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.
*The more photo is available at our New Sashiko Portfolio.
Authentic Boro can be dirty and smelly
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.
Enjoy Sashiko & Boro as the result.