|Photo courtesy of |
The Decorator's Notebook.
Basically old scraps and rags of indigo dyed hemp, held together with dense stitching, boro textiles were worn by the poor. Boro was essential for prolonging the life of clothes, but families might also sleep together in a 'yogi' (a blanket-like kimono) and women often gave birth on a 'bodoko' or life-cloth, so the baby's first earthly contact was with something that once belonged to its ancestors.
Although I don't own any quilts or textiles that have been handed down to me, all my indigo dyed fabrics use pre-loved linens and silks. Some of the linens date back over a hundred years and were given to me by a German lady, whose mother brought them to England when she left Germany to make her home in England. Some are old clothes of mine, others are thrift shop finds. So my fabrics may not have belonged to my ancestors, but I'd still like to honour a tradition of reusing and giving new life to worn-out fabrics that gives more than a passing nod to boro textiles.
If soapbox blogs aren't for you, look away now!
I adore utility stitching, hand tied quilts, penny mats and boro textiles but occasionally attitudes to folk arts make me wince, and whenever I read the word 'charming' in this context, my hackles rise. To me, it suggests a Disneyfied view, of 'simpler times' and communities of happy peasants delighting in an ability to make do and mend, as if this were a lifestyle choice and not a chore brought about because of economic necessity.* That's not to say that many women didn't take great pride in their work, and perhaps too, saw it as a form of artistic expression. However, it shouldn't be overlooked that boro textiles were indeed mere rags, and for a long time were regarded as shameful by the Japanese because they were a reminder of a peasant class that suffered abject poverty and desperation.
I'm fortunate, for me recycling is a choice, and sewing is a pleasant way to pass the time. By recycling I'm making an ethical and political declaration about what I stand for and doing what I believe is right (rejecting cheap labour and mass production and trying not to create more than my fair share of landfill), not what economic circumstances are forcing me to.
So, the irony of wanting to produce something that looks like a boro textile isn't lost on me. I'm fully aware that I'll be trying to mimic a style of textiles that was a patchwork of necessity and impoverishment, and I'll be doing so with the help of my shiny electric sewing machine, in the comfort of my nicely decorated home–and I'll probably be listening to Radio 4 as I do so (can't get more middle class than that). In short, I'll be spending money to make something that looks like rags and tatters!
As much as that makes me a fraud, I still can't help but admire boro textiles and want to have a go at making my own (even if I will be using linen and silk instead of hemp). Partly, it's because I love indigo dyed fabric, which, as if by magic, just seems to get better with age. The texture of layers of stitching and scraps of fabrics really appeals to me too, some people are drawn to colour or pattern, but it's texture that always reels me in!
I've only recently discovered boro textiles, so do not claim to be any kind of expert about them. The pictures here are from The Decorator's Notebook but if you want to read more, I found Furugistar's blog post very informative. This book also looks like it might be worth adding to a boro wishlist.
*Perhaps the worst example of this attitude is a book entitled The Quilts of Gee's Bend. While the book itself is beautiful and showcases some stunning work, the editorial choice to keep the voices of quilters 'real' is just cringeworthy.