Falling in love with a textile is a fairly easy thing for me. I’m easily swayed by anything indigo dyed and, if it’s handwoven, all the better. The first time I laid eyes upon Japanese BORO cloth, I snatched up the roughly foot-square piece and hung it as a talisman on my studio wall. To me, this ragged beauty captured the essence of “no waste”, the ultimate in the sustainability of a handcrafted cloth.
Boro is a Japanese folk textile that has been extensively “repaired” by patching and mending little scraps of other fabrics over worn-out areas or holes in the cloth. These textiles were ones used for every day—futon covers, vests, fishermen’s coats, mosquito netting—and handwoven of a plant fiber usually cotton, sometimes ramie, then indigo dyed in most cases.
The layering of the fabrics not only extended the life of the piece, but also added warmth, making the article last as long as possible–a practical solution for people having limited resources in the 19th and 20th century. And, now for us, more than 100 years later, they continue to inspire beyond measure. Ralph Lauren was inspired by boro in creating his Blue Label line in spring 2011. Yoshiko Wada is writing a book on it plus teaches workshops based on its principles.
For me, I’m taken in by each tatter of an edge, by the unevenness of the stitches, and the meandering of the thread as it circles a hole while the patch is applied. I’m surprised as I look at the different sides of the cloth—one that is striped and seemingly in good condition, the other filled with random rags stitched down in an aesthetically appealing way. I see the sky, the ocean. I feel the earth and its formations.
When ClothRoads was given the opportunity to make some of this cloth available, I thought about how it fit into our model of working with cooperatives, keeping rich traditions alive into the future, and offering a sustainable future to the craftspeople. And while it doesn’t achieve all of these goals, it certainly offers us a guide to extending the life of a cloth with beauty, offers us creative ways of combining cloth with stitching, or gives historical reference to weaving patterns. To me, it’s also a map of a person’s life that I can hold in my hands.