Thursday, January 11, 2007

Snow falling on farmhouses...

I have always enjoyed craft books (mostly found at the public library) that detail the lovely intricacies of Japanese handcrafts. The one I read about Japanese Thread Balls (Temari) is on my wish list. When I began reading craft blogs several months ago, I found that admiration of these beautiful volumes is widespread! I was thrilled to find The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook by Susan Briscoe in my stocking this past Christmas.

Sashiko literally means "little stab" and refers to a method of running stitch which was created too many years ago to track its origin. The little stitches were used to strengthen old fabric, increasing it's warmth and durability. Being Japanese, it is only natural that the stitches became decorative and added beauty to the garments as well.

Years ago, my grandmother was enhancing gingham with little stitches called "Chicken Scratch" to create eye-catching designs. My mother and I learned the stitches as well. Worked in gingham, which provides a built-in graph for the embroidery designs, "chicken scratch" looks like a homespun American version of Sashiko. I love that this Japanese skill was also handed down from mother to daughter, like quilting or handcrafts have been here. This paragraph from The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook resonated with me:

"Handed down from mother to daughter, from hand to hand, in farming and fishing communities, practical and decorative sashiko created a unique style. White running stitches on indigo blue recall snow falling around the old farmhouses, while inside, women stitched beside the iron heath, conjuring patterns from thread and cloth."

For me, this paragraph conjures images both exotic and familiar. When I imagine the women in kimonos, taking their tiny perfect stitches, while kneeling on tatami mats in front of a Soji screen, the image takes on the dreamlike quality of someplace long-ago and far away. Then I think of the snow falling softly around the farmhouse, like an insulating blanket, and the quiet industry of the mothers and daughters as they stitch together inside their warm haven. As I consider these familiar images, what is exotic becomes comforting and much, much closer to home.

As I turn from these thoughts, I cannot suppress a wistful sigh for the days when sewing circles and quilting bees brought women together in meaningful communion.

Note: You can learn more about Susan Briscoe and Sashiko here:
It doesn't appear that the author has her own webpage, but if anyone knows of one, please let me know!

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