The word “Boro” in textile gets its popularity day by day. Boro means a piece of rag (torn fabric) with patches and mending. With its concept of up-cycling the fabric and the beauty of patch-working, many textile artist/practitioner enjoy the hand-stitching patchwork with inspiration from Boro. I enjoy the unique interpretation of Boro and the result of interesting patchwork. Many people respect the original culture of Boro. I really appreciate that they refer their work as “Boro-Inspired” work. The question you would have is, however, what is the Authentic Boro, then? What defines Boro as authentic? Can we make the authentic Boro today?
This is my insight as a Sashiko practitioner who sincerely respects the Japanese practice that leads the Boro as a result.
*Please find the link to learn more about Boro at the end of this article.
Impossible to make the Authentic Boro?
The authentic Boro pieces (Jackets and rag) we can look at the museum are made many years ago. The poverty and repetition of mending the fabric created its authentic beauty over so many centuries.
The faded color (one of a kind color) the time created. The patch-worked fabric with fraying (or even falling) thread. The fabric which the Japanese used almost every day heavily and kept repairing for the purpose of survival is the definition of Authentic Boro (in my opinion). The fabric has to be continuously used and repetitively repaired. I believe it is the basic definition of authentic Boro.
The Japanese spirit in appreciating the fabric and all the pride to be beautiful (even in the severe circumstance) made such a unique and beautiful textile.
So, technically speaking, it is impossible to make the authentic Boro tomorrow. It requires enormous numbers of patching and fixing. The color would need to be fade in the Sun and regular wear and tear (fiction). In this textile rich society, the maximum we would comfortably enjoy would be the “Boro Inspired” patchworking. There is nothing wrong with that.
However, I believe, we can try to follow the path to make the Authentic Boro. In fact, Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya and I try to recreate the Boro with the vintage swatches which are too small to be a good Boro piece.
Boro in an ordinary day – Authentic
Since we believe the authenticity of Boro is defined by 2 categories, (1) being used regularly for a long time and (2) repeatedly mended as needed, we try to follow the process by making and using the Boro Jacket and Boro rag (placemats or throws).
We believe that Boro is the result of ultimate repetition of Sashiko stitching. We are Sashiko artisans so it is not a problem to keep stitching and mending. So Atsushi tries to wear the Jacket below, and when it gets damaged, we simply mend it as the Japanese many centuries ago would have done similarly.
The Boro fabric itself is quite fragile already, so it requires the continuous care. Therefore, we also share how to make a good Sashiko stitching not only to stitch the beautiful pattern but also enjoy the process of stitching.
Do you know that the final destination of the fabric is not the landfill? The Japanese used to say, “Use the fabric until it dissolves in the water”. When the one keeps using the cotton fabric over and over, like Zokin (雑巾 – cleaning rag *1) the fabric starts fraying and being like a liquid. Don’t take me wrong. I know it is disgusting. However, please understand that the Boro is one step before the fabric dissolving in the water. So, many Authentic Boro can be very dirty and smelly – and sometimes, it is not washable because it is too fragile that the balance of patchwork will be completely destroyed by one single gentle hand-washing. (Trust me. We have done that…)
Fresh Boro it is
So, we call our Boro (to be Authentic) piece as Fresh Boro. It is ironic naming because Boro means “tattered”, opposite of fresh. In order to recreate (revive the process of) the authentic Boro, we would need to use it repeatedly. It means that the fabric has to be in a washable condition. When we obtain the vintage fabric, we wash them thoroughly and make sure it is strong enough to be patched on our existing Boro. I also introduce what is the good vintage fabric for the Boro (to be authentic / Inspired) project.
This may introduce another perspective of Boro. Does the fabric have to be the Japanese vintage fabric? The answer is “Not at all”. It can be any fabric and any garment we have. While I “age” this interesting Boro Jacket by mending, I enjoy mending & patching my own denim. The boro project doesn’t have to be Japanese-related because the core principal of Boro is to appreciate the fabric. Repurposing the garment with a purpose of lasting longer would make a fantastic Boro many years from now.
I hope I shared my knowledge and wisdom clearly here. Please understand, any kind of Boro-related project with respecting the Japanese culture & appreciating the fabric would be just fine. The Japanese (including myself) would be offended by anyone calling their stitching Sashiko or Boro as long as they try to understand the origin. I am here to share the information and technique associated to Sashiko as the process, and Boro as the result.
Have you heard the term “Zokin” in your Sashiko research? I have found several discussion about Zokin online and surprised how fancy Zokin became in non-Japanese culture.
For the Japanese, Zokin is a very common word, especially for parents who have children between the age of 4 to 12 or so. A lot of kindergartens and elementary school require a few Zokin at the beginning of the school year for the children to clean their school with the Zokin (*1). Every Japanese knows the word of Zokin (Some Japanese do not know the word of Sashiko – Sashiko was common but the Sashiko we practice is more like a revival version. – Zokin is still a surviving concept.)
It is merely a cleaning cloth. Due to the demand (let’s say every kid in school need to bring several Zokin every year), we can purchase them in a dollar store or other general store in Japan. Some schools require Zokin to be (made from) new. The others do not care about the condition so the parent can make Zokin from old towels or rags.
What is Zokin?
Zokin is a piece of fabric (Rag or Fabric) for cleaning. Zokin (雑巾 – ぞうきん）：Zo (雑) means “Miscellaneous” and Kin (巾）means cloth. The term itself means a Cloth for Miscellaneous purpose.
As I mentioned above, we can get the clean new Zokin from the store. However, the word itself includes the nuance of “dirty” because of our custom. For example, we wouldn’t like to wipe the dishes with Zokin, even if the Zokin is new and clean.
Alternatively, we have a word for the cleaning with more cleanness requires such as food and dishes. It is called Fukin (布巾 – ふきん）. In our Sashiko tradition, we have been making many Sashiko stitched Fukin using very high-quality cotton gauze fabric. Let’s say, we start using one Fukin as the dish wiping cloth. When the Fukin starts getting dirty, we get the new Fukin and old Fukin will be the cloth to clean the tabletop or countertop. When the old Fukin starts tearing or severely getting dirty, we start using as “Zokin” which we wipe on the floor or other dirty areas in the house.
For the purpose of the word has, we can make Zokin by using the new Fukin or other piece of fabric, or by stitching the old fabric that we won’t be able to use for the original purpose – like T-shirt or towels.
Zokin is another Japanese culture where “everyone” was doing in Japanese history. So there is no rule at all – just try to understand that the Japanese didn’t throw away things that easily. Zokin is just a name for a piece of fabric – in a long life of the fabric with appreciation.
How to make Zokin
Since there is no rule for Zokin, please understand this tutorial as “one example” of how to make Zokin. I am recalling my mother making one for me when I was a child… so any input from Japanese people would be appreciated.
Prepare the Fabric
Trim the Edge (if necessary)
Stitch the Edge (and flip if necessary)
Stitch to strengthen the fabric.
(1) Cut the fabric
Any kind of fabric would be fine for Zokin. After all, it is the last step of the fabric lifetime. I prefer cotton for the easiness of cleaning. First, cut the fabric for the ideal size. Usually, I prefer 2 layers of fabric to make them appropriate for cleaning. Too thick layers would be difficult to dry after cleaning (which create the bad odor), and a too thin layer (one-layer) may be too weak to use as the cleaning rag. There is no rule for sizing (unless you bring Zokin to school – if you are reading this article in Japan for bringing them to school, please follow the requirement from your school guideline). I like the size of a bit bigger than my palm. It is purely for the easiness of cleaning.
(2) Trim the Edge (if necessary)
This is another preference kicks in.
Let’s say you repurpose the used dish towel as I do in the video. The dish towel already have the side sewed up for avoid fraying. Some do not like the thickness of the edge of fabric. Some prefer to keep the edge so the fabric won’t fray in using the fabric as Zokin.
It is up to you. In the live streaming on Instagram, I made 2 Zokin with trimming the edge and leaving the possibility of fraying the fabric in the process of using them. In the tutorial video, I left the original dish towel edge so that the Zokin won’t fray as easily. Again, it is very much up to your preference and requirement in the cleaning project.
(3) Stitch the Edge
If you decide to trim the edge (and if you cut the fabric to your ideal size), you have an option to avoid fraying by stitching the edge and flip the fabric. Find which side if the front. Then fold it with front facing each other. Then, stitch the side, and flip the fabric so the Zokin have the “front side” on both side. It is not necessary for all the project, but this process will protect the Zokin from fraying easily.
(4) Stitch to strengthen the fabric.
The 4th step, actual stitching, is the most important part of making Zokin. The more you make the stitching, the stronger the Zokin become. There is no rule or regulation what kind of pattern to stitch. For the purpose of making the fabric stronger, the geometric pattern with the straight line would be ideal, such as pattern I performed on the Youtube Video or a Grid that has systematically stitched.
As you may realize, this process of stitching, for the purpose of making fabric stronger, can be called Sashiko. It was(is) very ordinary custom to repurpose the used fabric to make the cleaning rag. The Japanese used to say that we should keep using the fabric until the fabric dissolves in the water. Zokin is just the name of one form of fabric in its long life. The result of the continuous process of using the fabric & mending (fixing) it, and stitching (to stabilize the fabric) is Boro.
Hand-stitching and Machine Stitching
As the other sewing culture, the Zokin has also a discussion of either hand-stitched or machine stitched. Personally, the way of stitching doesn’t really matter because it is for the purpose of cleaning with old fabric – the most important concept here is repurposing.
Here is some advantages for Zokin made by hand-stitching.
The bigger stitches made by hands will be more flexible in terms of tensioning the fabric. The machine stitches can result in destroying the fabric. Also, the Zokin stitched by machine may require the second repair because of its tension.
No need for the big preparation of sewing machine. Once you know “Unshin (運針）” it will take only 10~15 minutes of your time to make one Zokin. It can be done with watching TV…
Again, there is no rule so follow your preference and enjoy the repurposing process.
Sashiko thread or not for it?
I strongly recommend using Sashiko thread on the regular Sashiko project in making Jackets, bag, tapestry, and other small fabric items with Sashiko stitching. (Please read another article why I recommend Sashiko thread so strongly here). Your project in Sashiko is so valuable that I want to respect the fabric with the best thread instead of whatever available in the market. It will make a difference.
In Zokin, however, I think it doesn’t need to be Sashiko thread. It is merely a cleaning rag. The Zokin will have a massive amount of friction in comparison to the regular Sashiko project we enjoy. The purpose of Zokin is rubbing and therefore the Sashiko thread will be damaged quickly anyway. It may be damaged even before the thread become part of the fabric. So, it is perfectly fine to use a reasonable sewing thread.
However, when you are thinking of making “Boro-looking” fabric from Zokin and using the fabric as Zokin, which looks like a piece of fabric start melting by itself, then Sashiko thread may be a good choice. Generally speaking, the (used) fabric itself should start fraying before the (new) Sashiko thread. The regular sewing thread will snap sooner than the Sashiko thread.
The contrast of old weak fabric and strong new Sashiko thread may create the Boro-looking image of melting fabric. The fabric will be dirty, but with patching and continuous stitching, we may be able to make “the Boro” in today’s society.
Some sample photo of actual usage in Japan
In Sashiko Live Streaming on Instagram, I asked Japanese viewers to share their Zokins in their ordinary days. I sincerely appreciate them providing the photos. It is a big deal for them to share because sharing something so personal (inside of the household) is strongly related to the feeling of shame. However, in order to share the actual image, the picture was something I really would like to share. Please share your Zokin, if possible, so we can connect your place to Japan via Zokin, cleaning and repurposing the fabric.
Again, ANY FABRIC is fine. It is my goal to make a Zokin with my own daughter with using some fabric she likes.
*1: It is another beautiful Japanese culture that I would like to somewhat pass down to my own daughter even in the United States: How to clean with our own hands. The Japanese school require students to clean their classrooms, desks, chairs, and pretty much everything they use. I of course didn’t enjoy it when I was a kid, but I beleive it was a good custom to learn.
Live Streaming related to Zokin Topics
Script for the Youtube Video
Hello. This is Atsushi.
I found it interesting to encounter the word Zokin in browsing the photos of Sashiko. Zokin is quite a common word for the Japanese, and I wrote the blog about Zokin.
On top of sharing the information, here is a quick tutorial of how to make Zokin by yourself.
(1) Cut the fabric
Any kind of fabric would be fine for Zokin.
First, cut the fabric for the ideal size. Usually, I prefer 2 layers of fabric to make them strong enough to clean yet light enough to handle. There is no specific rule for Zokin, so the size can be really up to your preference. I prefer the size of my hand palm so I can clean comfortably.
(2) Trim the Edge (if necessary)
The second step is about another preference you may choose from.
Please check the website for the detail explanation. In short, you may trim the edge of the original fabric for the less bulkiness. Or keep them as is to protect the fabric from fraying.
(3) Stitch the Edge
If you decide to trim the edge (and if you cut the fabric to your ideal size), you have an option to avoid fraying by stitching the edge and flip the fabric. Find which side if the front. Then fold it with front facing each other. Then, stitch the side, and flip the fabric so the Zokin have the “front side” on both sides. It is not necessary for all the project, but this process will protect the Zokin from fraying easily.
Flipping the fabric is completely optional. It will make the fabric more durable and look less bulky, but stitching 4 sides are also a good way to make Zokin.
(4) Stitch to strengthen the fabric.
The step of actual stitching is the most important points of making Zokin. The more you make the stitching, the stronger the Zokin become. There is no rule or regulation what kind of pattern to stitch. However, for the purpose of making the fabric stronger, the geometric pattern with the straight line would be the ideal pattern, such as pattern I performed on this Youtube Video or a Grid that has systematically stitched.
As you may realize, this process of stitching, for the purpose of making fabric stronger, can be called Sashiko. It was a very ordinary custom to repurpose the used fabric to make the cleaning rag. The Japanese used to say that we should keep using the fabric until the fabric dissolves in the water. Zokin is just the name of one form of fabric in its long life. The result of the continuous process of using the fabric & mending (fixing) it, and stitching (to stabilize the fabric) is Boro.
2 main questions about making Zokin would be… 1. Is it have to be hand stitched? 2. Do we use Sashiko thread?
It doesn’t have to be hand-stitched. Again, it is very much up to the preference. Personally, the way of stitching doesn’t really matter because it is for the purpose of cleaning with old fabric – the most important concept here is repurposing.
One big advantage of hand-stitching is the durability of Zokin. The bigger stitches made by hands will be more flexible in terms of tensioning the fabric. The machine stitches can result in destroying the fabric over time.
For the thread, any kind of thread would be fine for the Zokin unlike the other Sashiko project to make Jacket and bags.
However, when you are thinking of making “Boro-looking” fabric from Zokin and using the fabric as Zokin, which looks like a piece of fabric start melting by itself, then Sashiko thread may be a good choice. Generally speaking, the (used) fabric itself should start fraying before the (new) Sashiko thread. The regular sewing thread will snap sooner than the Sashiko thread.
The more information is available on our Engish website, upcyclestitches.com
Keiko (from Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya) visited Otsuchi to share the workshop with members of Otsuchi Recover Sashiko Project on June 13th in 2019. The administrative group in Otsuchi Sashiko updated their blog with her visit, so here is a translated version for their writing. I appreciate their time to share the previous time with Keiko. It is the translation from their article part.1.
*The Original blog in Japanese, as well as the other articles about Otsuchi Sashiko, is available at the end of this article.
Keiko visits Otsuchi Sashiko
(Tried direct translation)
We offered a Sashiko Workshop by Keiko-san to our project members. Keiko told us that she would like to see us again and stitched together, then she drove more than 10 hours (one-way!) to make this workshop happened.
The members (they call them Sashiko-san) enjoyed the workshop with passion with longing to see Keiko for a long time. It is a lot of writing to summarize in one article, so we will write the series of articles.
Keiko arrived from Takayama (in Gifu Prefecture) to Otsuchi (in Iwate Prefecture) a day before the workshop with bringing many Sashiko samples, supplies and a mountain of hand-dyed Sashiko thread (This is one reason she prefer driving over flying). Look at her smile after so much driving. The photo is with the administrative staff of the project and Keiko in the project office.
The day of Keiko Sashiko Workshop
The entrance with Sashiko-san visiting the workshop space with Kanako san at the desk.
Sashiko-san were so happy to see Keiko after so many days. They all enjoyed the conversation with Keiko.
Keiko brought many Sashiko Jackets and bags (what Keiko made) for sharing the Sashiko ideas. Keiko even wears one of them. Look at the smiles.
17 members in the project participated in this workshop. With sharing the photos of excited Sashiko-san’s photos, we will conclude the article here. We will write more about the actual workshop.
I just wanted to share this article as soon as possible. I will summarize them later on with more information (like link to our philosophy to make the article easier to understand. This is one of the biggest reasons I continue Sashiko. I am very happy with this opportunity, and more importantly, their smiles (& serious faces).
The word “Boro (襤褸）” is a Japanese word for a piece of rag. However, the word itself may be more famous outside of Japan with various forms of interpretation. It is quite challenging to define what Boro is (because we as Japanese do not define the Boro as a form of culture yet), so please understand what I write here is not something judgemental to someone. Here, more importantly, I share what is Good Japanese Vintage Fabric for Boro making project. Following the information about Good Japanese Vintage Fabric for Boro, I will share some of my understanding of Boro.
Good Japanese Vintage Fabric for Boro
When we make a “To be Boro” fabric, we try to synchronize our stitches to the stitches done by the Japanese in hundreds of years ago. Boro is a result of repetitive Sashiko stitching out of necessity. For the purpose of survival, they used the fabric in their reaches (recycled and upcycled what they had).
In today’s society, we have a choice of which fabric we would use for the mending project. In a heart of Boro concept, it is true that we can use any kind of fabric to make “a piece of fabric looks like Boro (Boro Inspired Art)”. However, stop thinking about “what to use” by simply understanding one perspective of “freedom of Boro” is a bit superficial to understand the deep culture of Boro fabric we can see in the museum.
Therefore, for us as Sashiko artisans, the most important challenge we keep in our mind is to synchronize (revive) what the Japanese did many years ago. Above said, this is a checklist when we look for the fabric to make the Boro – the one as authentic as possible.
Stories (when applicable)
Following is the more detail in each category when we look for the good vintage fabric. The biggest difference between us and the other antique dealers with very beautiful Boro pieces would be the purpose of the fabric: Our purpose is to use the fabric in our Sashiko stitching. Some of the Boro from the pasts are too fragile to be used again. Therefore, some of them are durable only behind the glasses in the museum. We sometimes encounter very beautiful Boro pieces from the past (which is now quite expensive). However, we do not purchase the vintage fabric if it doesn’t satisfy the criteria below.
(1) Raw Material
We strongly prefer cotton fabric. Occasionally, we encounter the vintage silk cotton. Linen (hemp) fabric can be used, but not the first choice. We always avoid the synthetic [chemical] fiber because they age differently. Although there is a lot of beautiful and colorful Kimono, which many uses for remaking projects, it isn’t ideal for the Boro-reviving project.
Color is a great category to be creative. However, because of availability in cotton fabric in hundreds of years ago in Japan, dark shade fabric such as Indigo or Gray, would be the popular choice. If the fabric is less than 100 years old, let’s say the fabric around the WW2 or after the Meiji Restoration (the time Japan opened up its nation to the international trade – the end of national isolation), the fabric may be artificial dye. There is nothing wrong with using artificial dye fabric. However, to balance the aging speed of fabric, we prefer the Natural Dye such as Hon-Aizome (本藍染 = Authentic Japanese Indigo Dye), Dorozome（泥染め = mud Dye), and various Botanical Dye Fabric. In this era, the various dye technique was very popular, such as Katazome (型染め）and Tsutsugaki Zome (筒描き染め）. It requires another article to explain the variety of colors and dye technique (and we aren’t well-knowledged enough to describe). The choice of color makes the journey more enjoyable and exciting. Our favorite part of this journey is to find the “good aged color (the color only the flow of time can make)” and dyeing our thread naturally to match the fabric.
As I described above, the fabric has to be clean so that (1) we can stitch (2) the person who uses in their days. Most of the vintage fabrics from the storage area are dusty, dirty, and stinky. Therefore, the fabric has to be strong enough to be washed. We wash by hand very carefully but very thoroughly. It is the last thing we would like to do is keep stitching for hours of times with strong smell from the fabric.
If you have purchased a piece of vintage fabric with no smell, then it is because the antique dealer is very knowledgeable and attentive to wash the fabric before shipping.
We sometimes find very beautiful and artistic vintage fabric. However, when we understand that the fabric is not strong enough to be washed, we will pass it to someone who values the fabric as the art in the frame. Washing the fragile vintage fabric will end up with losing the beauty.
(Well… we make numbers of mistake. We once purchased a beautiful rain-jacket, estimating the time from before the Meiji Restoration. It was quite a big investment for us to purchase the Jacket. The jacket was, of course, dusty and stinky. We hand-washed carefully and end up losing more than 50% of the weight. It means, all the frayed thread, dust, and the particles went into the drain… We enjoy the beautiful leftover of the vintage fabric, but it is the necessary process of preparing the Good Japanese Vintage Fabric for Boro.)
The 4th category is very much our personal preference. It is very fortunate to have the vintage fabric with stories attached. I believe every single vintage fabric has its own stories. However, at most cases, we only can guess the stories because the story existed in many years. Therefore, when we obtain the fabric with stories attached, we enjoy and try to synchronize our stitches to the stories with sincere respect.
Vintage Fabric as limited resource
In order to have the unique color and texture of the Vintage Fabric, the fabric has to age naturally over time. On top of that, it is quite difficult to find the same “fabric manufacture (weaving artisans)” that can make a similar fabric as the Japanese did so many years ago. Therefore, the vintage fabric is a limited resource.
It was a piece of trash when the world didn’t know the value of vintage fabric. After all, it is the used dirty fabric. In these days, because of the trend in Sashiko as well as the value as the investment commodity, the prices of vintage fabric is raising (like crazy). Some of the vintage fabric can be quite expensive because it requires not only a good taste to find the fabric but also a careful and attentive preparation. Washing and cleaning the vintage fabric can be a risky process. Please leave the comment here if you would like to purchase vintage fabric from us – the same one we use for our Sashiko and Boro making. We only provide those in-person (face to face), but we will see what we can do over the Internet.
Fabric to be Boro
The word “Boro” means a piece of dirty rag. Therefore, as you can imagine, it is dirty and very smelly (not in a good way). Some of the “Boro Art” will be destroyed by being washed, and therefore, they are displayed as the Art. Those are not the Boro we try to “revive”. The Boro we are creating is the Boro we can use in our daily life.
It has to be strong enough to be washed. Of course, it is severely damaged fabric. The friction from daily life will damage the fabric even more. It may alter the look. However, those damages are “welcomed” because that is how the Boro were made. Once we try to make the “Authentic Boro”, it required the process of using it heavily, and therefore, it requires a skill of stitching – which is called Sashiko as a form of the stitching process. Therefore, on top of sharing the culture of Sashiko and Boro, we decided to share the technique of Sashiko stitching in the in-person workshop as well as Online.
Does it have to be Japanese Vintage Fabric
By reading so far, you may think it is too much amount of thinking to enjoy Boro. The question would be “Does it have to be the Japanese Vintage Fabric“? The answer is quite simple: No, it doesn’t have to be the Japanese vintage fabric to enjoy it.
However, as the Japanese who practice Sashiko, we would like to focus on the Japanese Vintage Fabric. We have tried to use Non-Vintage Fabric, such as the fabric the traditional weaving mill manufactures today. Although they look very beautiful as the patchwork, the problem was the difference in the speed of aging. The non-vintage fabric was too strong to be naturally damaged.
We could try to use vintage fabric from another culture. It could be a good “art” pieces with respected adventure. However, it doesn’t feel natural to us at this point. It is like a process of making Sushi without using the Japanese short-grain sticky rice. It is doable, but feel pretty strange.
Above said, I am just sharing our benchmark in choosing the Good Japanese Vintage Fabric for Boro. It is your choice to use any fabric you prefer in your Boro (or Boro inspired) project.
At the same time, I want you to know that the project of “reviving (to be) the Authentic Boro” is more than just mending or patchworking whatever the fabric we have to recycle. It is more than “recycling”.
Boro is a result of repetitive stitching in necessity – to survive through the severe winter. However, I believe, the Japanese who made the Boro wanted to be more beautiful and wealthy. Description of Boro with the simple terms of “recycling the fabric” is too shallow for me to advocate. It is more than that. They probably wanted to get the better fabric instead of recycling the fabric. We can only guess because there is no official documents left. However, the creation (either it is Authentic Boro, Boro inspired patchwork or simple Mending) can be more beautiful and sincere when we try to be mindful of what we do. It is the whole concept (and my message) as synchronizing our stitching to the Japanese who made the Boro in hundreds of years ago.
I have been sharing my perspective of Boro in this website. I will explain the Boro terminology and other perspectives below following to the main topic of “Good Japanese Vintage Fabric for Boro”.
Boro (襤褸) Terminology
It is quite challenging to define what Boro is. So, please let me share some of the terminologies of Boro to explain the bigger picture of Boro instead of defining Boro as a piece of rag.
In my understanding, the word Boro (ぼろ）is from an onomatopoeia of BoroBoro (ぼろぼろ）. Although I used the word “onomatopoeia”, it is not a sound of tearing the fabric. The word describes the process (movement, state, or condition) of fabric getting damaged over the usages. When we keep using a piece of towel to clean many places, after some times, it starts tearing (possibly with holes). The state of being torn and damaged is described with the word “BoroBoro（ぼろぼろ）” and it became a noun to describe the Boro we know.
Here is some definition of Boro from Japanese national (comprehensive ) dictionary (encyclopedia). If you find errors in my translation, please kindly let me know. English is still my second language.
Cloth with damages (like tears) after heavily wearing
Useless fabric/textile after heavy usage
Fabric about to be torn. Thing about to be broken. Or something useless for the purpose.
Horse excrement. (糞 = shit… well…)
Hidden defect. Failure. collapse
Well. As you can tell, the word itself isn’t that positive or fancy word for the Japanese. We still have the negative images to the word.
① 着古して破れている衣服。ぼろぎもの。 ※雑俳・口よせ草（1736）「うりてさへ時宜するぼろを買て行」 ② 使い古して役だたない布。つづれ。ぼろきれ。 ※万国新話（1868）〈柳河春三編〉一「布屑(ボロ)などを以て大なる人形を造り」 ③ 破れているもの。こわれているもの。また、役に立たないもの。他の名詞の上に付けても用いる。 ※真景累ケ淵（1869頃）〈三遊亭円朝〉三三「寝衣の単物にぼろ袷(あはせ)を重ね」 ④ 糞。特に、馬糞。 ※金貨（1909）〈森鴎外〉「馬の糞(ボロ)を捨てる箱があったので」 ⑤ 隠されている欠点。また、失敗。破綻。→ぼろが出る・ぼろを出す。 [補注]物が破れているさまを表わす擬態語「ぼろぼろ」から出た語。
When we talk about authenticity, we have to be careful of what levels of authenticity we would like to follow. It is true that we cannot make the really authentic Boro in today’s society. There will be a significant difference between the Boro in the museum and the Boro we make. It is because, in order to make the authentic Boro, the flow of time (hundreds of years) would be the necessary element.
However, we can try to follow (synchronize) the process by respecting the original. We cannot make a copy of the authentic Boro that we see in museums, but we can start a process of making the authentic Boro by caring and stitching with the vintage fabric which didn’t become authentic Boro. One of the Boro Jacket I introduced above with the photo is the challenge I am working on to make the authentic Boro.
I feel… it is too superficial to define Boro as a form of mending only. It is sad to mention the impossibility of reviving the Authentic Boro without challenges. We would like to try, and respect, the beauty, and wisdom in Sashiko and Boro – Sashiko as a process and Boro as the result.
It requires time. It is the art from the Japanese who sincerely lived (survived) in many years ago. It is our time to think about what we can leave to the human being a few hundred years from now.
Authentic Boro | No line yet characteristic
I keep using the word “Authentic Boro”. Well, again, there is no such thing as “authentic Boro” in the definition. We call the beautiful Boro in the museum as the authentic simply because it is beautiful and powerful (on top of the record that the Boros are discovered by Mr. Chuzaburo Tanaka, a researcher, and collector of authentic – old Sashiko and Boro items).
To make it easier to explain my understanding of “authentic look” in Boro, let me share some photos of what we made. Below, I use two Sashiko pieces to compare what is “Authentic Boro” to explain the difference. Both of them are created by Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya (link to the Portfolio). Please understand that there is no clear line to define what is authentic Boro or not.
The significant difference is “the amount of time we use, and the numbers of times we Sashiko stitched” Again, both of them are made in today’s society (not from the vintage market). The difference is the aging process we let them have.
In short, with comparing these 2 photos, (A) and (B) are on the same timeline. It isn’t (A) or (B) – more like (B) then (A). For that, I would say, all of the Sashiko stitching we do can be categorized as the “Authentic Boro to be Fabric”. Every Boro pieces we sell online are usable in the daily life. It is up to the clients need. It is perfectly fine if they want to frame it as the art. At the same time, if they would like to use it and keep stitching by themselves, it is a good piece of “To be Authentic Boro fabric” because we sincerely respect the process of Japanese which made the authentic boro we can see now in the museum.
Other articles about Boro and Japanese Vintage Fabric for Boro
Also, check the search result for “Boro” in our website. We have been adding many more articles to explain what “Boro” is for us. It became a long article. I hope I provided some clarification about the Boro and Sashiko.
The recent discussion about Sashiko started on FB group following in Instagram & our FB group taught me a variety of views to look at things. In order to grasp this discussion, please read the articles of “Why Do you call it Sashiko” and “Mindful Reading“. These 2 articles would be good-to-read materials to understand who I am on top of what I do. Regardless, it was a necessary learning experience for me to keep this journey of sharing what Sashiko is. However, there was one assignment I took home with me to study: learning about Cultural Appropriation in Sashiko.
Japanese Cultural Appropriation
The word, Cultural Appropriation, was a too complicated concept for me to explain with the Sashiko we practice. Therefore, with knowing the recent discussion about the word “Kimono” and its cultural appropriation (My Kimono is not your couture), I couldn’t express my insights to the public. I wanted to make sure that I understand what I write before asking someone to read. A follower on Instagram introduced me the brilliant article, written by Ms. Maki – Japanese potter lives in Yorkshire. Her writing encouraged me to express how I feel about Cultural Appropriation in Sashiko.
Her powerful writing is must to read if you are interested in being creatively inspired by Japanese culture (or any other culture, for that matter). Please take a moment here to read through her writing, then please read how I feel about it. I sincerely respect her writing and appreciate her courage and time to share.
I encourage you to call it Sashiko
With my sincere respect to her writing, I encourage you to call your stitching Sashiko as long as you “try” to understand and respect the Japanese culture. I am not asking you to be a master of Japanese culture, nor practice the Japanese custom thoroughly. What I am asking is your attitude to understand who the Japanese are.
Do I sound like contradicting between what I write and what Maki wrote: “Naming DOES matter”? Please let me explain it here.
“Kimono” and “Sashiko” is a bit different
I came to the conclusion to not to consider “Calling your stitching Sashiko” as the Cultural Appropriation based on the 3 factors below.
Sashiko may be too ordinary in the concept of Cultural Appropriation.
Many Japanese also misuses the word of Sashiko.
The word Sashiko is mainly used in the non-commercial situation.
(1) Is Sashiko Japanese culture?
Kimono is a Japanese clothing culture. When they try to research what the Kimono is, there are numbers of books and article to read. However, in Sashiko, there aren’t many documents published to understand Sashiko as the culture.
In fact, I am not sure if we can call Sashiko as the Japanese “culture” yet (therefore I keep asking to respect the Japanese culture in Sashiko – not Sashiko Culture). The ordinary Japanese practiced Sashiko in their ordinary life. The hand-stitching to repurpose the fabric was just too ordinary for the Japanese. We do not have enough documents and testimonies left to define Sashiko as the Japanese culture. However, I believe I can say that Sashiko has a lot of Japanese cultural characteristic – and without that, I wouldn’t want to call it Sashiko. (One of the characteristics of Sashiko and Japanese culture would be a concept of Animism in Sashiko.)
When we aren’t 100% sure to call Sashiko as the Japanese culture, it would be better to keep it as non-Cultural-Appropriation matter. Kimono is different. It is the defined clothing culture. When they disrespect the Japanese culture in Sashiko, then I would get offended. I don’t know how to call this anger or frustration yet – but probably not the Cultural Appropriation.
(2) Is Sashiko common for Japanese?
The second factor is that Sashiko isn’t so common for Japanese neither. Every single Japanese knows what the Kimono indicates. Not all the Japanese know what Sashiko looks like.
In fact, the Sashiko we practice now may be a bit different from the Sashiko the Japanese practiced a long time ago. The culture transform itself. It isn’t about good or bad. It just happens. However, there are many stories behinds each Sashiko or Sashiko related fabric. This website and our SNS accounts are for sharing those stories – like difference between hand-stitching Sashiko and woven Sashiko as well as the difference between Boro and Sashiko.
Since Sashiko isn’t so common in Japanese, it may be harsh to name someone’s stitching as the Cultural Appropriation.
(3) We enjoy Sashiko stitching with no intention.
The last factor I would like to mention is that many of us calling their stitching Sashiko do not intend to disgrace the Sashiko stitching. They enjoy Sashiko (or any form of hand-stitching) with no intention of the power of the word. I can say so because not many people use the word for the non-commercial setting.
I am aware that some companies/people use the word of Sashiko to sell their “Non-stitched” item. For that, I would get upset as the form of Cultural Appropriation (as Ms.Maki mentioned in her article). However, those who are interested in my messages are the people who simply enjoy Sashiko stitching for non-commercial purposes, so I would like to avoid scaring them to enjoy their Sashiko stitching.
The fear I experienced in the discussion
Yes. I encouraged you to call it Sashiko. However, I still have the fear I explained previously. Maki explained the fear I had experienced in the discussion very well. It is “言葉の一人歩き”.
言葉の一人歩き (kotoba no hitori aruki) literally translates as “word walking on its own”. It’s the Japanese expression of the state of misused and misinterpreted information, that has nothing to do with the origin, are spreading selfishly in the society.
This happens when we use the word without good understanding of what it actually means. I personally feel that the word “Wabi-Sabi” is a good example of this. Interestingly, once the word start walking on its own, there is no way to stop it – because we tend to listen what we want to listen and we use the most effective aspect of the word.
If the one who uses the word is aware of their action – let’s say Sashiko is the Japanese hand-stitching culture – the word walks toward slowly implementing the other values. However, when they start using the word without knowing the background, the word rapidly and drastically starts absorbing what they want to reflect on the word.
The word is a wisdom, not a tool. However, without an attitude to understand the culture and background, it could be hurtful for many people.
A good example of this matter would be the word of “Sashiko as the recycle method.” I have read some statement that we can use “whatever we have” because Sashiko’s core principal is to recycle what we have. I do not think so. Yes, Boro is the ultimate result of upcycling and recycling what they had. However, the core message of Sashiko is to appreciate & care what they had like blanket or Jacket. In order to mend the Jacket for better use in the future, they would have used the better thread (if they had a choice.) Using whatever we have in the box because of convenience is not the Japanese culture in Sashiko. By using the supplies designed for Sashiko purpose, not only the result will be more beautiful and long-lasting, it can help to preserve the industries in Sashiko.
The words of “Respect” and “Appreciation” requires Action.
In the FB comments, I was accused of overreacting. I do not believe that I overreacted to the issues. Sashiko is something very deeply rooted in my identity.
In Zen practice, the Japanese believed that the word doesn’t contain the truth. I followed this concept, and therefore, I also practice Sashiko on top of writing and sharing. Although the word “cannot” contain the truth by itself, the word can have the power and responsibility. It leads to the concept of being mindful in our ordinary days. I hope, by enjoying Sashiko, we can be mindful and think of the responsibility of what we say/write.
Again, I do not consider someone calling their hand-stitching “Sashiko” as the form of cultural appropriation. I worry more of the cultural transformation by quick read what is available online. Therefore, I would like you to call your stitching Sashiko especially when you have read my writing this far and trying to understand the Japanese culture. Your contribution can help to preserve the Sashiko culture, and I appreciate your action very much.
I am still sad and angry about the comments I have received in the previous discussion on Facebook. I felt insulted – without them even trying to understand what I am trying to do. However, at the same time, it was very grateful to experience because I receive so many more messages to encourage what I do. I receive 100 times more positive messages in comparison to those insulting comments. These warm & understanding messages are the motivation of writing this article. Here is an interesting story. Those who “care” to understand the Japanese culture in Sashiko are the one who worried if they use Sashiko inappropriately – as a form of Cultural Appropriation, like you who have been reading this far. This is the writing for you who care what I do so that you would send me the encouraging messages when I get confused. I hope this article helped you to enjoy Sashiko more. The fear I feel is not from you.
I used to suppress the negative feeling such as anger or sadness. Now, I understand those feeling is what define us as human – when someone disgrace something I value the most, I should get emotional to protect it. With the fear, I would like to be as natural as one human being can be.
The Fear of alternating Sashiko
Above, as you know, I mentioned that I wouldn’t consider “calling a form of hand-stitching” Sashiko as Cultural Appropriation. Furthermore, when you “care” to understand the Japanese culture behind Sashiko, I would like to encourage you to call your stitching Sashiko. It isn’t about the stitching result much. It is about the mindset to practice Sashiko, at least the Sashiko we would like to pass down.
Let me share, once again, that I still have the fear deep down there: Sashiko may alter its form so rapidly, by those who try to “understand” Sashiko as their own way without caring, that Sashiko may lose the original form of what it actually is (was). Therefore, I keep sharing my view of the Sashiko we practice – mainly on Instagram- to encourage people to enjoy more than just stitching but something more than that.
By the way, I do not intend to control someone’s feeling or actions. If they want to practice “Sashiko” as they want, unfortunately, I have no control over it. Because I cannot control it, I just keep sharing what I believe in so the other will receive the core messages I would like to pass down. There are always people who twist the messages I am trying to communicate.
I am an idealist but I know the reality. We have all our view to look at things. One called me that I am arrogant, and accused me of acting as the authority of Sashiko. Another commented that I am intimidating to others. Well, again, I cannot control how they receive my messages.
(However, I hope, when they read what I have been writing, the words of “Arrogant”, “Authority” and “Intimidating” are the opposite terms for what I have been doing. I can say that confidently because many more of people encouraged me to keep sharing them with appreciation. I hope you understanding my point here. If I wrote something arrogant or intimidating, please let me know with the specific part that I wrote so I can self-reflect and edit them. I am a human. I make a mistake. )
It is okay that they take my message in a different way. However, for those who do not like what I share, I don’t want them to learn the Sashiko from what I write, upload as videos, or provide workshops or supplies. If they learn the Sashiko from me yet thinking that I am arrogant, then it is the fear I am worrying the most; alternating the Sashiko culture. “Convenience” isn’t the first principal of Japanese culture.
(It is fair… right? I always provide the 3 politeness replies before I get offended. Again, everyone makes mistakes and we all deserve a chance to re-do things.)
After all, Sashiko is like my family. When I see the intentional action of alternating the Sashiko culture like above, I will fight back no matter what.
Oops. The editors note got so long. I am here to share & support the Sashiko you would like to enjoy – unless you try to “care” others. Thank you for your time to read this far.
It is an honor to announce the Sashiko Workshop (Core & Basic) collaborating with a beloved SAORI weaving studio in NYC, Loop of the Loom. I am very happy to share the Sashiko we practice in such a beautiful space where the owner already developed the “caring atmosphere” to the participants. In the 6-hours long workshop, the participants will learn the basic and core of Sashiko stitching – Unshin (運針）- how to move the needles. We believe Sashiko is not about making one perfect stitch. It is a process of appreciating with moving the needles. Because of this Rhythm, our Sashiko pieces look beautiful with even stitches, and so will be yours.
You may remember my words in the beginning of 2019 – “I plan to focus on my creative activities, so I will offer as less workshops as possible.” You may be surprised that I decided to offer the workshop with Loop of the Loom.
SAORI and Sashiko
I only have read a few articles about the founder, Ms. Misao Jo. Although my knowledge is limited, I feel there are similarities between SAORI and Sashiko. It is a great opportunity to share Sashiko with resonating the similar message in Japanese culture in well-known SAORI studio in New York City. I appreciate Loop of the Loom to find us and organize such a wonderful opportunity.
Learning instead of following the direction
It is easy to simply follow the direction. You come to the workshop and enjoy Sashiko for a few hours with following the direction of the instructor. Sure. It can be fun. However, what I would like to share is more than that. I want you to be able to continue Sashiko after the workshop. The workshop is only the gateway for the Sashiko we practice.
Some workshop organizers had contacted me to offer the Sashiko workshop as the entertainment opportunity for their customers. It is perfectly fine for me to commercialize the Sashiko workshop and market it as the weekend entertainment. I would offer that type of workshop if I have unlimited time. However, becuase our capacity is very limited, I would like to focus on the “Learning opporunity” rather than “the entertainment.” Don’t worry, though. The Sashiko workshop is both entertaining & educational. I am just taking about the “purpose” of the workshop (not the contents of the workshop).
Natural Dye and to-be-Boro
Loop of the Loom also offers the Natural Dye such as Bengala and Kakishibu. We also hand-dye our Sashiko thread. Loop of the Loom will provide various kinds of swatches for the participants. I will bring my collection of Natural Dye Sashiko thread for sampling (some will be available for sales as the skein of 145 meters). Also, I will bring some samples of vintage Japanese fabric to see why we use the Natural Dye thread for some projects such as mending to make it Boro-like fabric.
Regarding this Natural Dye theme, I will talk about the Boro and its history. This “Natural Dye and to be Boro” lecture will be only available for those who register the workshop. Don’t miss this opportunity.
Eye opening day for anyone who is interested in Sashiko
After offering the Sashiko workshop to close to 200 people, I am confident to say that the Sashiko Stitching Workshop (Core and Basic) will be your eye-opening day for your Sashiko journey.
I look forward to meeting you at Loop of the Loom.