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Paul Smith on How to Sew Patches in a Traditional Japanese Stitch

  • November 28, 2020

In the latest installment of our Designer D.I.Y. series, learn how to breathe new life into old clothes with a classic sashiko stitch.


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Nov. 27, 2020

What to do with a beloved jacket in which the elbows have gone or a shirt with frayed cuffs? The British designer Sir Paul Smith, known for his sharp suits and signature rainbow stripes and who is celebrating 50 years in fashion, thinks you should look to a sartorial solution passed down through multiple generations of Japanese laborers.

“In this day and age of excess and more, more, more, I am often reminded of my dear mom who always used to darn socks or elbow tears,” Mr. Smith said. “When I first started traveling to Japan in the 1980s, I learned about a traditional, functional type of embroidery — the sashiko stitch. Today it strikes me as a wonderful method that can be used for darning decoratively in the modern world.”

In his early trips to Japan, Mr. Smith bought many samples of indigo blue-dyed work wear with distinctive white stitching that had been worn by rice field laborers.

“The workers would repair their clothes using sashiko stitching over and over again to make clothes both stronger and warmer,” he said, adding that there were myriad different geometric sashiko embroidery styles.

Sashiko, which translates from Japanese into English as “little stabs,” emerged in Japan in the 17th century. Sometimes it involves putting two or more layers of cloth together and sewing with a running stitch to create small pockets of air, which trap warmth. Or you can simply create a weave that repairs a tear by doing stitches that sit very close together.

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