BORO / japanese textiles and the art of recycling

BORO / japanese textiles and the art of recycling

The Japanese seem to infuse practicality in everything they do. Boro textiles are no exception. Boro, most literally translated as 'rags', has also come to encompass an aesthetic and methodology of repairing and mending clothes and household textiles. Vintage boro quilts and work wear garments have become collectors' items, revered for the intricacy of their mending and scraps of fabric used in their repair (often antique indigo-dyed kimono fabric scraps). 

I have always felt drawn to the Japanese aesthetic. I love indigo, katazome, sashiko, shibori, etc. the list goes on. Their approach to textiles never ceases to amaze and inspire me. It's one of the few historical topics I actually love to learn about (as I tend to get bored easily reading/watching anything historical).

I stumbled across this small, two video installment, Boro: Japanese Rag Textiles from Shabby to Chic.

While it offers a quick and informative overview of boro textiles, I find one of the most fascinating aspects of all of this is the careful use of fabric in each piece. The mention of the process of how the kimono fabric was always woven a set width is amazing in terms of sustainability. The fact that the entire garment could then be disassembled and returned to its original form as a bolt of fabric is incredible. It makes me want to reconsider every cut, every stitch, every pass with the shuttle. How can I maximize utility and minimize waste?

I think this is an especially poignant point when it comes to not only reusing or upcycling fabric into new pieces, but also when purchasing new textile material. I come across this struggle often. I prefer to scour thrift stores, eBay and garage sales for discarded fabric and yarn for my projects; I think there is too much textile waste already plaguing our planet. However, as an artist, there are times when I simply cannot find secondhand what I feel I need to execute my vision. This is why the boro process is so significant for me. The cloth has been reborn and re-purposed so many times, it has taken on a soul of its own. The energy of the wearer, the quilter and the weaver have all contributed to its existence. Energy is neither created nor destroyed, only transformed. Even when creating with a so-called new material, intention is important. While we cannot entirely avoid using new material at times, it is important to consider the role that it plays.

How can we apply the resourcefulness of boro textiles to those projects?

  • Find a way to cut or weave the fabric that produces less waste
  • Use less water dyeing using a cold-batch process
  • Purchase new materials from an independent reseller and help support a small business
  • Save your scraps for other small projects
  • Find a way to re-purpose a failed project

More sustainable textile practices are the way of the future and we need only to look at the past for inspiration on how to make it a reality.

RESOURCES / my top ten textile books

RESOURCES / my top ten textile books

VIDEO INSPIRATION / tapestry and the idiosyncratic process

VIDEO INSPIRATION / tapestry and the idiosyncratic process

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