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Quiltmania Honors Japanese Artists Through Their Indigo Quilts

Quiltmania Honors Japanese Artists Through Their Indigo Quilts

This week, we are honoring the wonderful world of Japanese quilting, and specifically, Indigo! Normally in January we celebrate the incredible Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival, but alas, we have attended our last show. After the 2020 festival, the exhibition closed its doors for good. Though we can’t share the stunning quilts in the pages of our Quiltmania magazine, today we are sharing with you the beautiful art of Indigo as well as our Japanese artists’ talents.

What is Indigo?

Indigo is a color that comes 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, and the exact process can differ from culture to culture. Throughout it’s history, Indigo was the emblematic color for the Japanese rural class. Reserved for farmers, it was indeed one of the only colors they were allowed to wear, since bright colors were prohibited.

As Indigo is not a chemical, but rather a natural element, this dye fades with time from a dark blue to a light one. For quilters, this subtlety can make it even more attractive.

Want to learn more about the traditional Japanese techniques of dying Indigo fabric by hand? Learn more in this video:


And below, we invite you to browse some of the most beautiful Indigo pieces that we’ve had the pleasure to display in our books over the years.


Boro refers to Japanese fabric remnants that have been mended or reassembled into a new object in order to give them new life. As fabrics were very expensive back in the day, farmers in Japan would patch their garments, blankets, etc. The Boro pieces are thus the results of simple times, and many have been discarded over the years. Fortunately, collectors such as Kosaku Nukata are happy to exhibit their Boro quilts and preserve this precious heritage.

You may have guessed it, but Indigo is the primary color and dye in these majestic pieces.

From the collection of Kosaku Nukata
From the collection of Kosaku Nukata

Traditional Stitching Techniques

Sashiko and Chiku Chiku are stitching techniques frequently associated with Boro. They are currently very popular in the quilting universe, and the Japanese are proud of their appeal. But what do these techniques involve?


Sashiko is an ancient technique of Japanese embroidery, which came to popularity during the Edo period (1600). Sashiko aimed to recycle old clothes thanks to small, regular running stitches. The sashiko stitches would not only reinforce the fabric, but over time, the Japanese began to use  beautiful and traditional motifs to ornament the fabric, making functional works of art.

This technique is now well-known and has inspired artists like Pamela Goecke Dinndorf.

You can find this Boro/Sashiko-inspired cushion in her book, Alchemy.

At a sashiko shop in Takayama.
At a sashiko shop in Takayama.

Chiku Chiku

Chiku Chiku refers to a technique in which each fabric piece is appliqued with large, straight stitches on a piece of background fabric. Similar in nature to Sashiko, there’s one key difference — in Chiku Chiku, there are no rules!


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

Our dear Mme Akiko Ike is the queen of Chiku Chiku. In the article Quilts & Enchanting Homes of Quiltmania Magazine #100, we take a trip with Carol to visit her shop and house. The number of quilts and the beauty of her environment were so rich that she also made an appearance in the Japan special issue.

Quiltmania & Indigo

My Little Japan

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

You can 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.

This special issue allows you to immerse yourself in the world of Japanese quilting, and contains a beautiful medley of indigo pieces.

Silence Quilt – Etsuko Misaka
Fleurs Indigo Quilt – Katsue Horii
Valse d’Indigo Quilt – Atsuko Furuya

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 & Passions, by Shizuko Kuroha

Shizuko Kuroha published a beautiful book in 2018, “Pieces of My Life: A Story of Fabrics and Passions.” In this book, she shares a journey through the country of the rising sun, and showcases the beautiful world of Japanese quilts, including stunning indigo fabrics.

We invite you to visit Shizuko’s YouTube channel, where you’ll learn all about Indigo. She even shares a video dedicated to Indigo gradation!

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


Inspired by Shizuko Kuroha began her quilting career through ancient indigo fabrics from her grandmother, which she has preserved throughout time.

After winning prestigious prizes, she published her first book: “Old Fabrics for New Quilts: The Story of a Rebirth.” It is also devoted to honoring the worn out fabrics that used to be so special in our lives.

You can find all these books and many more about Japanese quilting on our website. Thank you for coming with us on this journey to explore the beautiful world of Japanese Indigo and the beautiful projects made from its tradition!

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