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Mar 09

Boro, The Ragged Beauty


Boro, ragged beauty

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: many layers stitched together

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.

Mended striped futon cover, front side

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.

Patched and mended backside


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.

A map of stitches and layers of ragged beauty


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guide to extending the life of a cloth with beauty, offers us creative ways of combining cloth with stitching, or gives historical reference to weaving patterns.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.

Want to see more Boro Cloth? Boro is one-of-a-kind so our inventory is contantly changing.  Please check our Japan section in the shop for our current selection.

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  • Patricia Jasperson-Fletcher

    looks like my oldest son’s quilt made by my grandmother over 50 years ago… mended by my mother 25 years ago… and re-mended by me 15 years ago. It tells the story through fabric of times in my grandmothers life… then material used by my mom was from fabric from clothes she sewed for us… and then when I worked on it to send to my son who was in Alaska at the time… I used material from clothes my children had worn and now he lives in White Salmon, Washington, and his wife has mended it with fabric from their children, and it is still his favorite blanket. You just can not put a price on the warmth from a blanket woven through the history of family, and love.

    • Marilyn Murphy

      What a wonderful family history you have imbedded into this quilt. Would love to see a photo of this.

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