Boro is the age old Japanese art of mending textiles and is literally translated as rags or scraps of cloth. As far back as the 17th century, peasants, merchants and artisans would patch up clothing and quilts using scraps of old kimonos or hemp fabric, making the garment last long enough to be passed down through generations. Sashiko is a form of embroidery, usually a running stitch, and is literally translated to little stabs. It’s sturdy method makes is ideal for boro and perfect for mending denim. I love the exposed stitching and idea of using various patches to play with pattern and various shades of indigo. Needless to say, ever since I mended my first pair of denim using sashiko embroidery, I’ve been hooked. Not a single pair of ripped denim is safe. I’m coming after you!
How dreamy are these vintage boro quilts?
I should first introduce you to sashiko thread. Sashiko thread is just a tad thinner than embroidery thread. It has less sheen and it’s also bound tighter so that it doesn’t fray or split as easily. For that reason, it’s extremely easy to embroider with so I highly suggest tracking it down – especially for this project, where you’ll be stitching through thick fabric like denim. I’ve even started substituting it for embroidery thread for other projects, including these earrings. It’s good stuff!
Before you get started, pick out your fabrics. Cut them in a shape that is at least an inch larger, than the opening in the denim, on all sides. Insert the piece of fabric into the leg of the jeans.
Align the fabric under the opening, again, making sure there is at least an inch extra on all sides. If you’re patching denim around the knees, give the center of the fabric some slack so when you bend your leg, the fabric won’t be pulled so taut that it will tear. Pin the fabric into place. You can start stitching in any pattern or direction. I’ve chosen to stitch horizontally – so a ruler and a disappearing fabric marker helps guide that first line of stitching.
Sashiko needles have an even thickness, a large eye and more importantly, length. As you’ll see, a long needle is necessary for sashiko embroidery. Thread the needle with about a yard of the sashiko thread and tie into a double knot at the end of the single thread.
Insert the needle through the denim without pulling the thread all the way through. While holding the denim and fabric together, continue running the needle through the denim. The proportion of a standard sashiko stitch is 3:2 – the longer stitch being on the outside of the denim.
Pull the thread all the way through once you have multiple stitches on the needle. Pull the fabric taut.
Continue until you have reached the end of the row.
Start another row, going in the opposite direction and continue that zig zagging your way up.
A tip: a thimble can be really helpful. You’ll notice the pads of your fingers will start to get sore, after repeatedly pushing it through thick denim. To use a sashiko thimble, put it over your middle finer with the thimble rested against the palm of your hand. Press the top of the needle against the thimble and use your fingers to simply guide the needle. The pressure of the needle against the thimble helps push the needle through your line easily.
I personally like to tie off the thread when I reach the bottom of the ripped opening and then start again at the top, working downwards. You can either stitch over the fabric or stitch around it.
You can also stitch patches over the rips and openings. Play around with the positions and stitching!
And that’s it . . .
Happy denim mending!
(images by HonestlyWTF)