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Making a Zokin (Or Two Or Four)

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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.


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