The Japanese Traditions of Sashiko & Boro: The Centuries-Old Craft That Mends Clothes in a Sustainable, Artistic Way

The state of our trou­bled plan­et dic­tates that dis­pos­ables are out.

Reusables are in.

And any­one who’s taught them­selves how to mend and main­tain their stuff has earned the right to flaunt it!

A quick scroll through Insta­gram reveals loads of vis­i­ble mend­ing projects that high­light rather than dis­guise the area of repair, draw­ing the eye to con­trast­ing threads rein­forc­ing a thread­bare knee, frayed cuff, ragged rip, or moth hole.

While some prac­ti­tion­ers take a freeform approach, the most pleas­ing stitch­es tend to be in the sashiko tra­di­tion.

Sashiko—fre­quent­ly trans­lat­ed as “lit­tle stabs”—was born in Edo peri­od Japan (1603–1868), when rur­al women attempt­ed to pro­long the life of their fam­i­lies’ tat­tered gar­ments and bed­ding, giv­ing rise to a hum­ble form of white-on-indi­go patch­work known as boro.

While sashiko can at times be seen serv­ing a pure­ly dec­o­ra­tive func­tion, such as on a very well pre­served Mei­ji peri­od jack­et in the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art’s col­lec­tion, its pri­ma­ry use was always one born of neces­si­ty.

As Austin Bryant notes on Hed­dels, a news and edu­ca­tion web­site ded­i­cat­ed to sus­tain­able goods:

Over gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies, these tex­tiles would acquire more and more patch­es, almost to the point of the com­mon observ­er being unable to rec­og­nize where the orig­i­nal fab­ric began. As they recov­ered after the end of World War II, to some the boro tex­tiles remind­ed the Japan­ese of their impov­er­ished rur­al past.

Keiko & Atsushi Futat­suya are a moth­er-and-son arti­san team whose posts on sashiko and boro go beyond straight­for­ward how-tos to delve into cul­tur­al his­to­ry.

Accord­ing to them, the goal of sashiko should not be aes­thet­i­cal­ly pleas­ing rows of uni­form stitch­es, but rather “enjoy­ing the dia­logue” with the fab­ric.

As Atsushi explains in an Insta­gram post, view­ers see­ing their work with a West­ern per­spec­tive may respond dif­fer­ent­ly than those who have grown up with the ele­ments in play:

This is a pho­to of a “Boro-to-be Jack­et” in the process. This is the back (hid­ing) side of the jack­et and many non-Japan­ese would say this should be the front and should show to the pub­lic. The Japan­ese would under­stand why it is a back­side nat­u­ral­ly, but I would need to “explain” to the non-Japan­ese who do not share the same val­ue (why we) pur­pose­ful­ly make this side as “hid­ing” side. That’s why, I keep shar­ing in words. One pic­ture may be worth a thou­sand words, but the thou­sand words may be com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent based on their (free) inter­pre­ta­tion. In shar­ing the cul­ture, some “actu­al words” would be also very impor­tant.

To try your hand at sashiko, you will need a long nee­dle, such as a cot­ton darn­ing nee­dle, white embroi­dery thread, and—for boro—an aging tex­tile in need of some atten­tion.

Should you find your­self slid­ing into a full blown obses­sion, you may want to order sashiko nee­dles and thread, and a palm thim­ble to help you push through sev­er­al weights of fab­ric simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.

You’ll find many pat­terns, tips, and tuto­ri­als on the Futat­suya family’s YouTube chan­nel.

via Vox

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

20 Mes­mer­iz­ing Videos of Japan­ese Arti­sans Cre­at­ing Tra­di­tion­al Hand­i­crafts

See How Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Car­pen­ters Can Build a Whole Build­ing Using No Nails or Screws

Explore the Beau­ti­ful Pages of the 1902 Japan­ese Design Mag­a­zine Shin-Bijut­sukai: Euro­pean Mod­ernism Meets Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Design

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (2)
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  • Pamela Y Nixon says:

    Love Sashiko, thank you for the infor­ma­tion

  • Simon Smith says:

    “A thou­sand words”,indeed!
    Writ­ten texts can last a thou­sand years, (or more), but nowa­days pho­to­graph­ic images abound but are quick­ly put aside and for­got­ten and video con­sumes serv­er-time and ener­gy but requires re-view­ing and then becomes ‘famil­iar.
    More is exchanged via the writ­ten word, maybe due to the per­son­al effort and thought required, and I myself appre­ci­ate Ayun Hal­l­i­day’s con­sid­er­a­tion here,
    (togeth­er with all the I.T. per­son­nel, jounal­ists, man­agers, com­m’s tech­ni­cians, pow­er work­ers, et al, nat­u­ral­ly)!
    Many thanks,
    Simon Smith,
    (Ply­mouth, U.K.)

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