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Sashiko pattern – Kikko (Turtle’s shell)

A representative pattern that means good luck

The common hexagonal pattern known as “Kikko” (turtle’s shell) is a well-known symbol of good fortune in Japan. There are many such propitious symbols: in animals, they include the dragon, Chinese phoenix, crane and turtle. And among plants, the pine tree, bamboo, Japanese plu, Chrysanthemum and peony. Chinese characters which can be seen on T-shirts purchased by visitors to Japan, such as 寿(kotobuki) and 福 (fuku), are also signs of good luck. These symbols reflect common wishes for eternal youth, longevity, prosperity and wealth, among others.

The hexagonal Kikko pettern, call “beehive” in English and “turtle’s shell” in Japanese, has an extremely long history. It first appeared in ancient civilizations of West Asia, as well as on coloured earthenware in prehistoric Iran. The pattern was said to have been found on scraps of men’s clothing in ninth century B.C. Assyria and in 12th century B.C. Babylon.

In parts of West Asia, particularly Islamic countries, repetitive geometric shapes termed “arabesques” were popular. This suggests that the hexagonal shape of the Kikko may have originated in a purely geometric design, rather than the figurative forms of turtle’ shells or beehives. However, its frequent usage indicates that the design carrie deep meaning in many cultures.

The Kikko pattern was introduced to China through the Silk Road, which lead from Persia and India to the desert towns of Western. China, and although it was used as a decoration for woven materials and on the walls of temples, it was always seen as a symbol of power and spiritual strength. In China, a turtle has traditionally represented longevity, together with such imaginary animals as the dragon, Chinese phoenix and fire-breathing horse.  It has believed that the patterns on a turtle’s shell became associated with the hexagonal design during the height of the Silk Road, some 3000 years ago.

The Kikko pattern came to Japan along with the introduction of Buddhism. It was first used to decorate materials and buildings, and in the Muromachi period (1336-1598); when Noh plays were popular, it was used as a popular design for stage décor and for the costumes worn by aristocratic characters and long-lived men. Today, the Kikko pattern can be found at Japanese wedding ceremonies. It appears on the bride’s kimono and accessories, on the kimono of the wedding guests and even on the wall paper of the wedding hall.

The Hemp Leaf Handbag has also hexagons in the pattern 🙂


Coin tortoise shell hitomezashi sampler – lots of good fortune 🙂

Man has forever wished for eternal youth, wealth and longevity. With the recent improvements in medicine and technology, the average life span in Japan has reached 80 years, and since World War II, the Japanese have achieved great prosperity, so what can Japanese people now wish for?

This article is extracted from Sashiko Blue and White Quilt Art of Japan by Kazuko Mende and Reiko Morishige.

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What Fabric Marker to use?

Fabric Markers

What Fabric Marker to use?

There are so many markers out there and they all say they are good in one way or another. So, which one to use? And which one won’t cost me a fortune?

My first marker was a Sewline – a mechanical marker purchased years ago. It has many colors available on lead and marks fine lines plus it looks pretty itself. It went through a lot of projects with me until I took on a big applique quilt. When I used it to draw a long straight line for joining large applique pieces together, it started to scratch my fabric. So I bought my 2nd marker of Cha. Cha water erasable marker has a fine ceramic tip from which ink flows easily without effort and doesn’t bleed. That resolved the issue I had with drawing long lines.

As one of “a compulsive perfectionists” :-), I took on different markers as I came across over the years in the hope of finding the perfect one with which I can settle with. Thus I have some different types of markers. I’m going to share with you my findings on them and hopefully it’s helpful to you.

The number one finding from searching the perfect marker is – no marker is perfect, no marker can do all jobs and fulfills all the purposes and with all good points. In fact I find what makes the marker work is often what could be the reason for the trouble they carry. For example the beautiful Sewline mechanical marker I have, it leaves the marking by being pressed down on the fabric. But pressing down hard may cause the marking not to be removed completely. This is the very reason I couldn’t use it for drawing a long line in a quick stroke which required a harder press and therefore scratched the fabric. Another example is heat erasable markers – markings disappear with a certain level of heat, but can come back if it’s not been washed and the ait temperature is cold enough. Also if the storage condition is too hot, ink on the tip of the marker may dry which then blocks the ink flow. One of our clients shared that with me. She said even storing it close to a car heater outlet inside her car dried her marker up. So I’d suggest always testing on your fabric before using the marker as all manufactures say, and get the type of marker that suits the project you are working on.

The table I compiled below is based on my own experience and research. I hope it’s helpful for you. However, please feel free to drop a line for discussion 🙂 and I’d love to hear your experiences on markers.

Marking on dark fabric

from top to down – Kearing water erasable marker, Sewline mechanical marker and heat erasable refil –

a close-up shows how fine and clear each marking is off 3 different markers

Marking on light fabric

from top to down – Kearing water erasable marker in 1mm tip and 0.5mm tip, Sewline mechanical marker, Cha super fine water erasable marker and heat erasable refill

Type of markermechnical pencillead pencilair erasable markerwater erasable markerheat erasable markerhera marker
mechanism0.9mm ceramic leads coloured with water-soluble dyes. Marking is  removed from most fabrics using the in-built eraser, or by dabbing with a damp cloth or washing.lead leaves markings after drawing on fabricspecially formulated ink leaves marking on fabric through felted tip. Marking disappears without anything done with it. Time of disappearance of marking depends on type of fabric, weave of fabric, room condition etc.specially formulated ink leaves marking on fabric through tip. Marking disappears with damp cloth or after wash.specially formulated ink that is light activated leaves marking on fabric through tip. Marking disappears when ironing over 60 °C or after wash. However if not washed, marking can reappear when temperature is below -8 °C or lower depending on colour of ink.a relatively “sharp” edge slides along fabric leave a pressed mark / crease in fabric.
ProsLead can be refilled. Can be used on light or dark fabric. 0.9mm tip gives relatively fine marking and widely availableboth thick head (1mm) and thin (0.5mm) are available. No need to do anyting to remove marking ; marking is clear and bold.Cost is very reasonable if you shop around. marking stays until you remove it. Once washed, no markings left at all, very clean. Various colours available makes it can be used on both dark and light fabric. Both thick (1mm) and thin (0.5mm) are available making it easier for fine stitching project. Ink comes out easily without needing of pressing hard at all. marking is clear and bold. Ink runs smoothly and easily. Both thick (1mm) and thin are available. Very affordable if you are happy with using just big refill (which is like a thin pen). Refills stains left on fabric
ConsMost expensive relatively. Have to press down lightly when marking and have to remove marking before ironing or potentially marking cannot be removed completely. Because pressing down lightly, marking is light and vague, which can be rubbed off when working on fabric for a while. Also though it leaves marking easier than ordinarily pencils, it can still scratch fabric when trying to leave a mark.can scratch fabric; marking usually isn’t fine if using thick lead; markings possibly cannot be erased completely if presed hard or too dark.marking can go before you finish job; time to take for marking disappear varies – depends not only on fabric but also room conditions as well which makes it hard to estimate how long marking would stay without testing; haven’t seen marker on dark fabric.if room moisture is high, marking can fade. On moisture absorbent fabric like linen, marking line is thicker.Because they are light activated there is a slight time delay in their appearance so wait for it.  The brighter the available light in your studio, the shorter the delay. Marking can be rubbed off before you finish work if being rubbed too much; ink is very heat sensitive and tends to get dried out if room condition is too hot or left aside for too long after use.marking is essentially a fold on fabrics so it’s hard to see and if left too long, have to re-mark the fabric you work on
suitable forall-rounder marker but not suitable for projects needs long marking lines or very textured fabric.projects that can have marking covered when finished and don’t need long marking lines.projects need marking stays for only a short time.embroidery projects. My favorite type 🙂Projects need very clear markings and don’t want to be washed afterwards and won’t go to places below freezing point.quilting purpose, applique
Brand testedsewlineany student pencilAdgerKearing, Cha Cloverclover
priceapprox. $20/pencilmostly less than $1/pencilapprox. $6/markerfrom $4.5 /marker onward depends on which marker you choose and which shop you go toapprox $10.5/markerapprox $10/marker
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Sashiko pattern – Hemp Leaf (Asa-no-ha)

Sashiko pattern – Hemp Leaf (Asa-no-ha)

A popular pattern in common use

Among the traditional patterns which have been most popular among Japanese over the years, one stands out: Asa-no-ha, or the hemp leaf pattern.

Even the common man with no interest in fabric design or patterns is sure to recognize this shape, although he may not know its name or history. If asked where he had seen it, he would probably find it difficult to respond clearly, conjecturing that “perhaps it was the pattern on the wooden box I has when I was small.” This pattern has become so much a part of everyday life as usually to go unnoticed by Japanese.

There are two popular theories about the origin of this pattern. One school of thought insists that the Asa-no-ha is purely Japanese; the other claims that it was introduced to Japan from India via China. While neither theory can be confirmed, it’s clear that the Asa-no-ha pattern began to figure in Japanese art during the Heian period (794-1192 AD). It was then found on fabric used to clothe images of Buddha and in Buddhist paintings; later it was incorporated into building décor.

To some Japanese craftsmen, the Asa-no-ha’s repeating pattern of spokes radiating from a central white hub presents an impression of light and the radiating power of Buddha. Whether used alone or repeated, however, this is a very useful pattern for those involved in design, as it can be used in varying sizes and with spaces of nearly any size.

Although the Asa-no-ha pattern was originally associated with religious applications, it gained wide acceptance among common people in the Edo  period, when the influence of popular – rather than aristocratic – culture reached its zenith.

Hemp has been cultivated since ancient times. Before the Muromachi period when cotton was first imported as its later popularization in the Edo period, hemp was the most common raw materials for making clothes. The Asa-no-ha gained its name for its resemblance to the leaf of the hemp plant.

As hemp is a strong, fast-growing plant, the Asa-no-ha pattern was traditionally favored for babies’ diapers and bedclothes to reflect the hope that one’s baby would grow as strong as hemp. The Asa-no-ha pattern was also a favorite for “Sashiko” work, since the pattern looked most attractive when displayed on cotton dyed in indigo and sewn in layers.

Hemp Leaf pattern in costume

This Sashiko hand bag has hemp leaf pattern centered to both front and back of bag. Simple yet effective.

This Good Luck Sashiko handbag has floral pattern formed by those “negative space” that is not stitched by a variation on hemp leaf pattern. A picture can only be recognized after many hemp leaf patterns are done.

Have you had any projects made with hemp leaf pattern or any works you’ve seen in this pattern? Would love to see if you have any 🙂

This article is extracted from Sashiko Blue and White Quilt Art of Japan by Kazuko Mende and Reiko Morishige.

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Japanese Patterns

Japanese Sashiko Pattern

Japanese Embroidery Patterns

The term “ornamentation” refers to figures and patterns intended to beautify objects.

Ornaments never stand on their own. They always rely on a foundation. Ornamentation is said to be a solution to man’s intrinsic fear of emptiness and his need to fill vacuums. Thus man has valued ornamentation since primitive times, and has employed decorative patterns which reflect the tastes and values of the day.

Traditional Clover pattern

Most figures and patterns are simplified representations of man’s view of nature and the world, shaped and ordered within boundaries. Among Japanese figures one can find a variety of designs, some modeled on real objects, others symbolic of natural phenomena.

Seven Treasures Sashiko Pattern

Some figures are composed like a painting, but Emoyo “patterns” usually refer to graphic shapes which could be used alone as decoration r could be composed of repetitions of figures. Yet, while a pattern evolves from a graphic form, it is quite different in nature from fine art, which can be seen as a pure expression of man’s essence. While fine art tends to be individual expression, patterns develop from common feelings and world views.

Forms which are combined into a symbolic pattern of those with a specific meaning are often called Mon (crests). These include family crests, highly abstract and refined symmetrical patterns which date from the Kamakura period (12th century), and are modelled after plants, animals, natural phenomena, tools, geometric shapes and characters.

Family Crest of Tokugawa (3 inward-pointing, circularly enclosed hollyhock leaves)

Traditional Japanese Sashiko Pattern
Traditional Japanese Sashiko Pattern

This article is extracted from Sashiko Blue and White Quilt Art of Japan by Kazuko Mende and Reiko Morishige.

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Indigo and Sashiko

Japanese Indigo Plants

Indigo and Sashiko

The word “Indigo” in Japanese evokes special feelings – of both fondness and nostalgia – among many Japanese people.

Indigo is actually the name of a plant. First introduced to Japan from ancient Egypt via China at around the 3rd century A.D., it has been cultivated as a source of dye since then. Cotton dyed in indigo is strong, warm in winter, cool in summer and rarely moth-eaten. Cotton dyed indigo fabric became popular throughout Japan during the Edo period (1603 – 1867). But while the dyed fabric itself needed little care initially, extracting the dye from plant was quite a troublesome and time consuming task. And it took more effort than for other natural dyes to keep indigo in usable condition.

The life cycle of indigo dye is said to resemble that of a human being.

Indigo processing
Soaked indigo leaves are strained though a nylon mesh bag

In the beginning, indigo in a pot is pale in color. As it matures, it becomes darker in color until it ends its life as a dye. Like man, indigo is born, grows, matures and ages. In fact, according to a Japanese saying, nursing a pot of indigo is as difficult as bringing up a child. Although today our work is made easier by the existence of chemical dyes colored indigo, the dye extracted from the indigo plant is still highly valued.

sashiko denim
Sashiko Embroidered Shirt

The pattern craft called “sashiko” was originally employed to make sturdy, warm work-clothes. In order to clothe their husbands in outfits that were both warm and strong, the wives of farmers and fishermen sewed together two or more pieces of fabric and lovingly adorned them with original designs. These patterns were passed on to later generations and their use eventually spread throughout Japan.

Using such traditional materials as indigo-dyed cloth and through the use of the simple technique of sashiko, we have fashioned artistic works which suit contemporary lifestyle.

This article is extracted from Sashiko Blue and White Quilt Art of Japan by Kazuko Mende and Reiko Morishige.