Japan's 5 major brands in sashiko material 2023
Thanks to its ongoing trend, many smaller brands that produce sashiko material, needles, fabric, and thread have popped up over the last years.
Even ten years ago, when I started out, there were only a handful of makers and their products were hard to find. Now there are plenty of choices out there, but these companies are the main players:
- Yokota Co., Ltd.
- Olympus Thread Mfg. Co., LTD
- Fujikyu Corporation
- Lecien Corporation
- Hobbyra Hobbyre
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Yokota Co., Ltd., the brand with the Daruma
Daruma thread is well known amongst sashiko fans, but the company's name is actually not "Daruma" but 横田株式会社 yokota kabushikigaisha, which translates to "YOKOTA CO., LTD".
Of all the companies producing sashiko material, Yokota has the longest history. With only about 80 employees, Yokota is a small business that puts quality first. Their slogan "Prices change. Quality endures." is obvious in their products' quality.
All products that are produced in Japan feature the daruma somewhere on the packaging. Originally, the daruma was attested to products of superior quality.
Yokota Co,. Ltd. was founded in 1901 by Yokota Chōzaemon, who aimed to "produce the world's best thread". So much for dreaming small. The first product was "silk cotton thread", which was made of cotton with a smoothness similar to silk.
Yokota always went with the times. When women were relieved from daily chores thanks to electrical appliances, they would hold lace classes to promote their thread.
Their product range is not as wide as most of the other companies that produce sashiko supplies, but their products are carefully selected according to new trends and their design is fresh and beautiful.
Instead of aiming at growth, Yokota seems to be more interested in sustainability.
Quality of Yokota's products
My recommendations are probably biased by the extremely beautiful design of Yokota's packaging. That being said, I have never had any trouble with any of my purchases. The thread isn't only of the best quality, the colors are wonderful and it feels as if somebody poured their heart into making it perfect.
Recommended products from Yokota
Honestly, I just about recommend everything from them.
One of my favorites is their "Sashiko Box Selection", which consists of 15 different thin sashiko thread cards, 4 needles of different sizes, a needle threader, and a pincushion in a beautiful minimal box.
Their sashiko samplers are great for lazy people or people just starting sashiko.
If the product doesn't have to be related to sashiko, my favorite product is their "Home Thread Ball #30", as the color combination is incredible!
Olympus, reliable quality at a good price
Olympus's full name in Japanese is オリムパス製絲株式会社 orimpasu seishi kabushikigaisha, in English "Olympus Thread Mfg. Co., LTD."
Although I couldn't find any precise numbers, it is estimated that Olympus has between 30-100 employees.
The company has an English homepage and although you can't purchase directly from them, it's nice that you can see their current lineup.
The company was founded in 1908 in Nagoya and has been specializing in stitching material ever since, thread in especial.
Olympus' opening products were cotton threads for hand sewing and machine sewing.
But they also produce needles, fabric, and other tools for various crafts. You can take a look at their current lineup in the 2023 catalog.
The first products related to sashiko were kogin thread and kogin embroidery kits were released in 1955.
But it wasn't until 1979 before Olympus first produced sashiko thread and kits. A year later, the company added hanafukin, cute dishcloths, to its production line.
In 2020 thin sashiko thread was added to its collection of threads and a new range of colors was added two years later.
Apart from its five locations in Japan, Olympus has also an office in China.
Quality of Olympus products
Olympus makes great quality crafting supplies across the board. Even though their design may not be the greatest, their quality is reliable and you can't really go wrong with any of their products.
Recommended products from Olympus
Olympus' starter kits are extremely useful for beginners. The kits come with instructions that are easy to understand and include everything to start: fabric with a pre-printed pattern, the right amount of thread, and a good-quality needle.
An Olympus starter kit was how I started sashiko. Thanks to the kit, my first sashiko project resulted in a beautiful hanafukin. If you are interested, this one is great for beginners (Walmart affiliate link).
Fujikyu Corporation, the brand for everyone
Under the umbrella of Fujikyu Holdings, Fujikyu Corporation runs various online shops and offers not only craft supplies but also workshops, there are regular publications for various crafts, learning programs, and more than 400 physical stores all across Japan.
Craft Heart Tokai, their biggest chain store, offers a wide selection of in-house craft supplies and other companies' products at their stores.
Even though I prefer smaller businesses to big conglomerate giants, I must admit that Craft Heart Tokai's staff are always very helpful and have never left any of my questions unanswered.
Fujikyu Corporation was founded in 1961. At the time it specialized in the making and selling of silk thread.
Seven years later it opened the first outlet of its chain store 手芸のすずらん shugei no suzuran, literally "Lily of the Valley of Handicraft."
In 1980 Fujikyu Corporation added a mail order service for craft material, which was so successful that they added additional mail order services for knitting, clothing, and sundry goods over the course of fifteen years.
In 1983 a 手芸センタートーカイ shugei senta- to-kai store was opened, which was remodeled into the first Craft Heart Tokai in 2002.
Only a year later, Fujikyu Corporation joined the Tokyo stock exchange market aiming at even faster growth. By June 2020 the corporation had 419 physical stores.
Recently, 藤久株式会社 fujikyū kabushikigaisha, which translates to Fujikyu Corporation has been put under the umbrella of 藤久ホールディングス株式会社 fujikyū hōrudingusu kabushikigaisha, in English simply Fujikyu Holdings.
The merge happened in January 2022, making it one of the biggest companies invested in sashiko. In July of the same year, Fujikyu Holdings acquired 日本ヴォーグ社 nihon vo-gu sha, Japan Vogue Publication as a subsidiary.
Quality of Fujikyu's products
Fujikyu Holdings meets the quality expectations toward Japanese companies. I have never purchased a product that I was not fully satisfied with from them. But trying to satisfy everyone's needs, I feel like the company doesn't really speak to anyone in particular. At least not me.
Recommended products from Fujikyu
I have purchased craft supplies at Craft Heart Tokai many times, but somehow I end up buying products from different makers. I do enjoy stitching with the variegated thread from Fujikyu Holdings!
They recently started selling pre-printed fabric with a width of 106cm by the meter. The width for pre-printed cloth is usually the standard width for yukata fabric, so only around 30cm. This new size makes lets you easily turn your stitched fabric into clothes and other bigger projects.
Lecien Corporation, readily available everywhere
Lecien is another big conglomerate, though I am not sure whether it is bigger than Fujikyu. It has branched out into Asia, but its online presence suggests that Fujikyu is the bigger player of the two.
Either way, their selection of sashiko goods is not as wide as that of other companies, but it is evolving, so that's something to look forward to.
Lecien started out in 1933 as Nomura Shoten in Kyoto. It focused on importing textiles and daily goods to sell in Japan. Soon after they added lace to their portfolio and by 1946, Nomura Shoten turned into Nomura Shoten Co., Ltd..
In 1950, they started selling Cosmo embroidery floss and adding several other products, especially in the fashion category, to their line-up.
The company name was changed to 株式会社ルシアン kabushikigaisha rushian "Lecien Corporation" in 1992.
In the following two decades, the company established companies in Vietnam, China, and Cambodia.
In 2009, Lecien Corporation was absorbed by Wacoal Corporation.
Sashiko thread has only been added in recent years under the name "hidamari sashiko."
Quality of Lecien's products
Lecien offers the same high-quality standard that people have come to love about Japanese products. The sashiko thread they offer is produced in Japan and unlike most other sashiko threads, it is sold on bobbins, which helps keep your thread tangle free.
Recommended products from Lecien
Lecien's variegated threads have a very unique look. My favorite is no. 105. I love the smoothness of their threads. It makes them easy to work with.
Hobbyra Hobbyre, eccentric grown up
Hobbyra Hobbyre's history
Hobbyra Hobbyre was founded in 1975 as 株式会社ダイヤクラフト kabushikigaisha daiyakurafuto, "Diamond Craft Corporation" a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Pencils.
Within a month of its foundation, the company opened a store in Tokyo's luxury district. It was the first store in Japan that was solely dedicated to hobby&craft.
The store's interior was a vivid red with many carefully selected playthings and craft supply from all around the world, which gave it a feel of an overturned box of toys.
In the same year the company released a table top weaving machine that became a longtime best seller.
Until 1985 the company opened more more than 10 stores, started a fabric collection and launched various successful products.
In 1991, the company's name was finally changed to 株式会社ホビーラホビーレ kabushikigaisha hobi-ra hobi-re, "Hobbyra Hobbyre Corporation."
Since 1994, the company regularly does collaborations, including foreign companies. Something that is quite rare among Japanese craft material companies.
Recently, the company has monthly live sessions on its community instagram account.
While Hobbyra Hobbyre Corporation started out as an eccentric, it feels like the company has grown up to produce reliable mainstream supplies. I do wonder what kind of supplies the company would produce if it was still as unconvential as it was in the beginning.
Quality of Hobbyra Hobbyre products
Despite mass-production, the quality of Hobbyra Hobbyre's products is great. The products even manage to achieve a soft natural feel. That is not only true for the collaboration products with natural dye artists but for all their threads and cloths.
Recommended products by Hobbyra Hobbyre
Even though I love traditional sashiko patterns, my favorite product from Hobbyra Hobbyre is the pre-printed cloth with the triangle pattern. I love how both sides of the pattern make triangles: one side bigger, one smaller.