Zokin are traditional Japanese dust rags which are hand stitched from leftover or re-purposed cotton cloth.
They stem from a time in Japan when textiles were expensive, precious and scarce. Garments and bed coverings were patched and patched and patched again – becoming Boro textiles – antique examples of which are highly sort after today. Not a scrap went to waste. Zokin can be seen as the last stage for fabric scraps, making cleaning cloths for the home. Original antique and vintage zokin are now highly collectable, and they are still made as sewing projects for school children.
The basis for these textiles is Sashiko stitching – using simple running stitches to reinforce and quilt layers together. It is simple and can be highly decorative. Zokin generally use several layers of fabric to create a robust piece of cloth out of what might be very threadbare scraps.
So, time to make zokin.
Hunt out some fabric scraps, not difficult around here. Although these zokin would have a distinctly English vintage look. Prints and checks were for the layers on top, with plain fabric underneath. To be honest, most of these scraps were still in good condition, too good for cleaning rags. But they were sitting doing nothing with no other project likely to need them any time soon.
Purchase some sashiko thread, which is pure cotton with a high twist. This was to give an ‘authentic’ look, although other cotton thread or fine crochet cotton would work too. The other purchase was a ring thimble, which has a plate that sits against the palm. It is used to push the stitches through, enabling a series of stitches to be made at once. There’s a little YouTube tutorial here.
Time to get stitching. There are no rules here. Just go with the flow, back and forth, round and round, radiating from the centre. It really doesn’t matter so long as the layers hold together. Four layers of quite fine cotton fabric worked well, enough to be robust but still thin enough to stitch easily. Neither does size matter, it just depends on the size of the scraps available, the intending end use and personal preference.
And there you are. A neat pile of zokin ready to go. Let’s get cleaning.