Boro and Sashiko- The Japanese Art of Clothing RepairKate Stuart
Kate Stuart is a practicing artist, writer and craftswoman based in the North East of England. She specializes in up-cycling, zero waste living, quilting and painting with acrylics on canvas. She owns The Phoenix Green Store, which she hopes will become Newcastle upon Tyne’s first zero waste store. She is covering Fashion Revolution Week for No Serial Number Magazine, between 23rd – 29th April 2018.
This is the first in a six part blog series for Fashion Revolution Week, exploring ways to become more conscious about the clothes you choose to buy, as well as falling back in love with the ones you already have.
There was a time when a wooden darning mushroom would be an essential household item, used for darning holes in socks and patching trouser knees and shirt elbows. I have one that belonged to my grandmother, and probably her mother before her. It is soft, worn, and carries the presence of all the women whose hands held it before me to darn my ancestors socks and patch up their work clothes.
Clothes were patched and mended in times past because they had to be – make do and mend was, for most, a way of life rather than a lifestyle choice. As a society, we have since then, allowed the “new is best, old is rubbish, chuck it away” ethos to permeate our collective conscious to the point that now a ripped knee or threadbare elbow (or at least, one that isn’t there because it was manufactured so), can be death-knell for a garment which might otherwise have a much longer life to live, and “away” is a mythical place where stuff we don’t want congregates without impacting the planet. Yet in the textiles stories of so many cultures, mending and patching is a technique that not only provides longevity to a garment, but increases it’s aesthetic worth, and removes from the equation the need for space to put the things we no longer want, because they become the things that are valued, mended and therefore kept for longer.
In the Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi, the marks of wear add to an object’s story and whether that is the chipped vase holding flowers on the windowsill, or a favorite dress, the principle of accepting transience and imperfection is the same. An item that is valued enough to be repaired when broken, gains another chapter in it’s story, and a space to further embrace it’s imperfections. Boro, translated as rags or scraps of cloth, and a style of clothing repair once again gaining prominence, uses the stitching style known as sashiko, which literally means “little stabs”. It came into being as an economically necessary way to preserve and elongate the lifespan of clothing among the lower classes in Japan during the 18th and 19th centuries. The combination of patchwork patches and hand worked stitches that are not concerned with uniformity or perfection lend themselves so well to the Wabi Sabi ethos, and the idea of continuing the story of a garment with every new patch or darn.
We live in a time now where there is an overwhelming environmental necessity to produce less and to re-use what we already have – there is no getting around this – but fortunately, we are seeing a rise once more in what is termed the “make do and mend” culture. Rising up in the gentle way that so many craftivist movements do, visible mending is back on trend, and long may it continue.
I spoke to Diana Padwick, a craftswoman based in Cornwall whose business IsWas Cottage focuses on the repair, alteration and restoration of clothes, and the up-cycling of fabric into new garments and household textiles. Boro and sashiko techniques feature heavily in her work as she explains:
“[they are] a basic running stitch and can easily be done without expensive machinery, even by sewing beginners, wherever you are”
I asked Diana why she feels it’s important to repair clothes, and how she feels about about the current climate of fast fashion, in light of an environmental responsibility to use clothes for as long as we can – this is what she had to say:
“Knowing the effort taken to achieve what goes into, and the skills needed to make clothing has been belittled and lost over the last 50 years. The connection between each process hidden for the sake of profit.I am privileged to come from a family that trace their history through craftsmen, seamstresses and farmers. I understand and comprehend the cost, be it monetary, environmental or human in the processes. The tonnage of textiles already clogging the planet doesn’t need us buying valueless items, that will mean nothing by the next season, the charity shops have enough, the … world has enough. It is time we valued ‘stuff’ and recognize skill and creativity that clothes us.Caring for, altering and repairing clothing makes an outfit yours. No longer one of a million sameness, it puts your thread of history through the threads of the clothes, it nurtures memory, life, your life.” Diana Padwick, 17/04/2018.
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