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.
- Raw material
- 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.
Can we really make Boro in today’s society?
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.