Last week, I found out that the Textile Art Council was organising a lecture by Yoshiko Wada on Boro, at the de Young Museum. I’d come across Boro while flipping through a Japanese denim catalogue, but knew very little about it. So, the opportunity to learn more, especially from a renowned textile expert and historian was super exciting!
The Japanese term Boro refers to the state of objects that have been used, broken, or worn to tatters, then extensively repaired and sometimes used far beyond their normal expected life cycle. These humble cloths are tangible remnants of stories lived by the common people – Yoshiko Wada
The extreme weather and harsh working conditions of 19th century Japan didn’t make it easy for rural work-wear to last. The farming communities were so poor that they simply couldn’t afford to buy new clothes. They had to repair, mend and re-use their existing garments using whatever materials they had access to, typically indigo dyed rags, scraps and leftovers. Many Boro pieces have been used and repaired across several generations!
Yoshiko also talked of how resourceful ways of using cotton, a precious and scarce commodity in those times, led to the rise of saki-ori (textiles made from rag weaves) and sashiko + kogin (stitching or quilting cotton in to locally available bast fiber cloth). Several intricate and beautiful pieces from Yoshiko’s personal collection were on display for us to enjoy.
a saki-ori fisherman’s jacket
a sakubukuro or rice wine pouch
a boro bag
a shirt with decorative sashiko
While writing this post, I came across a paper authored by Yoshiko titled Boro no Bi : Beauty in Humility || Repaired Cotton Rags of Old Japan which covers most of what she presented at the lecture. There’s also a video clip available on her site that provides a quick overview. The video quality is poor but it’s a good alternative if you can’t make it to her talks in person!