Eric’s Expanding Toolset: Hand Stitching & Skeins

I first began experimenting with textiles and sewing in my last year of college. Until then the only things I had ever sewn were pre-made patches on the knees of my favorite khakis that I would skateboard in nearly every day. I remember seeing my mom’s sewing box for the first time and thinking the pin cushion with so many needles in it looked alien and even a little dangerous.

My first textile design project. Class at UC Davis taught by Susan Avila

So imagine my surprise when I was introduced to a sewing machine for the first time in class in the last year of my college. The sewing lab wasn’t filled with normal home sewing machines, however. It was stocked with rigid, powerful industrial ones. I had never used sewing machines altogether, so these machines scared me! Sure, I could have asked the sewing lab assistant for a 5-minute explanation on how to properly use an industrial sewing machine (which, thankfully, is what I finally did before I graduated), but I was stubborn and stuck with what I was comfortable with: hand stitching. After all it’s what everyone did for the thousands of years before the invention of sewing machines.

Industrial sewing machine, similar to those in my university sewing lab

At this time in my college career, I was a senior and had the clear idea in my head that I would be either a graphic or web designer once I graduated, as that was what I spent the past few years honing my skills in. I viewed the textile design class I  was taking as what I expected would be an easy elective. I had definitely forgotten how good it felt to work with your hands. My hand stitching driven by necessity gave me a hint that my creative potential could possibly lie in textiles rather than sitting behind a computer screen for a majority of the day. My new interest in hand stitching that started in college led me to amateurish experiments with nui-shibori techniques I found on YouTube, as well as attempts to recreate sashiko from pictures I had seen of it on Pinterest. I felt that hand stitching connected me to the products I made more deeply than the websites or graphics I had made previously.

Me posing beside Gyöngy Laky‘s artpiece at Sakata B Garo Gallery in Sacramento

Luckily a year out of college, working as a studio assistant for Gyöngy Laky, I connected with Slow Fiber Studios headed by Yoshiko I. Wada, which in a sense has served as the textile history class that I missed taking in college. I’ve been able to learn so much more about nui-shibori and sashiko from various books and videos at work and even had the chance to attend & assist at shibori master Murase-san’s workshop and sashiko master Lucy Arai’s workshop in 2019. For the shibori tenugui collection in the SFS shop, I was in charge of studying each tenugui and describing the type of shibori technique and pattern used to create it and its design significance. This information can be found in each item’s description on the shop page.  Thus each tenugui listing can also be used as a learning tool to better understand shibori techniques and their relation to Japanese culture.

It was amazing how much studying the history and traditions of the nui-shibori and sashiko improved my overall application of the techniques. Last blog, I talked about a DIY thimble that shibori artisans in Arimatsu, Japan, use. Another tool that also helped was learning how to work with skeins of stitching threads. If you are as unfamiliar as I was with the advantage of a  skein of threads over a cone of threads for hand stitching, please watch the following video, which can also be found on the Workshops Tips & Clips page, of Yoshiko demonstrating the proper use of a skein. 

Close-up photo of cotton stitching thread after the skein (on the right) has been cut

The ability to pre-thread needles on fixed lengths of thread does wonders for my practice. It takes away interruptions, and I find a rhythm to my hand stitching that wasn’t present before I started working with skeins. However, I would have never even thought of using a skein before studying the history and tradition of techniques I had learned casually from videos on the internet. I adore the way the internet easily opens up avenues of learning, but I think younger people my age need to realize that history and tradition hold as much significance as study of technique. I now truly understand the importance of art history to the artist, and, in this case, design history to the designer. Learning materials through using and handling them, as I do at work, has given me a deeper understanding of textile and its potentials. See other products that come in skeins, kami yarn and silk kibiso yarn.

Link to Nui Shibori Cotton Thread Skein

Link to Sashiko Cotton Thread Skein

Link to Kami Paper Yarn

Link to Silk Kibiso Yarn

If you have completed projects using any of the skeins linked above and would like to share them with the community, please email pictures to the email:

Thanks for reading!