In a previous post (Fossil Garments, part 2), I mentioned boro, and said I would tell more about it later. In case you missed that post, here's the gist of it:
In early 20th century Japan people living in the north couldn't grow cotton, so they grew hemp. Each family was able to grow, ret, spin, and weave enough cloth for 2 or 3 items per year. Maybe a jacket, a pair of pants and a blanket. Per family. So if something was torn, it was mended, patched, patched again, and again, until there was more repair than original. Clothing was handed down. And darned again. And the white stitches on the indigo dyes blue fabric became living history. After World War 2, when cotton cloth became available, people were ashamed of the old clothing, calling it 'boro' - rags. Much of it was thrown out. But a folklorist named Chūzaburō Tanaka began collecting these garments, recognizing their beauty and value as an irreplaceable art form (there is a big collection of boro at the Amuse Museum in Asakusa, Tokyo).
The patterns of worn layers on boro can look like fossil remains.
And the stitches are magnificent. So, for today, let's just look at these wonderful pieces at the Amuse Museum:
A sewing bundle. Fabric was so scarce that every tiny scrap was saved. I bought one of these bundles at a temple flea market in Tokyo. One piece - no more than 8 x 10 inches - was made up of even smaller segments, stitched together.
Shoes, with the traditional split toes. Think about these the next time you throw away a pair of socks.
If you see this garment, and don't understand the history of it, you might be forgiven for not appreciating it. But knowing the incredible amount of work needed to produce and maintain it, the desperate creativity it required, how can you not look at it with reverence? One last point: The people who made this had to pay to have it dyed with indigo. They gave up some of their precious cloth to pay for the color. Beauty was needed as much as warmth.