Learn {Sashiko hand embroidery} – Beautiful Japanese embroidery design tutorial

How to do Sashiko Embroidery – a detailed tutorial

sashiko embroidery

Sashiko embroidery uses small running stitches to make beautiful designs which are simple and timeless in style. The word Sashiko literally means ‘little stabs’.Origin of Sashiko has been traced back to 17th century Japan. Japanese museums have Sashiko collections from 19th century. The elegant Sashiko embroidery is the perfect way to embellish your clothes.

It is very similar to Kantha work of India. Both Sashiko and Kantha work originated from the need of the common man to preserve old cloths with the simple running stitch. The good sections of old clothes were cut out and pieced together like patchwork to make new garments and quilts. This skill was passed down from generation to generation.

The difference between these works is that Kantha uses running sitches to fill outlines, where as Sashiko is mostly done as an outline design, with geometrical patterns

Checkout the tutorial on how to do Running stitch and its 9 varriations

The repetitive pattern of this embroidery is said to have meditative properties. No I am just joking. But practically speaking it may have some calming properties on your mind. Think of doing this embroidery (with the simple and repetitive running stitches) waiting at the dentist. That is calming and useful.

Anyways you can also consider this embroidery as auspicious, as Japanese working class of earlier days used to. The embroidery done on the garment was supposed to keep evil spirits from entering the body. They even stitched some secret symbols inside the clothes to protect the body. That sounds super inspiring other than the timeless beauty of this work.

Instead of the layers of clothes stitched together with running stitches, modern fashion calls for sashiko as an impressive surface embellishment.

Supplies needed to do Sashiko embroidery


Traditionally the Sashiko is stitched on indigo blue fabric with white or off white thread. This colours scheme makes the pattern very vivid and attractive. But you can do this work on any colour combination. The best fabric to do Sashiko embroidery are cotton and linen. Silk is also a good choice. Dark coloured fabric is preferred to do this embroidery with white or off white thread embroidery done on it, making the design stand out vivid.

If the fabric is too dense the easy movement of needles will be restricted hence light weight and medium weight fabric are preferred for this embroidery. That said Sashiko done on denim is so attractive and makes the perfect way to repair a tear on the jeans.When you are doing embroidery on a large fabric this factor may affect you, but for a medium amount of embroidery the fact that the fabric is thick will not matter. So go ahead and embroider that denim with this beautiful stitches. 

You need not restrict yourself to plain fabric for this embroidery work. Printed fabrics can also be enhanced with this work. They add texture and interest to the prints.

     Shashiko needles

Special needles which can be easily threaded with the thick strands of thread and has a sharp point is ideal for sashiko.

You can use a long needle ( near 2 inch) with a big eye if you donot have access to sashiko needles. The darning needle which is long is perfect for Sashiko.

Taking one stitch at a time is not the way Sashiko is done. You pack a lot of stitches at one go. So a long needle is a necessity when doing Sashiko. But you find that you need smaller needles too because sewing the curves is difficult to manipulate with long needles.

    Sashiko Thread

Sashiko thread is a speciality thread used solely for sashiko, which is available in about 20 plus colours ; it is thinner than the ordinary embroidery thread and has less sheen than them. If you donot have access to this thread do not worry, Embroidery thread in suitable colours can also be used. General rule is to look for a thread without any shine. So any synthetic thread is out of question and cotton is definitely the choice.

Traditionally light coloured thread is used against a back drop of dark coloured fabrics. As said earlier white and offwhite colored thread was generally used.

Thread your needle with the full strands of embroidery thread which is then tied into a knot at the end. But you can also do it with lesser strands.

Make sure that you have not cut the thread too long, to avoid tangles and frustrations.You also need to have enough thread on your needle to last from one end of the line in your design to its end. Stopping in the middle of the line will result in knots and a generally sloppy work. A length of 20-25 inches is good to cut. You can precut the thread in this size before starting the embroidery so that  the thread can remain untangled. Some even braid the thread and keep them well organised. Good for them. 


Mostly geometrical designs with a repetitive pattern is used. The main motifs used in this embroidery are Waves, Mountains, Bamboo,  Bishamon, Key fret, Double cypress fence, Arrow feathers, Seven treasures, Pampas grass, Overlapping diamonds, Linked diamonds, Lightening, Linked hexagons & Persimmon flower. These are pictorial representations of some of these designs

sashiko design motifs

If you are the lazy person interested in embroidery, Sashiko is just for you. You can simply make freehand sashiko stitches and it will still look good.

sew sashiko potholders

If you are new to embroidery you may want to checkout the FAQ for beginners. 

 How to Stitch Sashiko embroidery

Step 1

Prewash the fabric. All new farbic have sizing and if you donot prewash the fabric you may find that after you have completed your dress and you have washed it, it has shrunk. This will cause puckering, which is the nightmare of an embroiderer.

Step 2.

How to Draw the design on fabric for Sashiko

Choose a design. Draw a simple design freehand or copy from a kid’s drawing book. Or draw inspiration the beautiful designs from this  sashiko board on pinterest.

sashiko board


You can draw the design yourself by following this method. Draw a grid on the fabric. This is an essential part of sewing Sashiko embroidery. Unless you have a grid you will not be able to draw proportionately. You want uniformity in the repetitive motifs. A grid ruler can be used to draw the grids. Graph paper ( a simple mathematics graph sheet would do ) traced on to the fabric using a white carbon paper is another option.

Now Draw the design – Once the grid is drawn it is easy for you to draw the design motifs on it. Below is the picture of a design I drew on the grids. Made a grid of 2 inch squares. Marked centre of the sides. Then you can just connect these markings to make any of the sashiko designs. 

If you already have designs in your hand (a pattern sheet or a design drawn on paper), there are several methods of transferring  the design on to the fabric. You can use a carbon paper to transfer ( use white carbon sheet if you are using a dark fabric).Checkout the 9 different ways to transfer your designs on the fabric 

Sashiko steps

Another Method – Drawing on interfacing 

If you are comfortable about stitching from the back of the fabric, a very convenient way of doing Sashiko is to draw the design on to interfacing (very light weight fusible one) which is fused to the back of the fabric. For this method you have to trace the design on to a very thin interfacing non glue side.

Keep the interfacing on top of the design and trace using a pen.Press the interfacing glue side to the back of the fabric, with a hot iron. Now do the stitching from the back of the cloth. This way you donot have to worry about the  traced lines disappearing.When drawing with chalk or tracing with carbon paper the design lines disappear quickly, especially if the design is big. But this method maynot be suitable for fabrics where interfacing is not appropriate, like on a small kid’s dress.

Step 3

Decide on the best and efficient pattern for stitching the design. This is an important step because it is better if you stitch in a continuous line without breaking  or changing directions as much as possible.

Step 4

Start stitching Sashiko stitches.

That is assuming that you have Learnt to do an even Running stitch

I think the running stitch is the most versatile of all hand stitches. Every body first begin to learn sewing with the running stitch. In my school days the sister who taught us embroidery made us do running stitches till I hated those classes. But now it is my favourite. So many uses for it.

The geometrical and repetitive patterns of sashiko embroidery lends itself perfectly to the even and precise  running stitches.

Make sure the running stitches used are even and of the same size. The spaces between the stitches should also be the same.

The running stitch should be made such that on the right side of the cloth the stitch is lengthier than on the back side.A good rule to follow, which experts of sashiko embroidery propose is to make the stitch the size of the grain of rice. The proportion used for the running stitch and the space between the next one is 3:2. 3 will be the proportion for the stitch on the right side of fabric and 2 proportion for the stitch taken on the back side. Hope it is clear.

When stitching the sashiko design, with your long needle you will be gathering as much as 3 or 4 inches of fabric onto it at once, with even running stitches. This takes some practice. Start now.

sashiko needle

Important guidelines for Sashiko embroidery

When two line intersect never overlap the lines. Leave the center open. This creates a symmetry on either sides of the intersecting lines.

sashiko japanese embroidery

Turning corners

  • Leave a small loose loop of thread on the back of the fabric at the corner, when turning a corner or the needle is changing direction. This slack will prevent puckering of fabric.

  • There should be a stitch at every corner, other wise there would be no definition to the corners. This means that the needle should touch the corner either going to the wrong side or coming up to the right side of fabric.

  • Make sure that the stitches at the corners or of intersecting lines do not touch.There should be a space between them for it to look neat.


Stitching order – Straight lines ( horizontal and vertical lines) are done first . Then diagonal lines are stitched. Then curvy lines are done.

Sashiko embroidery

It is better and efficient to identify long lines and sew them in a continuous  way rather than stitching individual motifs. Stitch lines continuously from one end of the pattern to the other .

Those who feel that the back of an embroidery should look as neat as the right side, instead of knots at the start and end you can use the same technique used by sewing machines. Do a number of stitches forward and backward and then snip the thread at the back as close to the fabric as possible. Your embroidery will look good both sides

You can draw and stitch simple motifs  in sashiko. An example is given below. For more simple embroidery motifs checkout  the post –10 simple and easy to do embroidery motifs. 

easy hand embroidery motif

Warning : You could get addicted to this craft. I am in no way responsible for this. Maybe you would like to practice this embroidery on the Japanese style crossover apron ( without ties)

japanese style apron.

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