My Father’s Jeans: The Story Behind My Boro-inspired Jacket

The last time I visited my father, in January of last year, I noticed a pile of folded jeans in a corner.

It turned out that these were worn-out jeans that my dad kept around just in case. He loved upcycling, and always found good uses for torn jeans. He used them to patch other pieces of clothing, for example, or to bind books. These jeans were one of many types of raw materials he kept around, for as-need-arises future use.

I had some free time that visit, and my hands felt empty. So I asked if I could have a piece of one of those jeans. I wanted to have some fabric to stitch on, to keep my fingers busy. My father gave me the entire pile.

I started working on a boro project, and kept working on it after I returned home, too. I decided to make a boro-style tote bag, and got as far as this:

Then, in March, my father passed away without warning. Just like that, the tattered pants he gave me turned from useful raw materials into sacred relics.

The boro project I began working on while visiting him moved to my Unfinished Project Pile and stayed there. The yet-unused pile of my father’s jeans remained on my cutting table, untouched, for several months.

I couldn’t look at them. Definitely couldn’t touch them. I could barely do anything at all anyway. Eventually, I exiled them to a far corner of my sewing room.

Several months later, my mom asked me to make her a small essentials pouch. I was happy to oblige. Once I started, I decided to add a small piece of my father’s jeans, one I had already cut out for the boro-patch project. I thought my mom would like to carry something of my dad’s with her. Even though I knew perfectly well that he was always with her anyway, as he is with me.

My mom was happy with her bag, and let me borrow it a few times when I visited her. That got me thinking…

As the year anniversary of my father’s passing drew near, I embarked on the most ambitious boro project I have ever attempted.

I cut and took apart some of my father’s jeans.

For color variation, I added darker pieces from my husband’s and son’s torn pants, as well as pieces of vintage Japanese fabric I bought in Nara when I visited Japan a couple of years ago. I also threw in some fabric from my stash.

I started to think of it as a family-love project, and wanted to add pieces from my daughters’ jeans as well. As it turned out, however, all the worn-out girl pants I had contained stretch, and were therefore unsuitable for a jacket. So I stuck with fabric salvaged from clothing belonging to my three favorite boys (I would have added something from my brother, too, except I didn’t have any).

I sewed and stitched for days on end. Since my hands still hurt from stitching Lavender Morning (as well as from a lot of spring pruning I did at the same time), I made sure not to over do it. I stitched a bit each day, measuring my work not in minutes or hours, but rather in stitches and patches. Hand stitching is a quiet, meditative work. It is medicine for aching hearts. In the year that passed since my father passed away, it really helped me grieve and restrain the pain. I savored every moment of it.

The anniversary of my dad’s passing drew near, and with every passing day my boro jacket was a bit closer to completion. Then, just on time, it was finished.

I don’t need a jacket to remind me of my father. He is in my thoughts constantly, every single day. But it will be nice, on the anniversary of his death, a few short days from now, to have something physical to cuddle. To have something of his embrace me.

Heavy and warm, this jacket will wrap me in a big hug. A big hug from the three most important men in my life: my son, my husband and my father.


22 thoughts on “My Father’s Jeans: The Story Behind My Boro-inspired Jacket”

  1. My mother passed away May 2017. I still have not cut into any of her items. Her death shook me more than I realized. This has given me inspiration to maybe start a similar project with her clothing. Thank you.

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. The death of a parent really shakes the foundation of our world, doesn’t it? I totally understand why you couldn’t touch her clothes. Give yourself all the time you need. When you’re ready, you might find solace in making something similar to this. It helped me. Especially the slow stitching part, which slowed down time and let me be close to the fabric with ample time to think…

  2. I was very moved by your story.
    What a lovely way to remember your Dad and imagine how happy he would have been to know you would keep this memory of him.
    I like to darn things and you can be creative with that also
    I attempted Boro stitching during Lockdown and found it very satisfying.
    It would appear that those making garments in Japan were using string for sewing pieces together.
    I think that everyone should learn to sew especially in this time of Covid.
    Who knows where some stitching might lead to.
    Keep us inspired.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! Boro stitching is fun, as is darning. I am happy to hear that you,too, have found comfort in it during Lockdown. I agree that everyone should know how to sew. One never knows when it will come in handy…

  3. what a marvelous thing to read, and see ~ a tangible “chapter” of your life! The photos are equally a joy – the design/pattern shape of your jacket looks as if you combined Kimono and Haori shapes, or made your own pattern! Bravo.

  4. What an amazing journey you undertook. I have recently discovered boro stitching and find it a great mindfulness tool. Your jacket is fabulous. Did you follow a pattern for the jacket itself? I’ve been thinking about making a jacket to showpiece some of the Japanese fabrics I’ve got. I make a lot of Japanese table runners, place mats and quilts which I incorporate boro into. I’ve even added it to bags that I’ve made for that little extra touch of individuality.. I love the different types of textiles used by the Japanese.
    The shape of your jacket looks wonderful.

    1. Hi Jo! It’s really wonderful that you use boro in so many ways! It’s fun, and the results are very pleasing 🙂
      I wrote a blog post about the actual making of the jacket, if you’d like to take a look. I think all your questions will be answered there. It’s called “The making of a Boro-inspired jacket,” and you can search for it on my blog. If you have questions after reading it, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer.

  5. Your story was very emotional for me too, like many of your followers. My husband passed away in 2019, also very suddenly. It has taken me a long while to come to terms with his loss, and like you, I find solace in textile creations. I only wish that I had kept more of his clothing instead of giving it away to charity. He had lots of jeans and plaid shirts which would have made some great Boro-style wearable and useful things for family members and me. I am so happy for you and your Mum being able to share something of your father’s created by your love and creativity. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    1. I am so sorry for your loss, Paula. Grief is a long, slow process, and the pain is deep. It’s good that you found solace in textiles. I am a true believer in their healing power, and in the calming, meditative magic of slow stitch. Be kind to yourself, and forgiving, too.
      I understand your regret about giving clothes away. Maybe there’s some comfort in the knowledge that they kept other people warm and clothed. Helping each other in these challenging times is important, too. Sending good thoughts your way, and wishing you a creative 2022.

  6. This beautiful story moved me to tears this morning, thank you for sharing. It’s so important to honour the grieving process to help us heal from the pain of loss and you expressed this with such delicacy and feeling.
    I loved the bag and jacket you made . Happy sewing and sending love, Lindy

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