Welcome to our third dragonfly series sashiko teaching project, Dragonfly Above the Earth.
This project was written by Susan Fletcher, pattern designer for Alderspring Design and owner of A Threaded Needle (www.athreadedneedle.com)
You can purchase kits or individual supplies for this project at www.athreadedneedle.com.
And here we go!
Our first step is to transfer the design to the fabric. We are going to trace the design onto the interfacing and then fuse the interfacing to the back of the sashiko fabric.
The first thing you should do, if you haven’t already, is wash, dry and press your fabric. I always pre wash and dry my fabrics even if I am assured they won’t shrink. I don’t like to wonder after the work is done if my project will be ruined when I wash it.
While your waiting for the fabric to dry, you can transfer the design to the fabric. You will need the sashiko design, a fine tip pen (eg. laundry marker), preferably one that is permanent so it doesn’t rub off on your thread as you stitch, a straight edge (ruler, quilting square…) and some tape.
1. Tape the corners of the design to your worktable
2. Lay your interfacing over it with the glue side (the rough side) down and tape its corners to the table also
3. Using the straight edge, trace the outer rectangle.
Draw a second rectangle 1″ outside the one you traced.
4. Trace the dragonfly and clouds.
5. Untape the corners of the interfacing and lay it over your pressed fabric. Check that the design is evenly centered on the fabric.
Using your iron at a medium heat steam setting, fuse the interfacing to the fabric. Begin in the center of the design and work toward the outside by lifting and setting your iron, rather than sliding it. This will keep the interfacing and your design from pulling out of shape!
6. Cut along the outside rectangle you drew on the interfacing. (This is the actual size of you mat, we are going to put a self binding backing on at the end of the project and it will fold over this cut edge and make a 1 inch border around you sashiko stitched area) Oops, it appears I did not draw that outer rectangle in my photo below, but you should!
A note about stitch length:
There are two important things to remember. Whatever length you make your stitches and spaces, the stitch on top of the fabric should be about 2 to 3 times the length of the space (the stitch on the underside of the fabric) This is what gives sashiko stitching its distinctive look. The other important thing is about stitch length. They say a sashiko stitch should be the length of a grain of rice, so short grain or long grain, you choose! What matters is that whatever length you choose, you make all your stitches that length.
Tip: Sashiko stitching is like handwriting, it is individual to you. Find the stitch length you like by relaxing and stitching a couple lines. When it flows comfortably for you, that’s the stitch length you want to use. However if you find you like to make very long (more than 3/16 inch) stitches you will have better success if you pick designs with long straight lines and no small areas.
Having said all that, lets start stitching!
Here are the steps to follow:
1. Thread your needle and take your first stitch about 3/4 inches away from the any corner. Make this first stitch going toward the corner, and make at least two more stitches to reach the corner. It is important to bring your needle up exactly on the corner, so adjust the stitches and your starting place until this happens. Remember to keep the stitches the same length as each other, and the shorter spaces between them also the same as each other. You will feel like you are stitching backwards in this step because you are! It’ll make sense in the next step.
3. Now you are headed in the ‘right’ direction. Insert your needle one stitch space after that very first stitch you made, and begin to stitch the rectangle. Gather as many stitches onto the needle as you comfortably can, then pull the needle through the fabric. Each time you do this, be sure to smooth the fabric out down the stitches so no gathering is left in the stitches. Continue to stitch to the first corner. It is important that your final stitch come up on the exact corner. You may have to back up a few stitches and adjust their lengths a tiny bit to make this happen.
This is a good place to note that these tiny differences in stitch length are not going to be noticed in the overall finished piece so if you have been stressing because you don’t feel your stitches are exact enough in length, relax! That little bit of variation adds quality to handmade work. It has a lot to do with causing that warm feeling we get when we pick up something handmade. If you could and did make perfect stitches your work would be beautiful but it wouldn’t be as friendly feeling!
When sashiko stitching, hold your needle still in your right hand (unless you are left handed!) and use your thumb to slide it back and forth as you feed fabric onto it with your left hand.
Gather your fabric up in your left hand (its okay to crumple it up) and feed it on to the needle by using your wrist to make the fabric rise and fall.
There is a rhythm that develops when you get the knack of this which makes sashiko stitching soothing and addictive!
It goes like this:
1. With the excess fabric gathered up in your left hand, take a stitch and bring the needle up to the top (the interfacing side),
2. sing your thumb, slide the needle back until the tip you see is the length of the your short stitch,
3. using your left wrist to move the fabric up, raise the fabric with your left hand and feed it onto the needle tip,
4. drop your left wrist and the fabric back down, feeding the next stitch onto the needle as you do so,
One, you might find it easier to practice the left hand part while holding the right hand still at first, and when you have got the left hand motion working, coordinate the right hand motion to it.
Two, If you find this horrible and complicated don’t do it! Instead stitch in a way that is comfortable for you.
Okay, moving on around that rectangle…
Here is what you need to remember to make good sharp corners. End one stitch exactly on the corner and start the next stitch a little closer than you normally make your short stitches.
And, always leave a little slack loop of thread when you turn a corner. This is important. Even if you think you are smoothing the fabric out sufficiently when you pull your needle through, there will be some tightening up as the stitching accumulates. You need this slack to stop bad things from happening later in the project!
Okay, I think the last thing you need to know before you finish the rectangle is how to end a thread and begin a new one. End a thread by passing it back under two or three stitches on the interfacing side, as you did to begin the first thread. To start your next thread you can pass the thread under 2 or 3 stitches that are already on the fabric. You don’t need to do the backward stitching thing again.
There is one more thing I want to say. Relax. Sashiko stitching is so fast to get good at that there is no point in sweating whether your stitching is as good as you want it to be. If you carry on for awhile it very soon will be.
Next, we stitch the curves.
We are off to stitch the clouds!
Here is the photo of our finished project:
In this section we are going to cover:
-how to know what to stitch first in a sashiko design
-finding the order of stitching in a sashiko design
-carrying your thread from one line of stitching to another, when to do it and when to end the thread
How to know where to start stitching in a sashiko design
The rule is to stitch all the vertical and horizontal lines first, then any curving or diagonal lines. This rule would have developed because sashiko stitching was originally done on handwoven fabrics and without a printed design to follow. Two things made it necessary. One, it stabilized the fabric grain, and two, the fabric warp and weft threads would provide a visual guideline for creating the design.
I still follow this rule, but it isn’t absolutely necessary because our fabric is stabilized by the interfacing we used to transfer the design. Besides the obvious benefit, that the design doesn’t rub off as you are stitching, this is one of the reasons I like the fusible interfacing method for transferring the design.
For this project, we stitched the rectangle around the design first.
To begin stitching the clouds, choose any of the places where a cloud line meets the stitched outline. Weave your thread under a few stitches, ending at the beginning of your cloud stitching line, and begin stitching.
The gentle curves of this design are not much different than stitching straight lines. Pack the stitches up on your needle and pull them through. Remember to smooth out your fabric on the stitches each time you pull the needle through, and to leave a small loop at each point where one curve ends and the next one begins.
Order of stitching: When you start to stitch any sashiko design, take a moment to look for the pathways through the design that are most continuous. This is to say, you want to stitch the longest unbroken lines possible.
This is one of the reasons sashiko stitching goes along so quickly, and it makes it easier keep your stitches straight.
For stitching our clouds in dragonfly above the earth, I suggest you begin with the longest lines, and sort of map out in your mind the shortest ‘jumps’ from one line to the next. There is no perfect or repetitive path to follow in this design.
How to know when to carry your thread across the back to the next stitching line, and when to end it and start new at the next line:
Again we’ll refer back to the original sashiko stitchers. These women had no time and no thread to waste, so you know they carried the thread across the space if that would use less thread than ending and beginning again. I do the same. You can pass the thread under a few stitches or between the interfacing and fabric to keep it tidy, although if you are carrying it far enough to need to do that you might want to end it instead.
Again, remember to leave a litle slack in the thread when you cross spaces.
I don’t think I left quite enough in the example in this photo. It is better to leave a bit too much than to leave too little because you can pull any slack in the stitches to the back of the piece, but if the stitches are too tight its hard to fix the effect on the front later.
NOTE: Because we are using the interfacing and the back of our work will be covered in the finished piece, we have more leeway with carrying threads. There are techniques to keep the back tidy enough to show off, and you might want to learn those if you were leaving it uncovered.
1. Find the longest unbroken lines to follow.
For the wings, begin at the body and go out to a wing tip, come back to the body and carry your thread to the next wing. You are making a figure 8, then repeating it with the rest of the wings.
2.Turn sharp corners
by ending with your stitch exactly on the corner, and starting the next stitch a little closer than your usual spacing. Remember to leave some slack in the thread.
3. When stitching the curves in the head area you may need to make your stitches shorter. Keep your spacing even.
You may have plans for what you are going to use this for, but if not and you want to make it into a table mat, go to Make Mitered Corners in the How To section of the menu at the top of this page and I will show you how to do that there.
I hope you enjoyed this project and will join us for another one soon.