To Sashiko the Spirit

One of the simplest stitches to embroider with, is the straight stitch. It is most useful in joining fabric, mending a rip and even darning. In Japan, Sashiko is a form of needlework to reinforce fabric through the basic straight stitch, in a variety of patterns. There is something beautiful in mending and Sashiko has taken a spiritual dimension for some.

Detail of a mid-19th century kimono decorated using Sashiko, with white cotton threads on an indigo-dyed plain weave background (Metropolitan Museum of Art) Pic credit ~ Wikipedia

Melanie McGrath wrote a wonderful lockdown essay last year, on how Sashiko can help mend a frayed world, help women compensate in small measure for the depradations of aging, achieve a sense of beauty in the incomplete and the imperfect. Sashiko exemplifies, she avers, the principle of Wabi Sabi. It celebrates the repair of a rip, helps locate beauty in a mend.

I think the poem worked it’s way around to framing questions to the answers already inherent in Sashiko and Wabi Sabi. It inspired me to begin writing about this last year but I never got around to finishing this poem that has seen countless revisions.

The inspiration for the poem came from the chikankari embroidery of Lucknow, India, as much as from Japanese Sashiko and Wabi Sabi. Both employ the straight stitch.

This is a Tepchi work saree in the Chikankari embroidery of Lucknow, India. It’s too intricate to wear so I hung it on a wall instead 🙂 I edited the photo a bit to make visible the otherwise white stitches, on a light pastel cotton fabric. It resembles Sashiko, except the patterns are intricate.

Process and Form:

Fabric becomes a metaphor for spirit in the poem as well as for the body or the heart. I had written it as a prose poem earlier but later moved to free verse and then again to prose. I now think it’s simply a work in progress until I get the philosophy of this in order. It begins as it ends, with a series of rhetorical questions. It holds solutions of Sashiko to healing what is hurt in the physical or conscious realm, such as the body, the mind or heart, the issues all of our humanity faces in the course of a single lifetime , yet there is something else besides our working conscious and subconscious or isn’t there? If there isn’t, life then would feel simply like a limitation. Perhaps, I’m unable to articulate right now this nascent line of thinking but in time …

I haven’t worked on Sashiko yet, but this is the closest example I could find in my closet. An Indian scarf or a ‘dupatta’ that employs the straight stitch.
The one is more like Sashiko. This straight stitch is called ‘Tepchi’ in Chikankari; it isn’t uncommon to have this hand embroidered all over seven yards of fabric for a saree. This particular work is on my cotton scarf or the Indian ‘dupatta’.

Can a fish drown or a butterfly gasp in the wind / 

Scars fester under the gauze of a smile / as the candle wax of youth drips steady in a strange economy / distraught minds melt into a stream reaching to oceans for a salty dissolution / or bruised bone, brines in the salinity of time //

Isn't time simply a callus over passions / an assortment of calluses / and love seems an ephemeral thing, lost in euphemisms / that help stitch sonnets in traumatized tissues of birth / or weave stitches in tercets to erase carcinoma that create maps of the cosmos on skin / Torn unwieldy feelings are elegies cobbled with tatting needles to create a Frankenmonster / that wants to find and punish it's maker / as it reaches back for us in a cold and callused heart, that's a torn limb become wound wood / sequestering in those dark spaces, buried treasures of pungent memories or medals of honour in the life scars we flaunt //

The sun, arbitrates mortality and stills the breath / We are creatures of habit hitched to this solar arc / or the madness of lunations / and posses no philosophy to life until facing our own demise / or the carcass of our dreams washed to the shores of time / To graft a body, to darn a heart or hem the mind is simply a straight stitch that points to sunrise / the pacemaker of a day unravelling the knots of the night //

Yet, how does one Sashiko the spirit as it disintegrates to ash / Does it lay there withered in it's silent demise / exhaled by the wind to unworldly whispers / never knowing itself or how it spirits into flesh / How does one mend a soul that it may love to live or live to love or become love or become life //

I believe the last verse turned a bit sad this morning since a friend lost her brother to COVID and she spoke of a man beloved of his community, who had to be buried in the absence of one, without the accoutrements of a proper burial. There have been more deaths than can be handled in her city, with no undertakers nor priests, families under lockdown unable to console each other. Yet, she wondered of all the plans she made with her brother for a future that he does not have anymore.


Embroidery has always held a special place for me. My grandmother loved to embroider. I have embroidered quite a bit to create beautiful patterns in thread, but Sashiko is about elevating damaged fabric and it’s subsequent repair to a place of beauty. I like the premise of this, in that it engenders healing. It’s truly a Sashiko mindset that requires we rework the patterns on a frayed spirit, innovating on the spiritual canvas so to speak, a different blueprint of stitches for reinforcement of the self to a place of compassion for ourselves and others. Yet, I do wonder of the consciousness we are imbued in; how does this spirit or soul mend, if it exists, if at all?

References:

Sashiko~The Japanese folk art of sashiko mending is a stunning answer to our modern woes~ https://matadornetwork.com/read/japanese-sashiko-mending/

Chikankari~Tepchi Stitch~https://www.utsavpedia.com/motifs-embroideries/tepchistitch/

One thought on “To Sashiko the Spirit

  1. Pingback: The Field Of The Embroidered Quilt – The Erudite Boeotian

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s