March 20, 2023

Making a Zokin (Or Two Or Four)

March is the month when we start to spend more time outside. The earth is awakening, the weather is milder, and it's lovely to be out of the house. But there are still plenty of cold and rainy days. Days that are good for indoor projects, like sewing zokin.

Zokin is Japanese for "cleaning cloth." It is made from old, torn, or stained cloth, and has become a somewhat universal term for this style of cleaning cloth. But it has an interesting cultural background, and the best explanation comes from Atsushi Futatsuya of Sashiko Stories. In his video, Zokin with Sashiko (Zokin as Cleaning Rug) & Apply it to Ordinary Days, he describes the stages (or progressive uses) of Japanese cleaning cloths.

  • Fukin - kitchen cloth (dish cloth or tea towel)
  • Daifuki - for wiping tables
  • Zokin - final form, used for cleaning the floor, washing the car, or scrubbing a sink

I love this philosophy. It's so true to the "use it up, wear it out" concept of that little ditty so many of us frugal people love.

Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without

Old dishtowels are perfect for making zokin, and I had several old terry cloth dishtowels that were too worn for their original purpose.

I got these before we bought our homestead. We lived in an apartment and one kitchen wall had blue and white checkered wall paper. I bought these dish towels to match. When the first one became holey and frayed, I cut it into cleaning rags. I'm pleased to keep old clothing and towels out of the landfill that way, but my rag bin is almost overflowing. That's when I learned about zokin and thought it was a great idea. 

Finished size is arbitrary and I decided I could make two zokin from one dishtowel. I cut each one in half lengthwise, pressed down the cut edge, and folded the strip into thirds. 

The layers are stitched together with sashiko. You may recall from my Japanese Mending post, that sashiko is simply running stitch. It's often colorful and decorative, but for these, mine is simply functional.

Finished zokin

Besides old towels, I've seen these made out of old t-shirts and sweats. It's a great way to re-purpose end-of-life garments. My only recommendation would be to use natural fabrics, because polyesters and acrylics don't absorb water well. That, and when the zokin are beyond use, natural materials (in this case cotton), can be composted to feed the soil. That final act completes the cycle.


Boud said...

I really like the principle at work here. I avoid using paper towels as much as I can, and have numerous cloths for kitchen use, which eventually become floor cloths. It amuses me to see a floor cloth which was a tablecloth fifty years ago!

Nina said...

People give me their old t-shirts. I cut the bottom part into continuous strips for weaving yarn which is good for rugs, mats etc. From the sleeves up, I cut them into rectangles for "rags" Only the hems and neck ribbing get tossed and everything else is reused. The rags are great as they are absorbent and can get tossed in the wash. Best of all is that because they're cotton jersey, they don't need hemming. T-shirt yarn makes excellent rugs. The colours are easy to work with, the rugs are durable, and machine washable. It's amazing how many t-shirts are considered worn out, when there is just a little bit of fading or a tiny bit of wear on the inside of the neckline.

Leigh said...

Boud, old table cloths is a good idea too! I have to agree about the principle at work. Hopefully, ideas like this will infect modern western culture too.

Nina, I love the idea of using rags for weaving. I really need to get my loom back up! Cotton t-shirts are easy to find too. At the thrift stores they usually sell for just a dollar.

Ed said...

I recycle stuff into shop rags as well. Good shop rags are hard to purchase these days. They are often super thin and in such small sizes that they don't work well for what I need them.

Florida Farm Girl said...

We save worn out tshirts and older towels to use as rags too. I don't go quite as far as you, but I also believe in not throwing away things that still have a purpose, although maybe not the original purpose.

Leigh said...

Ed, seems like purchased rags aren't worth the money all around. So much better to recycle, isn't it?

Sue, well, I don't know about going far, but it is a pretty nifty idea for heavy duty cleaning stuff. :)

Goatldi said...

For a long time I used the cloth diapers my kiddo's had as littles. Then I got down to only 2 or 3 and couldn't use them . Sentimental Mama on board. These were serious cloth diapers that were doubled before stitching. The fact the set kept two wet bums dry for a total of at least 15 months each is a tribute to the old way. And that they found a second life even more so. I still have them in the remainder of moving boxes. And no I still can't use them. They are now almost 50 years old. And the red haired brown eyed boy will be as old as the diapers next year. I have used mostly like you used kitchen or bathroom hand towels with too many holes to be useful.

Wondering where that time went and so fast!

Nancy In Boise said...

The Japanese are fasinating, just read this yesterday on FB- "The Japanese have been producing wood for 700 years without cutting trees. In the 14th century, the extraordinary technique of daisugi was born in Japan. In fact, daisugi foresees that these trees will be planted for future generations and will not be cut down but pruned as if they were giant bonsai trees; by applying this technique to cedars, the wood that can be obtained is uniform, straight and without knots, practically perfect for construction. Pruning is an art that allows the tree to grow and sprout while using its wood, without ever cutting it. An extraordinary technique." The photos of the trees are amazing!

Leigh said...

Goatldi, old diapers would be perfect. I have to say though, that of my cherished baby mementos, my kids cloth diapers isn't one of them, lol. But, actually, the 'old' way ought to become the 'new' way. A little more work, but with zero waste and landfill fodder.

Nancy, sounds like the Japanese version of coppicing! Interesting how this technique is utilized in such different parts of the world. I'm guessing the Japanese do a much more aesthetic job of it, though. :)

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh, traditional Japanese culture (like many other things, before Western disposable culture "showed up" to improve things) had a very long history of using things to the end of their life and using things in such a manner as to be able to get generations of use out of them. I have seen the video Nancy is referring to; the origin was that they needed long straight lumber for building and this form of coppicing allowed them to do so without destroying the parent tree.

Leigh said...

TB, and that affirms the need for traditional culture studies. Advanced technology seems to have a way of destroying that, and I find that I glean many choice tidbits for my chosen lifestyle by studying other cultures and time periods.

Along those lines, I find it almost odd that some groups of our own society are slammed for being a product of the common culture, yet we want to "improve" other country's living conditions so that we're all the same.