Practical Boro and Sashiko

When I made this self-portrait in 2008, the robe I am wearing in the etching was already ten years old. I bought it at Nordstrom and it was the best robe I had ever owned. It is blue plush cotton velour, warm, soft and comfortable. But even the best clothing begins to fall apart after a certain moment. By the time of this image, the robe had a big hole in one of the pockets and one at the hem line.

For Christmas I was given a new robe. I tried to be grateful, but the truth was, it just wasn’t nearly as nice as the one I already had. It was then that I embraced Boro, although it would be years later that I first heard this term. I decided, as I returned the nice new robe to the store where it was purchased, that I would never ever buy a new robe, because there never ever could be one that compared to the one I have. I bought some felt in a similar blue color and patched the two large holes.

Since then I learned that the Japanese call their patchwork Boro. Originally a garment that begins to tatter and fray was patched for the simple reason that the family could not afford to purchase a new one. But, as with many things, the Japanese turned this ordinary activity into a high art.

This beautiful jacket is over 100 years old. I was given permission to publish it by a company in Japan that will sell it to you. Ironically, this fisherman’s tattered and torn coat is now worth well over $1000.

I have recently had a few more holes to patch on my own robe. Perhaps someday it will turn into a object of folk art, but for now it’s just my practical way to keep my garment alive and functioning.

This time when I mended the worn out parts I didn’t try to hide them. I like using felt as the patch, as it is very strong and does not unravel at the edges. They aren’t as decorative as the fisherman’s coat, but they serve their practical purpose.

During the last year I have made a certain number of wall hangings created from pieces of my eco-dyed fabric. Once they are sewn together, which is all done by hand, I add some decorative stitches.


My daughter, Emily, introduced me to another Japanese textile art form called Sashiko. It too was begun as a kind of practical mending stitch, but has developed into decorative and very formalized patterns used to embellish. I found an on-line class at Creativebug.com which taught me the basics.

Traditionally sashiko is done with white thread on blue fabric. It is very beautiful. More recently it has been adapted to moreĀ  eclectic western tastes.