BORO | Textile Art from Ancient Japan

Every time I host a Sashiko workshop in NYC, I hear the word of BORO.

The word of “BORO” became famous in these 15 years or so. People in the art industry discovered the beauty of Japanese vintage fabric, especially those were used and repaired repeatedly. As a Japanese who grew up with a lot of textile in the traditional Sashiko family, I remember the trend with BORO was somewhat surprising.

 

In Japanese, the word Boro (襤褸)means;

  1. A piece of useless fabric after using repeatedly
  2. Torn cloth with holes and patches. Squalid garment. (Usually, the negative image with the word of Boro)

The Japanese sometimes call it Ranru with the same Japanese written character. Ranru means a garment with many damages, tears, and patches.

 

The contemporary BORO culture spotlight not only the ordinary Japanese definition as old garments but also the vintage fabrics with many patches and repairs. Many Boro pieces are found in forms of Kimono, Noragi  (Japanese style outer Jacket), Futon (Japanese style blanket), Shikimono (Japanese style rug) and so on. They look dirty comparing to the new fabric, but the color created by hundreds of years of time and the combination of patches with repairing are beautiful. BORO sometimes looks like an abstract painting.

 

Boro 1 Boro 2

 

 

 

At Random Beauty?

Some people say that Boro is a product of at random chance. The people found out the beauty in Boros in the 21 century. It was lucky for the textile culture of Japan that the BORO was discovered. The unique culture of Japan, such as Mottainai (regret concerning waste) contributed to the process of creating Boros. 

Yes. The Japanese had a unique culture of saving and appreciating not only the fabric but also everything around them. Speaking of Mottainai culture in fabric, a mother told a daughter that, if she has a large piece of fabric enough to wrap 3 soybeans, she should keep the piece so she will be able to repair the other fabric. In the process of economical growth in Japan, some Boros were thrown away because of its nature… it is literally a piece of filthy, useless, and fragile fabric. I agree that the Japanese didn’t introduce the artistic aspect in Boros. However, I do not think that the BORO is a product of at random chance or accidental art. They tried to be beautiful.

Boro is Designed fabric by ordinary farmers.

I think, and I know, that the process of creating Boro requires a lot of thinking and designing. If Japanese people only needed to mend the fabric, why didn’t they use mono-color thread and plain solid color fabric…? Using simple thread and one colored fabric throughout their life would have their family finance much easier. Instead, they designed the Boro to enjoy her/him more fashion in their limited resource.

The ordinary farmers in Japan tried to enjoy the fashion and arts within the capacity of what they can. This is human nature to dress their up. The fashion sense of Japanese people is the origin of Boros, I believe.

Boro 3 Boro 4

BORO as the result of Sashiko

The Japanese people created BORO by repeating the process of mending the fabric. I believe that we call the process of mending “Sashiko.” Sashiko is not only a form of hand-stitching but also the process of stitching with focusing on design and function simultaneously.

Many people are interested in Sashiko as a technique to make decorative stitching. Sashiko became more decorative stitching after the Japanese started enjoying enough amount of fabrics and threads. However, as a Sashiko artist, I would like to introduce the beauty of mending, and the aspect of Sashiko which can make your garments more special.

 

My mother Keiko started the project called Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya to revive the old fabric to contemporary fashion/art by Sashiko. It is impossible to make “new BORO” in this century because the BORO requires the color fade-out with hundreds of years and repeated repairing the fabric. What Keiko focus now is to find the Boro (or Boro like, vintage, and antique fabric) and repair the BORO. We believe this is one of our responsibilities to pass down the culture to next generation as Sashiko artists.

Learn Sashiko, share your Sashiko project, and let’s enjoy Boro-like fashion starting in 21st century.

 

Boro 6 Boro 5

 

 

 

We are a team to make Boro-to-be in the next Century.

One of my goal of this website is to make Sashiko open-source matter. I want as many people as possible to know what Sashiko is, enjoy the process of stitching, and feel satisfied by the result. We have some online tutorials and online store to start learning Sashiko.

The Sashiko doesn’t limit your project by rules or regulation. You can do whatever you want. My hobby is to mend jeans, and many people enjoyed my Sashiko mending workshop in NYC.

 

 

By the way, when I say I wear a garment with mending, people may think that I am against to the mass consumption society.

They may think I care the ecology more than the fashion. Some may think I am in need of… and saving money for food. It is wrong. Again, I believe it is human instinct to make us attractive throughout fashion, and the mending with cool fabric can be a good way to attract the others. I am proud of my ancestor, who cared the fashion no matter how in need they were.

 

I hope you can join our team to make “Boro to be” in the next century.

Although I don’t know if our descendants find it beautiful or not, as long as we enjoy the process of appreciating the fabric, I am pretty sure this trend will be another fashion culture in 2xxx. 

 

What you need to join our team are simple of two mindsets.

Passion for the fashion and appreciation for the fabric.

 

Sashiko Thread | The key of good Sashiko

In order to cook a tasty meal, you would need fresh & quality ingredients. Similarly, in order to complete a beautiful Sashiko project, the quality Sashiko thread is the key to succeeding. Not only the good Sashiko thread provide the better stitching result, but it reduces your stress while stitching. Sashiko requires a lot of time to invest. Less stress while stitching hugely contribute to the better result.

 

sashiko thread

 

What kind of Sashiko thread should we choose?

The thread should be strong enough to strengthen the fabric. It should be thick enough to create beautiful stitches. It should be smooth so the thread wouldn’t damage the fabric. The tight twisting thread will reduce the richness of stitching. The loose twisting thread will tear apart while stitching and it will cause stress. Finding the balanced twist is one of the most important factors in finding the best thread. When you get cheap and poor quality Sashiko thread, the thread will fray easily and will be cut in actual stitching process.

 

Choosing the appropriate thread is one good journey many Sashiko artists encounter. We, as Sashiko artists, came to the conclusion to what is the best Sashiko Thread.

 

Sashiko Thread by Coron is our choice.

Japanese thread manufacture, Coron Seishi, makes one of the best Sashiko threads in the market. The thread satisfies most of the requirements Sashiko artist thinks, and the result is very rewarding. Almost 100% of Sashiko products from Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya and Upcycle Stitches LLC use these Sashiko threads from Coron.

 

Sashiko Thread 2

 

The thread consists 6 thin embroidery flosses, twisted in a unique way to keep the thickness for beautiful stitches, yet tightness to avoid separating the thread while stitching. This is the balance I mentioned above. Coron also put the thread in a series of special processes so thread becomes smooth and soft.

In our online store, we have 4 kinds of Sashiko thread available for sale. Two of them are from Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya (Colored and directed by Keiko / the thread is manufactured by Coron.) Two of them are from Coron manufactory (Colored synthetically and manufactured by Coron).

 

Natural Dye Sashiko Thread

Sashiko Thread Natural Dye

When Keiko Futatsuya started working on her own Sashiko projects, which were mainly “one-of-a-kind” Sashiko Jackets and bags, she faced to the big challenge of finding the exact color she wanted to use. She wanted to adjust the color to the fabric, especially those from the past, the Japanese vintage (antique) fabric. We had a good variety of colored Sashiko thread. However, she couldn’t compromise for what she wanted.

This is her journey of natural dye thread started.

Now, we have about 30 kinds of colors. Some were sold-out and will not be back in stock since the color was so unique (made by random conditions she can not recreate). She is getting better and better at creating Natural Dye Sashiko thread.

 

 

Sashiko Thread Natural Dye
Blue is a very challenging color to dye. (by Logwood)

The process of dyeing the thread with Natural dye has a lot of stories. It is my hope to keep introducing her journey in this website.

Articles about Natural Dye Sashiko Thread

 

Beautiful Indigo Blue and Kakishibu Gold are available in Sashiko Thread Collection, finally.

 

Kakishibu Dyed Thread Natural Indigo Dyed Thread Bobbin

 

I hope you would have a chance to enjoy the beautiful color of Natural, hand-dye Sashiko thread.

 

 

Original Color (Exclusive) Sashiko Thread

Sashiko Thread

 

In the process of Natural Dye and Hand Dye, Keiko only can create about 15 skeins. The production result is between 10 skeins to 20 skeins because of the skeins do not meet her standard. She realized it takes too long to dye the thread when she works on the big Sashiko project.

After talking to a color specialist and Coron, she succeeded to create these 2 colors thread. They are dyed by synthetic dyes like the other solid color thread. However, they have a warm/natural like color similar to our natural dye thread.

They are exclusive colors Keiko ordered. It is Sashi.Co original Sashiko thread.

 

 

Mono Color / Solid Color Sashiko Thread

Sashiko Thread Mono Color

Coron Seishi manufacture these beautiful Sashiko threads. “#10 – Original (unbleached) White” and “#12 – Bright (bleached) white” is the all-time popular item. We use A LOT of these threads in our Sashiko project. The smoothness, the thickness, and the strength of threads improve the stitching experience and color and cotton quality will result in great stitches.

There are 15 colors for solid mono color thread. Every color is available in our online store, etsy, and even on Amazon.

 

 

Variegated Color Sashiko Thread

Variegated Color threads are also very popular for those who enjoys the gradation of colors in their Sashiko projects. We have 5 color variations.

  • #201 – Prime color variation
  • #202 – Pastel color variation
  • #203 – Read to White gradation
  • #204 – Green to White gradation
  • #205 – Blue to White gradation

 

 

Sashiko Variegated Color

 

As a summary for your Sashiko experience

It is very critical to choose the appropriate Sashiko thread to your Sashiko project. As I mention repeatedly, Sashiko requires you to invest a lot of your time. I really want you to get rewarded by having the great Sashiko stitches and finished products. I believe sharing the beauty of Sashiko stitching and its fun process is the best way to introduce Sashiko to the world.

 

Enjoy Sashiko!

June 2017 Sashiko Workshop in NYC

Sashiko | Overview of Sashiko Stitching

Sashiko  (刺し子) is a form of needlework developed in Japan a couple of centuries ago.

We can find its history in several regions in Japan, where the Japanese had to experience the severe winter. Sashiko used to be a job for women to mend men’s garments over the winter. Both men and women worked as farmers over the summer. Men worked in the wood and women repaired the fabric over the winter. The routine still exist in some places. Our partner, Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya, slows down over summer because many Sashiko artisans work as famers primary.

 

As long as I know, there is neither the solid definition nor the answer to what Sashiko is. Each regions developed Sashiko in their unique way, and each style of them is very beautiful. My definition of Sashiko is that it is a process of mending the fabric to repair, strengthen and warmth the garment, which family member will wear. Well, let me stop here. I am not writing a book about its history.

 

However, I believe it is one of my missions to explore what Sashiko is. The exploration will be a big one, so please follow the link if you are interested in understanding it. I am working on some reading materials.

 

Overview of Sashiko Stitching  / How to stitch

Sashiko transformed itself over the years and centuries.

We now mainly enjoy Sashiko as a decorative form of needlework. The simple stitching with the traditional combination, which is Indigo Dye Fabric and White thread, attract many people. We can find its unique stitchings in tablewares, clothes like jackets or shirts, handbags, and tapestries. I’ve had workshops for quilters, which they loved the taste of Sashiko.

There is no such a thing as “the rule”. You can do Sashiko on any kind of fabric with any color. However, there are efficient and beautiful ways to do stitching based on its history and accumurated wisdom. As a Sashiko artist from surviving traditional family in Japan, I will introduce the traditional and basics of Sashiko.

Tools and Materials to prepare in the beginning.

It is very easy to start. You do not need a huge investment to prepare what you need. Here is a list of things you would need to start. I wrote about the tools we use.

*I wrote an article about the tools we use.

 

List of things you would need to start

Sashiko 1 Sashiko Thimble Sashiko Pattern
Sashiiko Fabric Boro Sashiko Needle Tracing Tool

 

  1. Sashiko Thread | Pick a good one
  2. Fabric | Solid Cotton fabric is recommended
  3. Sashiko Needle
  4. Sashiko Thimble
  5. Pattern | Anything you would like to
  6. Tracing tools such as tracing paper or chalk pencil

*Each Link Above goes to our Online Store.

*Click here for little more information for each material.

 

Preparation

Preparation, either drawing the pattern on the fabric or transferring the pattern onto the fabric, is a very important process. Either way, please make sure that the patterns are strongly visible on the fabric. Once you start doing stitching, the pattern may fade off. In case, reinforce the line accordingly. Having a good pattern on the fabric is a key to accomplish the better result.

If you are using the transferring method from patterns printed on papers, please refer to another article of mine, how to transfer the pattern onto fabric. With online video tutorial, you will be able to grasp the process of transferring the pattern with appropriate tools. If you are drawing the pattern on the fabric with using rulers and pencil, refer to the article about how to draw the symentric patterns (coming soon).

 

After the pattern in nicely on your fabric, trim your fabric to appropriate size for your project. Let do actual stitching!

 

Stitching – How to use tools

Among several Sashiko methods, naminui method (Running Stitching) is one of my specialty. I will focus on Naminui on this introduction page. In order to perform Naminui, put the thimble as the picture below show. A round shape facing down, and the thimble is on the middle finger of your dominant hand. Try to practice hold the needle as the picture show. This is the basic and standard figure of how to hold the needle using the unique shaped round thimble.

 

 

Before stitching, after practicing the figure, do not forget to thread the needle. If you choose the appropriate needle, it shouldn’t be too difficult to thread through. Of course, you can use threader if you need support. Also, putting a hint of Vaseline on the tip of the thread may help the threading process.

 

 

 

Let’s start stitching

In my workshop, I always say;

“Hold the fabric and needle together with using your thumb and the tip of middle finger. The needle should be on your dominant hand. Then support the fabric with another hand. Move (push) the needle while making stitches”

Then I see confused faces in the classroom. Always.

It is pretty difficult to explain how to make Sashiko stitches in written contents. The standard form is shown in the photo below. I understand that you do not understand by looking at photos.

 

Since it is difficult to explain in written form, I uploaded several videos how to do Sashiko stitching. I am learning how to make videos, so it has a chance to re-upload the better videos. Check our Youtube channel for the update and more information.

Sashi.Co Youtube Channel

 

Example with Shippou Pattern

Coming soon.

Tips for the better experience

Making no knots…?

Regular hand-sewing and stitching require a knot at the end of the thread to hold. However, we often avoid making the knots when we start stitching and end stitching. Instead, we make several “over-ray” stitches to hold the thread and fabric. The picture below shows a few stitches which as 2 colors, like pink and yellow, pink and light green. These are over-ray stitching and the Sashiko thread makes it possible to replace the knots. (I believe most of the(I believe most of the regular embroidery thread will not work as knots even if you make several over-ray stitches.)

 

The “knot-less” stitching makes fabric more smooth, and it is great techniques for projects you need to use both side of fabric. Here are some supporting links to over-ray stitching including an online video tutorial how to make over-ray stitching.

 

 

How many stitches should we make?

You may make as many stitches as you want as long as the needle let you do. Some artists makes as many as 30 stitches without smoothing the fabric. The unique method of Naminui and the way to hold the needle and thimble make it possible. When you work on the patterns with straight line (like the picture below) making many stitches will save you time and give you even stitches. When you work on the pattern with circles or curves, try to keep the stitches small and less stitches so you will make smooth and nice curve by stitches.

By the way, the picture above another picture showing the overlay stitching.

 

Here is a video showing the Naminui Stitching that I make.

Right or Wrong | Any regulation?

 

I personally believe there is no such a thing as “right” or “wrong” in Sashiko stitching. It isn’t structured tradition like other types of Japanese traditional culture such as “Sado / Tea ceremony” and “Ikebana/flower arrangement art.” After all, Sashiko was merely a stitching custom which the ordinary people practice daily basis. So, do not worry about doing right or wrong. Therefore, there isn’t any regulation. Just enjoy the process of stitching.

 

Even stitches always give you the good result.

Although there isn’t any regulation, there are a few suggestons you may take into consideration. The first suggestion is about the length of one stitch. There is no standard for the length of Sashiko. No Sashiko tell you that you have to make, let’s say, 1mm length stitches throughout the project. Just try to keep the even stitches throughout your project. Even if you have relatively big stitches for the first line, you may want to keep the same length. Even stitches always give you the good result.

You will be able to adjust the length of stitching based on what your Sashiko project require. Jeans mending require the bigger stitches. A pillow with curve line will require small and precise stitches.

Question. Which is the best Sashiko stitching?

Look at the center of this Sashiko pattern, where 3 lines cross. Which point would be the best Sashiko, either A, B or C?

Some book may say that “A” is the “right” Sashiko and “B” and “C” are not “right” so if you have B and C, you should retry it. In my opinion, B and C are also good Sashiko. Why? Because every line keeps the same length throughout the pattern.

Let’s look at another picture.

This is the exact same pattern from above. Do you even find point A, B and C? Are they that significant when you look from distance? Sashiko tend to have many stitches on the fabric. So small “adjustment” is not necessary. If you have even stitches, the result will get better.

 

In fact, it is up to your preference after all.

I prefer the Sashiko with “even stitches without adjusting much.” Some people may prefer adjusting stitches with almost perfect pattern looking.The beauty of Sashiko is partically because of its inperfectionism, so I always teach my student to not to worry about the small detail. In stead of redoing the Sashiko, I will move on to another project so you can stitch more and more. Trust me. If you keep the even stitches with appropriate length for your project, the result will be great.

 

Sashiko Appendix

A series of my exploration to Sashiko history and definition.

More brief information for materials.

Thread

Sashiko Thread

I strongly recommend using “Sashiko thread” for the best results. Sashiko requires a series of think and unique stitches for better appearance as well as strengthing the fabric simultaneously. The regular embroidery floss may be a bit inappropriate for its purpose. You can find more information and articles about Sashiko thread we prefer in our website.

Fabric

Sashiko Fabric

Cotton Fabric is always a good choice for Sashiko. We have used other types of fabric such as silk and linen. However, the cotton fabric will result in the beautiful stitches. Heavy fabric, such as hard denim, may be difficult for the beginners since it requires finger power to push the needle. Light fabric, such as cotton poplin, may require you some practice because of its thinness. The thin fabric is perfect material for stitching double layers. There are more information and articles about the fabric for Sashiko.

  • About preferable fabric for Sashiko stitching

Needle

Picking a good needle is a very important process.

For the better result, the needles should be long enough to hold several stitches. The needle I recommend, which is the one I use, has about 5 cm (2-inch) length. It is longer than usual hand sewing needle. I explain why you need this long needle in other articles and also in a youtube video. The needle should have a relatively big eye for thicker thread. At the last, the needle should be tough enough to stitch the several layers of fabric, and yet flexible enough to keep several stitches.

Thimble

Sashiko thimble

A thimble surprises many workshop participants. This round shape made from metal thimble are not common in other types of stitching. It requires a lot of practice to get used to making stitches with this thimble. One of my workshops focuses on how to use this thimble. Learning how to use the thimble will speed up your stitching and will give you the better result.

 

Pattern

Any patterns would be great on Sashiko stitching. Japanese geometric patterns are the all-time favorite, but we also get inspiration from other stitching and embroidery culture. It is always a good idea to start with basic and fundamental. In order to learn Sashiko basic, I recommend using some of Japanese geometric patterns. They are available in our online store for download.

Traditional Geometric Patterns
Traditional Geometric Patterns
Modified Geometric Patterns
Modified Geometric Patterns
  • Patterns for Sashiko? What is good and what is bad?

 

Tracing tools

Sashiko tracing tool

 

At last, but not the least, getting the appropriate tools for tracing the pattern is another very important process. There are no needs to get some special tracing tools. Chalk pencil, a tracing wheel, safety pins, and so on from a local hobby store would be just fine. I learned that some supplies and tools are difficult to get in the United States, so here is a list of things we carry in our inventory.

  • Carbon Paper (Transfer Paper)
  • Mylar Paper (Poly Sheet)

For the tutorial how to transfer the pattern onto the fabric, please refer the other articles I wrote as well as the youtube video. I also sell the kit to practice how to transfer the pattern. You can use the Indigo Dye fabric for Sashiko after you practiced transferring pattern onto the fabric.