Mending and Recycling Textiles in Japan

Japanese Boro, or Futon Cover, 19th C

This Japanese boro (futon cover) was made in the 19th century by recycling remnants of indigo dyed cotton and joining them together. It’s so well-made that it’s still in perfect condition. There is really no printed or woven substitute for this kind of work, which at this point in history, when handmade textile methods are rapidly vanishing, is really hard not to fetishize. People don’t seem to have time for mending anymore. On average North Americans throw away  a staggering 68 pounds of textiles a year each, which in Canada alone, with a population of approx 30 million people, amounts to 2,040,000,000 pounds. Yes, that’s 2 billion 40 million pounds of discarded textiles – in one year. And each year, we buy another 68 pounds. Textiles are some of the most toxic products to produce, and most of them travel great, wasteful distances to reach us. Some discarded textiles do get recycled – usually overseas in Asia, India and sometimes Africa, which means they take yet another trip. We might as well start mending again. Look how beautiful it is. Photos of this many-times-mended boro via 1st Dibs. Close-up detail:

Japanese Boro, or Futon Cover, 19th C

The photos of Japanese mending and patches, below, are from Amy Sylvester Katoh’s book Japanese Country Living. She comments that “[t]he miraculous thing is that so many such pieces are extant today, carefully stored away for decades by the families that made and used them.” More photos and pages from the book can be found in the Japan Flickr set here. Immediately below: patched futon on beds and ragweave rug in a restored Japanese farmhouse; patched farmer’s jacket.

Mended Japanese boro and ragweave rugs

Mending and rag weaving in rural Japan

Below is the method of mending stitchery known as sashiko. It’s a form of mending which, by traveling across the warp or weft or often both, reinforces the textile and mimics weaving.

Mending and rag weaving in rural Japan

Mending and rag weaving in rural Japan

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10 Responses to “Mending and Recycling Textiles in Japan”

  1. Eva Says:

    Adorable!

  2. Sarah Peterson Says:

    Can’t wait to see more American companies taking up this trend! It’s about time and totally cute!

  3. iinekore Says:

    god, that is beautiful. many thanks for pointing out that book and the links.

  4. john hopper Says:

    A beautiful and well timed piece. In the UK there is a general move, though still on a small scale, to recycle excess items within the community which could be anything from furniture, old TVs, to greenhouses and rubble. It is called Freecycle and is very much web based. I’m sure most other countries have set up similar systems. Whether they are flourishing because of the present economic crisis and will falter when things pick up, is unknown, though I would like to think that it was a ground swell movement.

    As to textiles specifically, one of the main problems is the mass export of cheap clothing from China. In many respects the Chinese government, along with western retailers, is encouraging the adoption of a throwaway clothing culture. It has got to the point in the UK where charity shops can no longer compete with new clothing. A £5 note could buy one top in a charity shop, but buy three new ones because of cheap imports. We are actively being persuaded to wear clothing for a few months and then throw it away

    It seems a depressing trend, but perhaps we can do something by being aware of how much we really need to buy, rather than how much we are encouraged to buy. Some sections of the UK retail market have nearly ground to a halt because of the caution of consumers, so it is possible to change things if we choose.

    It will be interesting to see in the coming months and years, whether we, as consumers, really are in control of our consumer society.

  5. John Meyers Says:

    Lindsay that is a great piece- as usual- and John Hopper, a nicely thoughtful response.
    Boros have always seemed like fantastic blue patina-ed modern paintings. Sometimes I think there are just too many pieces of mending on one textile, but then when it happens to you, when you have to patch some jeans, you know that once you start, that base material is going to need another and another and another patch very quickly! I love that history.
    Another recent book came out about it:
    http://www.ideabooks.nl/index.php?op=full&title=24312&what=c&u=&page=40
    and in our own book we did a take on Boro- you can see a bit of the 3 spreads here:
    http://warymeyers.com/warymeyerstossed.html

    Long live the repair shop.

  6. Jim Austin Says:

    Please look at this link for addition examples of Japanese boro textile folk art from the late 1800s to the early 1900s:

    http://www.kimonoboy.com/catalog.html?category=Sold_Boro

  7. LB Says:

    Those are pretty gorgeous.

  8. If Dubai was made of denim « Says:

    […] this technique ever since, but I haven’t found the right project.  Then a few months ago Ouno had a great post about recycled japanese textiles. Also, this girl on the Sartorialist caught my […]

  9. Boro + Sashiko – The Art of Mending | Says:

    […] Japanese boro (futon cover), 19th century by recycling remnants of indigo dyed cotton- courtesey of Ounodesign. […]

  10. kristian kofoed Says:

    Hi

    I’m interested in Boro and sashiko, and in “mending stitchery” generally. I’m a beginner so any tips or other websites would be very helpful.

    Thanks.

    Kristian

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