Repairing loved items using Sashiko

I‘ve been busy with my needle and thread, repairing a much loved item!

Being invited into a client’s home is such a privilege – our home is our inner sanctum and our escape from the world. It’s where we keep ourselves and our families, our stuff and our secrets, our loved items. It’s where we know we won’t be judged or asked to explain ourselves. Home is a sanctuary.

So every time I go to a client’s house or office for a Tidying Session, I appreciate that it takes a deep breath of courage for them. It’s not easy to offer up your items and your home for discussion, for questioning.

Courage to discard, courage to keep

One of the reasons I love my job as a trainee KonMari consultant is that I get to see the beautiful interactions between my clients and their beloved possessions in their homes. I think sometimes there’s a perception that I’m with a client only to encourage them to get rid of stuff. While that is a part of the job that I enjoy, seeing them grow in strength and confidence, it’s not the only part.

‘Keep it with confidence’

Marie Kondo

When we’re doing a joy check of whichever category we’re working on, I remind my clients of Marie Kondo’s quote, above. While decluttering does have to see some items marching out of the front door to a charitable cause (otherwise we’re just rearranging our clutter), items that do spark joy should indeed be kept with confidence.

But what to do when you truly love something and find it broken, worn or spoiled by years of careless storage?

Well – perhaps the bin doesn’t always need to be the first port of call.

Fix it – or find an expert to

I recently attended my third SHE Malta networking event. They’re always great opportunities to hear interesting and inspirational women speak, and to see new or unique brands be showcased. At this event I spoke with FashRev Malta, who aim to reduce the amount of clothes we send to landfill. We chatted enthusiastically and I left with a handful of maps to to pass on to my clients, so they too could know about these talented repairers throughout the islands.

For a fairly small group of islands, Malta has a really excellent diversity of craftspeople, carpenters, dressmakers, cobblers, and electrical specialists. Repairing and reusing is definitely a realistic option, and one that I increasingly try to turn to myself.

When clothing items in our home are no longer usable I’m trying to keep them, to upcycle into something else. I’m lucky enough to have a little time at the moment to do this, so it seems only right. I find sewing, even ‘only’ repairing, very therapeutic. In this instance a red towel had rudely dyed my favourite flannel nightshirt, rendering it totally unwearable, even after several rounds with mineral bleach and washes with a Colour Catcher sheet.

My most recent (and still ongoing) project is Sashiko repair – a Japanese technique that highlights the repair process on the garment by keeping the stitching visible. I’d been wanting to trial this method for some time but was waiting for the perfect item to try it out on.

Spoiler: a king sized sheet is not the best item to start with. Try a pair of denim shorts or a t-shirt with a small hole instead. This took quite a while.

My attempt at repairing a loved item using Sashiko

I began one Tuesday morning when I noticed that the small tear on a favourite bedsheet had once again expanded. It was time! I took my small sewing kit (honestly, a needle, some coloured pins and some white thread) and an old nightshirt to the dining table and spread the sheet out.

This image shows my favourite MissPrint bedsheet with an elongated tear that seemed to get longer every time I came to it.
The tear – growing every time I wasn’t looking directly at it.

I measured the area of the tear in the sheet and added a little extra for ‘just in case’ and cut a suitably sized strip from the arm of the nightshirt (the arm was simply the right shape and also the dye damage was less hideous there).

In agreement with the tutorials I’d checked out online, I tacked the patch loosely to the underside of the sheet. Because the tear was quite long and thin, I decided to begin sewing my ‘proper’ Sashiko stitches halfway along it for some reason. Something to do with ‘steadying the tear’ perhaps? My mum will possibly weep reading this because it makes no sense at all.

This image shows my sheet with the navy blue and white striped patch beneath, and the first line of tiny Sashiko repair stitches in place.
Adding the first line of Sashiko stitching – along the mid-line of the tear – for a reason I cannot fathom

Anyway, Sashiko loosely translates as ‘little stabs’ and the idea is that many small, straight stitches are used to add strength to the repaired area. I tried to stick to this, and it turned out that choosing a striped piece of fabric to patch the sheet was a bonus – the stripes acted as guidelines.

In the end I managed to secure the patch to the sheet using these ‘little stabs’. I felt proud! The sheet will soon be back in business! The stitches are in no way as neat, small or regular as the online tutorials, but I feel that it’s strong enough.

This image shows three lines of rather uneven Sashiko stitching, carried out using a white poly thread on a cream and black sheet with naby and white patch.

I have high hopes that my Sashiko Sheet, when completed, will have another few years of use in it.

Do I need specialist equipment?

If you’re to do Sashiko properly (read: regularly, and with more accuracy than I’m doing), it’s possible to order a special Sashiko thimble, thread and needle online. Because of the number of small stitches needed, using a Sashiko needle allows you to ‘load’ many stitches onto the needle at once, reducing the amount of times you actually need to push the needle through the fabric. I could have happily used one of those, given the size of the tear I was mending! The thimble would most certainly be useful if tougher fabrics such as cotton twill or denim needed fixing – it’d be hard going on the thumb for sure!

If you’re interested in repairing loved items using Sashiko, click here for Toast’s expert guide. There are tonnes of YouTube guides, of course, too, if you prefer video.

Do you fix torn or broken clothes? Tell me why, or why not, in the comments below.

Goodbye for now, from my sheet and I.

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