Translated to ‘rags’ in English, boro is the collective name for items – usually clothing and bed covers – made by the poor, rural population of Japan who could not afford to buy new when need required and had to literally make ends meet by piecing and patching discarded cotton onto existing sets, forming something slightly different each time they did so. Generations of Japanese families repaired and recycled fishermen’s jackets to futon covers, handing them down to the next and weaving their own sagas and stories through the threads.
Cotton was an expensive and sought-after material in rural Japan, so worn-out clothing was passed along and used as futon/bed coverings, the worn-out parts re-worked and replaced with new patches as necessary. The pieces are beautiful and mesmerising to look at, so have been appropriated as highly collectible artworks in Western countries. As a sewist, I was particularly fascinated to get up close and see the various woven patterns, fabric combinations, dyeing and embroidery techniques used to create such a richly textured surface.
Varying lengths and patterns of hand-stitches for decorative texture.
I love these dense rows of stitches: nothing is measured or straight, and it doesn’t matter. It seems to tie into the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi: imperfect beauty.
Some of these patch-pieced ones look like English fields seen from an aeroplane.
Look close and you’ll see layer upon layer of patterns and textures. Woven patterns remind me of ikat, one of my favourite types of fabric, and some pieces seemed to have had patterns created by resist-dyeing and shibori-stle knotting and folding techniques.
You can see why the pieces are compared to art works: some have the Cubist arrangement of a Picasso or Mondrian, where others seem freely expressive like a Pollock or late Matisse.
This was my favourite, the decorative embroidery looks like mystical cave symbols, and the tan corduroy with the shades of indigo is gorgeous. It was very inspiring to look at a different way of combining and manipulating materials, and really makes me want to create an abstract hand-pieced and -embroidered quilt. The free exhibition runs until 26th April, daily 10.00-18.00. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.