Like other patterning methods, Japanese embroidery has a long history and reached its peak of technical sophistication in the Edo period. Exploiting the freedom the technique allows, and utilising a myriad of colours and an extensive range of stitches, embroiderers have produced some of the most striking of all Japanese textiles. Embroidery was often used in conjunction with dyeing, the combination of techniques giving designs a variety of texture and visual depth. When embroidery was the sole decorative method, a satin fabric was commonly used, giving an extremely lustrous effect.
Japanese embroiderers employ a number of different stitches. A flat stitch (hira-nui), equivalent to satin stitch in the West, is used to create pattern elements such as flowers and leaves. These stitches use floss (untwisted) silk, which gives the embroidery a very rich sheen. A tiny gap, equivalent to the point of the needle, is used to delineate elements such as the separate petals of flowers or the central veins of leaves. Larger areas are defined with long and short stitches (sashi-nui), also in floss silk. Twisted threads, generally in pairs, are also used. In katayori, one thread is highly twisted and then twisted, more lightly and in the opposite direction, with another thread, giving a nubbled appearance. Another type of texture is created with a knot stitch (sagura-nui). Metallic thread is also used to dazzling effect in Japanese embroidery. This is made from a silk core wrapped in paper and then with gold or silver leaf. The resulting thread is too thick to pass through fine silk without damaging it, so is couched (attached with small stitches) on to the fabric.
In Japan a number of other decorative techniques involve the use of a needle and thread. In Tsugaru, the northernmost part of Japan's main island Honshū, kimono are embellished using a method called kogin, in which white stitches are embroidered over and under an odd number of warps on the woven ground fabric to create a diamond pattern.