Tag Archives: crafting

Craft, culture and boro

Back in the winter, Pinterest lured me in with images of boro. At the time I had no real idea of what I was seeing only that I found it very attractive. If you get in there with a search engine, the internet will give you a lot of images of mostly denim patchwork, visible mending techniques and embroidery. As an enthusiastic needlecrafter and upcycler, this all had instant appeal. I dug in.

I like to have some idea of where things come from and what their significance is. Partly because I delight in such knowledge and partly because accidental cultural appropriation is not my idea of fun.  Here’s a brief synopsis of what I found out when I dug in. Boro means rags, and it is a tradition from Northern Japan, inspired by poverty and necessity, that takes what little fabric is available and keeps it in sound, wearable, protective condition. It fell out of favour after the second world war because of the poverty associations, but is having something of a renaissance. Of course traditionally it wasn’t done with denim but currently that seems to be the fabric of preference. There is also an embroidery tradition that goes with it, called sashiko.

We really need these kinds of traditions right now – we need the inspiration and to reclaim cultures of re-use. To take our throwaway culture towards something more sustainable we need to start valuing re-use, repairing, upcycling, and keeping whatever is usable in use. This of course is what poor people have always done, of necessity, and that’s part of the problem. While we see these techniques as being about poverty and insufficiency, many people will be actively put off them. Who wants to look poor? Who wants to do what poor people do? Affluence means discarding things whenever you like.  It means never looking shabby, or ragged, or even mended. We equate smartness with newness and wealth.

It will take a bit of a shift to see the value in what is old and repaired. But, there is a great deal of beauty and innovation in these traditions. Off the peg clothing is bland stuff that seldom lasts long. It means looking like everyone else and having limited scope for self expression. The upcycler on the other hand gets to play and make over, and has adventures in clothing unavailable to other people. There are plenty of things to find attractive here.

Over the coming few days I’m going to be writing a bit about my adventures with boro, so, watch this space. To be clear, I am not making boro – I’m using the wrong materials and the wrong tools. It’s not my cultural heritage, and my grasp of it at this point is fairly superficial. However, there’s a lot I’m excited about and inspired by, and there’s a world of difference between being inspired by something, and misrepresenting it by claiming to be doing it.

Totoro doorstop

A broken coffee pot, a bunch of fabric that might otherwise have gone to landfill. I bought the wool. And lo, a bunch of useless stuff becomes a Totoro doorstopper! This is my second go – the first one (visible in the background of the first few pictures) was built around the remains of a dead wind up torch. Tom did the facial features.

Frankenstein clothes

I tend to wear clothes until they die. Faded, stained, ripped, or going threadbare it’s often the case that by the time I want to retire an item, it has no re-use value to anyone else. This is what brought me to the joys of Frankenstein clothing. Sometimes, when an item is very dead, the answer is to cut it up for rag rugging. However, as fans of The Princess Bride know only too well, there’s a big difference between mostly dead, and all dead.

I’ve a number of skirts and tops that are a consequence of taking things that were mostly dead, and seeing what could be rescued. At time of writing, I’m doing my most overt take on this to date – Frankenstein’s T-Shirt. I have three t-shirts that my son has mostly killed, and have been removing bits of them and reassembling them into a single, undead t-shirt. There will be no attempt on this occasion to make it look anything other than like a fiendish cobbling together, and all being well, that will be a key part of its charm.

A lot of energy and resources go into the production of clothes, which we tend to treat as disposable. Anything that can be passed on, should be. For the rest, there are crafting options, and people like me who will take in mostly dead things and breathe uncanny new life into them. Also, if you’re learning to craft, the fabric from dead clothes is free of cost, and it doesn’t matter if you cock it up while learning. There are a number of traditional crafts – quilting, rag rugging, appliqué, that can happily turn your mostly dead things into lovely new things. So rather than throwing away a dead t-shirt, you get a no cost crafting opportunity and a whole new something.

The quest for pretty things

IMAG0354I live in a small flat, and it’s not a property innately full of character. Lots of little boxes, and when I first landed, lots of white walls, beige carpet and all the personality of a motel or travelodge. I’ve been working on improving that.

I like playing with fabric, it’s something I can do in my downtime that has little or no cost and some utility. I’ve also discovered that if I sit down to do some crafting, it gives me the necessary headspace to think about writing fiction. I can use it for breaks between scenes while I’m gathering thoughts, as an offset to block and a way of creating space for the writing. I’m seldom in a state where I can just sit down and write, and crafting helps with the transition. So, this was made alongside quite a lot of story.

The underpinning is a hessian sack (bought from the Stroud Valley’s eco-shop). To this I added blue and green background fabrics, and the patches of colour in the centre (fabric mostly sourced from freecycle). The leaves, flowers, trees and birds all came from swatches of curtain samples, picked up very cheaply (fabric shop in Mills Courtyard). I pinned all of this to my sack, sewed it down and embroidered the edges and the bird (there’s a fantastic haberdashery near Bank Gardens for embroidery silks). The frame is wool spun by Theo, which I knitted using an adaptation of her pointy scarf pattern.

It now adorns the back of the bedroom door, hanging from a door-towel-hook-thing, and the ‘pole’ across the top of the fabric, is a bound together bundle of aluminium slats from a cheap blind I picked up in order to Frankenstein it into a much more cheery Roman blind. I don’t waste much. I’m now plotting a second one of these hangings, to cover a glass door, and afford a bit more privacy for anyone staying over. My son was so enthused by the first one that he’s asked to be involved in the design and layout stage of the second, although he doesn’t have the needle skills for the sewing (yet) but is inclined to learn