Being a lover of textiles, especially those from Japan, I made sure I didn't miss the 'Boro - The Thread of Life' exhibition recently held at Kimono House in Melbourne.
Boro can be translated as 'rags' but the term is also used to describe pieces of clothing or household items that have been patched and repaired many times. The practice originated out of necessity - people in rural areas were poor and were not able to go out and buy new clothing or bedding, so existing items had to be patched and re-patched. Patching was done with whatever fabric the sewer had on hand - there was no conscious design and planning process - it was utilitarian patching. Fabric was precious - many pieces were originally hand loomed and hand woven and dyed with indigo or other botanic dyes. Carefully saved fabric swatches and boro would be passed on to the following generations to use.The repeated repairs made over generations resulted in unique pieces that often showcased various stitching techniques such as sashiko. These boro became pieces of family history and had great sentimental value.
The practice pretty much died out when mass-scale production became commonplace and as a result interest in these pieces dwindled. These days, however, they are recognised as a part of Japan's cultural history and are highly collectible.
Some of the pieces that were on display are shown below. I apologise for the poor quality photos - they were taken on my phone which is now at the very trailing end of technology.
A farmer's vest:
A child's kimono:
Some futon covers:
This following piece was pretty special. It is a farmwoman's jacket that had been carefully patched, sashiko stitched and then overdyed in natural indigo. The collar was replaced and and the patching of the body of the garment has been so carefully done that, when combined with the rows of sashiko stitching and the overdyeing, render the repairs almost invisible. It was so beautifully made.
It's interesting that everyday items, patched out of necessity to enable continued use, are now considered pieces of art. I think it's a reflection on our throw-away society and how little value most people place on things they own. Many of the pieces on display were over 100 years old and have seen many years of use. How common would that be today?
From a permaculture perspective I also appreciate the practicality and recycling nature of Boro - why discard something if it can be mended? And when it gets past being able to be mended for use in it's original purpose, it can still be of use as a patching material, or even a rag.
And finally from a textile lover's perspective I loved seeing the beautiful indigo pieces that were used as patching. The sewer used whatever fabric they had on hand but the end result is a harmonious piece that has it's own unique beauty.