In a process of teaching the Sashiko we have been practicing for a long time, I often receive a question about “Japanese Boro”. Although it is quite challenging to describe what is Boro in words, let me keep trying to explain my understanding.
What is BORO | Definition
As I have been saying continuously, I believe there is no “right” and “wrong” in Sashiko. Therefore, defining words of Sashiko & Boro is unnatural to me. However, to be on the same page to begin with, I share the tentative definition for Sashiko and Boro.
Sashiko is a form of hand-stitching developed in Japanese ordinary days. The Japanese started stitching the fabric for the purpose of surviving in poverty. Sashiko transformed its form over time as a stitching for different purposes such as mending, strengthening, and decorating the fabric.
Boro is a ultimate result of repetitive Sashiko stitchings over and over for many generations. The Japanese had to use the fabric even it gets tattered beyond the normal usage. They patched the fabric and stitched to make the fabric usable. Boro is merely a result of continuous stitching.
In my understanding, Boro is not a term for a specific stitching technique. It is not a style of patch-working. Boro is the result of the Sashiko stitching, and therefore, the Boro and Sashiko are on the same line. Instead of “Sashiko (style) or BORO (style)”, I understand “Sashiko and then Boro”.
Boro tells stories of Anonymous People in Japan
I find Boro very beautiful and inspiring because Boro tells stories of many anonymous people who had stitched Sashiko for their life. Boro is the ultimate result of hand-stitching in the extreme situation that they had to stitch to that extend.
There are numbers of stories I would like to share regarding Boro and Sashiko. Here, I made a video before, and I plan to continue sharing the stories of Boro and Sashiko.
Authentic Boro and Boro-inspired Patchworking
The following question is about authenticity of Japanese Boro. It is quite difficult to define what is “authentic” in the category of the ordinary. In my understanding, Boro can be the Boro after many days & years of using the fabric. We can find many beautiful patchworks inspired by Boro & following the concept of recycling. Although I find them very inspiring, I wouldn’t call them “Boro”. Some of the Boro Collection exhibited in Amuse Museum Asakusa (which is now traveling the world – In NYC, Japan Society, for March to June in 2020) .
Please do not get me wrong. I am not saying which is better and not. Boro, Authentic Boro, Boro-inspired patchwork, and any other textile/fashion influenced the culture/appearance of Boro are very powerful.
Social Experiment as a Sashiko artisan
Since I believe Boro becomes the Boro by using in the ordinary days, with many mending & stitching over time, I have a Jacket I have been wearing and using in my ordinary days. This Jacket already looks like “Boro” because we used the vintage fabrics (which couldn’t become a part of Boro). This is my social experiment as a Sashiko artisan how I can leave this piece to the next society, let’s say a few decades later.
I always bring this Jacket to my In-person workshop. It would be great if you could touch it, feel it, and wear it when you have a chance to meet/see me.
More Articles about Boro from Atsushi
I have been sharing what is Boro & Sashiko. Please find the link below for more reading materials.
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
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.
I summarized the wisdom of “Sashiko Overlay stitching (not making knots in Sashiko)” in the previous blog post. I tried my best, but I felt that the writing wasn’t good enough to share the whole picture I wanted to express. So I made a follow-up video about Sashiko Boro Knots and much more & its transcript.
Sashiko Boro Knots are on the same page
We tend to fantasize the words, especially when it is not in our language, but Sashiko Boro Knots are on the same page & category. They are all on the one line of “how to appreciate the fabric and care for the others”.
I hope I explained well in this follow-up video.
Script for the Follow-Up Video
Thank you for watching our Sashi.Co videos. This is Atsushi.
Today, I would like to talk about a topic of, “Do we make a knot in Sashiko stitching?” from a cultural perspective. I was raised in an environment that every artisan usually did not use knots in the beginning and ending of Sashiko stitching. Therefore, it wasn’t even a question for me to explain if we use knots or not. I hope I can share the reasons why we do overlay stitching instead of making knots. It is wisdom in Sashiko.
Do you see that the little thread tale there? That is the point we stop the thread by doing overlay stitching. We could have cut the thread tale completely off to make the backside of this piece as the finished side. And, yes, it is the backside, wrong side, or hiding side of the Sashiko stitching.
The side you are looking at now is the front side or finished side of this Sashiko project. And then, we flip the fabric, and it is the backside of the Sashiko project. The goal of the wisdom in not making knots is to finish both sides of the fabric as beautiful as the finished side.
At some point in the history, in some rural village in Japan, they didn’t have enough fabric to use for lining. Therefore, they needed to use the single layer fabric as the “finished” piece. It is wisdom & technique to maximize the fabric by Sashiko.
For the technique of “Sashiko with not making knots”, please check another video in this Sashi.Co Channel. I have explained how to do overlay stitching there.
How about Boro and knots in stitching.
It is case by case and hugely depends on your preference. Therefore, I would need to explain it by using several examples such as Boro-inspired, and Boro to piece, and Boro we revived over time.
The fabric on the screen is the finished side of Boro-Inspired piece we made. We find the vintage Japanese fabric with severe damage, and patch them to make the fabric look like Boro. This piece requires many spot mending with “flayed fabric”, so we needed to use the knots to keep the fabric secure. Please confirm that the knots are relatively big in comparison to the other sewing projects. It is because the vintage fabric is so fragile that the small & tight knots could damage the fabric instead of holding it together even if we use the Sashiko thread we recommend. It is kind of the part where “art” kicks in to make Boro-inspired fabric with using the appropriate fabric with the appropriate knots, as knots as the part of Boro.
Boro to be fabric.
The fabric on the screen now is so-called “Boro to be fabric” that we have been working on. When we get a good vintage fabric with good condition, we enjoy patchworking them with thinking to make it Boro in the future by using it in our ordinary life. I started working on this fabric in 2018, so it is a pretty new piece. I try to avoid knots as much as possible. It is my preference that I would like to have the softness of overlay stitches. The fabric isn’t frayed or severely damaged so I can secure the stitches with just overlay stitching and our Sashiko thread. Please understand that I am not saying, “I never use knots”. There are some parts that I use knots in this project as well. This is an example of Boro to be fabric with as fewer knots as I can.
Boro we revived.
The last piece I introduce is the Boro we revived. I think there are many ways to define the Boro. One definition we have is that the Boro is the piece of fabric after so many usages and continuous repair. The fabric on the screen is one example we followed this “using” and “repairing” process. It looked like the Boro to be fabric at the beginning of the project, and over time, we kept practicing Sashiko on it. This fabric needed to use the knots to repair, and also we kept stitching with overlay stitching. You can see both of them in the piece.
I hope this video explains that there is no such thing as the “definitive answer” to the question for Sashiko stitching knots or not. After all, it is all about the preference, and you can do what you would like to do. As a Sashiko artisan who was raised in the Sashiko environment, I just wanted to share that there is more than “technique” in these topics.
Here is our 5th Collection of Sashiko Swatches for sale. Memorable #50 are so-called “Boro Inspired” Sashiko stitched Fabric. They are listed on our Etsy Store. Thanks to those who purchased our beautiful, one of a kind, sashiko swatches, we can continue introducing the more Sashiko fabrics.
Every swatch is hand-stitched, of course. We respect a story in the Japanese farmer’s history, “soybeans – patchwork” and appreciated very small Japanese fabrics. Enjoy the beauty of patchworking with Boro Inspired concept.
*A series of introducing our Sashiko swatches has consisted of many articles on this website.
Ultimately speaking, I would say that Boro Inspired fabric is “to be Boro” fabric.
There is not a significant line that we distinguish which is Boro or Not. However, in our understanding, Boro is the result of “repetitive Sashiko mending & stitching.” The single patchworking doesn’t make the fabric Boro. However, any kinds of patchworking and mending projects with respecting the concept of “Mottainai” and appreciating the fabric, we respect it.
A note from Etsy Description for Boro Inspired Fabric
Each of the Boro Inspired fabric is all hand-stitched and patched small fabrics here and there. It is not “quite” Boro yet by our standards, but it is absolutely beautiful and “one-of-a-kind” Sashiko swatches. They can be used as is, or to your Sashiko project. The edge is not trimmed. However, it can be used for the placemat when the friction isn’t that significant.
In a process of making Sashiko items, we collect many small swatches that we cannot even provide as the swatch. I would not prefer to list a fabric of 2-inch square. We do not throw away the beautiful fabric even if it is small. Our goal is to follow the Japanese mindset that a story tells us.
We learned that the word of “Boro” and “Sashiko” are getting popular and popular in English.
For us, who spent most of our life in Sashiko stitching, it is an honorable thing that people oversea found Sashiko interesting. We are happy to learn that Sashiko is inspiring some of the respected cultures like quilting and patchworking. For Boro, we respect each interpretation and transition to each fabric culture. Through various of interpretation, we sincerely hope the culture of “appreciating the fabric” and “Mottainai (too good to waste)” may remain in the future.
The Value of Boro We Define
When we look at a piece of Boro, there is a standard to measure its value: How many layers does the mending part have.
Boro is a result of repeating Sashiko with patching the fabric to the hole (and torn) that the ordinary people experienced in their ordinary life. There is a reason for the damage and holes as the result of friction. The damaged part of the fabric was heavily used in ordinary days. In current society, the knee part of jeans can be one example for that.
Since the part is heavily used, one mending is not the end of the whold process. Boro was(is) always an ongoing project. We believe it was ordinal thing to have the hole after patching the hole. The Japanese kept stitching the damaged part for functional reasons (and with decoration reasons when there is room for it.)
Therefore, the beautiful Boro has several layers, sometime even 4 fabrics of layers, to patch the part.
The fabric became thinner by friction, the faded color, the layers of the fabrics with one-of-a-kind color (which only time can create). The contrast of these precious color make Boro the Art, as the art curator introduce the Boro pieces to the world.
People tried their best to fashion themselves, in the absolute poverty, by collecting the thin fabrics with limited resources. They patched these to brighten their lives, even a bit, with Sashiko.
Boro was born in such a culture. We believe that Boro is a heritage of Sashiko (stitching) in Japanese Ordinary Days
Reviving the Boro over 100 of years.
We try our best to “revive” the Boros.
Old Boros we can find in the antique market & museum is the heritages from the people’s achievement in centuries ago. At the same time, many damaged vintage fabric, let’s call “to be Boro fabric” exist in the market and the ordinary people’s house.
We wash these “To be Boro fabric” then, we follow the original concept of Boro: to use the fabric, therefore we repair it.
Boro is very fragile. It gets easily damaged by friction.
Therefore, the people in 2018 may not use the Boro fabric in actual life. However, by us supposing the purpose of Boro, we believe we can sincerely understand how the people repaired, mend, patched, and did Sashiko on the Boros. It makes our Boros, to authentic traditional Boros.
Even more, simply speaking, the Sashiko with intending to be used in the society, is what we enjoy in Sashiko.
The “finished Boro” from the antique market amuse people. They are stunning beautiful and I understand art-curators call them the art. The Japanese in past made these stunning art in the ordinary life.
Over 100s of years, when we can share the feeling of appreciation of fabric and sort of the idea of “Wabi Sabi” in its beauty, the Sashiko and Boro will be more “usual” in our ordinary life in 2018.
*We wear our Sashiko and Boro Jacket in daily life to create more torn & fade colors so we can do more Sashiko on it. It is a never-ending journey.
“Boro (襤褸)” means a piece of ragged cloth in Japanese. Recently, with spreading a word & culture of “Boro” spreading to the world, the word itself starts having other meaning besides simply “ragged cloth.” I enjoy the various interpretation of the culture of Boro and many Boro-inspired art-works. I appreciate the beauty of contemporary Boro culture. However, as a group of Sashiko artists, we would like to introduce how the Japanese Traditional Boro look like.
Not only patchwork. A result of repetitive repairing.
Boro is not only about patchworking small swatches of fabric into one art. The big difference from the western patchwork art is that the main purpose of the project was repairing the torn fabric.
Some of the Boro we can find in the antique market is too fragile to use. We have experienced a valuable piece of Boro “washed away” in hand-washing process. Therefore, we understand that some of the Boro pieces should be kept in the museum or other exhibition facilities.
However, what we would like to pass down to the next generation is not only the beautiful pieces of Boro but also the culture of Boro including how to make these. We continuously search for a good piece of Boro, wash them carefully with expecting some damages and loss, then patch them together to revive the fabric. As exactly the Japanese a few hundred years ago performed, we make the Boro fabric.
Our Boro arts are “clean” and “usable” in your daily life.
We use the Boro, then we repair it. The repetitive repairing makes the authentic Japanese traditional fabric.
At Random Beauty in Japanese Traditional Boro?
Some people say that the beauty in Boro is a product of at random repairing & mending. Is that really so? We do not agree with that. It is true that the Japanese did not have enough fabric to create a new jacket or a blanket. They had to repair a hole or torn part by using other old fabrics.
However, if they didn’t care about beauty or artistic perspective of Boro, why did they patch only one type of fabric? I believe that they tried to be as fashionable as they can, in limited resources of fabrics.
It also reflects the interesting Japanese culture of shame. The Boro was a symbol of “poverty” and the Japanese felt shame on the patched Boro. With following this culture, our Boro Jacket has more patches inside of Jacket.
We try to follow the old traditional way of Boro making.
With understanding how the Japanese would think and repair, we believe we revive the fabric and Boros as the Japanese in the 18 century do in 2018.
The core of Boro | Appreciation.
Please understand that I am not criticizing the current movement of contemporary Boros. I enjoy watching many arts inspired by the Traditional Boro, and I get inspired by the Boros made in current society.
The core concept of Boro is appreciating what we have.
As long as we follow this core idea of Boro, the result of Boro (patchworking, repairing and quilting) can be in any form.
In this fast-paced society with mass production & mass consumption, appreciating the small piece of fabric is off the mainstream. It is time-consuming and not efficient.
However, I believe it would be nice to leave the culture of appreciation to fabric is a great gift we can leave to the next generation. In addition to the culture and beauty of repairing the fabric, if we can share how fun Sashiiko & Boro are in daily life, we can impact a bit to the current society to more sustainable society.
I want you to have the one in your home.
We sell the Japanese Traditional Boro for those who would like to have the actual Boro piece in your home. I believe our pricing is very reasonable for the authentic look Boro pieces. All the Boro pieces were made in 2017, with repairing and patchworking the severely damaged/torn small swatches of Boro with Sashiko.
They are available on our Etsy store. Please click the link below if you are interested.
Since I started Sashiko Workshop in 2016, I have shared my Sashiko expertise with more than 50 people. Thanks to good friends of mine, I can keep continuing this journey. One of the graduates shared her Sashiko works after the workshops. These are the photos of “Sashiko Workshop Graduate Achievements”! You can expect to learn enough skills to do the similar work after taking our Sashiko workshops.
We still have a few seats available in coming-up workshops next weekend in NYC. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to start the beautiful upcycling work, Sashiko.
You can learn how to make good Sashiko stitches with appropriate tools and techniques. This is a basic, yet fundamental and core, workshop to get better in stitching. Even if you have some experience in Sashiko stitching, this may be beneficial workshop if you aren’t 100 % comfortable in using the unique Sashiko tools such as long needles and a round shape Sashiko thimble. The appropriate understanding of “how to use tools” will increase your productivity of your Sashiko, and result in the better Sashiko stitching.
This is another rare opportunity to have “EVERYTHING” you ever need to enjoy hand-made Sashiko Mending to your own garment.
Atsushi will provide the necessary informative presentation and his collection of Sashiko fabric, thread, tools, and ideas. Bring your own garment and enjoy the 3 hours of intensive Sashiko Mending.
I want your “Sashiko Workshop Graduate Achievements”
Take a look at the beautiful and unique pieces he accomplished.
Boro-ish and vintage fabric patches on Jacket, Shoes, and Jeans. She is happy that her work got so productive and accurate. Join our Sashiko circle and enjoy your own project. It is all about appreciating what we have and upcycling your favorite garment and then enjoy the beautiful result.
I am so pleased to receive many compliments to my jeans after performing the Sashiko Denim Repair. Although I started mending my jeans as my hobby, I decided to offer the Sashiko Denim Repair Service for ones who can share my understandings to Sashko Stitching and Sashiko’s concept. I am sorry that there are so many conditions to agree before the actual repairing order. However, please understand it is necessary because all of the services will be done by hands, and I would need to rely on customer’s common sense for the better service.
This is the new service I provide out of my routine days. Before launching this as the official service, I would like to have a sort of probation period for myself, to see if this is a satisfying service for the customers.
If you are interested, please contact me first with photos of your favorite jeans with the hole(s) or tear(s) after reading this article and agreeing on the conditions. We will discuss the details, then I will send you the address to make a shipment to.
Here are some conditions.
I may decide the kinds of Sashiko fabric I use in the project. I will probably not take order-made Sashiko fabric for this service. However, please let me know what kind of color you would like or what kind of pattern you would like since your preference is important for us.
I will inform you how long it would take to get service done. It is NOT promised time frame. Please understand that it is just an estimate.
I set the flat service fee for the probation period. This fee includes one big hole OR several small holes repairment. You may refer my previous works and ask for the estimated fees if you want to have more.
Please send me the jeans AFTER washing it. I understand that some people do not wish to wash the jeans, but doing Sashiko on dirty jeans is very difficult.
If you prefer to have Sashiko stitching on the new jeans, it may be possible based on your request.
If you prefer to have the order-made Sashiko fabric to patch or have so many parts to “repair,” I will do so with the regular price. I will give you the estimate so please send me the photos.
Please allow me to use your project on Youtube/Instagram Live Streaming
The fee for the Sashiko Denim Repair Service (Promotional):
$180.00 ~ $350.00
The regular price will be about $500 and up, depending on the repair I would need.