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Needle Works Cruise 2018 Highlights

Lola Girl Sashiko table runner

I had an absolutely amazing time tutoring on the 2018 Needle Works cruise.

The whole experience perfectly combined holiday relaxation and creative abundance. It was wonderful to be able to look up from our work to see the stunning blue ocean or gorgeous beaches.

We set sail from Sydney on the 21st of April for cruise that took in Fiji, Hawaii and Seattle. I was joined by a number of other very talented tutors from a variety of stitching disciplines.

Diamond Head, Hawaii
Diamond Head, Hawaii. Simply stunning!

I held daily classes with an enthusiastic group of ladies on deck to study the art of sashiko and boro. For our first class, we worked on one of my favourite designs, the Chelsea Sashiko Table Runner.

Lola Girl Sashiko table runner
First project of the cruise: Chelsea sashiko runner.


Indigo Niche sashiko workshop
My students working on their first project: The Chelsea Sashiko Table Runner.

The Chelsea table runner consists of the traditional Japanese Seven Treasures sashiko motif and Japanese print fabric, and is constructed by a combination of the sashiko stitching discipline and applique.

Indigo Niche sashiko class
Sashiko and lovely ocean views. Perfect!


Indigo Niche Sahiko class
One of my students preparing some circles of fabric for applique.


My main objective was to show how individuals could apply their own creativity to the sashiko and boro disciplines. I’ve always felt that sashiko need not be restricted to traditional Japanese motifs—although I adore those—and that one’s own personal journey and influences can be explored through sashiko stitching.

My students chose to interpret my designs in a variety of creative ways, with lovely results.

Another project that we worked on was a Temari sashiko runner. The Temari design incorporates a number of circular traditional Japanese sashiko motifs, charmingly arranged in a way that evokes the traditional children’s toy the temari ball.


Indigo Niche sashiko workshop
Some of my students working on the Temari sashiko runner project. (Looking very focused!)


boro flair on denim jacket
Jenny added this gorgeous boro flair to her denim jacket in her spare time.

In my downtime I was able to catch up on some of my boro projects, as well as brainstorm some new ideas for sashiko and boro products that I plan to bring to the store.

Indigo Niche boro project
Working on a boro project in my downtime.


Indigo Niche boro project
The finished product: some boro in my spare time.

I also had the opportunity have a look at the other groups’ wonderful creations, which I found very inspirational. I was particularly taken by Prudence Mapstone’s work.

The cruise was a wonderful experience, such a refreshing way of exercising one’s creativity.

Until next time,


If you would like to enquire about my teaching schedule, or have any questions about the sashiko runners featured in this blog, feel free to contact me via the form below.

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Moving Forward in 2018

As you may be aware, we made the decision last year to close our retail premises.

This caused many of our loyal customers to wonder about the future of the Indigo Niche brand heading into 2018, not to mention our product availability. Here’s what you need to know.

We now sell exclusively online.

I will continue to provide premium sashiko designs, supplies and kits, as well as beautiful Japanese and Taiwanese fabrics, from the online store.

I’m very excited to bring you an extensive range of new fabrics, sashiko designs and kits over the coming months, so I suggest following my blog and newsletter for updates.

Classes and workshops are continuing.

I will be conducting sashiko and boro classes throughout the year. You can keep track of my schedule via the calendar, or email me with any questions you may have.

While the store is being updated, please check product availability with me before purchasing.

If you have any queries about our products or classes, please contact me via the form below.

Sue Howie

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Getting Creative With The Lola Girl Sashiko Panel

The Lola Girl sashiko panel is one of my favourite designs.

With its interesting take on the traditional Seven Treasures motif, it got me thinking about how it would look as a runner for my dining room table.

After completing the sashiko stitching, I chose a suitable Japanese backing fabric to subtly contrast the design. I chose an indigo cotton print fabric that featuring the Seven Treasures motif.

The results have exceeded my expectations, and the runner is now a permanent (and gorgeous) addition to my dining room.

For my table runner, I used:

On to the next project!



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Keiko Futatsuya Exhibition

We’re so very proud to be hosting an exhibition of Sashiko and Boro work by Keiko Futatsuya.

It will be happening at the Indigo Niche stand —Stand A11— at the upcoming Adelaide Craft and Quilt Fair, November 3rd to 6th.

Along with her company, Keiko Futatsuya works out of the little town of Takayama, (which we were lucky enough to visit last year). For over thirty years, she has plied her craft as a world-renowned producer, designer and teacher of sashiko. Additionally, she formulates unique batches of vegetable dyes for sashiko thread, which we proudly supply. They’re gorgeous and you can view the threads here.    

Our exhibit of her work takes in a stunning range of sashiko and boro work that includes traditional coats, vests, and jackets, as well as tapestry, bags and boro pieces. This is a rare opportunity for you to see some work from a true master of the craft. 

Scroll on to view some of the items that we’ll be exhibiting.

very small number of items will be on sale—enquire at A11 for further information.








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Shibori – A Local Interpretation.

We recently got in touch with our friend Jane Postle to check out some of her locally-made Shibori.

Shibori has never been too far from our thoughts. During our travels through Japan earlier this year, we were very impressed by the Arimatsu Shibori Kaikan, a Shibori museum in Arimatsu, Nagoya.

Nowhere else in Japan is there such a central focus on the art and techniques of shibori than in this gorgeous little hamlet, nor such a dedicated passion; they even hold an annual Shibori Festival.

We were quite affected by their passion for this art, and the Shibori Festival is definitely up there on the so-called “bucket list.” (We also love their rough-around-the-edges website, too–very quaint!)

A popular misconception is that shibori is merely a Japanese version of tie-dyeing. This is inaccurate, as there are many techniques that are associated with shibori. Let’s take a look.

‘Wring, Squeeze, Press’.

Shibori is the Japanese word–meaning to wring, squeeze, press–for a number of ways of embellishing textiles by shaping cloth and securing it before dyeing.

The cloth is treated as a three-dimensional form, involving crumpling, stitching, plaiting, plucking and twisting. After the cloth is ‘shaped’ by these methods, it can be secured in a number of ways, such as binding or knotting.

This is all done with one goal in mind: to explore the pliancy of a given textile and thus its potential for creating a multitude of shape-resisted designs.

The key to getting wonderful results from shibori dyeing is to work with the limitations, and to allow them full expression. The special characteristic of shibori resist is a soft or a blurry-edged pattern. The effect is markedly different from the sharp-edged resist obtained with stencil, paste, or wax.

So if you ever try your hand as shibori, be aware that an element of the unexpected is always present. Think of it like a potter firing a wood-burning kiln. All the technical conditions have been met, but what happens in the kiln may be a miracle or a disaster.

All the variables attendant on shaping the cloth and all the influences that control the events in the dye vat conspire to remove some–but not all, thankfully!–of the shibori process from human control.

In fact we’ll even venture to say that it’s the element of chance that gives life to the shibori process. This is its special magic.

1. Shibori in Practice

It was a treat to not only witness first-hand some genuinely local shibori being produced, but also to see how these designs could be used to make stunning silk kaftans and cotton throw cushion covers.

Jane Postle has been studying shibori techniques for well over ten years, becoming a true artist in her own right.

Preparing fabric for folding and clamping.


Stitching and folding silk fabric before being placed into indigo dye. Silk is particularly amenable to resist-dyeing. (See the kaftans for the final results.)


From the vats. The prepared pieces drip-dry before being opened and rinsed. Note the different methods on display.


This fabric has been untied prior to a final rinse.


Each method has unique results, and the reveal is an exciting moment. This fabric had been folded and clamped.


The undone fabric is given a final rinse.


Some gorgeous results set out to dry.


“It’s the element of chance that gives life to shibori.”


Beautiful Shibori.


More lovely results.


2. Some Finished Shibori Products


Simply gorgeous–one of the Shibori Throw Cushions made from one of the pieces above.


One of three lovely Shibori Kaftans.


Shibori Kaftan – second design.


A third Shibori Kaftan design.


Hand-made shibori silk kaftans are available from Indigo Niche for $450 each. Each kaftan’s shibori design is completely unique, as perhaps despite an author’s best intentions, no two pieces of shibori are ever alike. Please email [email protected] for more information. Stock is limited.

Cushion Kits

Shibori cushion designs are available from Indigo Niche kit form.

Each Cushion Kit includes: a unique Shibori cushion front (hand-dyed in an indigo vat); a plain backing for your cushion; a 6″ square sashiko panel for insertion in the back of the cushion (optional).

For more details and further options send an email to  [email protected]

‘Til next time…


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Trio of Techniques – A Lovely Mt Tamborine Retreat

After the Perth Craft & Quilt Fair wrapped up, I jotted down some highlights from a wonderful hand-sewing retreat that we hosted in March. We only wish that we could hold events like this more often!

The previous retreat that we’d held at Mt Tamborine was with sashiko/applique artist Sylvia Pippen in 2011, so this was rather a long time in coming.

And we have to admit: we’d really been missing the place.

For both teachers and students, there is such a big difference between standard teaching and teaching in a quiet serene environment like Mt Tamborine–requisite ingredients for a creative and relaxing time are there, with plenty of space for thirty ladies to be comfortable. The little village is nestled in the Gold Coast hinterland, amongst some of the most stunning national parkland in South-East Queensland.

 Trio of Techniques Retreat 2015 – attendees and teachers. Truly, a lovely time had by all.

We were joined by ladies from as far afield as Bundaberg, Gladstone, the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Rockhampton, and Childers, all united by a passion for hand sewing and creativity. It was very encouraging to see some familiar faces from our 2011 retreat, too.

So with a delightfully peaceful backdrop, quaint accommodation and wonderful catering, we were able to apply ourselves to three hand sewing techniques over the space of three days. The end result for each participant? A stunning piece incorporating the techniques of Sashiko, English Paper Piecing, and Hand Applique.

The Team. L-R – Sue Howie from Indigo Niche (Sashiko), Cathy Schibrowski from Swandale Quilting (Hand Applique), Colleen Shepherd from Indigo Niche (Sashiko), Marg Olive from Patchwork Paradise (English Paper Piecing).

So why did we choose these three techniques? We devised a project that would take three days and have a strong social component–in effect, to unite participants in the joys of hand sewing. Each day enabled the students to be able to get a grasp on each technique being taught, so that by the end of the three days each student had learnt each technique well so that they could finally complete their project.


For the uninitiated, Sashiko is a form of Japanese folk embroidery that, like Boro stitching, was born out of necessity before evolving into the beautiful decorative art that we know today. It uses the basic running stitch to create a patterned background. The geometric patterns tend to include straight or curved lines of stitching arranged in a repeating pattern. The word Sashiko is loosely translated as “little stabs”, and refers to the small stitches used in this form of needlework. This technique was taught by Sue and Colleen (Indigo Niche)

English Paper Piecing

Taught by Marg Olive from Patchwork Paradise. English Paper Piecing is a method of hand piecing where paper templates are used inside the block elements to guide where the edges are turned under. Baby Blocks, Grandmother’s Flower Garden and other non-square shapes are often pieced this way. In our case it was used to create the flower petal shapes.

Hand Applique

In keeping with the hand sewing theme of the retreat, we opted for hand applique over machine methods. Sewers cut and arrange the pieces to be layered, usually affixing them with pins; then, the embroidery is applied with a needle and thread. Thick embroidery floss is one of the most common choices, but thread of any texture or thickness will work. Cathy Schibrowski from Swandale Quilting was on hand to advise students on the precision and patience needed for this method.

   Julia‘s work in progress. The English Paper Piecing method is used to create the flower petals, which are then transferred to the fabric using Hand Applique. Sashiko stitching is used to create additional decorative effects.


Lesli’s completed project: the three techniques have come together beautifully.

Students were able to individualise their projects by the alternate colour ways on offer.

It was so gratifying to see the projects come to fruition after three days–from a teaching perspective, it was extremely rewarding to see such enthusiasm to learn and create.


Pleasing to see the new friendships that were made after three days of fun and sewing!

This retreat was such a rewarding experience for everyone involved that plans are on the drawing board for a similarly themed event in 2016. Keep an ear to the ground, or better yet, subscribe to our newsletter for timely updates.


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Textile Journeys – from Kyoto to the Tokyo Quilt Festival

In late January we embarked on one of our semi-regular visits to Japan. We like to be exposed to the true cultural roots of our chosen craft as much as we can, and to pick up bits of inspiration for our designs along the way. This year’s trip was motivated by a need to recharge our batteries as much as anything else. We had just finished a refit of our beloved workshop after the brutal storm that hit Brisbane last November, so we were due for a break.

The Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival was naturally a priority for the itinerary, however every trip we take to Japan stimulates a desire to try new things, so this time around we made a point of seeing as much shibori as possible.

It was of course a delight to escape the oppressive heat of Brisbane for some cold weather, too!

January 20

We kicked things off with a bit of sightseeing in Kyoto.


Golden Temple 1

Does the shrubbery look like bonsai? A bossy guide explained this is in fact an example of the Muromachi aesthetic.

We decided to ease into things with a couple of well-known Kyoto spots: The Golden Pavilion and the Nishijin Textile Centre.

The Golden Pavilion consists of a breathtaking Zen Buddhist temple plated in gold leaf, surrounded by a body of water known as the Mirror Pond. Well, it’s technically a converted Zen Buddhist Temple. It was built in the late 14th Century to serve as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga, before his son converted it to a house of Zen worship. Beholding the total scene’s delicately serenity had an immediate calming effect. It was so beautiful that swathes of gawping tourists couldn’t detract from such an impression.

We managed to get some beautiful shots of it reflected in the splendid Mirror Pond.


Kyoto’s Nishijin Textile Centre is a very busy spot, but we chose it because it’s in Kyoto’s traditional weaving district.  Upon arrival we opted to head upstairs to have a look at the traditional looms used to make kimono fabric.

We were in luck, as one of the Nishijin ladies was in the middle of producing a beautiful silk obi.

The full range of photos from our visit to the Textile Centre can be accessed here.
Loom 1

 It would take this lady an hour to produce just three centimetres of fabric on this loom.



January 21

We absolutely loved the Toji Temple Market with its wonderfully busy atmosphere.


Markets 1

Bonsai, but of course.

As soon as we stepped through the temple gates we were greeted with an explosion of activity: hundreds of vendors all stripes, all of them offering genuine grass-roots wares; no rubbish at all. The term ‘vintage’ gets thrown around second-hand clothing markets in Australia a lot. Well, this was real vintage.  It was such a buzz to walk over to a stall to see someone casually selling beautiful old kimonos, boro clothing and old-fashioned Japanese crockery.

We LOVED this place. There was just too much to absorb in one session: to see, buy and taste. We honestly could have spent days here.

Such an expanse of substance and atmosphere didn’t just spring up overnight, though. The temple’s principle image is Yakushi Nyorai, the Medicine Buddha. Market vendors have been setting up on the 21st of each month for hundreds of years, catering to the thousands of monthly pilgrims who would travel here to pray for good health.

 Markets 2

Indigo-dyed hemp and silk scarves. We wanted to buy all of these.

 Markets 3

Swandale Quilting’s designer Cathy Schibrowski joined us for the trip. Here she is sampling some wares.

It goes without saying that we found ourselves drawn to fabrics both old and new: old boro, and new sashiko pieces.

Some real highlights for us were the absolutely gorgeous Kasuri and hemp fabrics, some exquisite indigo-dyed hemp and silk scarves, as well as a beautiful quilt made from a variety of Kasuri fabrics with Sashiko stitching. All of it stunning.

Markets 4

 True vintage clothing. So many kimonos!


 Markets 5

 A wonderful find: a bed cover made of kasuri fabrics in boro style.

So many photos, so little room: all of our Toji Temple Market photos are here.

January 22

What a  pleasant surprise it was to end up doing a shibori workshop today!


Shibori Workshop 1

Workshopping some Shibori. So good.

We were only expecting to do a standard museum tour – a wonderful experience in itself, mind you- but we just couldn’t pass up the offer of a workshop when it presented itself. It made the difference between a great and a perfect morning.

We visited the art museum, where we examined samples of many Shibori techniques, from Mokumenui to Hinode. Not all, however, as there are at least 100 known methods. We then moved on to the industrial arts hall, where we did our workshop. We were taken through the clamping method of shibori-very simple but so effective on silk.

Shibori Workshop 2

A display at the Kyoto Shibori Museum.

Shibori Workshop 3

Museum director Kenji Yoshioka was on hand to discuss shibori with us.

January 22-23

We followed up this wonderful morning with a visit to snow-covered Takayama.


Takayama 1 Pretty Takayama, snowed under.

The nature of the cold weather thus far had been a sort of damply chilly, so we were very lucky that our next destination was Takayama. Takayama is in what’s known as a gōsetsu-chitai (heavy snow) area of Japan.

We barely noticed the four hour train ride from Kyoto.

This picturesque winter wonderland was such a great contrast to Brisbane’s sweltering heat. The gorgeous weather made it very easy for us to lose ourselves, just strolling the streets in craft heaven, really.

Takayama 2

A much-needed coffee in an adorable cup.


January 24

We took the train from Nagoya to Arimatsu and uncovered an absolute treasure trove of Shibori.



Arimatsu 1

 One our favourite designs from the The Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori Kaikan.

What a discovery and what a highlight! Arimatsu is a comparatively small town that feels less affected by modern trends, and basically derives its fame from its shibori. (Arimatsu’s connection to shibori can arguably be traced back to the town’s founding in 1608.) It even holds an annual shibori festival. (Sadly it is in June… return visit?).

We really felt fortunate to see this village, a place where shibori is part of the culture itself, and a place that is not part of the bigger tourist circuit.

The Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori Kaikan is the town’s exhibition hall, and it houses an absolutely superb range of shibori work. We managed to get some lovely photos…

Arimatsu 3

 Stunning work.

It’s difficult to overstate how much we enjoyed this-so breathtaking to view such a wide range of beautiful patterns. And in such a glorious spectrum of colour, too, as shibori is most commonly found in indigo-and-white. If you’re interested in Shibori on any level, the Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori Kaikan should be an essential part of your Japanese fabric itinerary.

Arimatsu 2

 Such vivid colours.

 Arimatsu 4

Yes, this really was made using shibori techniques.

All of the stunning shibori photographs can be found here.



January 25 – 26

Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival



Quilt Expo 1

Magnificent Quilting.


Attending this event represents an essential pilgrimage for us, especially considering that it’s the biggest quilting exhibition in the world. It’s held every year at the Tokyo Dome, which is a huge indoor venue, and the crowds can be a little overwhelming at times. Every time we have attended, we’ve found ourselves astonished by the sheer scale of quality work on display.

The Tokyo Quilt Grand Prize was a stunning quilt by Etsuko Misaka in the colours of Indigo (close to our hearts), a beautiful grading of indigo fabrics in an assortment of shapes. It’s difficult for a photograph to convey the complex detail going on in this quilt.



Tokyo Quilt 1

Etsuko Misaka’s prize-winning quilt.

We loved Etsuko’s quilt, but it wasn’t our favourite.  We were surprised at the number of quilts on display that were made from indigo fabrics, each strikingly unique, so appealing and beautifully crafted.

We’ve posted the four below that we were most enchanted by. There seemed no end to the possible effects, from the byzantine to the kaliedoscopic.

 Quilt Festival 2

Quilt Festival 3


Quilt Festival 4


Quilt Festival 5


We’ve included a shot of the crowd from the festival, just to give you an idea of the size and scope of this event. Bear in mind that this photo was taken on day three of the festival.


Tokyo Quilt Crowds

 The crowds on the third day of the festival: serious business, indeed.



Light Festival Tokyo

We had the Tokyo Festival of Light to stroll through when each day was done. A perfect counterpart to the serious crowds.


From a deeper understanding and appreciation of shibori techniques to enchanting design possibilities for indigo quilts, this trip to Japan has had the desired effect on us.

It has given us the impetus to evolve our sashiko designs from last year’s Threaded Pathways concept to something new, which we look forward to sharing with you all.


For news of future blog entries, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on our Facebook page.


‘Til next time,


Sue and Colleen.


Blog posted from Kyoto Prefecture, Japan View larger map
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Boro Jacket – A Real Find

While travelling through Yokohama on a recent trip I stumbled across something truly amazing. I’m not normally swayed to purchase something so readily when I’m out browsing and sight-seeing, but I just couldn’t resist this gorgeous find: A Boro Jacket.

I think of the wearing possibilities of this Jacket  – considering the history of the garment – its origins and the responsibilities of maintaining it.

In the days when this Jacket would have been used for its intended purpose, I’m sure no such thought was given to how I would feel about it many years later. It was a jacket designed to be worn; repaired over and over again to lengthen its lifespan. It’s interesting to compare the different perspectives regarding this Jacket.

The original concept of Boro was created by peasant women who would re-use rags or scraps of cloth (nothing too old to re-use). They’d sew the scraps together to lengthen the life of a garment by many years–layer upon layer, lovingly stitched to create warmth and repairs to the article.

The purpose was to use the garment as a working piece of clothing–old rags, old cotton, hemp, wadding all stitched together through the layers to lengthen the life of the jacket: old cloth was lovingly reused.

If we look at these garments today, the wearability and value of these garments in no way diminishes in value, as opposed to the more expensive materials (silks) used in clothing worn by the upper classes.

The history and background of these beautiful garments enhances the value to a point where we must preserve them.  I love my piece of Japanese History, but I certainly won’t be using it for everyday use  –  it’s for those special occasions.

’til next time…