Boro textiles from Japan

Boro, Taisho Era, ca. 1920
Boro, Taisho Era, ca. 1920

Boro is the Japanese art of mending and the term boro is literally translated as rags or scraps of cloth.  Boro is also used to describe clothes and household items which have been patched-up and repaired many times.   This textile tradition comes from northern Japan, a poor region with a harsh climate.  

Japanese boro (futon cover), 19th century
Japanese boro (futon cover), 19th century  

Boro textiles were usually sewn from nineteenth and early twentieth century rags and patches of hand loomed indigo dyed cotton. Older boro pieces were made with fabric made from bast fibers (foraged local plant materials and hemp) then patched and quilted together with second-hand scraps of cotton garments.  Boro garments were the work garb of both men and women working as farmers, lumberman, and fisherman. Boro techniques are also found in other household items, especially futon covers.  A family futon cover might incorporate elements from clothing used by generations of family members. 

Japanese Boro, or Futon Cover, 19th C by Ouno design Flickr
detail of Japanese boro (futon cover), 19th century 

As fabric was scarse and expensive, boro used patchwork quilting and sashiko stitching to mend and extend the life of all the pieces of worn fabric in a household.   Sashiko,  literally translated to “little stabs”, is a form of decorative reinforcement stitching, usually running stitch, for areas on clothing that get a lot of wear. No fabric would be thrown away, adhering to the concept of mottanai

Boro Cotton Kimono, Yamagata Prefecture (Northern Japan) c. 1900
Boro Cotton Kimono, Yamagata Prefecture (Northern Japan) c. 1900

While frugality drove this textile tradition, the aesthetic sensibilities of the women stitching created beauty out of the materials at hand.  These patched and heavily stitched articles of daily life are cultural textile treasures. 

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