. For this project we used the larger needle, but you may prefer the smaller needle if you are using a finer thread and/or finer woven fabric.

Before we begin stitching, let’s talk about the running stitch. Linear Sashiko designs are done using a running stitch wherein you load your needle with several stitches of even length all at once before pulling your thread through the fabric. The number of stitches on your needle will depend on your pattern and your comfort level. If you use a pattern that has a straight line from one end of your fabric to the other, you can fully load your needle and may find a Sashiko thimble helpful in pushing the needle through with your hand as you pick up stitches. The Pine Bark pattern we’re using today has many shorter stretches of straight lines which is a great place to begin if you’re just starting out with Sashiko. The length of your stitches will depend upon the weave of your fabric, but you should aim for a 3:2 ratio– that is your stitch length on the front to your stitch length on the backside.

Now you’re ready to begin stitching! When stitching your pattern, you are going to work from side to side on your fabric. With the Pine Bark pattern, you will be stitching diagonally. One “row” will look like an elongated zig-zag. With that in mind choose your start point, usually a bottom corner of your design.

You can choose to begin and end your stitching with a knot or use backstitches to hide the ends. To do this at the beginning of your work, make three small running stitches ending just shy of the beginning of your row, beginning and ending on the wrong side and leaving a ½” tail.

Then bring your needle up at the start of your row and proceed with running stitches over your backstitches and continuing to the first turning point in your pattern.

Once you’ve reached the end of one straight line, pull your thread through until you have just a small loop in the back at the beginning of your line of stitches. At this point, stretch your fabric taught to remove any gathers. While holding your fabric, continue to pull your thread until just a very small loop remains. This loop of thread will ensure that your stitches and fabric do not become cinched.

When you reach a point in your design where two lines intersect, it is important to be sure that you do not overlap your stitches. As you approach an intersection, end your last stitch before the intersection and come back up on the other side.

When you stitch the second, intersecting line, there will be a bit of open space where the two lines meet and again you will stitch on either side of the intersecting point.

You want to end up with a neat cross point without the threads overlapping.

Continue to follow your zig-zag line until you reach the end of that “row.” At this point you can either switch directions and continue onto the next row or end your row if there are no remaining, adjoining lines to be stitched.

To end your thread from the back side, stitch three small backstitches under your last line of stitching.

Trim your thread end.

Repeat until you’ve stitched all of your lines and you’re done! Now, go bake that apple pie!