the sacred stitch: sashiko -hand vs machine

“Create the look of traditional, hand-work stitching passed down through generations on the Sashiko Machine. Replicate this distinctive and celebrated stitch and add a hand-stitched touch to any project with a machine that is truly the first of its kind.”

is it just me or does anyone else feel the irony of this advertising pitch? am i alone in feeling that i no longer belong in this world?

somehow, replicating the look of celebrated traditional handwork by purchasing a $2000 machine to reproduce a facsimile just doesn’t work for me. if i want to make something that has the appearance of hand stitching, then i will hand stitch it. machine stitching looks like machine stitching. regardless of stitch length.

i’m sure that there are many fine uses for a sachiko (long stitch) type sewing machine. i could probably invent a few of them myself. but let’s leave sashiko to the hand stitchers. there is an inherent beauty and wisdom in sashiko that cannot be replicated by machine- no matter how you flower up the marketing.

of course if you aren’t willing to invest the time to study, practice, and observe what traditional sashiko has to offer then you will never know- not all things are meant to be diminished for the sake of speed and profit. i hope that anyone purchasing a sashiko machine for making sashiko has been able to experience the real thing just to know the difference. because we do.

for a little history of sashiko you can go here.

there are many traditional and contemporary interpretations of sashiko. and of course, sashiko’s early roots can be found in beloved boro. order the book here.

and then of course there is jude’s work. can you imagine it done by machine? i can’t.

for more images of sashiko, try google images.

i think natalie said it perfectly :

“really, sashiko is a walking meditation with thread.”

i don’t think you are going to get that with a sashiko machine.

and if you were wondering, shibori has utilized some sashiko designs:

this left me wondering, which came first- the shibori design or the sashiko design. guess i’ll have to do a little more research on that.

43 thoughts on “the sacred stitch: sashiko -hand vs machine

  1. jude

    i was so shocked when i saw that machine advertised. there is no ripple in the stitch, there is no natural variation in the tension, there is no time to wonder. and there is too much noise to hear the needle passing through the cloth. and then there is the other side which gives it all away. what’s the point really. well, i might answer that, but well, you know.

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    1. shiborigirl

      when i was in japan last time i bought a piece of this machined “sashiko” just to have an example of it’s machined quality.i had not seen machined “sashiko” before. it was cheap and dyed in blue to represent indigo. made in china, imported to japan, for tourists and non-textilions. at the time, i hadn’t seen this commercial version of the machine but it was so obviously not hand stitched. we’ve come a long way baby. or have we?

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  2. Michelle in NYC

    Jude gave me the keys to this door of perception. Late to the party, I struggle on through arthritic thumb, single handed, and with a realistically modest goal of continuing. And I am sooooooo grateful. The machine mocks itself amply. We need not worry, or, as Abbey Lincoln sings it “You can never lose a thing if it belongs to you.” Abbey Lincoln: Throw It Away-

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    1. shiborigirl

      i feel as if doing handwork keeps my hands from becoming too stiff. i hope to stave it off at least a bit. but morning stiffness in my hands tells me differently. handwork serves a higher purpose and those who practice it see the rewards in various ways. there is a shibori machine being currently marketed that takes the physical strain out of the process (among other things). i feel the need to keep my body moving and feeling the work as i perform it. there is a synchronicity that occurs between the making mind and the physical body that correlates. i have no need to remove all the physical activity from it and replace it with machine induced inactivity.

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  3. Diana Angus

    I agree. I am a Jude devotee and also admire Dorothy Caldwell’s work. She has studied hand stitching/embroidery in many countries and when she talks about it or gives a workshop about it, most of the people can feel the importance of the hand stitch. It IS meditative. It is also a vehicle for self expression and, when done in a community, it draws together the people who are working on a piece together.

    A machine can’t do that.

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  4. Peg Yates

    I feel the same way. By using a machine, the lovely tradition of hand stitching is lost. The only benefit of a machine is to mass produce items, and again the beauty of the uneven hand-made piece is lost, making it more about quantity, not quality.

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  5. deanna7trees

    i, personally, agree with all that has been said and i wouldn’t think of doing sashiko on a machine. however different souls are satisfied in different ways. so maybe a little experience with sashiko on the machine might eventually send some stitchers over to the other side to learn more.

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  6. Sunny Hemphill

    A machine can be built to sew thousands of beautiful stitches, including a plain, widely spaced stitch. But it can’t hand stitch. Hand stitching by its very nature is done by humans, each of whom (thank goodness) brings personality and physical ability and skill and quirk and blessed, beautifully perfect imperfection. That said, many people can’t do hand work because of physical limitation. For those people, a machine can allow an enormous degree of art. Not hand work, not the beauty of meditative stitching, but what that person can do. I wouldn’t buy a sashiko machine, but I won’t criticize those who do. My distaste is for the marketing spiel that sells a machine as a substitute for hand stitching artistry, but then they’ve been selling formula as a substitute for breast milk for decades so obviously anything will be said to make a buck. Art has always been assailed by mechanical devices. This is just one more.

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    1. shiborigirl

      yes and sometimes i feel the need to “tune the dial”. this was not a criticism of the machine itself-but of the mfg choice of marketing tactics. they could have stated it otherwise.

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  7. Mandi

    I own one of these machines. Now don’t hate me! I have a reason.

    I don’t want or ever plan to use it in my artwork. But, I also make myself garments. And in between life and artmaking, my desire for a unique garment doesn’t allow the time to also hand stitch said garment.

    So I have the machine to stitch garments and little handbags. I have a cute linen summer jacket that I started stitching on the machine but haven’t finished because of time. I know what real sashiko is, and I certainly know, understand and appreciate the difference between it and the machine. I am not an uninformed consumer who fell for a line from a manufacturer.

    In the end, the real reason the machine exists (or at least someone like me buys one) is to create something that isn’t meant to be cherished forever, but enjoyed for a short time. So it saves time to use the machine.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this machine in action, but it is not a real handstitch look on the back side. Because of the action of the machine it looks like a regular lockstitch on the backside, so there is no way to try to use it to actually mimic authentic sashiko.

    One last thing…I don’t know of anyone who owns one of these machines who has any thought of actually trying to reproduce sashiko in the way it is traditionally known. Most want to “hand quilt” a quilt (now that they have arthritis and can no longer do hand work) or hand quilt grandkids garments (which will be outgrown in months). They like the sashiko patterns, but the whole tradition of sashiko is not something important to them.

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    1. serenapotter

      i don’t think there’s anything wrong with the machine creating a longer stitch and people liking this, but just don’t begin to pass it off as anything related to handwork. let it be it’s own thing and market it as such.

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      1. shiborigirl

        use it in artwork, craftwork, any work at all. much art is created with the use of machines of various kinds. that is not the point. i don’t see why you couldn’t create anything you wanted to with it-with the intention of also creating a cherished object to love forever. it is all about intention when it comes to making. i do not like the thought of making something with the intention of it being disposable.

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        1. serenapotter

          i think i just dislike this notion that hand vs. machine exists.
          they were and never are to compete with one another
          and the more commercial quilting, marketing, textile industry shoves them together the more confused, upset and muddled it all becomes, even if not especially for the artists/crafters.

          anyone who jumps back and forth knows it.
          i don’t hand quilt with the desire to make it look machine pieced, nor would i attempt to pass it off as such.
          (it doesn’t mean i dislike machine work)

          it just creates this growing idea in the laymans mind of

          “well a machine can do that a lot faster….”
          no. it can’t. it never can and never will

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  8. Christine

    I love hand stitching…wouldn’t even think of using this.
    Diana Angus and I took a class at the Cleveland Museum of Art 2 weekend’s ago given by Dorothy Caldwell. We stitched using the Indian Kantha method. It was divinely splendid to be in a room with a group of women, each stitching in their own rhythm. Dorothy is an American born artist who has lived in Ontario for 30+ years. Her work concentrates on hand stitching and historical mending methods. More recently, she spent time with India Flint as they trekked the Ochre hills of Australia together. Then she went to the Canadian Arctic to study how indigenous peoples use their own sense of maps.
    she doesn’t have a website,but you can see some work here:
    http://www.textilemuseum.ca/apps/index.cfm?page=exhibition.detail&exhId=62

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  9. Michele Unger

    I must agree completely….if I want something hand done I am not going to spend $2000 to buy a machine to imitate hand sewing. There is way too much of this sort of thing, in my opinion, anyway. I don’t want faux. I want real. Whatever it is! No faux sour cream, no faux sashiko, no faux pas either, if I can help it!

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  10. Ingrid

    Isn’t it a pity that it is deemed necessary to “cheapen” everything, to try and reproduce quickly with poor quality and great financial return products for those who do not appreciate the beauty and soul of the handcrafted and can then throw it away tomorrow and go on to something else A machine to reproduce sashiko – ridiculous!! Thank you Glennis and Jude, may you keep inspiring us.

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  11. serenapotter

    i mentioned something about this and some other commercial stuff in the quilt/stitch community to my mama the other night

    whores! she said
    the whole lot of them have just turned to whores.
    she’s kind of getting crotchety lately but i still liked the exclamation.
    spit and make an x.

    i think the danger is more so in the fact that like phasing in any new technology inevitably does… a rift is created in the overall understanding of what the true hand made version is and entails

    as this seeps out into the public at large any technique becomes a sort of bastardized version of itself.

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  12. dianaTrout

    Yes, indeed … using “sashhiko” and “machine” together is an oxymoron. I get lost in the stitch. I found a book once in the library called “Sashiko” and nabbed it only to discover that they were using a machine. Not interested. But I can understand Mandi’s point of view as well. Well said, Glennis

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  13. Martha

    I too feel the need to experience needle, thread, and thimble in one hand, cloth in the other. We become one. This is such a manic time of year that it is even more important to me.

    I was introduced to this machine once while visiting a sewing machine store. I was wearing a vest that I had made with sashiko stitch (mine, hand-done) on the lapel. The salesclerk first complimented me on my vest, and but then launched into the sales pitch. Jarring.

    My grandmother was a hand-stitch woman too. She must have stitched to the end. I have some embroidered pillow cases that she stitched mind wandering, hands arthritic and clouded vision. The designs are wobbly but they keep her present for me.

    Thanks to Spirit Cloth and Shibori Girl for inspiring posts.

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  14. india

    technology has it’s pros and cons. i drive a car rather than exhausting my horses to get to town. the telephone is [mostly] less messy than tying notes to the legs of pigeons. the internet is handy for sharing stories [and having conversations like those here] and certainly i use a sewing machine [and serger] when constructing costumes for dance [they won’t give me a ten-year lead up to hand sew in time].
    but just as i can’t imagine taking an electronic reader to bed [or out in the garden] with a cup of tea, so i’d much rather spend peaceful time following a threaded needle along the ridges and valleys of a crumpled cloth than grinding away relentlessly at the mercy of a motor.

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  15. LINDA STEININGER

    Is anybody still here? It’s been 14 months since the last post…
    I was looking to find a used Sashiko machine because there is no way I would pay the price of a new one! I used to love to do hand work, but have never been really good at it. I’m always in too much of a rush to want to get it done and don’t have even, perfect stitches or spaces. I look at other peoples works of art and feel embarrassed and ashamed that I am so sloppy. I have given up on the machine search. Maybe at 68, I can take things easier, forget about the hurry and being perfect, and just work on doing what I love? Most people who will look at my work can’t or won’t do it and will think mine is great….

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    1. Glennis

      yes linda, we are still here. there have been many many posts since this one. just click on the header here and it will take you to the most recent one.
      i think at 68 it’s time to work on what you love, exactly as it suits you. hurray!

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  16. Giuliana Nakashima

    While I share and understand your love of hand wrought Sashiko, having grown up doing this many hours with my Obaasan, I am faced with the reality of arthritis. The machine gives me great pleasure in recounting my time with my grandmother. I fear that too much judging of non-handworked pieces hurts more than it helps keep hand worked arts alive. I say, lets make room for both. Namaste,

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    1. shiborigirl Post author

      how lucky you are to have learned at the knee of Obaasan!! much has been posted on this blog in the time since this post was written and your comment gave me reason to go back and reread both the post and all the lovely comments. 5 years have passed in the time since this was written and having reread my own writings here i can still stand by them. that being said, i do really appreciate that this is still being considered and thought about by folks like you- adapting to the encroachment of time and physical limitations of this mortal life through craft. that in itself is a worthy topic (my hands still feel the daily pain of having been a daily maker since an early age.)!
      but once again, having been through even yet another 5 additional years of shows i still recoil there when i see companies trying to sell products as a shortcut to handmade and making all sorts of ridiculous claims about them simply in pursuit of the dollar (yen, yuan, peso…). this pains me as much as the daily pain of my overused hands…

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