Stitch by Stitch

>> Monday, June 20, 2011

Right after college, I moved to Portland, Oregon, where I lived with a good friend from college and three other guys. My mom's friends were very concerned about this living arrangement, since we didn't know the guys ahead of time and the bedroom doors did not have deadbolts, the horrors. All of these guys became very good friends -- what can I say, we had good taste in and excellent gut instincts about housemates -- and also exposed us to a lot of Japanese. In its original incarnation, the house consisted of 5 guys who created a burger chain had gone to college together and spent 2 years in Japan together through the JET program. The house was on iteration number 4 or 5 or so by the time we arrived, but there were still 3 Japanese speakers and us, the 2 non-Japanese speakers. Sometimes dinner table conversations would shift into Japanese and my friend was fond of translating these indecipherable-to-us exchanges as "our housemates who can't speak Japanese are the best ever. They are fascinating, amazing people. They rock." Etc., etc. Occasionally being left out of conversations, notwithstanding, I spent 2 years learning a lot about Japanese culture (and bikes -- I could tell you a lot about Shimano components for a while there).

As I returned to my in-progress Sashiko (Japanese embroidery) experiment, I remembered that one of my former housemates had a sashiko quilt, a gift from his host mom when he lived in Japan. It was beautiful, and I can't imagine how long it took to make. Traditionally, sashiko is blue and white, often white thread on blue fabric.  The two colors convey simplicity even as the designs look complicated. The trick to sashiko, it turns out, is breaking complicated designs into single lines. So over here in my corner of the world, I'm working on the paint-by-numbers version in which I'm following a pre-made pattern; apparently it is made with washable ink so that I can pretend I designed it all myself. As you can see from above, the technique starts with sewing diagonal lines individually.

However, I am preternaturally incapable of precisely following directions. In this case, I have an excuse:  they're in Japanese, so obviously I can't simply read and execute. I'm pretty good at reading pictures (that same college friend with whom I lived in Portland once wrote a paper on the linguistics of Ikea's non-verbal instructions), which is how I managed to follow the one important instruction of sewing diagonal lines instead of, say, circles, which is how my eyes first read the pattern. But I completely ignored acquiring a sashiko needle or using sashiko thread or even sticking to one color of thread.

I decided to use 4 colors of thread, though I've only made my way into 2 thus far. Before I purchased my kit, I looked at this pillow and thought that the multi-color version would be fun. I still think that, though I'm less convinced that my decision to use embroidery floss (colors, lots of colors!) was wise. Embroidery floss has multiple strands that easily come apart, which is mostly an issue in threading it, especially since the needle I'm using is on the small side. I'm pretty good at threading needles, but this takes me at least 4 tries each time. A lesson learned, I suppose. I'm determined to finish this little handsewing project, ideally in the next couple of weeks. Assuming I do, however,  I have no idea what I'll use it for. A pillow? A pouch? A wall hanging?


~Michelle~ June 20, 2011 at 12:54 PM  

Ooh, I likey! A panel on a bag would be fun, but would a wide-ish bag, if you're cool with that... Otherwise I vote for wall quilt!

Karissa June 20, 2011 at 4:13 PM  

Very cool! I would put it someplace where you can admire your handiwork without worrying about pulling the stitches... Maybe I vote wall quilt as well? Also, seems like you know very many very nice and very cool people! :)

Margaret June 21, 2011 at 8:19 AM  

I saw that Purl Bee kit when Grumperina made one, and I like it -- but wouldn't have much use for the finished product. Yours is GREAT, though. I love the very subtle difference in thread-color, and the blue background is very nice. It's making me want to try my hand at sashiko!

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