By Patricia Belyea
SEATTLE WA Many of you know that Victoria and I currently use Baby Lock’s Sashiko 2 to finish our quilts. This one-of-a-kind sewing machine lets us quilt our projects by machine to create a hand-stitched look. Victoria sets up the dashed stitch to match my natural hand-stitch length—which allows me to add a little detailed hand stitching to every quilt.
WHAT IS TRADITIONAL SASHIKO STITCHING? Sashiko, typically a running stitch made with white thread on indigo fabric, translates to little stabs. Used functionally to strengthen worn out clothes or to add bulky warmth to clothing, sashiko stitch patterns repeat common geometric motifs like waves, mountains, bamboo, and more.
With each stitch, the sashiko stitcher wishes for her family’s good health and a rich harvest.
BELOW: A sample of sashiko stitching, made by hand, from the textile collection of Amy Katoh.
SASHIKO 2: WHO, WHAT, WHERE & WHY?
The Sashiko sewing machine was developed by father/son team, Koichi Sakuma and Toru Sakuma, in 2009. They wanted to make Mrs. Sakuma’s hobby of sashiko stitching more enjoyable. Product engineers, Koichi-san and Toru-san both worked for the Suzuki Machinery Company in Yamagata.
In Japan, Yamagata is one the three major regions for sashiko stitching—with a traditional technique called shonai sashiko. The stitch pattern is characterized by straight lines made with a running stitch that cross and recross each other.
BELOW Sashiko 2 sewing machine (top); stitching by the Sashiko 2 (bottom).
VISITING THE SASHIKO 2 FACTORY
As much as I would love to visit the Yamagata factory, I have never ventured that far north of Tokyo. So instead, I asked the Baby Lock JP team to take me on a virtual tour. Here are photos of some of the people who make the Sashiko 2 sewing machines.
BELOW: Precision manufacturing of the Sashiko 2 (top and middle); the whole team of the Suzuki Manufacturing Company in Yamagata (bottom).
WHAT CAN YOU MAKE WITH A SASHIKO 2 MACHINE?
The Baby Lock JP team answered this question with: tapestries, bed covers, bags, pouches, jackets, shirts, vests, hats, and so on. If you asked Victoria and me, we would say: quilts!
BELOW: The Baby Lock JP team supplied these photos of Sashiko 2 projects: shirt and vest made by Junichi Motomori; cap made by Kyoko Kawasaki; handbag made by Mariko Nakata; table runner and coasters made by Mariko Nishizawa.
BABY LOCK JP AT THE 2020 TOKYO QUILT FESTIVAL
On Opening Day of the Tokyo Quilt Festival, I met some of the Baby Lock JP team members at the Baby Lock booth. In a gesture of friendship, I gave them a small quilt sample that Victoria had stitched on our Sashiko 2 machine.
The following day, a contingent of Sashiko 2 team members took the three-hour trip from Yamagata to meet me! I was honored to meet Toru Sakuma, the younger inventor of the Sashiko 2. I suggested to Toru-san that I would like a bigger bobbin in the next version of the machine and he took notes. Fingers crossed!
While at the booth, I made a little pouch using the Sashiko 2 machine and a Baby Lock serger. Then, just before I left, the Baby Lock JP team presented me with an amazing banner that had been uber-stitched with the Sashiko 2 machine. What a precious gift!
BELOW Inventor Toru Sakuma with the sample quilt from Okan Arts in the background (top); some members of the Baby Lock JP team with the gorgeous banner made by Mariko Nakata that they gave to me (middle); a close-up of the Sashiko 2 stitching on the banner (bottom).
WORKING WITH THE SASHIKO 2
Victoria has become the expert at Okan Arts on using the Sashiko 2. I appreciate her ability to dream up stitch patterns that complement my quilt designs. We have used the machine to stitch small sample quilts as well as 60" x 60" exhibit quilts. In the future, we have some larger quilts in the queue we plan to finish with the Sashiko 2.
Here are some useful facts about the machine:
-the machine makes dashed stitches on the front and a solid line of stitches on the back
-when the Sashiko 2 makes a stitch on top, it doubles back and takes a second stitch right on top of the first stitch—making the stitching look twice as heavy
-the machine has adjustments for four stitch lengths and four gap lengths
-there is no top thread
-the thread feeds from the bobbin to create the sashiko-like stitches
-on small projects that you can move around in the throat of the machine, the Sashiko 2 can make swirls and curls with the stitching
-on big projects, the Sashiko 2 can make gentle curves or lock into a straight line of stitches
BELOW: Detail of Sakura, a quilt by Patricia Belyea that’s been stitched on the Sashiko 2 by Victoria Stone—dashed stitches on the quilt top are marked with a compressed chalk pencil (top); solid lines of stitching on the quilt back (bottom).