Boro at Somerset House

Boro at Somerset House

Yesterday, a beautiful sunny spring day, Michelle and I went down to Somerset House to check out the Boro exhibition. To quote the website:

Translated to ‘rags’ in English, boro is the collective name for items – usually clothing and bed covers – made by the poor, rural population of Japan who could not afford to buy new when need required and had to literally make ends meet by piecing and patching discarded cotton onto existing sets, forming something slightly different each time they did so. Generations of Japanese families repaired and recycled fishermen’s jackets to futon covers, handing them down to the next and weaving their own sagas and stories through the threads.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Cotton was an expensive and sought-after material in rural Japan, so worn-out clothing was passed along and used as futon/bed coverings, the worn-out parts re-worked and replaced with new patches as necessary. The pieces are beautiful and mesmerising to look at, so have been appropriated as highly collectible artworks in Western countries. As a sewist, I was particularly fascinated to get up close and see the various woven patterns, fabric combinations, dyeing and embroidery techniques used to create such a richly textured surface.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Varying lengths and patterns of hand-stitches for decorative texture.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

I love these dense rows of stitches: nothing is measured or straight, and it doesn’t matter. It seems to tie into the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi: imperfect beauty.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Some of these patch-pieced ones look like English fields seen from an aeroplane.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Look close and you’ll see layer upon layer of patterns and textures. Woven patterns remind me of ikat, one of my favourite types of fabric, and some pieces seemed to have had patterns created by resist-dyeing and shibori-stle knotting and folding techniques.

Boro at Somerset House

You can see why the pieces are compared to art works: some have the Cubist arrangement of a Picasso or Mondrian, where others seem freely expressive like a Pollock or late Matisse.

Boro at Somerset House

This was my favourite, the decorative embroidery looks like mystical cave symbols, and the tan corduroy with the shades of indigo is gorgeous. It was very inspiring to look at a different way of combining and manipulating materials, and really makes me want to create an abstract hand-pieced and -embroidered quilt. The free exhibition runs until 26th April, daily 10.00-18.00. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.

7 thoughts on “Boro at Somerset House

  1. lsaspacey

    Cool, the techniques and ideas behind them make me think of the Gee Bend’s quilts, the reuse and lack of measurements and 90 degree angles. however, these are more dense with stitches and details and have a consistancy of colors.

  2. Fabric Tragic

    Wow they are really beautiful. Such detail and a reminder that even the tiniest scrap can still contribute to a bigger project. And such a lovely setting. I lived in the uk for 18 months about 10 years ago now and one of my fondest memories is ice skating in the courtyard of Somerset House with my cousin before I moved back to Australia!

  3. Annie

    I love the embroidery, especially the v.dense stitching in rows – kinda reminds me of kantha stitching. I’d not heard of Boro before, this looks like a great exhibition!

  4. Barbarags

    I visited this exhibition yesterday and found so much inspiration. I’ll have to go again and take my camera, there are only so many sketches you can make on a scrap of notepaper. I urge others to go while you can, especially while the sun shines and you can sit outside with cake and coffee from Tom’s Deli.

  5. Pingback: Slow Fashion October, Week 1: You/Me… Mending | swarm of chickadees

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