A Bit of Boro Background

Boro jacket detail

“Tattered.” “Broken.” Hardly words of inspiration. But a new line of Moda fabrics honors the Japanese tradition of boro—the Japanese technique of creating beautiful textiles through repeated mending—and to give quilters the opportunity to create beauty of their own.

The tradition of boro (the word translates as “tattered” and “broken”) can be traced to the snowy north of the island of Honshu, an area associated with significant poverty, according to the Amuse Museum in Tokyo

Cotton was precious because it was too far north for it to grow, and many residents made do with scratchy hemp cloth they wove themselves. No piece of fabric—cotton or hemp—went to waste, and bits and pieces were saved and stitched over holes in clothing, futon covers, and other fabric items used by workers and families. A bit of hemp or other fiber was sometimes stuffed under a patch on a piece of clothing for warmth. 

Boro jacket from the early 1900s

These bits and pieces were typically attached with visible running stitches to strengthen and reinforce the patches, and garments often had multiple patches and areas of stitching. Because fabric was time-consuming to produce and expensive to buy, these items might be handed down from one generation to the next. Though their intent was functional, Boro textiles ultimately achieved recognition for their wabi sabi—beauty in imperfection. The multiple hues and textures of fabric placed wherever a hole appeared, along with the prominent stitching, created a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Perhaps because it was once a symbol of poverty it took a long while for boro’s beauty to be appreciated, but today it’s taken the textile world by storm. Aficionados appreciate its subtle unplanned beauty and collectors seek it out. The rise in popularity of visible mending speaks to an appreciation for repurposing, recycling, and seeing the hand of the maker in a finished project. Even high-end fashion designers find inspiration in Boro. Louis Vuitton featured boro jackets in his 2013 spring menswear collection and numerous models in the 2015 Junya Watanabe spring fashion show strode the runway in boro shirts, pants, and jackets.

Junya Watanabe boro shirt

If your partner’s not up for a high-fashion boro jacket, there are plenty of other ways Moda’s lovely new line can find its way into your life—bags, aprons, backpacks, napkins and table runners, and of course, quilts.

What ideas do you have for using Boro?  

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16 thoughts on “A Bit of Boro Background

  1. Love the fabric & the idea of Boro. I think I’ll put a patch on the arm of my sleeper that my cat likes to scratch!

  2. There is a story called “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and I laughed when I read about Boro being mended to the point of beauty. However, the idea on second reflection is very interesting and I might just try it. I love random applique so why would I not love Boro.

  3. This Boro Collection is great! I absolutely love it and can’t wait to get it in my favorite quilt shops.

  4. It may seem funny to some of you but I loved the challenge of patching a good worn garment for my family. I rather like this line and will be watching for it to come to my quilt shops.

  5. i WANT TO USE BORO IN AN QUILT FROM PATTERNS i HAVE IN AN AUTHENTIC JAPANESE QUILTING MAGAZINE. i GOT THEM YEARS AGO AND HAVE YET TO FIND THE RIGHT MATERIAL FOR THEM. THE MAGAZINE IS IN JAPANESE, BUT THE PICTURES SAY IT ALL.

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