An ancient Japanese mending technique inspired this author to find hope in the tattered and mended places of life.
If mending were easy, we’d all do it.
if it couldn’t be beautiful, none of us would.
A dizzying volume of images flashed on the computer screen as I scrolled through files of ancient mending techniques. I stopped scrolling when I landed on a page with intricate, precise stitches that formed tight patterns—parallel lines, spirals, boxes, the shape of gingko leaves.
Two-hundred-year-old Japanese garments we would consider rags now hang on museum walls, celebrated for the precision needlework that gave both stability and artful sophistication to tattered indigo. Not only did the sashiko mending technique keep the garment from being discarded or used for banal, mess-mopping purposes, the mends formed aesthetically intriguing patterns and textures. The mending elevated the pieces from common to artistic, from shredded to strong, from shelved to honored.
Imagination led me to a humble villager’s hut centuries ago. Smoke from the cooking fire danced with the smell of garlic and seared meat. In a corner near the window, where light and a table passed from generation formed a work station, a woman chose a piece of indigo to lay over a worn spot on a garment patched many times. She threaded the stiff needle and held it, pausing to consider the piece before her.
Had she sketched a pattern in her mind the night before? Did previous patches dictate where her new stitches should fall?
I can almost feel the pressure she felt when the needle pierced the fabric. By the time she had worked the needle in and out four or five times, a pattern had been established. In the simplicity and in some ways deprivation of her life, she refused to make the patch ordinary.
Can you envision the expression on her face when what emerged from her mending was art? Can you picture what it would have looked like if she’d known the garment she repaired would now be considered museum-quality? And how could she have known that the process in which she engaged expressed the heart of a mending God?
Under his care, the human soul can be elevated from a state of incessant pain to a place of healing that not only strengthens the shredded but reveals a new depth of refinement created during the mending process. From the stitches themselves.
The tiny, exacting stitches of sashiko reinforce weak places, worn corners, or form solid connections for life-extending patches. Traditionally, homespun fabrics woven from tree-bark fibers, hemp, wisteria, or grasses were dyed with indigo, plentiful and easily accessible. Sashiko stitching in the early traditions like the scene in my imagination were pale cotton thread—white—a dramatic contrast against the deep blue. Extra care was taken to stitch precisely, in a measured way with evenly spaced threads, in the long running stitch that created a series of simple designs that have become a highly prized art form today.
In our frayed state—betrayed, rejected, neglected, bullied, pathologically disappointed, attacked, or exhausted by an endless pounding of crises, divinely designed reinforcing stitches—anchoring stitches—hem us in hope. They can form an intentional pattern of mending that generations to come admire.
What I’m going through can mean something to someone else? The pattern grief etches across the surface of my soul isn’t random and purposeless? Even if it takes a thousand needle pinpricks on the fabric of my soul, a pattern can emerge against the dark backdrop. A pattern that spells healing. Hope.
Hope stitched in delicate rows on a background I thought devoid of promise.
I’m filling a Pinterest board with examples of sashiko and other decorative mending techniques. It’s a board I’ll turn to when life gets uncomfortable, or when my thoughts return to times I—like many—wonder what God is doing. “Oh. He’s making art.”
From Tattered and Mended: The Art of Healing the Wounded Soul. Copyright © 2015 by Cynthia Ruchti. Used by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved.
Are You Ready to Try Your Hand at the Art of Sashiko?
If you’d like to try sashiko for yourself, here are a couple of places to find “how to” instructions. (Please note: the BELONG Tour is not affiliated with these sites in any way; links are provided purely for your enjoyment.)