I've been selling these lovely 'hanafukin' sashiko samplers from Olympus for a few years now and they have always been very popular as a way to dip your toe into sashiko for the first time, and to give as gifts.
The first time I encountered sashiko was on a trip to Japan many years ago when I spotted the rabbit sampler in a craft shop in Kyoto. I just loved the design and could see it was made by following the printed lines with a running stitch, but I had no idea there was a special name for this type of embroidery at the time. The design appealed to me because I knew the Japanese fable of the rabbit who lives on the moon making mochi rice cakes. So I bought the sampler, along with needles and cream thread, and spent some happy evenings stitching it after my daughter was in bed.
I returned to the craft shop to learn more about sashiko, and as soon as I got home I ordered Susan Briscoe's book and began to practice more. Eventually I began teaching sashiko in my workshops and importing the samplers, needles and threads.
I kept that first rabbit I made, and used it as a sample at shows for years; everybody loved it and the rabbit has always been my best seller. Several years later, as a way of introducing more of the different coloured threads, I stitched a Mount Fuji sampler using various colours. This was also a hit. So when I had a rebrand earlier this year, my partner (who was doing the rebranding) suggested I should make a sample of ALL the designs, and make them into kits. Considering I have about 20 different designs, this was no small project!
My routine became: work during the day as usual, then spend every evening doing sashiko with Netflix and Nutmeg for company. My partner did a great job designing lovely, bright labels for each kit, which I then had printed. In time I had stitched a sample of each design, and in some cases two, so I have variations in thread colours for people to choose. I even redid the rabbit one with subtle pale pink thread for the cherry blossoms, and pale blue for the waves. The problem is, as soon as I think I've finished, I see a new design I want to get! So now I'm back to stitching again every day...
Look out for new kits each time you visit!
It's always about this time of year when people first start to mention *whispers* Christmas, but believe me I've been thinking about it for months! Apart from the fact I absolutely love it, I have to make sure I have something suitable for that perfect gift whatever a customer's skill level or budget.
Although I don't stock specific 'Christmas' products, there are many items which people buy as gifts, for example bundles of fat quarters, charm packs and kits. If the recipient is into sewing then the fabric itself is the gift. Other times a customer will make up the bag, cushion or whatever, and give that.
One thing that is always popular in the run-up to Christmas is the Mini Rice Bag Kit. When I am at a show, I always get lots of people saying they've made it on a workshop with me in the past or they've bought a kit before, and more often than not it has led to them making many more Mini Rice Bags for family and friends. They are just so versatile!
So, what is a Mini Rice Bag?
Similar bags to these are called Komebukuro (kome = uncooked rice, bukuro = bag) in Japan. They were traditionally made from scraps of fabric stitched together, then filled with rice and given as an offering at a local temple. These bags were to celebrate and give thanks for a good harvest, so the fabrics used were often cheerful and bright. Although made from scraps of used clothing, genuine antique komebukuro are relatively rare these days and very expensive to buy.
As I mentioned, I've been selling this kit for quite a while and used to teach workshops on it, but it never seems to get any less popular. I think because the price is very reasonable, it is often bought as a Secret Santa or stocking filler, or a 'little extra' present.
So it seemed fitting to revamp this little kit using some of the lovely new indigo/non metallic fabrics I've been getting recently. Many of these designs are by the famous Japanese manufacturer Sevenberry.
I always make these bags by hand and they don't take long at all, but you can also make them by machine, which is useful if you decide everyone needs one for Christmas!
In the kit you get 12 squares of fabric ready-cut. The bag is reversible, so you can choose which to have on the inside and which on the outside. All these pictures are of the same bag.
You also get the drawstring (this comes in different colours) and of course the instructions, which are in full colour with pictures to help you.
The whole thing comes in a little bag with a bright, colourful label in case you want to give the kit as a gift.
In Japanese crafts it's all in the detail, so the instructions also teach you how to make these dinky toggles to go on the end of the drawstrings - you'll be putting them on every bag you make! I also like to topstitch around the bag with a contrasting thread (in this case, a sashiko thread). Not only does this add to the handmade charm of the bag, but it finishes it neatly, too. If you don't want your stitches to show, you can do this on the machine.
So, who's on your 'nice' list this year to receive a Mini Rice Bag Kit?
I always look forward to receiving deliveries from Japan, especially when I know there are new products inside! This time, I was also looking forward to having the indigo kofu tsumugi fabric back in stock. Olympus (the manufacturers) had been out of stock for a few weeks so I hadn't had any supplies for a while. I made sure that this time I had lots of bolts of this fabric sent, so hopefully I won't run out again any time soon!
This is a relatively small, top-up order so it came in one large box, with a smaller box full of bolts.
Everything is packed very neatly in layers, separated by sheets of Japanese newspaper. These are the Sports pages, so not very interesting to me, although I might use them to practice my Japanese reading later.
Underneath the first layer of paper were sashiko threads in 100m and 20m skeins. I remember when I first started selling sashiko about 7 years ago and not many people had heard of it. Those who tried it usually wanted the 'traditional' blue fabric and white or cream thread.
Nowadays, sashiko has exploded thanks to Instagram, Pinterest, TV shopping channels etc, and has become very popular indeed. The great thing is, people are becoming much more adventurous with their choice of colours in both fabrics and threads. I love it! This is also the case in Japan, where cream-on-blue looks a little old fashioned to younger people, who prefer experimenting with different colours. It has breathed new life into an old craft, which is wonderful.
This time I needed to restock the 100m skeins of white and cream, as well as several other colours, and some 20m colours, both variegated and plain.
Although I work from home most of the time I never get lonely because I alway have little Nutmeg to keep me company. Have you seen, she even has her own Instagram page! She is quite famous, and loves all her followers so feel free to follow her and keep up with all her adventures.
She helped to unpack the threads, then decided that was enough hard work for the day and went upstairs for a well-earned nap.
Next in the box were lots of sashiko samplers. Some of them are top-ups of popular designs, but there are also four new designs in there...three sashiko and one hitomezashi, can you spot them? I need to stitch these up as samples and then make them into kits once I'm happy with the thread colours. If you have any ideas for colour combos, jot them in the comments box below or drop me a line and I'll see what I can do.
As I said, I love getting new products in, and today was no exception. Under the next layer of newspaper were these stunning new kogin cushion kits! Oh, I can't wait to get started stitching a sample, but I have a lot of other ones to do first...
Last but not least are these 2-way Apron/Tote Bag kits. These are a lovely way to make something really useful with sashiko, but I'd been out of stock of them since Festival of Quilts. These kits are made to order and take a few weeks to be manufactured, because they are made to my specifications (fabric colour, instruction language, inches or cm etc). It's great because the instructions are in English!
I've now got all three designs in stock - asanoha (hemp leaf), seigaiha (waves) and shippou tsunagi (interlocking circles).
Oh, and a quick 'cheat', in these kits you get a half metre of printed fabric but you only need a small amount for the bag because once you've stitched the front and back panels you are supposed to wash the print off. What I would do is use a different fabric for the other sides, lining and straps, so you can save your printed fabric for another project or to make more bags!
I hope you have a lovely week which includes some sashiko and relaxation. Don't forget to show me what you've been making and I will put your creations on the Customer Makes page for the world to admire
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I started Japan Crafts in 2006 and have been bringing wonderful fabrics and techniques to people in the UK ever since.