JAPANESE BORO CLOTHING FROM THE 1800S TO EARLY 1900S
“Stitch for stitch, scrap for scrap, boro garments embody the Japanese indispensable concept of “mottainai” or not wasting (the fabric) when one can prolong its useful life through recycling and reuse. These homemade pieces of clothing were characterized by their patchwork assembly and mended patched look. Often they had an abundance of sashiko stitches to hold the unalike layered fabrics in place.
Boro textiles inherently pass on the tale of the struggle of a hardy people who lived in indescribable poverty to make ends meet. Frigid winters required hard-working thrifty women to add two or three layers of fabric to their husband’s work coat or pants and to mend the thin areas with patches of scrap fabric and reinforce it with sashiko stitching, all in order to stretch out the garment’s useful life.
Perhaps 2 ~ 3 hundred years ago, at a time when newly woven whole cloth fabrics became somewhat abundant throughout the backcountry, Japanese women were able to sew clothing and household items from a soft cotton fabric for their families for the first time. And, simultaneously, these aforesaid homemakers who resided in remote impoverished rural regions always needed to reduce, reuse and recycle the family’s textiles for both financial and practical reasons.
They would carefully take apart old futon covers, worn-out garments, and other unusable household textiles in order to recycle and remake the usable fragments from them into field-work apparel. Sometimes, these same disassembled fabrics were re-dyed to give them a refreshed appearance. Many times one can see signs of a textile’s previous life, like the faint image on the back of a boro jacket that still retains a faded tsutsugaki or katazome design.
Today, people who appreciate the admirable habits of a rural Japanese woman’s unpretentious lifestyle of textile thrift, reuse and repurpose… are able to hold and touch with their hands such precious items of a former time, when they acquire Japanese boro garments and textiles for themselves.”