Greetings fellow makers! As Master Educator and Aurifilosophy Program Coordinator I’m excited to share inspiration and education by the amazingly creative Shannon Leigh Roudhán and Jason Bowlsby (Shannon & Jason). This dynamic duo joined our growing team of Aurifilosophers in 2020 and flaunt their mad skills as authors, pattern creators, educators, Aurifil designers and more! Their award-winning crochet, knit, and sewing designs have long been an inspiration and I’ve loved seeing how they use Aurifil thread to update and honor age-old Japanese techniques like Boro, Sashiko, and now Kogin-zashi.
Is your shop, group or guild looking for insightful, inspiring and educational information on thread? Consider booking a virtual or in-person program with one of our skilled Aurifilosophers. Learn more about Aurifilosophy and find your favorite Aurifilosopher here.
Karen L. Miller ~ Redbird Quilt Co.
Earlier this year Jason sashayed in from a mail run and called up to the studio:
J: “We got mail.”
S: “Leave it on the table. I’ll be down in a while.”
J: “It’s a box.”
S: “Oh, ok. Gimme 10 minutes.”
J: “It’s from Aaaaaaurifil.”
S: <suddenly appearing next to Jason as if by magic> “OOOH thread? Lemme see!”
We’d been not so patiently waiting on this Color Builder Series to start this project for the Thread Matters Blog. It was/is the perfect project to share with you; one based on Kogin-zashi.
Kogin-zashi is a form of sashiko; a subject we have covered in articles and projects (including right here on the Aurifil blog), lectures, classes, and a book over the past few years. However, unlike hitomezashi and moyouzashi sashiko styles which are featured in our book Boro & Sashiko: Harmonious Imperfection, kogin-zashi is not used to reinforce fabrics by fastening down patches or binding together multiple layers of fabric. Instead, kogin reinforces fabric by weaving thread between the vertical and horizontal threads of loosely woven fabric. The result is a denser fabric that is stronger, more durable, offers greater protection from the elements and, without a doubt, is stunning to behold. Modern kogin-zashi, uses embroidery floss, thread or even fine weight yarns with evenweave fabric such as Congress Cloth, Davosa, or Lugana to create projects.
A Little History
Kogin-zashi is an ancient artform with examples dating back as far as the Edo era of Japan (1603-1867 c.e.) Keep in mind that, at this time, folx were weaving their own fabrics by hand on 14” looms. Further, they were prohibited by the ruling class from wearing cotton clothing. Because of the cold climate of Japan, cotton was a traded commodity that was valued above many other fibers. As a result, only the ruling class and social upper class were permitted to wear cotton as it was a symbol of their status. What this left were fibers like hemp, ramie, and a fiber made from mulberry bark which do not produce particularly dense fabrics needed for protection from the elements. In addition, the loosely woven fabric made from these fibers did not tend to wear as long as cotton fibers. But, as makers often do, they found a loophole (RESIST!) they could exploit which allowed them to use cotton thread for sewing and stitching. The result was kogin-zashi. White cotton threads were added to existing indigo dyed fabrics by “weaving” them into the fabric with needles in stacked rows of stitching creating gorgeous geometric patterns. Ah the glorious resourcefulness and creativity of makers under oppression… creating something stunning and iconic from harsh socio-economic conditions. Certainly, a legacy many makers can relate to.
Okay… we could go on and on about the history and context of kogin-zashi and the people and circumstances that lead to this thread technique, but we won’t do that here. We did, however, go more in-depth in our latest book coming out in December 2022, Contemporary Kogin-zashi: Modern Sashiko Beyond Filling in the Gaps, from C&T Publishing.
For traditional kogin-zashi stitching, one would use cotton thread that looks more like yarn or embroidery floss because that is what they had access to. For our projects, we used Aurifil Cotton Floss and 12 wt thread to create our designs. So, when the Aurifil folx asked us to use their Color Builder collection for a project, we jumped on the opportunity. The Hawaiian Blue Ginger colors inspired us for a couple of reasons. First, just look at it… I mean really who would not want to work with thread these colors? Then there is the fact we grow three different varieties of ginger in our garden… not Dichorisandra thyrsiflora (yet… ask us again next Spring) but, generally, we are huge fans of the plants and the showy, tropical foliage with those gorgeous flower spikes. So, there’s that. But hey, just as important was the fact that the Color Builder colors are gorgeous, soft, almost glowing representations of the lavender-blue hues and bright yellow centers of the Hawaiian Blue Ginger plant. An idea struck us straight from the pages of our upcoming book for showing how to use the Hawaiian Blue Ginger Color Builders set for color blocking and color blending in kogin-zashi using both floss and 12 wt thread.
One more tidbit about kogin-zashi before we carry on with the project itself. The Hirosaki Kogin Institute in Japan is dedicated solely to identifying, documenting, and preserving historical kogin-zashi patterns. In brief, larger kogin designs are made up of smaller motifs (modoco) and design elements. For our project, we designed a pattern using these motifs and elements that would show both color blocking and color blending. Again, for more information about the fascinating history and details of kogin-zashi, check out our book by clicking here.
One More Thing…
Kogin-zashi, like other forms of sashiko, uses specific tools and has a particular technique for creating the stitches that is as much a part of kogin as the actual patterns. Rather than waiting for our book to come out, we have created a free short video on the Creative Spark platform called This is Kogin-zashi, providing a quick overview of the tools, materials, as well as a brief tutorial for reading kogin patterns and the unshin (the handling of the needle) used to create kogin stitches. Go ahead and go take a look at that first so you are ready to roll on this pattern… don’t worry, we’ll be here when you get back… just gonna have another coffee while we wait. (Make mine tea, thanks. ~ Jason)
Oh good! You’re back! So, let’s proceed with the project details.
We use two types of color work for this project: color blocking and color blending.
Color blocking is just what it sounds like: blocks of color with each color used in one section of the design so that each color stands out on its own. Jason stitched his version of our design using this technique and the Aurifil Cotton Floss (aka AuriFloss) in the three Hawaiian Blue Ginger Color Builders colors. The vibrant variegated floss with the pops of yellow are his main color (4651) and the more subtle purple hues of floss (2510 and 3840) are his contrasting colors; creating an effect that allows each part of the overall design to stand out against the purple evenweave fabric – which Jason dyed for us specifically to compliment the Hawaiian Blue Ginger Color Builders set. For the 20 count Lugana evenweave fabric (20 threads per inch in warp and weft threads), we use all six strands of floss held together after separating to create lift and fullness in our finished stitches.
Color blocking using 12 wt is done the same way, using three strands of the same color of 12 wt held together for each section.
Color blending is, indeed, blending together colors of thread to achieve effects like sparkles, shimmer, and ombre. For quite a few of our sashiko projects, we like to use two colors held together – usually a variegated with high contrast color variations and a solid version of one of the colors in the variegated thread. This creates little sparkles of color variance in the overall stitched project. Here though, Shannon used color blending to move subtly between the three colors of 12 wt thread in the Hawaiian Blue Ginger Color Builders set.
We used the same 20 count Lugana for this panel and three strands of 12 weight thread held together. The center of the design is the same main color (3840). Working from the center out to prevent skewing of the evenweave fabric, all three strands are this color for ten rows. After those ten center rows, she changed out one strand of thread every ten rows until all three strands were color 4651. Once the first half is finished, she started from the other half of the center working another ten rows of three strands of 12 wt in the main color 3840 – for a total of twenty rows of the main color in the center of the work. As before, she changed out one strand of thread in her bundle every ten rows until all three strands were color 2510. This creates a shimmer effect when the final piece is viewed, almost giving the observer a sense of light playing on an iridescent fabric.
Although not used for this project, color blending with floss is a matter of separating the six strands of floss as usual then holding six strands of the same color together for the first section. Next, we substitute two strands of floss every ten rows until all six strands are the next color in sequence. The final rows are all six strands of the next color. Same principal, just more strands.
Tools and Materials
– 8″ square of Evenweave fabric (18 or 20 count works best)
– Aurifil 12 wt thread and/or Aurifil Cotton Floss
– Ring thimble
– Kogin needle
Did we mention that we have our own Aurifil Kogin-zashi thread collection? Because we do… And if you want a kit that includes the kogin needle, ring thimble, and practice thread, we’ve got you covered there, too! Simply click on the buttons below!
OPTIONAL: Fabric dye in a color of your choice. We used a readily accessible craft store fabric dye. Or go au naturel if that’s your thing!
- Cut your fabric to 8″x8″ square and use an overlock or zig-zag stitch around the edge to prevent fraying while handling.
- Fold your fabric in half one way then the next and mark the center thread as shown in our This is Kogin-zashi video.
- Follow the kogin stitch pattern from the center out using the red lines as a guide. One pattern is for color blocking, the other is for color blending. Choose one or give them both a try… why not?
For color blocking… choose a color of Aurifil 12wt thread or Aurifil cotton floss for each section. Sections are marked out by colors on the chart.
- Using the Color 1, stitch from the center line up to the top turning your work at the end of each row then working back across. Remember to skip (float across the back of the fabric) the section that will be color 2.
- Return to the center line and repeat for the bottom half of the motif
- Change color to Color 2 and again stitch from the center line up to the top turning your work at the end of each row then working back across. This time you will float your thread across the back where you stitched the first color AND where you will be stitching the top motif in your 3rd color.
- Return to the center line and repeat for the bottom half of the motif
- Change to Color 3 and finish the last two motifs. These can be stitched from the center out or from bottom to top.
For color blending… choose 3 colors of Aurifil 12wt thread or Aurifil cotton floss as your main colors.
- Thread your needle with 3 strands of your Main Color 2, stitch the center line across. Turn your work at the end of the row and continue working the pattern up toward the top.
- Transition 1: After 10 rows weave in your tail and swap one strand of thread for Main Color 3. (2 strands of MC 2, one strand MC 3). Continue stitching toward the top.
- Transition 2: Again, after 10 rows weave in your tail and swap another strand of thread for Main Color 3. (now you have one strand of MC 2, two strand MC 3). Continue stitching toward the top.
- Transition 3: After another 10 rows weave in your tail and swap all three strands for thread for Main Color 3. Finish side 1.
- Return to center and repeat the process stitching the bottom half of the motif using Main Color 2 and Main Color 1.
When you are finished, you will have a gorgeous panel of fabric that we like to call a just-because-we-like-it project. Our philosophy in life and creative endeavors is Embrace the Creative Chaos and, sometimes, that means making a thing just because we want to; not because there needs to be a purpose for that thing. Sometimes we will try a thing just because we want to see what happens or how it turns out. One of our favorite uses for these experiments is to frame them and hang them on the wall or set them around the house where we can look at them… just because they make us happy. If, eventually, we think “hey! I want to use that thing in XYZ project!” then we will take it out and use it as such. From framed quilt blocks made by family members long since passed to interesting fabric experiments or panels of sashiko and kogin that we like looking at but don’t have any particular use for them, we go find a complimentary frame then give them a perfect spot in a gallery on the wall or amongst our plants or shelves of books. Both of these have been framed and one is near a rattlesnake plant that has coordinating purple leaves and the other is on the wall in the upstairs hallway. Just because…
What will you do with yours? Where will you hang or set your just-because-I-wanted-to creation? With these gorgeous colors and the three-bazillion other stunning Aurifil colors (okay… maybe not that many… but still!!) and the twenty-million patterns in our book (again… an exaggeration… probably) you can come up with some ideas and we can’t wait to see what you create!
– Shannon & Jason
Shannon Leigh Roudhán and Jason Bowlsby are the dynamic DIY duo from Seattle, Washington. Their award-winning crochet, knit, quilting, and sewing designs have been featured in and on the covers of domestic and international publications and their craft, portrait, and fashion photography has appeared in books and magazines around the globe. Shannon & Jason have published 10 books of crochet and knitwear patterns including Complete Crochet Course – the Ultimate Reference Guide,Designer Crochet,and Crochet Geometry. Their latest book is titled Boro & Sashiko: Harmonious Imperfection from C&T Publishing.
The duo have been embracing the creative chaos as partners in life for 27 years and have been teaching adults for 20+ years. With their mastery of subjects from crochet and knitting to photography, spinning, sewing, and quilting, their enthusiasm, quirky sense of humor, and relatable teaching style have made them sought after teachers in both local and national venues such as Sew Expo, Houston Quilt Festival, Pacific International Quilt Festival, and the Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN). They also have a wide range of online classes available from Craftsy and Creative Spark Online. The “edu-tainment” experience of a class with Shannon & Jason will leave you informed, empowered, and in stitches (see what we did there?).
Shannon and Jason are proud ambassadors for Aurifil, Clover, BERNINA, Horn of America, and the Daylight Company.