Happy Pride! Sending out big love to the LGBT+ community, and celebrating with you by sewing up some rainbow-coloured sashiko. This was partly spurred on by #rainbowsewing2020 on Instagram, which is a challenge to sew up some rainbow-themed clothing. Since I didn’t own any garments in rainbow colours, I thought why not sew something up and experiment with a myriad of colours for sashiko?
I will take on any excuse to broaden my sashiko explorations, and this adventure turned out to be a bit of an odyssey. I chose the Constance Overalls designed by Fibremood (@fibremood on Instagram) as the sewing pattern for the canvass for embroidering since I have a current fetish for elaborate embellishments on workwear garments.
These overalls have a classic look with a generous back bib yearning for some intricate embroidery to be stitched on it. So I started stitching the back bib, and embroidered one back pocket as planned.
Then I decided the front needed something as well, and so went on to the front pocket on the front bib. I chose a sashiko pattern which is a variation of “Amimon” (fishing nets), and layered one fishing net on top of another.
While working on the front bib, a nagging little voice crawled inside my head that insisted I should embroider a whole front leg. That high-frequency nagging was hard to ignore, so I obediently obeyed, extending the “Amimon” variation onto the right front leg. This took forever to finish! There was so much room to cover. At this point, the nagging in my head turned into a lot of silent swearing screams. I might have even succumbed to a tiny panic attack when I thought this would become an Odysseus-style detour that would last 20 years. In reality, it took 2 intense days to finish.
And as I was attaching the back bib to the legs, I felt I had to add more sashiko on the other back pocket (“seigaiha” waves pattern) and back yoke to balance out the front of the overalls.
This project took up most of the second half of Pride Month for me. It’s probably the most sashiko-ing that I’ve done on a single piece of clothing. In the middle of working on it, I was worried I wouldn’t finish by the end of June, so I am majorly stoked that I finished it yesterday so that I can write about it today! I will do a blog post of the sewing pattern later as this blog post is mainly focused on the sashiko journey of the overalls.
Let’s start with the back bib. Choosing the peacock as a totem for rainbow sewing was immediately apparent to me. It is an animal that basks in the glory of all its rainbow colours, and we should all be proud as peacocks with regards to the gender we choose to identify with, and whom we choose to love.
On a more personal level, I was once told in a reading some years ago by a spiritual guide that the peacock is one of my spirit animals. The other spirit animal that I embody, or aspire to be is the ant. It was an unusual reading because the spiritual guide revealed that very few people have received two animal spirits. Most people receive only one. Up until that point he said that I was possibly the first one he’s met to have dual-spirit-animal embodiments/aspirations. If this sounds too new-agey for you, then just humour me for a little bit more. Since that spiritual reading, I’ve been fascinated with peacocks, and incorporated them in some of my ceramic sgraffito designs like this one on a vase:
I didn’t have the same fascination for ants mainly because I wasn’t drawn to drawing them. To be honest, they are much less glamorous to illustrate. However, while I was stitching up this peacock, a friend saw what I was working on, and he casually remarked that he couldn’t believe the amount of patience I had since I was doing what he called the “work of ants”. His comment gifted me a sudden realisation of why I’m so drawn to sashiko. It’s basically building stitch upon stitch to make intricate patterns. Something as common and nondescript as an ant (or the most basic stitch in sewing vocabulary) has the power or potential to build something elaborate. Therein lies the magic of sashiko – it has transformative power. And while working stitch by stitch, the sashiko is transforming me – by inculcating patience and perseverance. Some say that the sashiko stitches resemble snow on the ground or rice grains, but now I also see the stitches like an army of ants doing their work. I like how the front leg of my overalls look to me like there are trails of ants on my pants. So these overalls now embody dual-spirit-animals as well, both peacock and ant.
Honestly speaking, the plain-Jane in me finds difficulty in seeing the connection between myself and this magnificent creature, the peacock. But we can all aspire to the many qualities that it symbolises. The peacock has been designated as one of the 12 sovereign animals in Chinese culture because of its nobility, poise and beauty. It is eye-catching, but also “looks” back at you with a hundred “eyes” when the tail is revealed in its full plumage. It is endowed with an all-seeing, all-knowing wisdom. As such, it also has the empathy to contain different perspectives and viewpoints. In addition, it is often associated with the Goddess of Mercy or Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings) because it eats poisonous snakes and plants, transforming evil into beauty. The peacock, as the earthly inspiration or manifestation of the phoenix, shares with its mythical counterpart the rebirthing potential required to rise out of the ashes. I’ve been mightily inspired by many LGBT+ family and friends for having the courage to go through the fire to come into full realisation of their authentic beautiful selves.
The sashiko embroidery of this garment took around 60 hours to complete, including drawing out the grids, designing and stitching. That’s about 8 full days of work. It was the first time I was sewing on medium/heavy weight denim, and after a while it took a toll on the muscles of the hand. Holding the needle and pushing it through thick fabric took more effort than I thought it would. I had to constantly remind myself to loosen my grip on the needle, relax the shoulders and sit with good posture. I took many breaks to break up the monotony of the work, and to give the muscles of the hand, arm and neck much needed rest. I did many wrist, shoulder and neck stretches to release tension and tightness.
I did a little jig for joy when all the embroidery was completed. The construction of the garment took another 2 days to put together. I’m really happy with how it all turned out. It’s time to take a break from sashiko though. At least one week of holiday to prevent against sashiko fatigue. My mind is already contemplating another design with lotus flowers, but that will have to stew for a bit before I put needle to fabric. In the meantime, I will sit back and relax.