2000 words critical review with illustrations
- Discuss some aspect of sustainability in contemporary textiles
- Relates to my own practice.
- Relate to contemporary artist that is committed to sustainability.
- Provide evidence of ability to
- understand significant issues
- research competently ( and Harvard Reference System)
- analyse material
- articulate ideas at an appropriate level
Boro and reused
Student number 510496
The Japanese term Boro means “tattered rags” and represents an historical textile process that I feel explores the concept of recycling, upcycling and to my mind, sustainable textiles in general. From the initial creation and with the ongoing repair these textile pieces constantly evolved to become old and worn but with great appeal. I believe it could be argued that these items, although created out of need rather than by design, were sustainably produced and relate to our modern day approaches to sustainability in textiles. Sustainability in textiles is a little different to our normal understanding of sustainability and in this context it considers the environmental impact of the raw materials and the processes and energy involved in the production. With regards to Boro textiles I believe it encapsulates the concept of reuse and recycling with the use of hemp fragments salvaged from clothing and its use of a low energy method of production for its creation.
As I progress through this review my focus will be to question the sustainability of Boro textiles in today’s context. Not in the sense of it being a textile technique to necessarily replicate but more as a question of how sustainable it is as a source of inspiration for textile artists. I will outline their place in Textile History and also explain a little about their attraction but the main focus will be how it relates to textile sustainability and examine its influence on textile artists and designers, including myself. Throughout my research I have studied the work of various textile artists and was surprised to find several visual references. I have decided to focus on the work of 4 Western artists, some of whom state Boro has had a direct influence and also 2 Japanese artists whose heritage has informed their contemporary interpretation.
The aesthetic of Boro is gaining popularity and enjoyed by Western Cultures who appreciate the textiles for their artistic appeal. It has been suggested by the editors
( Ref ; Koide, Yukiko, (eds.) (2008) Tsuzuki, Kyoichi Boro:– adapted from a monograph by Tanaka,Chuzaburo )
of “Boro; Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan” that Boro textiles are considered as works of art and having visited the Boro exhibition held at Somerset House I feel there is strong evidence to suggest this due to the gallery setting and the way in which they were displayed. These pieces of textile art appear highly collectable with purchase figures matching those of fine art. The history behind Boro is utilitarian but despite the high regard Boro now has it is still unfavorably looked upon in Japan today due to its associations with poverty. However, it is the connection to such humble beginnings that makes these quilts so fascinating. Boro originated from the rural snowy mountain northern area of Japan, where quilts of this nature were created out of necessity, as well as poverty, to survive the very harsh winters. The quilts are mainly constructed from home spun woven hemp with fragments of fine cotton fabrics interwoven and stitched into place in many layers. Cotton was not possible to grow in these colder parts so consequently hemp crops were planted as an alternative along with other bast fibres such as nettle, ramie and mulberry. As cotton was considered a luxury for the more affluent members of Japan the people of the north would trade items in exchange for the old worn clothing that were shipped by merchants from the south. These items of clothing were treasured and sections and threads were carefully salvaged to be incorporated into the hemp quilts and clothing when repairs were needed. There was such respect for these reclaimed materials that every piece had a value and was either used or carefully stored. It is the worn and multi layering of reinforced fragments with fine stitching that now offers such visual delight. At first glance these quilts have a contemporary feel due to a limited palette of tonal shades of indigo, some with occasional sections of black, grey or brown but overall they balance quite naturally. This minimal pallete is a result of the restrictions in place at the time as Japanese commoners were only allowed to wear certain colours. The remaining more exciting colours, along with silk, were kept for aristocracy only.
As result of this process an aesthetic was born, but with regards to sustainability, where does it fit in? I associate Boro with sustainability for several reasons. Firstly for the simplicity of materials. By using home spun fabrics and artistically reinforcing and embellishing them with sections of finer woven cotton these quilted textiles were created intended for daily use. This regularity of use has added to their charm, the resulting textural quality could not have been created by design. I find this both intriguing and compelling to look deeper within the textures to determine the method of stitching and to separate the layers of time. I don’t believe many textiles hold such a compelling narrative in the same way as these textiles do. The ethos of every piece having a value and nothing being wasted resonates with me in terms of what we hope to move towards in our current throwaway society. Attitudes are changing fortunately but in terms of clothing alone as textile waste there has been considerable press coverage of the “Primark effect”. Consumers purchase clothing because it is perceived as good value but in real terms consider it to be worthless so readily discard it, often into landfill without any further consideration given to recycling it any way. According to WRAP, in the UK around 350,000 tonnes of unwanted clothing is sent to landfill every year with a further 700.000 tonnes being sent for recycling.
(Available from Ref http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/fast-facts-textiles)
That’s a staggering amount of clothing waste that represents our current attitude towards the value of material. It is also a stark contrast to how highly regarded material was valued by the people of northern Japan that I feel we can ask questions of ourselves and learn from this historical example.
Secondly, the use of local materials, one of the concepts we are now paying more attention towards when designing. Of course, at the time of creation the choice of materials was simply due to local availability rather than a conscious choice but it can still be argued that is one of the aspects of sustainability. Furthermore, the growing of hemp as a crop, one of the crops that we now know to be far more sustainable than cotton in terms of its impact on the land as it actually enriches the soil as well as requiring much less land and water with which to grow.
(Available from Ref http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/03/hemp-sustainable-crop_n_5243351.html)
There is the more obvious link to recycling and upcycling in the Boro quilts, the current trending approach to sustainability. So many textile practitioners now create their work using textile waste and materials from post-consumer waste and it is re-worked and adapted to prolong its life rather than consign it to landfill. Here we can study the more recent historical example of the Make do and Mend movement carried out during World War 2 when households adopted a creative approach to preserving and prolonging the value of clothing. Households became very resourceful and efficient at making the best of what they possessed and as a result their inventiveness continues to inspire us today. We can compare such resourcefulness to the earlier historical example of Boro quilts which had a very similar ethos where a restriction on resources necessitated the need to value the materials more highly. This in turn should say something to us as consumers that we need to look at our buying habits, buy better, buy less, and invest more value in what we have. Boro, and the use of salvaged clothing materials were reconstructed and repaired many times over and represents recycling and valuing post-consumer waste in the most visual way possible.
Finally the hand weaving and other hand processes involved in the creation are all aspects that we consider as sustainable textiles. Overall it is the principles of this technique that appeals to me the most. It represents an idealology that we are considering in design today as a reaction to our previous need for mass produced items and rate of consumption. We are once again learning to appreciate hand craft skills and traditional techniques and refer to them as part of the slow design aspect of textile sustainability. We can see this growing trend happening around us with more and more art craft makers starting small businesses of their own and using online outlets such as Etsy.com and Handmade.co.uk but further documented on the website Current Trends Now which outlines the increased popularity of craft for gift items. The concept of slow design as a movement that is still developing but I feel Boro as a textile sensibility could be considered as one of the forerunners to this way of thinking. Slow design is a 21st Century concept and focuses around designing appropriately for the long term well-being of individuals, society and also the planet. Japanese rural land workers obviously knew nothing of this but if we consider the textile process the similarity and connections are clear. They needed warmth for their own wellbeing and created a suitable solution for all whilst also minimising waste. Slow design talks of keeping the process and results accessible to those using and impacted by the design and sharing skills and knowledge. When we consider the time and skill invested into their designs, passed on from generation to generation to ensure longevity I feel sure these rural workers have already designed a product in line with this idea. The Slow Design concept uses modern words, design jargon, but I am in no doubt that these considerations were just as significant then as they are now. The only difference being they designed intuitively as a result of need rather than designing consciously with ethics at the heart.
(Available from http://current-trends-now.com/2010/11/handmade-novelty-items/)
However, these are all reasons to connect Boro to something that has been sustainable. But what of the future? To truly be sustainable the story must continue, it needs to be ongoing.
As part of my research I visited the Boro exhibition at Somerset House in April 2014 titled “Boro – Threads of Life”. It was a selling exhibition of Boro quilts presented as art with an underlying question at the start of the exhibition “Can art transcend function?” In response to this question I wanted to consider if Boro could evolve again now that it had achieved the status of being considered as art. I feel Boro is sustainable from a point of inspiring future designers in a similar way as other highly skilled crafts do, looking to models from history to inform new ideas. Shibori for example, takes considerable preparation and time, is not cost effective for commercial designing but the serendipity of the craft encourages the artisan designer to still design this way. I feel Boro can also inspire and ignite new ideas for design in a similar way. I feel this is especially so with the age of digital craft and the digital processes that are developing and I have myself started to investigate this with computer software for personal interest. I will include an example of my early digital investigations to illustrate this towards the end of the review once I have looked at the work of other artists and examined how I feel they have been inspired by Boro.
Having studied the techniques of Boro I feel I can identify these elements in the works of other artists but to make this comparison as clear as possible I have included some detailed photographs of the Boro Exhibition at Somerset house. This will enable the link to be drawn in the contemporary works much more clearly.The most clearly identifiable artist who appears to be influenced by Boro is Mathew Harris. I was fortunate to be able to attend a recent exhibition in Stroud entitled “Material Matters” to study his work closely. His practice makes several visual references to the Boro techniques as he creates textiles with intentional imperfections. They too are very textural with intriguing depth of layers. Harris hand paints the fabrics and then manipulates them with hand processes to enrich the surface further. He uses a variety of techniques including patching, tearing, stitching and then re-stitching to expose and encourage frayed edges. He allows the repetitive stitching to show and creates negative spaces made through cut out areas and reverse applique. The overall feel is a well-used repaired cloth that has faded through time which is reminds me of the qualities of Boro textiles. He travels regularly to Japan for research so it is highly probable that he has become influenced by this traditional craft perhaps indirectly, but I feel it is present all the same. I have been unsuccessful obtaining confirmation of his inspiration despite several approaches but I feel, in the absence of a statement my instincts are correct when viewing his work. Having read descriptions of his work made by others and his own comments on his work, it has convinced me further that Mathew Harris’s work is inspired by Boro. He continues to practice in this way creating work in different formats and occasionally in different media so I believe the influence of Boro remains an inspiration for him.
Michael Brennand-Wood (Machine Stitch Perspectives, 2010, p.125) notes that:
It’s also important to recognize that the fabric is a construct; the ground in an invention that has very specific qualities, being, thick, rigid, absorbent and formed out of many pieces or layers of cloth. As a surface it lends itself to extensive reworking and physical intervention. Marks are not just applied to the surface; they are within the structure. The surfaces are invariably laminates – rigid sandwiches of varying thickness, fused, sewn together.
This could easily describe Boro textiles. Furthermore Mathew Harris talking about his process explains “Additional pieces of cloth are then trapped between the cuts and layers and held in place by hand stitching.” (Harris, M. Machine Stitch Perspectives, 2010, p.123)
Mathew Harris (Machine Stitch Perspectives, 2010, p.123) in describing his own work notes that:
I have never been interested in ‘perfect’ textiles. It’s the interruption of the patterned surface which excites me. Cloth made imperfect as a result of patches, tears, darns and frayed edges held together with purely necessary stitches; these are the qualities which motivate me to make work.Mandy Pattullo’s fabric assemblages show a clear influence of Boro textiles and contain a story of her own heritage. She pieces together old quilt sections and inherited vintage textiles that she carefully reconstructs before over dyeing. These constructions are so successfully blended that to those that weren’t aware of her process it may appear her only contribution is the dyeing and additional stitching. Her reuse of materials and finished designs are all suggestive of Boro textiles. The following examples I believe best illustrate the Boro influence and were exhibited at the Knit and Stitch Show at Alexander Palace in October 2013. Having studied Boro quilts I felt the influence was clear and I was delighted to find a recent article for patchwork enthusiasts where Mandy Pattullo explains her process and techniques detailing the influence. “I love Boro textiles and these have been my biggest inspiration.”
Cooper,G (2014) Mandy Pattullo, Quilting World (February 2014) pp.14-16
Ref – www.popularpatchwork.com magazine
The textile work of Dorothy Caldwell has always been a draw for me as I appreciate the combination of the printed and stitched marks she uses in her quilts. More recently I began to draw the link between this mark making process and the stitched marks of Boro textiles. Her technique appears to embrace, and possibly encourage, the fraying of the edges during the making of the quilts which she then reinforces with patches and visible stitching. I was fortunate to see her work and speak to her in person at the Knit and Stitch Show in October 2013 at Alexander Palace and discovered more about her work. I remarked upon the visual similarity to Boro textiles and she explained that Boro was one her sources of inspiration and that she had travelled to Japan to research Sashiko stitching.
In an article written by Dorothy Caldwell for the Found-Stitched-Dyed blog in November 2010, she speaks on her fondness for a “Hippy” jacket that she had acquired from a friend and how she made the remarkable discovery that the inner quilting was quilting from a much earlier date, the 1800’s. She explains how this quilt embodied the recycling and upcycling process of worn material being used again for the construction for something new – an approach reminiscent of Boro. From that point onwards Dorothy Caldwell made the decision to include small fragments of this old jacket within her newly created work. She didn’t explain why necessarily but I suspect the idea of continuing the textile’s story was her motivation as suggested in her statement within the article.
Dorothy Caldwell explains:
I’ve acquired a deep respect for the way cloth behaves. It breaks down, wears out and is then repaired and reconstructed. These sensibilities resonate for me: Cloth is very powerful when it retains traces of its previous life, gathers history and becomes something new.
To my mind, the influence of Boro and the ethos behind the craft can be clearly seen in Dorothy Caldwell’s work. When looking at the compositions, the print marks and stich techniques there are many visual references to Boro although they are very much with her own interpretation. I also feel that the emotional connection she made with the quilted jacket, the desire to encourage the story to evolve further made a significant impact on her practice as this remains a design element within her work. I was delighted to learn how she includes fragments of this very jacket within her textiles as I had noticed areas that felt slightly at odds before but now knowing the story behind this decision makes it a more interesting and very personal narrative for her work. Another example of how the influence of Boro continues.
The following examples are from Dorothy Caldwell’s displayed work at the Knit and Stitch show in 2013 illustrating the connections to Boro Textiles, These details, I believe, represent the Boro stitching inspiration and influence translated into print, patching and stitch marks.
Jacy Wall is a textile artist working with various textile media and her work is concerned with the textile mending process. I made contact with the artist asking for confirmation that her statement and article on her website by Fiona Robinson did in fact refer to Boro textiles as I believed they did.
Jacy Wall replied:
Yes, Boro textiles have been a big influence since working with the theme of mending. If you look at my website you will find most of my current textile work, which has all been about piecing and stitching and juxtapositions of fragments. I have also actually cut up tapestries I am not quite happy with and re-made the pieces into new work.
(Ref – Wall, J. (2014) Unplublished)
Her artist statement explains:
My use of mending imagery explores a range of ideas, to do with an emotional response to the history implicit in visible damage, and with the kinds of beauty arrived at in the methods of mending it
(Wall, J. www.jacywall.co.uk/about/ [Accessed 8 May 2014]
Writing about Jacy Wall’s approach Fiona Robinson notes:
There is an undeniable eroticism in Jacy Wall’s woven and cut textiles, they speak of concealment, hidden secrets and of a time when garments were not discarded when they became worn. They were patched and darned and repaired until there was almost more added than original left, and the fabric itself developed that wonderful patina of age through handling and wearing.
(Ref –Wilson, F January 2010. ref http://www.jacywall.co.uk/articles/article-by-fiona-robinson [Accessed 8 May 2014)
This was a delightful discovery as to my mind the influence within the work was clear and receive such personal and definite confirmation was encouraging. I also identify with Jacy’s approach to reusing an existing textile piece and reconfiguring it again as this is my approach when something hasn’t quite worked out as I would have liked. Sometimes the gamble pays off and the results are better, rarely does it not work but the journey of discovery it is the most valuable part.I felt it would be appropriate to create a link back to the place of origin, Japan, so I have researched Contemporary Japanese textile artists to identify an artist whose practice incorporates this technique in their own work. Research was lengthy and I found it very interesting to note that despite the high regard the Western World now holds for these textiles, the Japanese fibre artists of today make very little reference to this aspect of their heritage. These artists are very forward thinking with great innovation using interesting materials and spatial elements in their design but rarely acknowledge the past. I was a little surprised by this believing them to possess a strong sense of pride for their heritage but with further thought I concluded the reluctance was probably due to the associations with poverty, as they now pride themselves on achievement and good fortune. With research I found two artists that make strong visual references.
Junko Ori is Japanese textile artist who creates densely stitched areas of hand embroidery that are evocative of the repetition of repairs and reworked layers. The overall feel of her work I believe makes references to both Boro textiles and to Sashiko hand stitching. I feel the influences of her heritage have inspired this work and she reinterprets it with a contemporary approach.This example I find really interesting as she has used a section of a Boro quilt and applied her style of stitching to it. I think her approach shows a real faith in her own work, acknowledging the past and by adding her stitching style she has created another layer of time and history in a similar way to her forefathers did.
Artists using other media also take inspiration. The work of Yuko Kimura has a lean towards textiles combining collaged fabrics with printmaking and stitch. Residing in The States, this artist is illustrates the influence of her heritage in the collection of works entitled Boro Series. She explores the use of Usumono, a translucent kimono fabric, with printed papers bonding them with intentionally bold and irregular stitching that refers to the smaller more precise stitches of Sashiko.In her quote Yuko Kimura describes her work and influence and I understand to be a reference to generations before her still practicing the Boro techniques and passing the aesthetic down through subsequent generations :
I am particularly interested in a method of integrating prints and enamels pieces into collages by stitching them together with threads. Like my Grandmother who sewed the families’ clothes together with scraps of fabrics have been exploring endless possibilities of layering fiber textural elements from cloth in my work.
So whilst not all these artists directly refer to Boro as their inspirations and neither do they proclaim to be committed to sustainability necessarily, by being inspired and influenced, directly or otherwise, and interpreting Boro in their own way they are ensuring the legacy of this craft continues and evolves further. When we talk about sustainability we really mean is it ongoing, with good environmental implications, how can we learn from it to inform the future of design. All these artists have been and continue to be inspired by Boro. Sometimes by appreciating the visual appeal and creating fresh interpretations to the traditional technique or by using and promoting the ethos of recycling and upcycling to continue the story. Valuing materials and encouraging repair, mending and re-use rather than waste, or simply promoting the craft through other art disciplines and reaching wider audiences. The very fact that Boro continues to inspire artists of all disciplines, informing new forms of art and celebrating the simplest form of recycling to mind my means it is sustainable, sustainable as a point of inspiration.
In addition to practicing artists being inspired by Boro there is already evidence of this having happened in the fashion industry as outlined by Stephen Szczepanek, owner of Sri Threads, a gallery in New York specializing in Japanese textiles.
Stephen Szczepanek exhibited a collection of Boro examples in a disused Chateau in France in 2013 at Domaine de Boisbuchet entitled “Boro – the fabric of life” and he explains when commenting about this exhibition:
But lots of designers have taken from it in different ways. It’s my hunch that Yohji Yamamoto in the 1990s had a pretty clear influence from it and Louis Vuitton did just a whole collection for men in SS13 using actual Boro pieces. For the fashion industry it’s been part of the engine for some time.
One interesting idea that was also exhibited alongside the Japanese historical examples at Domaine de Boisbuchet exhibition was a small collection of Boro inspired pieces created in Bangladesh by a women’s cooperative. The idea was created by Anna Heringer , a German architect who encouraged the women to recycle and reuse their traditional sari fabric to create their own brand of clothing and hangings. The aim was to help them create an earning of their own away from the factories but more significantly enable them to leave the poor working conditions of those factories. An interesting example of how Boro has inspired an upcycling project to liberate the very people that have been directly affected by the greed for consumerism by those in the west.
With regards to my own practice, the influence started some years ago, long before I even knew of the correct name for the technique. I had noticed the simplicity of a plain blue linen patchwork quilt, as I had thought it was at the time, and felt inspired to create a similar item and so set about collecting discarded linen clothes. The quilt remains unmade, although the collection of clothes is substantial and I suspect the project has
not been completed as I have since learnt of the artisan aspect of Boro. It no longer feels appropriate to use “sweatshop” clothing dyed with synthetic and environmentally harmful dyes as it would be nothing short of an insult.
However, reviewing some of my early textile samples I can see some of the design elements of the technique starting to appear in my work, unknowingly at the time, but now, with knowledge I can make the connections.
1 – Experimental sample using recycled fabrics in a limited colour pallete.2 – Examples of shibori work illustrating subtle references to Boro textiles 3 – More recently I have started to investigate some design possibilities with digital processes to reinterpret the visual appeal. At the time the objective was to design a print for commercial printing as I felt taking something so artisan and translating it a commercial project may be interesting, especially for something like bed linen as this could be playful reference towards its origins.
Lastly, Fine art. There is suggestion also, although not confirmed that artists such as Paul Klee were inspired by Boro long before its currently enjoyed status of collectable art. When looking at Boro textiles and Klee’s painting “Ancient Sound Abstract in Black” 1925, side by side it’s a convincing argument.
Andy Christian also outlines this thought in the selling guide for the Boro Exhibition at Somerset house. He notes:
Boro designs were strengthened by the necessary piecing of their patches. Inevitably the joining lines from grids which compose and structure their works. These invoke in us ideas of horizons and of architecture. Paul Klee would have been delighted by them. There is no direct evidence that any of the European modernists viewed or owned Boro but there is a curious synchronicity between their work and that of the best Boro makers
(Christian, A. (2014) Boro- Threads of life. London: Somerset House. Unpublished. )
This can be seen in these comparisons.
To conclude, I feel that my studies show Boro to be sustainable as a source of inspiration, using it as a model of traditional technique to inspire designs of the future and also to reflect upon as an early example of sustainably produced textiles. To date, artists across the spectrum of art and design have found inspiration to inform their work and now that Boro is considered collectable art, and not simply a craft it will continue to inspire others. Boro is relatively new to the arena of textile art but by promoting it to the higher echelons of art comes respect and a raised profile and so exposure to a wider audience. These once practical, everyday items of home comfort will inform generations to come across the full spectrum of design from school projects to prestigious art galleries. It has not reached its pinnacle by any means. The narrative can only become stronger.
- Caldwell, D (2010) http://found-stitched-dyed.blogspot.ca/2010/11/from-dorothy-caldwell-in-canada.html
- Christian, A. (2014) Boro -Threads of life. London: Somerset House. Unpublished.
- Cooper,G (2014) www.popularpatchwork.com magazine
- http://disegnodaily.com/news/boro-at-domaine-de-boisbuchet (2013)
- www.hermeldelor.com/2013/07/boro-fabric-of-life.html (2013)
- Kettle,A, McKeating, J. (2010) Machine Stitch Perspectives. Great Britain, A & C Black Publishers Limited.
- Kimura, Yuko (2009) http://vernecollection.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/inspirations-from-prints-plates-at.html
- Klee, P – http://sai.msu.su/wm/paint/auth/klee/klee.ancient-sound.jpg.
- Ori, J (2012) www.woky-shoten.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2012/11/index.html
- Robinson,F . (2010) http://www.jacywall.co.uk/articles/article-by-fiona-robinson/
- Wall, J. – www.jacywall.co.uk/about/
- Wall, J. (2014) Unplublished
- Caldwell, Dorothy “Ground Cover” (2013) exhibition booklet for Knit and Stich Show 2013
- Embroidery Magazine – (2013) Marks in time and Space – ref Caldwell, D
- Ian Wilson. – Sustainable stitches (2003) Embroidery Magazine May/June 2003.
- Ian Wilson – Brief Interruption Issue 13
- Koide, Yukiko, (eds.) (2008) Tsuzuki, Kyoichi Boro: Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan First published Japan 2008 Aspect Corp, Tokyo, Japan – adapted from a monograph by Tanaka,Chuzaburo