The Making of a Boro-inspired Jacket

My boro-inspired top was my first-ever attempt at making a jacket. It was both easier and harder than I expected.

I already wrote about why I wanted to make this jacket, and what it means to me. Many people asked me about the making process, however, so today I want to share the technical details: the steps I followed, the many mistakes I made along the way, and what I learned from them. I hope this post will inspire you to make your own jacket!

The Pattern

I knew I wanted to make a kimono-style jacket, so I started by combing Pinterest for inspiration and patterns.

I quickly realized that classic kimonos are made out of simple rectangles sewn together. Some have narrowing sleeves, and that’s what I decided to go for. For the body, instead of the regular, straight rectangle cut, I chose an A-shaped one (also typical to classic kimonos), hoping it would be slightly less boxy.

The Measurements

For measurements, I took a few of my store-bought jackets out of my closet and measured them with a measuring tape. I was surprised to discover that although they were all the same stated size, their actual measurements varied greatly. Yet, they all fit, somehow. So I settled on a specific width somewhere in the middle (measured from underarm to underarm), and spent some time calculating the rest. My daughter suggested making the sleeves extra long, so they could be folded. I therefore added a few inches to the sleeve length.

The Foundation

I cut and sewed the entire piece out of a pretty flannel-like fabric I had in my stash, to create a foundation layer. That was my canvas.

The Patching

My sewing room wasn’t big enough for this project, and therefore for the next several days I took over our living room floor. I lay the foundation piece down, and started arranging patches over it, much like I did with my artsy pouches. I used mostly pieces from tattered pants belonging to family members, but also added a few vintage Japanese fabrics I bought in Nara, as well as matching bits from my stash. For the back, I chose a central panel I found at FabMo a while back.

When organizing the patches, I tried to balance the colors, tones and patterns as I do with a quilt or bag. Once I was happy with an arrangement, I pinned the pieces down.

I went on doing this for several days, arranging, moving, rearranging. Finally, I finished covering the entire foundation, and was satisfied with how it looked.

I moved the entire mess out from the living room and back into my sewing corner, to my family’s great relief!

The Sewing

The next stage was machine sewing the patches down onto the foundation fabric. That was when I realized my first mistake. I secured most patches on with one or two pins. When I tried to put the large mass of fabric on my sewing table, I had to fold it into a bundle so it would fit. The patches folded and moved, and the pins caught other pieces/layers creating a huge, uncontrollable blob of very heavy fabric…

Untangling the whole thing took quite some time, and was accompanied by words unfit for print…

If I were to ever do this again, I wouldn’t sew a foundation for the entire garment. Rather, I would cut and patch each individual piece separately, before putting them together in the end. Also, I would probably use safety pins, and more than one or two per patch…

I sewed and zigzagged around every single patch, much as I did with the artsy pouches. When all the patches were securely fastened onto the foundation, I embarked on the fun part of the project: hand stitching.

Hand Stitching

I used both pearl cotton thread and embroidery floss, and covered the patches with a web of Sashiko-style stitches. I took my time with this, doing a bit each day. My hands still hurt from stitching through the thick fabrics of my latest art quilt (and from lots of spring pruning), so I didn’t want to over-do it. I stitched for about a week and a half, enjoying the quiet moments, the meditative nature of the slow work…

The hard part was deciding when to stop. Which patches needed more stitching? When is enough enough? Can there be too many stitches?

The Lining

When I started this project, I wasn’t planning to make a lining. I thought that the foundation layer would function as the inside of the garment. That’s why I chose a nice fabric for that. But as I was working, I realized that the inner fabric doesn’t go too well with the outer layer. Also, it didn’t look great with all the stitches visible. So I decided to add a separate lining, and happened to have the perfect fabric for that: a beautiful red cotton with an Indian-like pattern.

Taking a break from stitching, I cut and sewed the lining. I tried it on, and … nearly had a heart attack! When my arms were up, you see, it was absolutely perfect. But when I put my hands down, the sleeves under the armpits scrunched terribly!

I calmed down only after consulting with fellow-sewists in some of my Facebook groups, when I realized that that’s just the way it is with kimonos…

Were I to do this again, I would consider a more fitted, Western-style sleeve, to eliminate some of that bulk. This is less noticeable with thin fabrics such as silk, and more so with thicker fabrics.

Putting It All Together

I could hardly sleep the night before I sewed it together. I was excited and anxious all at once. In the morning, I drank enough coffee to make sure I’m fully awake, then pinned everything together with shaking hands. I didn’t stop to take pictures. Putting the outer layer and lining right sides together, I sewed as if this were a bag. With lots of experience attaching bags to linings, I thought I knew what I was doing… I left a “birthing” space as I would in a bag, and turned the entire thing right side out.

That was when I discovered that jackets can’t be sewn like bags, and that I made a big mess out of it… I almost laughed, it was really quite ridiculous! Except I was too upset and almost cried…

Were I to do this again, I wouldn’t assume a jacket can be sewn like a bag… I would do my homework first, and learn how to attach a lining to a jacket BEFORE actually trying it…

Seam Ripper to the rescue. He was my best buddy that morning. We spent a LONG time together, he and I.

I ended up sewing the sleeve ends together by hand. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it right on the machine, and it was quicker that way. It also felt like I had more control.

Were I to do this again, I would certainly make sure I know how to do this correctly BEFORE I actually start… Spending a little time on research would have saved me the LONG time I spent unpicking…

Still, I finished my new jacket! It feels solid and heavy. The lining feels great on the skin. It’s warm! And it has long sleeves I can fold, to give it the cute look my daughter wanted it to have.

Things I’d Improve

Were I to do it again, I would change the shape of the collar to a straight line or a “v.” The collar as is sits a bit strange. I would also add a pocket or two. I decided against pockets as I was designing it, mostly because I didn’t want to detract from the patches and the Sashiko stitching. However, I regretted that decision the very first time I wore it… Lastly, I would make the jacket a little bit wider (underart to underarm). It fits me perfectly, but is too small for my daughters, who are just slightly bigger than me, eliminating future hand-me-down options…

This jacket took almost two weeks to make, but I really enjoyed the process, not to mention the end result. I hope it inspires you to make one for yourself! If you do, make sure to show me a picture!

 

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.

 

Boro: The Japanese Art of Mending That is Hard to Find in Japan

On my recent trip to Japan, I found art where I didn’t expect it, yet didn’t find the art I expected to see everywhere.

Boro, the Japanese art of mending, and its twin art of Sashiko (decorative stitching), are very popular among textile artists in the West. Many non-Japanese artists throughout the world, myself included, now incorporate the art of patching and restorative hand-stitching into their work.

I made this journal cover, for example, using some simple Boro-style patching and stitching:

Nowadays, clothing using some elements of Boro and Sashiko are making a comeback into the world of high-end fashion. Boro-style items are selling for hundreds of dollars. Original antique Japanese pieces of patched cloth can go for thousands of dollars.

It was only natural, therefore, that, before going to Japan, I assumed I will see Boro everywhere. That did not turn out to be the case.

When we arrived in Japan, we had only one day in Tokyo before heading out to other destinations. I vaguely knew there was a museum dedicated to Boro in Tokyo, but assumed there would be many such museums in other parts of the country, too. We therefore used the few hours we had in the capital to visit other sites. I later realized, that one of them was painfully close to the museum…

Sadly, for the duration of our subsequent nearly month-long trip, I did not come across any other Boro museums, nor could I find any on the internet. Not only that, but I haven’t seen Boro anywhere. I didn’t see it in any of the numerous big and small museums we visited, including several crafts museums. Nor in gallerias, tourist shops or artisan villages. Certainly not on the streets, on any of the thousands of well-dressed Japanese we encountered.

Only in our very last stop, in the tourist-oriented part of the old capital of Nara, did I see a hint of Boro. It appeared on the outfits of two delightful Oni (=demons) that decorated (or maybe guarded?) a high-end clothing boutique:

(Despite what the sign says, I did ask–and received–explicit permission to take pictures of these dolls :-))

On the same street, by the way, I also found the only artist atelier that sold patterns and clothing using Sashiko:

So, why isn’t Boro more prominent in Japan, it’s birth place, despite being so popular in the West?

I believe the answer is that Boro was the child of poverty, and as such is still associated with destitution in Japan.

The imperial family and the upper classes never wore patched clothing. They cloaked themselves in expensive silks and exquisite textiles. The lower classes, on the other hand, not only could not afford silk, but, in the Edo Period (1600-1868) were actually banned from wearing it.

The poor could barely afford even the cheaper fabrics, which were still expensive. They had to make the rare garments they had last long. When clothes or blankets started wearing thin, they had no choice but to mend them with any bits and pieces they could put their hands on. Winters in Japan are cold. Poor families had to make do with what they had, passing valuable patched garments from one member of the family to another, sometimes from one generation to the next.

The people who created Boro didn’t use silks and high-end textiles. They used the cheaper hemp, linens and, later, cottons that were available to the working class and the poor. Most of the fabrics they had came in shades of indigo. This is why we now associate Boro with that color.

The word “Boro” itself means “tattered” or “ragged.” Wearing Boro-ed clothes wasn’t the result of aesthetics. It was a necessity. And as such it marked the wearer as a member of the lower, poor classes.

Japanese today don’t wear Boro (unless they can afford some of its high-end, modern-day manifestations). Museums don’t show it because it’s not a traditional art form that the culture is proud of. Modern artisans are more likely to practice Sashiko or Shibori (textile dyeing), which they see as more “artistic.” And so, although Boro is all the hype among textile artists and consumers in the West, it is mostly absent in its homeland.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t appreciate it. The authentic, old Boro clothing were made over a long period of time, and were often a collaborative effort. People added patches and stitches whenever they needed to fix something. Sometimes a garment passed through several hands and even several generations, with many people adding to it. And even the poor did their best to mend beautifully, resulting in artistic stitching. Many of these old garments are, indeed, works of art, even if their makers didn’t see them as such.

This jacket, which I found on pinterest, is but one example:

If you’re interested in Boro and are planning to visit Japan, do go to the only Boro museum in the country. If the rumors I heard are correct, you should hurry, as the museum might be shutting down soon… I now know that you can also find Boro in flee markets throughout the country. Regrettably, I didn’t get to visit any, but perhaps you will have better luck!