Friday, October 22, 2010


When I first started collecting textiles Takashi was surprised that it was the ragged, patched and worn pieces that appealed to me most.  But of course I'm not alone and in the years since then it's been interesting to see the price of these so-called 'boro' pieces (usually old futon covers) soar.  'Boro' has become a fairly common term in the textile world but in Japanese it literally means 'rags' and traditionally has very negative connotations . Some people in the textile market in Japan still prefer not to use it as it implies the piece is rubbish and dirty and the term could be seen as an insult to the person who brought it along. More typically dealers would call these pieces 'ranru' a less negative word which can also be associated with patched Buddhist textiles. Takashi thinks it's probably in the last five or six years that 'boro' has become a more acceptable term, no doubt because of the growing popularity of these textiles with international dealers. There's still a lot I want to learn about the connotations of  these and other words used to describe this kind of textile and also how 'boro' came to be the standard term in English.

Here are some 'boro' pieces from my collection. The first is a  futon cover. It was too big to fit the whole thing in one photo so these are details:

This futon cover (futonji) is typical of boro pieces that have been patched and re-patched over a number of years with whatever remnants were available. Most of the pieces we see today probably date from the late 19th - mid 20th century. Throughout this period  there were many in Japan still living in  utter poverty. People might have only one piece of clothing that they wore both day and night and there were plenty who didn't  even have the relative luxury of a futon to patch. People bought what clothing they could second-hand  and every scrap of fabric was valued and re-used  to repair clothing and bedding like this or as cleaning cloths and nappies. The appeal of these pieces isn't only aesthetic (and their random stitching  and patching has a wonderful rustic charm) but in the way they are imbued with the history of ordinary people. 

The next piece is an old kimono  (you can click on the photos for a closer look)...


And finally a very old pair of western style men's trousers patched with indigo cottons.  A more familiar and less charming reminder that boro was about poverty, necessity and making do.


  1. I like this blog because I always learn something new. Some of the textures and colours in the patched pieces are quite inspiring. Thanks Jan !.


  2. Thanks Pete, I'm glad you're enjoying it.