In the early days, clothes worn by the common people were made from homespun fabrics woven from the fibres of the paper mulberry, wisteria and hemp. Cotton was imported and went to the nobility.
Because it was time consuming and difficult to make fabric and garments, the people developed ways to recycle fabric and extend the life of their clothes. Once the Sunday best kimono showed signs of wear, it was worn as every day dress, later used as a sleeping gown or shortened to make a jacket. When further worn, the fabric was used as an apron or bag. Eventually, layers of scraps were sashiko quilted together into dust cloths. Another way of extending the life of a garment was to use running stitch to hold layers of patches in place, thereby preserving a well worn jacket or favourite garment. Socks, worn both inside and outside the house, wore out easily. Thus the bottom surface was strengthened with sashiko.
When cotton fabric, softer and easier to sew, became accessible to peasants, winter clothing was created by stitching together multiple layers of clothing with sashiko patterns and more intricate designs became possible. Thus the early geometric stitches which were purely functional now became valued for their decorative qualities and special names were given to the different designs which incorporated traditional Japanese patterns and motifs – pampas grass, hemp leaf, lighting, ocean waves.
By the 18th and 19th centuries, sashiko quilting began to be used for decorative purposes a - wall hangings, table centers, bags - and was no longer exclusively utilitarian. As in many other cultures, the value of a young woman as a bride was predicated upon her stitching expertise.