Welcome to our fourth in the dragonfly series sashiko teaching projects, The Interconnectedness of Elements
This project was written by Susan Fletcher, pattern designer for Alderspring Design and owner of A Threaded Needle (www.athreadedneedle.com)
Here is the finished table mat project:You can order a kit or find the pattern and supplies to make this dragonfly table mat at A Threaded Needle
And here is how to make it:
If you haven’t already done so, you should wash and dry your fabric in the same way you intend to do when you use the project. I know it isn’t always necessary, but who wants to find out that the fabric is going to shrink or go limp after the project is in use?
While it is drying you can trace you sashiko dragonfly design onto the interfacing. This is still my favorite method for transferring sashiko designs. You could use sewing carbon, but then you have to be careful not to rub the design away as you stitch.
True, with the interfacing you will stitch from the back of the fabric, but this has benefits. You’ll be able to see the little loops you should be leaving at corners, and it’s easier to control the open spaces on designs like the flax leaf.
Transfer the design to your fabric: (I am using the pictures from a different project, but the technique is the same)
Tape the corners of the design to your worktable. Lay your interfacing over it with the glue side (the rough side) down and tape it’s corners to the table also. Trace the design onto the interfacing with a permanent fabric pen.
Lay the interfacing glue side down over your fabric. Check that the design is evenly centered on the fabric, then 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!
Now your project is ready to start stitching. We are stitching the rectangle around the piece first, starting at any one of the corners.
Note: When you stitch sashiko designs, you stitch the vertical and horizontal lines first, diagonal lines later, if possible. This is not so important when you use the interfacing for transferring your design as it stabilizes the fabric.
1. Thread your needle and choose one corner of the outside rectangle to begin your stitching. About an inch or so along the line, and away from the corner, insert your needle and take several stitches back toward the corner. You will feel like you are going backward because you are! It is important that your needle come up right in the corner on the last stitch.
There are two things to keep in mind here. Sashiko stitches are always longer on the top (finished side) of the fabric than they are on the underside, and its is important to keep your stitches the same length. This is to say, whatever length you make your stitch of the top, make all your stitches on the top that length, and whatever length you make your underside stitches, make all your underside stitches that length. (A rule of thumb for what length stitches should be is to make the underneath stitch 1/3 the length of the top stitch)
How long should the stitch actually be on the top? About the length of a grain of rice! For this weight cotton I am using 4 or 5 stitches (top count) per inch. You should find the length that feels comfortable to you. Sashiko stitching is like handwriting, distinctive to the individual.
2. Bring your needle back through the stitches on the back of the fabric to secure it.
3. Take several more stitches along the line, collecting them up on your needle. If this is awkward at first, collect only a few before you pull them through. With practice it will get easier. The important thing to think about at this stage is keeping your stitch length and spaces even.
It takes some practice to get your stitches to flow along evenly spaced, but not a lot of practice, so try to relax and be okay with ‘good enough’ for now. If you get to the end of the thread and hate what you have done, it’s easy to pull it out and do again! Its better to move forward than to try to perfect this first few stitches.
4. Pull the needle through the fabric and smooth the stitches back by running your fingers back over them. A problem you want to avoid is having the fabric pucker, so every time you pull your needle through it is a good practice to check that the fabric and stitches are stretched flat.
Continue to stitch along this first line until you reach the corner. Your last stitch must end exactly on the corner. If that doesn’t happen you will need to adjust your stitch lengths a little on the last few inches to make it happen.A tiny bit of variation in the length of your stitches is not going to hurt your project, rather it is what gives that quality we value so much in hand sewn textiles.
When you turn a corner you want your needle to have come up, or gone down, exactly at the corner, and your next stitch to begin a little closer to the corner than your usual spacing (but not touching the last stitch).
Leave a small loop of thread on the back in the corner stitch. This helps to keep the stitches from becoming to tight and puckering your fabric. It may not seem like you need to now, but as you stitch further you will see that it is good that you did. It is better to have a little too much slack than not enough.
Next, we will begin stitching the fish net design and will discuss the direction of stitching in sashiko designs
If you have stitched a few sashiko designs you have discovered that the fastest designs to stitch are the straight line designs. Short lines and tight curves are the slower because you can’t load as many stitches on your needle.
If you like to use “long grain rice” stitch lengths, you will be happier with the straight line designs, but if you are a “short grain” stitcher, then you may actually enjoy the curving lines! I do both, and adjust my stitch lengths to suit the design.
I don’t find fish net the easiest design to stitch. You have to put less stitches on your needle at a time, and if you like to use long stitches as I do, it forces you to use shorter stitches to keep the curves smooth. I like the finished look enough to find it worth the bit of extra time and care though.
In this design, this is where we encounter the ‘order of stitching’ sometimes referred to in sashiko stitching. Not being inclined to waste precious time or thread, early sashiko stitchers used an order of stitching to get the most possible stitching out of each thread. The concept is simple, instead of stitching individual shapes, stitch the long continuous lines, and when this is not possible, plan your work so that the spaces are as short as possible, and carry the thread across the back.
I rather feel I am telling you all things you already know, but just in case you missed it in an earlier project, every sashiko project has an order of stitching which you should determine before you start stitching. I tried stitching this design traveling on a diagonal up the design but found it made the intersections difficult, so I recommend stitching down each line as in the photo (for some reason this photo looks like I stitched left to right – there is no reason to start on either side or either direction. Do what is comfortable for you)
As you stitch, there are two things to remember. Decide on a stitch length that is short enough that the curves curve, and keep the number of stitches on your needle down to about 4 stitches at a time. Also, remember to occasionally leave a little loop of slack thread on the back. This is important, especially for newer stitchers, because the stitching will tighten up too much if you don’t.
Next, having stitched the first line across, stitch the second line. You do not want the stitches to touch where the curves meet, and you do want the spacing between the two lines to be about the width of your thread, but don’t get too worried about that.
My joy in sashiko, and I think the strength in sashiko designs, is that there is an overall repetitive regularity when you look at the whole, yet up close you can see the presence of the hands that stitched it in the individual variations in the stitching. Making a thing too regular and perfect in a hand craft can be an error in itself, I think. We love to see hand made work because we want to see evidence of an actual person in the work.
So again, I encourage you to relax, trust your body to find its own stitching rhythm, and stitch lengths, and let yourself enjoy the stitching. If you are happy with how what you have done looks, then you have done it right! Making something is as much about the joy of the making as it is about the thing you make.
Here is a photo of the back so far Now the dragonfly:
You will remember we want to take the easiest and more efficient path. Here is a photo showing the order I stitched the dragonfly.
Finally, when you make the two stitches at the end of the wing tips, bring your needle up exactly at the end of the wing and make the next stitch begin quite close, but not touching, so that you get a defined tip on the wings.
Once the dragonfly is stitched, press the whole pieces well, then step back and admire it for a bit!
If you are making it into a table mat, see the tutorial on mitered corners in the how to menu above.
I hope you enjoyed stitching this project and are happy with your results!