The Ultimate Kogin Collection: Projects and Patterns for Counted Sashiko Embroidery

The Ultimate Kogin Collection: Projects and Patterns for Counted Sashiko Embroidery

by Susan Briscoe


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Discover the beautiful Japanese pattern darning technique kogin and how it can be used to create stunning stitched and quilted projects. Kogin is a variation of the popular Japanese embroidery technique sashiko and is rapidly becoming as popular as its 'big sister'.

Japanese embroidery expert, Susan Briscoe, has compiled a collection of over 60 pattern charts - kogin is a counted embroidery technique - and 12 accompanying projects to create The Ultimate Kogin Collection, following on from her previous title The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook.

The projects range from small and very accessible items such as simple greetings cards and coasters to larger projects including wall hangings and table runners.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781446307328
Publisher: David & Charles
Publication date: 07/02/2019
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 588,607
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 10.60(h) x 0.40(d)

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The technique for stitching kogin is relatively simple – patterns are created with running stitch going back and forth horizontally across the fabric – and this chapter has all the advice you need to achieve the best possible results, from start to finish. Kogin patterns are usually stitched from charts, so that's where we'll begin, and we'll end by exploring how you can design your own larger patterns by combining different elements onto graph paper. In between, I'll aim to answer many of the questions most frequently asked.


Until the pioneering work of the Kogin Lab, which began creating paper charts of traditional designs in the mid 20th century (see Introduction), traditional kogin patterns were passed on from stitcher to stitcher, with new pattern combinations being invented along the way. The earliest kogin books, including those published by Kogin Lab, feature many patterns shown only as stitched samples. Today, however, graph paper charts are universally used.

There are two main ways to create a kogin chart on graph paper: either each graph square represents one crossover point in the woven fabric, very much in the style of a cross stitch chart; or the graph lines themselves represent the threads. The first method is more regularly seen in the kogin pattern books published in the 1950s and 60s, where often just half the square is coloured in vertically, but the latter method, where graph lines represent the fabric weave, is more commonly used today.

The pattern charts in the Pattern Library use one graph line to represent one woven thread. The 'stitches' are shown by horizontal lines across one, two, three or more 'woven threads'. It is like looking at a drawing of the actual stitching and, therefore, easier to follow.


If you are stitching a pattern from a photograph of an antique kogin piece without a lot of detail, it is helpful to remember how the kogin and Nanbu hishizashi patterns work, mainly over odd and even numbers of threads respectively. As many charts in the Pattern Library are drawn from original pieces of kogin, you can also use these to help you work out the detail.


Preparing a tied skein

Unlike stranded cotton (floss), soft cotton and tapestry wool, all of which are supplied in a 'pull skein', kogin thread is supplied in a tied skein, as are sashiko thread, cotton perle and hand-dyed yarns. To prepare kogin thread and other tied skein threads for use, slide off the skein band (if there is one). You will find the skein is tied together at one point; snip off the knot and cut through all the threads at that point. Slide the skein band back onto the threads (so you will know the brand and shade number if you need to reorder) and loosely plait. Draw out individual threads from the top of the plait as you need to use them.

Preparing fabric edges

Kogin fabric frays a lot, so oversew or zigzag stitch the raw edges before you begin stitching – this is especially important for large designs that will be well-handled as you work. Ideally use a machine-sewn zigzag on the widest setting, around 1/8in (3mm) long; if oversewing by hand, make sure your stitches stay within the seam allowance area, i.e. less than 3/8in (1cm) from the edge.

Finding the centre of the fabric

If stitching a motif centred on your fabric, find the centre of the fabric by folding it into quarters and creasing it firmly. Some projects require a final fold, to create eighths.


Olympus recommend splitting the thread into individual strands and then recombining to help the six strands lie flat in the stitches to cover the fabric well. However, I find that giving the thread several counterclockwise twists after threading the needle, and repeating after the first stitch, is generally enough to avoid twisting. If you can see too much twist in a stitch, unpick it, untwist the thread strands slightly, then restitch.

How long should my thread be?

The simple answer is as long as possible, as this requires fewer starts and stops, so saving time and using up less thread. If you opened your skein as shown in Preparing Thread and Fabric, the longest strand will be approx. 39in (1m), depending on thread brand and skein size.

To stitch a motif, you will start with the maetate (the row of stitches at the motif centre): use a whole length of thread as it comes off the skein plait (just over 1 yd/m). For continuous patterns or where the overall design requires you to start at the point of the motif, use half a thread length (approx. 18in/50cm).

If working with a softer thread more prone to fluffing up while stitching, such as soft cotton, knitting or tapestry wool, work with a shorter thread length (approx. 18in/50cm).

Multi-strand threads – kogin thread, stranded cotton (floss), 4-ply variegated cotton – may start to bunch up along the length as you stitch. If this happens, slide your needle right down the thread to the fabric and smooth the strands back together before resuming stitching.

To thread your needle, slightly flatten one end of the thread to help it go through the needle's eye. Alternatively, fold the thread over the eye of the needle to flatten it slightly and push it through. If the thread really will not go through the needle's eye, you may need a larger needle.

Where do I start?

Individual motifs centred on a piece of fabric will start with the maetate (foundation row) through the middle of the pattern. This is also best where one pattern nestles into a sideways V-shape created by two others, such as building up the motifs in the wall hanging project (see Projects: Wall Hanging).

If a pattern links to the top or bottom of another one, as seen on the cushion cover project (see Projects: Cushion Cover), start the next pattern at the top or bottom point, linking to the previous pattern, rather than across the maetate line. Leave a 'tail' around 21/2–3in (6.4–7.6cm) long, which will be finished off by stitching into the back of the fabric when the pattern is complete (see Finishing Off).


1. Start stitching at the centre with the maetate (foundation row). Depending on the pattern, the exact centre of the foundation row may be a stitch or a gap. If it is a single stitch, as for the neko no ashi (cat's paw) pattern shown in Where Do I Start?, start a couple of stitches to one side of the centre and sew the single stitch later (see step 5). Come up from the back of your fabric and give your thread a counterclockwise twist if necessary (see Preparing Thread and Fabric).

2. Pull half the thread through to start stitching. (You will use the second half to complete the rest of the row followed by the first half of the motif and it may be 'parked' out of the way temporarily by making a single random long stitch out to the corner of your fabric, so it doesn't get tangled up with the stitches – the photo shows the back of the fabric with this stitch.)

3. Following the pattern chart, stitch to one end of the row. Several stitches can be placed on the needle before pulling through in a 'sewing' motion, similar to sashiko stitching: the fabric is pleated onto the needle tip, gathered up slightly and eased out flat. Make sure your thread is not twisting and that the stitches are not pulled too tight.

4. Unthread your needle and rethread it with the other end of your thread (the one 'parked' on the back in step 2). Following the pattern, bring this thread through to the front, ready to start sewing the other half of the maetate row. Keep your rows straight: take care not to skip over a horizontal thread and slip off the row you are stitching. Stitches should be slightly raised on the surface, not sinking into the fabric.

5. If you try to stitch over a single thread in one 'sewing' movement with a rocking action, like at the centre of this pattern, the short stitch will sink into the fabric and almost disappear. Work these as stab stitches, i.e. come up through the fabric and go back down again as two separate movements. Stitches over two threads can benefit from being worked this way too.

6. If a short stitch does disappear into the fabric, use your needle to raise up the stitch slightly before continuing with the stitching line, taking care not to split the thread.

7. Stitch to the end of the maetate row. When the row is finished, check that your stitches are all going over and under the correct number of threads. You can now stitch the top half of the motif.

8. Turn and stitch the next whole row of the pattern. Most kogin motifs step diagonally over one thread at the end of the row, while Nanbu hishizashi patterns step over two, so there will be a short diagonal 'stitch' on the back between the row ends. Keep this as a small loop.

9. This small loop should be about 1/8in (3mm) maximum, so your stitching doesn't pull in and distort the fabric (the photo shows the back of the fabric). Continue following the chart to stitch the top half of the motif, then use the other end of the thread that was 'parked' in step 2 to stitch the bottom half.

10. Some continuous patterns start the next row directly above the previous one. If the fabric's horizontal thread lies across the vertical one at this point, your last and first stitches will tend to slip back along the horizontal thread and slide under the vertical one, as indicated by the needle's point ...

11. ... so work either the first or last stitch as a backstitch, to stop the stitches slipping under the vertical thread. Take care that the backstitch (the longer stitch on the reverse) is not too tight. The photo shows the backstitch on the reverse of the fabric.

12. When this second row is complete, the backstitch will be indistinguishable from the running stitch on the right side.

How do I correct mistakes?

Everyone makes thread counting mistakes in kogin! So long as you take care unpicking your mistakes, you can quickly resolve any miscounting issues. Most often you will spot your mistake in the next row, as the pattern will not align as expected, so there usually isn't a lot to unpick. Unthread the needle and slide the tip under the last stitch, raise it up and pull it out. Unpick stitches one or two at a time (avoid individually pulling up stitches made over single threads as, because they are so small, it is easy to accidentally split the thread). Repeat until you are back to the mistake, rethread the needle and correct it. We all become experts at this 'unstitching' quite soon. If your thread becomes worn from too much unpicking, discard it and use a fresh thread.

Occasionally, you may not spot a mistake until later, when it may be easier to 'fudge' the rest of the pattern to fit rather than unpick a large section. If you didn't notice it, it is likely no one else will either.

Sometimes patterns have sections that look the same but are subtly changed, such as a variation in the number of rows on the centre side section of a frame lengthened or shortened to fit the centre motif (see pattern 214), or a different number of rows between a block of stitches (see pattern 216). Look out for these and make a note of any that appear in your chosen pattern.


To finish the kogin, stitch the end of the thread in and out of the weave across the back of your work. To ensure the sewn-in thread ends are hidden, work single thread stitches as much as possible behind areas of the design that appear as longer stitches on the front of the panel. Be careful not to undo your final stitch as you begin, and stitch for 2–3in (5–7.6cm). There is no need to turn after several finishing stitches and stitch in the opposite direction, unless you have only a short area to finish off or on a point.

When completing a motif, you will be finishing on a point, so you will need to stitch back and forth two or three times on the back, instead of finishing off with a longer line, as shown right.


You can use changes in thread colour to emphasise different stitch patterns in a kogin design, by contrasting frames and borders with motifs (see Projects: Table Runner), or by working a larger pattern with more subtle shade changes (see Projects: Mini Tote Bag). Stitching repeated columns or rows of motifs in different colours is also very effective (see Projects: Cushion Cover).

For multiple coloured frames, start with the central motif and stitch each subsequent border in a different colour.

Where motifs are arranged within a grid, begin with either a whole motif at the centre or a half motif at the top or bottom edge. The grid is stitched separately, in the second colour, growing it as you add motifs. By working this way, you are less liable to make mistakes counting the fabric threads than if you try to stitch an 'empty' grid and add the motifs later. Do not strand thread across the back of the grid anywhere that you plan to stitch a motif, as this will block off the back of the fabric with long float threads, preventing you from stitching other motifs later. If you add the motifs in vertical columns, it is possible to strand the thread across the back from the bottom of one motif to the top of the next, once the grid is stitched, without the need to start and finish each motif individually.

At the edge of a panel the thread can also 'travel' from one part of a design to another via single thread vertical stitches worked within the seam allowance, to be hidden once the kogin panel is made up into the finished project.


If you would like to explore drawing up your own combinations of kogin patterns to make your finished projects unique, you'll need graph paper, pencils, an eraser and marker pens. I'd recommend using metric graph paper with lines every 2mm (12.5 squares to 1in/2.5cm), as the grid is large enough to see easily with sufficient space in between to be able to draw your 'stitch' lines accurately, but be aware your diagram will be around 50 per cent bigger than your finished stitching.

Working onto graph paper is ideal for designing larger kogin pieces, and by working in this way, kogin stitchers such as Setsu Maeda were able to develop larger, more complex panels (see Introduction: Kogin Revival). This is not as daunting as it may first seem as most kogin patterns are symmetrical vertically and horizontally, so it is only necessary to draw a quarter of the design, then 'flip' and repeat it. An exception to this rule is the sayagata (saya brocade) pattern, which has rotational rather than reflective symmetry.

Remember, for the charts in this book, the grid lines represent the woven threads of the fabric. The 'stitches' are drawn from the middle of one square to the middle of another across the grid 'thread' lines. If you draw the stitch lines in pencil first, you can erase mistakes as you work out your design, then ink them in with a bold marker pen so you can see them easily against the printed grid lines. Once you are fairly confident at drafting kogin patterns on paper, you can omit the pencil stage and go straight to a permanent marker, but it is a good idea to have some correction tape to hand to fix any small mistakes in your design. Larger drawing errors can be corrected by using repositionable sticky tape to attach a fresh section of graph paper over the problem area.

You can also combine kogin patterns directly onto your fabric, which is how the early kogin stitchers must have worked, but this can be a little hit and miss. Be prepared to unpick parts of the design that don't quite fit as expected (usually borders), or to 'fudge' the pattern to fit by stretching parts of the design or altering the corners – little adjustments like this are commonly seen on antique kogin jacket panels.


The patterns in the Pattern Library are almost all traditional designs. If you start researching kogin patterns online or in modern Japanese books, you will find many designs that are original to those kogin authors, either variations on traditional patterns or that have been adapted from other pattern sources. For example, I have seen many kogin patterns that have been adapted from Norwegian smøyg embroidery, Scandinavian and Baltic embroidery designs, weaving patterns and Fair Isle knitting patterns. These will often be labelled 'kogin', and, while it is fun to incorporate these within kogin patterns, you should remain aware that these patterns did not originate in kogin or Nanbu hishizashi and will follow different conventions regarding stitch length combinations and other pattern elements.


Excerpted from "The Ultimate Kogin Collection"
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Table of Contents

Introduction 4

Tools and Materials 17

Basic Techniques 21

Projects 30

Greetings Cards 32

Coaster Collection 34

Place Mat 36

Cushion Cover 38

Small Purses 40

Mini Tote Bag 44

Wall Hanging 47

Table Runner 52

Drawstring Bags 56

Phone Case 60

Buttons, Brooches and Bobbles 64

Framed Pictures 66

Pattern Library 68

Motifs 70

Small Continuous Patterns 78

Motif Arrangements 88

Diagonal Borders and Frames 96

Horizontal Borders 104

Nanbu Hishizashi Motifs 110

Large Patterns 118

Bibliography 125

Suppliers 126

About the Author 126

Acknowledgements 126

Index 127

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The Ultimate Kogin Collection: Projects and Patterns for Counted Sashiko Embroidery 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
MontzieW 10 months ago
The Ultimate Kogin Collection: Projects and Patterns for Counted Sashiko Embroidery by Susan Briscoe is a book I requested from NetGalley and the review is voluntary. I didn't know what Kogin was but it is really cute little patterns of embroidery. Using these little patterns can make lots of fun things! I was so surprised! If you like needlework and want to try something new, give this fun little patterns a try! Big projects can come from these little guys! Lol! Love this book!
apeape 10 months ago
Kogin is a type of sashiko embroidery, and this book seems geared more toward someone who is proficient in sashiko rather than a beginner. More illustrations would have been helpful for someone who has never tried sashiko- personally, I was a bit lost. The projects included are lovely and useful, and there are many variations possible, given all the different patterns in the extensive pattern library. There is a good overview of fabrics and threads used, and tools needed. My favorite part, however, was the opening section of the book, covering the history and origins of kogin. Learning about the cultural and historical reasons for it coming into use, as well as the regional styles that developed, was fascinating to me. I'm not sure I'd recommend this book to a beginner, but I'd definitely recommend it to a more experienced stitcher, especially someone interested in traditional embroidery techniques. #TheUltimateKoginCollection #NetGalley