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Quiltmania honors Japanese artists through their Indigo quilts

quilt valse d'indigo -Sachiko-SENOo

Quiltmania honors Japanese artists through their Indigo quilts

This week, Japan and more specifically Indigo are being celebrated at Quiltmania! January is here, and usually so is the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival. Unfortunately it has definitely closed its doors after its last edition in 2020. Though we can’t share with you the best of its quilts and shows, as we normally do in the Quiltmania magazine, we offer you to discover Indigo as well as our Japanese artists’ talent.

What’s Indigo?

Indigo is a color that come from a natural dye called “Aizome”. Used for centuries, it is made from the true indigo‘s leaves and stems. This dye is known and used worldwide but processes can differ from one culture to another. It was the emblematic color for the Japanese rural class. Reserved to the farmers, it was indeed one of the only color they were allowed to wear since bright ones were prohibited.

As it is not chemical, this dye is victim of time. Its color gradually fade, from a dark blue to a light one. That is what, for us quilters, makes it so attractive.

Want to learn more on the traditional Japanese technique to dye fabrics by hand ? We invite you to watch this video:

In this article, we offer you an overview of the most beautiful indigo pieces that we had the pleasure to display in books.


Boro refers to Japanese worn out fabrics that have been mended or assembled in order to give them a second life. As fabrics were very expansive back in the days, farmers were patching their clothes, covers, sheets, etc. The Boro pieces are thus the witness of a non glorious period, they decided to throw away most of them, but, fortunately, not all! Today, collectors such as Kosaku Nukata, are happy to exhibit their Boro quilts. It is a precious heritage.

You might have guess it now, indigo is the principal color of these majestic pieces. Here is a demonstration :

Traditional stitching techniques

Sashiko and Chiku Chiku are stitching techniques frequently associated to the Boro. They currently are very popular in the quilting universe and Japanese people are very proud of it. But what does it involve?


Sashiko is an ancient technique of Japanese embroidery, which developed during Edo period (1600). It aimed to recycle old clothes thanks to small regular running stitches. They allow to, first reinforce fabrics pieces and then, over time, ornement them with traditional and beautiful patterns.

sashiko shop in takayama
Visit of a Sashiko shop in Takayama
sashiko shop in takayama
sac escargot - etsuko ishitobi
house boîte à mouchoirs sashiko - Etsuko Ishitobi
Blue Boro cushion - Pamela Dinndorf

This technique is now well known and also attract artist like Pamela Goecke Dinndorf

Find this Boro/Sashiko inspired cushion in the Alchemy book.

Chiku Chiku

Chiku Chiku refers to a technique in which each fabrics pieces is appliquéd with large straight running stitches on a background fabric. Close to the Sashiko, the difference resides particularly in one fact : there is no rules !

salon PAF 2014 - Akiko Ike

Our dear Mme Akiko Ike is the queen of Chiku Chiku. In the article Quilts & Enchanting homes of the Quiltmania magazine #100, Carol was showing you her shop and house. The number of quilts as well as the beauty of the places were so rich that she also make an apparition on the Japan special issue.

Akiko Ike at the salon Pour l’Amour du Fil 2014

Akiko Ike - large quilt Chiku chiku
Akiko Ike - Chiku chiku
Akiko Ike - quilt Chiku chiku
Akiko Ike - boutique

Quiltmania & Indigo

My Little Japan

couverture magazine my little japan

Remember, in 2015, we published the special issue My Little Japan. This book was the occasion for us to show you an exhaustive catalog of the best of the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival, which welcomes every year more than 250 000 visitors in the Tokyo Dome. As the trip was so rich in meetings and visits, Carol couldn’t resist to share with you all her discoveries.

You can than explore the Blue & White shop of Amy Katoh, the Gallery Kei of Kei Kawasaki, the boro collection of Kosaku Nukata, and finally, the universe of the queen of chiku chiku, Akiko Ike.

Reportage My Little Japan

If this special issue promises a total immersion in the heart of Japan, it also promises a medley of indigo pieces.

quilt 3 2 indigo - Michèle Beugnon

And of course, you’ll also find in this Japan special issue, the pattern and instructions to make an indigo quilt. The “3, 2, Indigo” quilt is designed by the French artist, Michèle Beugnon.

Pieces of my life, a story of fabrics and passions, Shizuko Kuroha

Shizuko Kuroha

Shizuko Kuroha published in 2018 her book “Pieces of my life, a story of fabrics and passions”. Proud to represent the universe of the Japanese quilt through her work on ancient, mostly indigo, fabrics, she offers a true journey in the country of the Rising Sun.

We invite you to visit her new Youtube channel. She even offers a video dedicated to indigo gradation!

Old Fabrics for New Quilts: the Story of a Rebirth, Etsuko Ishitobi

old fabrics for new quilts

Inspired by Shizuko Kuroha, Etsuko Ishitobi began her quilting career thanks to ancient indigo fabrics from her grand-mother, which she preserved carefully.

After winning prestigious prizes, she published her first book: “Old Fabrics for New Quilts: the Story of a Rebirth. It is also devoted to honor these worn out fabrics that once shared our lives.

quilt Moulin à vent - Etsuko Ishitobi
tapis d'étoiles - Etsuko Ishitobi

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