Sustainable Fashion is a relatively “new” term. But beyond the nomenclature, is it really a modern concept? Japanese Boro Japonés seems to demonstrate that it isn’t.
Reading about different oriental sewing techniques, I found that there are millenarian philosophies from the ancient East where we can already find many elements of the current sustainable perspective. Although the historical context and the problems are very different, I was struck by an example related to the textile world, which is the Japanese Boro: a fascinating technique that is today valued again, after many centuries.
This technique is used today for artistic and decorative purposes, but it is worth knowing the origin of something that today renews its meaning with such strength.
The origins of Boro: Technique and Philosophy of life
As I could learn…
The underlying idea is that once the clothing was made, it had to last its owner’s whole life, or even transcend it! Can you imagine a garment today that could withstand the test of time?
The Boro had a very specific purpose that, at the same time, brought a philosophy of a sustainable life, not only for its simplicity (it is clear that the farmers couldn’t afford themselves luxuries) but also for the respect towards the environment and towards the materials. And for the appreciation of the work of those people who made and patched those garments in order to extend the useful life of something that otherwise, would have become waste.
In the Japanese Boro, the garments do not intend to become what they were when they were created: once torn or damaged, the patch does not seek to return the garment to its original state. What is sought, is to make it resistant. It is the visibility of the patch that gives the value and meaning to the garment.
The Japanese Sashiko stitches are thick and continuous and are far from subtle. Its aim is to give greater resistance and durability to the garment. The tone of the thread used contrasts with that of the fabric: thus the patch is what appears in the foreground, the undisputed protagonist.
What does Japanese Boro teach us?
- The garments must be made to last.
- In the event that due to the inevitable passage of time garments are damaged or torn, there is an alternative before considering them waste: upcycling or mending is the answer to extend its life cycle.
- What once could have had a negative connotation (patch as a sign of poverty), can be valued today since it contains the life history of its bearer. It is precisely in the visibility of the repair and in the imperfection, where beauty lies.
The Japanese Boro is not only a philosophy and a way of perceiving. It also provides us with a very specific technique to put that philosophy into practice in our everyday life, and in particular, in our relationship with fashion.
It is interesting to see how those we believe are modern values are not so, and how many of the answers we seek for current problems are contained in Philosophies and practices originated long ago.
1. If you want to learn how to do the basic Japanese Sashiko Embroidery technique for Boro mending, you can find it here!
2. If you have an old jean that you love but were thinking about giving away, you can learn how to mend it with this technique:
- By e-How: click here!
(The following tutorials are more related to “patching”, but you can add the Sashiko embroidery to apply the Boro technique)
- By Drew Scott: click here!
- By Boat People Vintage (Diseño inspirado por Junya Watanabe): click here!
3. Or if you dare and want to go to the next level by putting the technique into practice to create something new, here you will find some interesting projects tutorials:
- Sashiko (Japanese Embroidey) Cushion from So Sew Easy: click here!
- Boro Inspired Reversible Loop Bag by Be Be Bold: click here!
- Japanese Boro Bag by DIY Tutorial Ideas!: click here!
Once you feel that you can replicate other people’s projects, it is time to create your own with the help of this FREE 10-STEP FASHION DESIGN GUIDE.
What will you need to be able to apply the technique?
- Sashiko thread or embroidery thread.
- Sashiko needle
- Tailor chalk or cloth marker.
- Heat-adhesive patches (optional for patching)
In case you want to delve into this technique and this philosophy I recommend some books that specifically talks about it.
And for the artistic souls, the video of an exhibition dedicated exclusively to Boro: click here!
From theory or practice, learning about Japanese Boro gives us tools for a more sustainable and meaningful relationship with our garments!