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Boro Sashiko ぼろ刺し子

Have you heard about Boro Sashiko and wondered what it is? Well, seek no further!

You may have heard that boro means “rags” in Japanese. This is partly true. It comes from the gitaigo word boroboro ぼろぼろ which means untidy, messy, ratty, all over the place, etc. Gitaigo is a special concept that doesn’t exist in English - the Japanese language uses quasi-words that the Japanese believe symbolise what a concept might sound like if it actually had a sound. Cool, huh?

Boroboro is what they believe “ratty and untidy” would sound like if it had a sound!


So boro sashiko is... "untidy" sashiko?

Yes! Boro sashiko is still truly sashiko in the sense that it uses the running stitch in (usually) straight lines. The difference is that boro is considered a mending technique more-so than a decorative technique.


Where did it come from?

Consider what it would have been like for the merchants and tradespeople of Japan in the 1500’s. Life is tough, people are poor and damaged clothing can only be repaired rather than replaced.  In fact, damaged clothing would be repaired (and repaired, and repaired again) until it was no longer wearable and looked like it was a collection of patches rather than an original garment.

Only then would it be turned into rags.

Just like in this video, it is my personal experience that Japanese people generally do not have anywhere near as much of a single-use consumer mentality that the countries of the western world continue to exhibit. In fact, I have found that in the majority of homes I have visited over the past 3 decades, there has been a lot that is stored, mended, up-cycled or turned to rags before it is actually thrown away and this is due to some very strict rubbish and recycling rules that Japan places on its citizens. It is quite difficult to get rid of something in Japan without paying hefty fees for its removal!

Boro sashiko often uses patches

Boro is most commonly done using patches over a damaged area of cloth however, it can also be used to simply reinforce a fabric that does not yet have any holes. There is an old saying in Japan that if you have a scrap of cloth big enough to wrap three soybeans you should keep it. These scraps were used as the patches for damaged clothing.

Finding a garment that you no longer wear or patching a bag to improve the look can make it seem like new and inspire you to use the item for much longer than you ordinarily would.

up-cycling with boro sashiko

This phenomenon is largely a western concept. The Japanese traditionally used this as a mending technique and did not show off their boro clothing as things of beauty. Non-Japanese have taken a keen interest in the beauty of the patched together rags and stitches so much so that this has inspired many to apply boro sashiko many of their clothes, bags and jeans. 

Additionally, “boro-inspired” is a term that has been coined for the creation of goods and clothing that has been deliberately patched and stitched even though the original was not actually damaged nor up-cycled. There are some really stunning and unique boro-inspired works out in the embroidery world.

If you're looking for boro sashiko inspiration, there are some good places to start such as Pinterest (my Pinterest Boro board is here), and Instagram (use the hashtags #boro #borosashiko #ぼろ )


I have an "Up-cycling with Boro Sashiko" course in the coming months. Check the workshops page for further details.

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