Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

I have recently been fascinated with the historic Japanese textiles known as boro.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending, and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

Boro exhibit at the Amuse Museum in Tokyo

Authentic Japanese boro

Boro means, literally, “tatters.” These were made by repurposing carefully saved garment pieces and other handspun and indigo-dyed fabrics. They were sewn together as a patchwork built up from many layers providing extra warmth.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending,and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

The example below was dyed using a simple shibori technique. I showed several ways to do shibori dying here recently.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending,and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

If this example were still in use, it would have been patched with another fabric over the tattered right middle section.

The Japanese used these unique textiles for utilitarian items such as futon covers, field clothing, sheets, and more. Including the interesting relics known as donja or yogi. These curious boromono were quilts constructed in a kimono shape and worn by parents and children together while sleeping.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending,and Boro-Inspired Patchwork


Makers used careful patching and sometimes intricate stitching to craft these textiles, mending the same item many times over many generations.

Boro origins

This accidental art form was born of necessity in Northern Japan. Peasants started making them during the Edo (1603-1868) period. Japan was closed to trade and under sumptuary laws at this time. These laws restricted clothing choices for the lower classes and forbade silk, bright colors, and large patterns.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending,and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

In addition, as explained by Kat Siddle in the August 2016 issue of Seamwork Magazine:

“Industrialized fabric production didn’t reach Japan until the 1870s. Cotton, linen and hemp were spun, woven, and dyed by hand. Cloth was a precious resource that represented huge amounts of labor, and even scraps had value. Even after mechanized mills were built near Osaka, the fabric produced there was too expensive for many people to afford, and they continued to weave their own yardage for clothing and household items. Cotton was particularly scarce in northern Japan, where it was too cold for it to grow.”

So peasants pieced and patched their indigo-dyed fabrics and saved every usable scrap of cotton for reuse in these boro items and garments.

Generations of history

Since these pieces include fabrics saved and repaired over many generations, each piece is rich with family history and memories. The homespun and indigo-dyed patchwork acquired a specific patina with age and antique boro cloths can be awe-inspiring when seen up close and in person today.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending, and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

This special and breathtaking beauty and historical significance takes several generations and a great many years to develop. So you could say that it is not possible to create new, authentic boro today- at least, not without also waiting about a hundred years!

Sashiko stitching

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending,and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

photo courtesy Sake Puppets

Japanese ladies began carefully piecing homespun and indigo-dyed natural fabrics together into boro during the Edo period using the distinctive and decorative stitches that later became known as sashiko. This art is still practiced today.

To work sashiko, you need a long needle and thick thread. You can order sashiko needles and sashiko thread from Japan, but if you don’t want to wait for long-distance shipping, you can make do with a long cotton darning needle.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending, and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

To substitute for sashiko thread, try perle cotton, which DMC makes in several thicknesses, both on spools and in skeins. Or you can just use regular embroidery floss.

Sashiko stitching can be as simple as straight and long running stitches, or it can be challenging and complex. It can be sparse or dense. There are many traditional patterns to choose from. But sashiko allows individual creativity, and you can invent your own sashiko patterns, too. Here’s a tutorial from Sake Puppets to help you.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending,and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

Simple crossed sashiko stitches, photo courtesy GinaPina

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending, and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

This antique piece at the Amuse Museum in Tokyo is a wonderfully dense and detailed example of sashiko stitching.

Boro mending

You can borrow from boro and use this style of mending today. Boro-inspired mending uses the same techniques and shares the same sentiment of mottainai, or “too good to waste.”

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending,and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

Boro mended jeans and photo by Heather, via Flickr

Boro jeans mending is currently popular right now, thanks in part to Ralph Lauren and other fashion designers who have featured several boro-inspired denim collections within the last decade. So if you have any torn jeans, you can use boro techniques to mend them into something more stylish. Here’s a nice tutorial that will help you to do this.

Feel free to feature your boro patches on either the inside or outside of your jeans; they look interesting and stylish done either way. Also, don’t limit yourself to jeans; you can use boro mending to repair canvas shoes, a bag, jacket, hat, or any other item of clothing you choose.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending, and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

It’s not quite as easy as you’d think it would be. I’m not happy with these stitches at all and will rip them out and try again!

Boro-inspired patchwork

Yoshiko Wada, who popularized shibori in America, wrote an entire book about boro. I think that she would disagree with the notion that you can’t make new boro today.

She says that she uses the term “to define a new aesthetic and to bring new meaning to an alternative creative process, e.g., darning = healing, meditative action = marking time, reuse/repair = recording history. “Boro” represents the transformation of inconsequential material to something precious and valuable… This type of imperfect beauty possesses a power that resonates with people almost like an emotional barometer. It points to an alternative value of “beauty” slowly coming to surface in our social consciousness.”

In any case, you can certainly make boro-inspired patchwork now.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending,and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

This modern day version of a boro quilt, photographed by GinaPina and made by Vessel Quilts, achieves an antiqued and authentic look through the use of rust and indigo dyes.

Choosing your palette

In making your own, you can choose to limit yourself to the authentic original palette of indigo-dyed natural fabrics.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending, and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

Or you can add in more neutrals, browns, blacks, or even a few reds for an extra pop of color.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending, and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

Machine sashiko

If hand stitching isn’t your thing, you can construct boro-inspired patchwork the same way you would make strip patchwork. Then you can embellish with machine stitching over these seams, using a simple zigzag or a more decorative stitch. You could even get amazing and more authentic looking results if you invest in a Baby Lock Sashiko sewing machine.

What will you make?

You could make a boro-inspired quilt, a pillow or cushion, or a small or large boro bag.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending,and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

Boro bag with sashiko stitching by Jacque Davis

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending, and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

You could echo boro’s traditional uses by making a futon cover or coat. Or construct part of or an entire garment from your modern boro patchwork. Here’s my boro board on Pinterest, too, in case you’d like more info, inspiration, and ideas than I could fit into this post.

Authentic Japanese Boro, Boro Mending, and Boro-Inspired Patchwork

I made the pieces pictured above to sew a small kinchaku drawstring bag. I also think this kind of patchwork would look great as a bento, or azuma bukuro, bag. Both of these linked projects would be quick, useful, and satisfying ways to play with and use boro-inspired patchwork.

I’ll show you what I’ll make from my other panels soon. In the meantime, if you are even half as intrigued by this textile art as I am, then I recommend that you experiment and play with it because it’s fun! Happy sewing!

Thanks to na0905 for taking photos of the Boro exhibit at the amazing Amuse Museum in Tokyo, and for sharing these at Flickr with the lovely Creative Commons license. Thanks to GinaPina, Heather, and Jacque Davis for making their photos available this way, too.

Fix Your Own Pants

Fix Your Own Pants

As many of you probably know, I work as a tailor and pattern maker for film and television in New York City. I don’t always work on the same show or at the same studio. I’m also, now that I’m old(er) a bit more particular about what projects I say yes to and who I work with.

I’ve got a few fitting related pet peeves like, for instance, when a dress comes back from the fitting room with a note that simply reads: Drop in a Lining or the ever infamous and popular: Take in as pinned (if I didn’t pin it myself). These are just minor annoyances though, compared to the phenomenon of people from other departments (accounting, grip, director, props, whatever) showing up in my sewing space – without ever having met me before – and asking if I can just fix their pants or take in this skirt.


First of all, no. I can’t just anything because (1) I’m actually working on something for the show we’re both doing and (2) I don’t want to. Especially if your pants fix involves a worn out crotch (and even if it doesn’t). I don’t randomly show up in the accounting office and ask someone to add my receipts together when they get a chance, or ask one of the props people to rewire an old lamp I bought at the last set dressing sale, or ask the director of photography to take some pictures of me for my tinder profile or something because I’m just not talented enough to take my own. (I’m kidding about the tinder profile thing). And I certainly don’t throw in some disclaimer like I always wished I learned how to take a proper photo.

You’ve got to know when its time to let a thing go.

Sometimes the person will preface their ask with so and so (insert the name of someone else in my department) told me I should ask you. This is even more perturbing if that someone else hasn’t actually sent a text or something asking me if it’s ok to send that person over to me to ask a favor.

It’s not me – it’s you

Fix Your Own Pants

It’s not that I mind doing favors. I really don’t. I do favors for people I like and know all the time. I’ll even do favors for people who I don’t know if they ask nicely and genuinely – and especially if they offer to compensate me in some way (beer!). But if you show up with some blue cotton harem pants with a thread bare bottom that you want repaired when I’m in the middle of cutting down the neckline of a velvet top that is needed on set in about twenty minutes and the first thing out of your mouth is X told me I could have you to do this I’m never going to do it. Your sad pair of pants is going to hang on my work rack until this show wraps.

Why? Because you, whoever you are, you didn’t tell me your name or what you do on this little show of ours, and I’m quite certain that the only person who can have me do anything is the Costume Designer. So, there’s that. Second, if the back of your pants is worn out in the butt area, it might just be time to buy a new pair of pants. You’ve got to know when its time to let a thing go. Seriously, why would you think that someone you don’t even know would want to be that up close and personal with that particular area of your clothing?? I don’t care if they’re clean and, yes, I’ve taken in a countless number of center backs for actors but I’m getting paid to do that. The crotch of your pants? Um, no.

A healthy dose of humility

I personally would be embarrassed to take my worn threadbare butt pants to someone I didn’t know to fix. I honestly don’t understand it. Maybe someone could shed some light on this for me?

I think what upsets me the most about this type of favor-asking is the assumption that I’m not busy doing something else that is important for the show. It’s as if people think I’m just hanging round twiddling my thumbs just waiting for someone to turn up with their personal alteration request so I can sew something.

Anyway. Rant over. I’m going to go upstairs now and see if the accounting department can get an early start on my taxes for next year. I’m sure they’re not doing anything else of importance.

What’s your big sewing related rant?

Fast and Easy Way to Hem Pants

Fast and Easy Way to Hem Pants

My fast and easy way to hem jeans & pants.

My fast and easy way to hem jeans & pants.

I’m barely over 5’ tall. It used to be that clothing companies made pants in “short” lengths to accommodate people of my stature. More and more often now, though, I’m finding that clothing companies, particularly jeans producers, make pants in “regular” and “tall.” I’m not sure why they think all the short (or as I prefer to call it, concentrated awesome) people no longer need pants, but there you have it. As you can imagine, this leaves me with the choice of either patching jeans and pants until there’s nothing left to them, or buying clothes that are too long and hemming them. Hemming something I’ve paid money for ticks me off, so I want to get it done and over with quickly. I developed a fast and easy way to hem jeans and pants.


Find a pair of pants that are a length you like. These will act as your template or guide. Lay them flat and smooth. If possible, I suggest pinning them down to keep them flat. Next, turn the pair of pants you’re going to hem inside out. Lay them on top of the pants that are the correct length.

Let’s begin

Choose a place on the leg of the pants where you’ll be okay with seeing a line. I often opt for the upper thigh. In that spot, pull the leg of the pants that are too long up, gathering the extra fabric in a straight fold that goes around the entire leg as you go. When the pants are the right length, pin this fold so that it comes directly out from the leg itself. Do this on both legs.

Almost done…

Sew around the fold to create your shortened pants, then cut off the extra fabric. Whip stitch around the cut edge for extra strength in the seam and reassurance that it won’t split apart while you’re wearing your new pants. Again, do the same thing on both legs.


Hemmed pants, perfect for your height – no measuring or marking required. This is one of my favorite “sewing cheats” because it’s so quick and helps me buy pants and jeans affordably, even clothing companies no longer feel the need to cater to people my size. Give it a try next time you need to hem pants and let me know what you think!

The Best Heavy Duty Sewing Machine: A Buyer's Guide to Value

The Best Heavy Duty Sewing Machine: A Buyer’s Guide to Value

What is the best heavy duty sewing machine? I’ve been looking at these machines for a while now, and I have formed some strong opinions on this subject.

The Best Heavy Duty Sewing Machine: A Buyer's Guide to Value

I sure need one. Twice now, I broke and caused expensive repairs to regular sewing machines by using them to sew projects that were too thick. Once it was a heavily pocketed and quilted bag (and piping! I should have known better). And the other was when I was experimenting on a new dog collar design and tried to sew too many layers of thick webbing and embroidered trim.

I have several project ideas that I have not been able to make yet because I don’t dare to without a heavy duty machine. After carefully shopping these, I have decided there are a couple of clear choices for which heavy duty sewing machine is best to buy. One is simply the best heavy duty sewing machine period, and the other is the best value economy option.

The best heavy duty sewing machine

In my opinion, the Janome HD3000 is the best heavy duty home sewing machine on the market.

It is no secret that I love and trust Janome. I have never had any problem with a Janome machine other than the ones I caused myself, as mentioned above. And Janome has been making and improving on this model for more than 20 years now, so I know they have got it exactly right. Plenty of people are still sewing on those decades old machines today; they are high-quality machines that are built to last.

The HD3000 has so many features, functions, & stitches that it is a perfect choice for a primary machine.

The HD3000 has so many features, functions, & stitches that it is a perfect choice for a primary machine.

The HD3000 has so many features, functions, and stitches that it is a perfect choice for a primary machine. I am sure I would use it regularly for all kinds of sewing, rather than keeping it covered until I have a heavy duty type project.

Here is just a partial listing of the Janome HD3000 features and included accessories:

  • Built-in needle threader
  • Horizontal, drop-in bobbin
  • Snap-on presser feet
  • 18 stitches
  • One-step buttonholer
  • 7 piece feed dogs
  • Drop feed
  • Free arm
  • Extra-high presser foot lift
  • 5mm maximum stitch width, 4mm maximum stitch length
  • Blind hem foot
  • Overedge foot
  • Hemmer foot
  • Quilting bar
  • Hard cover

If you want the best heavy duty sewing machine, then you want to buy this one.

The best value economy choice

I also want a coverstitch machine, an embroidery machine, and I need a new serger. So, like with most of my buying, I need to make an economy choice and spend less money on my heavy duty sewing machine. I think the best value choice is a Toyota Super Jeans machine.

While these machines are not labeled as heavy duty sewing machines, they actually are. They are built to sew through up to twelve layers of denim. Denim is about as tough as fabric gets, so I know these machines will handle whatever I need them to sew.

The gliding foot that comes with these is really neat; it automatically adjusts when sewing layers of different thicknesses and makes for easy sewing on bulky projects.

I might have said that I wouldn’t buy any sewing machine except one made by Janome, but that was before I knew that Toyota makes sewing machines. Just as I have been loyal to Janome for buying sewing machines, I have been loyal to Toyota for buying cars. I know well from experience that Toyota offers superior quality and reliability at a good value.

The Toyota Production System

My trust in Toyota goes beyond my experience with their vehicles; I trust their production system and even use parts of it myself. When I wrote about productivity here, I mentioned the kanban system and that it comes from the system of kaizen. I did not mention this then, but kaizen is just one part of a larger system known as the Toyota Production System, or TPS.

Toyota pays careful attention to all steps in their manufacturing and other systems to ensure quality, efficiency, and value. It is a system that works so well that the system itself has become famous. This is why I know I can trust anything made by Toyota.

Any of the Super Jeans machines make an excellent choice for a heavy duty sewing machine. They each include utility and decorative stitches; a generous accessory package; and a 2-year warranty on the motor, wiring, light assembly, switches, and speed controls (and 5 years on the sewing machine head). You can also get an extension table for these to help with sewing large projects.

The J15 is the most economy model. It has 15 programs with 11 utility and 4 decorative stitches. It does not have a stretch stitch.

The J17 has 17 programs: 13 utility, 2 stretch, and 2 deco stitches.

The J34 is the luxury model in this Toyota line, and performs 34 programs, including 15 standard and 19 stretch and decorative stitches.

While the Janome HD3000 is the best heavy duty sewing machine to buy, I’ll be saving some money and going with what I think is the best value option, the Toyota J34. I can’t wait to use it! Which one are you getting?

DIY Fun Jeans Project

DIY Fun Jeans Project

I think jeans are one of the most comfortable items in my wardrobe. They’re also a little boring. Sometimes I want to express myself while still enjoying the comfort of my favorite pair of jeans. With this awesome DIY jeans project, I can – and so can you.


DIY Fun Jeans Project

I’m not great at embroidery, but with the abundance of patches available in craft stores and online, I don’t have to be – and neither do you. Pick up patches in a variety of sizes. Any that you think are fun and express your personality. You may not use them all on one project. That’s okay.

Lay out the pair of jeans you’re going to spruce up and place patches to see what they’ll look like. Do one side at a time and sew them down with hand stitches. Don’t forget the waistline, pockets and cuffs. Well placed patches give jeans personality and character. Best of all, if that pair of jeans gets worn out or no longer fits, you can easily move them to another pair.

Contrasting Fabric

This is a great way to use up some of your fabric stash while making a great item for your wardrobe. Choose some contrasting fabric you really love. You should have about a yard or so of the fabric depending on how wide you plan to go with the next step.

Slit the jeans on the outside from the bottom of the cuff up the seam to about half way to the knee. Using a triangular piece of contrasting fabric as an insert, resew the seam edges on the fabric creating a flared bottom. The more fabric you use, the wider the flare will be. Do both legs if you want the jeans to be symmetrical or do just one leg to create a unique look.

Combine It

You can do either of these DIY jeans projects alone and wind up with a fabulous pair of jeans or you can combine them to create a pair of jeans like none other. I love both of these DIY projects because no special machinery or equipment is needed. Patches are inexpensive and I can use up some of my fabric stash.

If you give either of these DIY jeans projects a try, share the pictures of your results. I’d love to see them!