Mending and repairing
Have you ever heard about Boro textiles? Most of you know and admire the beautiful kimonos and fabrics used in Japan. Perhaps you have also heard of the dying technique shibori. But do you know what Boro textiles is? I did not know much about it either before I went on my first trip to Japan and had to brief my self on textile museums in Kyoto and Tokyo.
Amuse Museum in Tokyo is situated next to one of the city’s most famous Buddhist temples in the district of Asakusa. The entrance is like an ordinary souvenir shop, but do not be fooled. Go in and pay for a ticket to the 2nd and 3rd floor and you will get a big surprise. The permanent exhibition is an exquisite collection of old Boro textiles. And now you might wonder what Boro textiles is!
Boro is the term for Japanese clothing that is patched, mended and repaired and the word comes from the Japanese word boroboro, meaning ragged or tattered. Previously, silk and cotton was reserved for the rich and nobel and ordinary people had to settle with fabrics woven from hemp. In mountain areas hemp was essential because cotton thrived poorly in the cold climate. Mending and repair was a necessity and garments were passed down from generation to generation and constantly, new patches and seams were added. Seafaring traders traveled along Japan’s coast and sold used, indigo colored cotton to farmers. These were mixed with fabrics woven from hemp.
The most common color was indigo, providing an infinite variety of blues. Boro textiles and garments are mostly in indigo colored fabric, sometimes with a small patch in a more exclusive fabric. A small red piece of cotton can be sewn on as extra decoration. We also see that the sewing is done with precise and beautiful stitching, so there is no doubt that it was an aesthetic idea behind the composition of the Boro textiles despite the poverty that underlay these patchwork garments.
Sashikostiching on Boro textiles
Sachiko is a traditional Japanese form of stitching. It is comparable to what we call basting, but sometimes with much longer stitches and are used the same way we use quilting. Boro textiles are often put together in layers with sashiko stitching and that gives the fabric a beautiful textured surface. The women soon discovered that the garments would held longer with sashimi stitching. I am absolutely certain that they also saw an aesthetic value in the different ways they did these stitches.
Boro textiles represent a tradition and cultural history that our modern consumer society lacks. In Boro garments we find a great respect for the craft and a will to take care of scares resources. In the process of taking care of and repair, and also handing the garment on to new generations, these textiles representing a cultural handover it is important to take care of. Fortunately they do it at the Amuse Museum in Tokyo. If you are interested in folk art and culture and especially in textiles, a visit here is a great pleasure.
I visited the museum in January 2017 and was fortunate to see the special exhibition: BORO The shining Boro. The exhibition showed a selection from the collection of ethnologist Chuzaburo Tanaka and artist Toshiro Kojima.