Big Blue Boro

This piece is one of my favorites. Of course every piece in my textile collection is a favorite or it wouldn’t be there, but this piece is significant in how much of a story it tells in layers of cloth and thread.

It’s big. And it’s heavy. Here’s a shot of it in all its glory.

I don’t like to hang it like this due to its weight. It will either pull things down with it, tear itself apart, or both. I’ve hung it for display once. Never again. Here it is casually draped over the 3′ X 5.5′ table in our shop.

Purchased from a Japanese antiques dealer I know and trust, this baby has gone places since I acquired it in 2017. The first time I showed it was in our booth at the Houston Quilt Festival that fall, and it’s been in my lecture collection since then. The boro itself dates from somewhere in the late 19th to early 20th-century, but the fabrics used may be much older.

Layers upon layers of homespun and machine woven fabrics, many indigo dyed but now faded to sandy beige.

Notice how the seams come together on the back? Unlike Western quilts, many boro blankets have exposed seams. This helps us identify the fibers used and how many layers are involved. It’s quite likely the fabrics here are not all cotton as there could be a mix of linen, hemp, or other bast fibers. Synthetics are less likely but do appear in some boro pieces. It all depends on what was available, including worn out clothes and uniforms. Rarely do we find silk but it does happen with special pieces if the family had an old kimono that could no longer be worn. I’ll share an example in a later post.

Does the photo below show the front, or the back? Sometimes the way a boro is patched tells us what the intention was, even if it isn’t consistent throughout the piece. Keep in mind these were often patched over years by different people.


I’m often asked which is the “correct” or “traditional” shade of white thread to use for sashiko: bright white, or off-white? The answer is: neither. It doesn’t matter. Use any color or shade you want. White is not mandatory, nor is it “traditional”. Many boro pieces don’t have any white thread at all. This one is mostly patched with indigo dyed thread, probably recycled from something else. The thread weight varies from piece to piece as well.


There’s no need to limit yourself to one concept of “traditional” when the tradition in question quite literally involved sewing by the seat of your pants (there are pants in there, I’m almost certain).


Notice the irregular angles? I suspect the person who stitched this together wasn’t as concerned about straight lines as they were about staying warm through the winter.

I love the layers and variations in color here. Note the bright blue at the bottom of a piece that has faded to white where it was more exposed in its previous life? There are at least three layers–four if you count the piece to the far left–and one more behind those.

Some of the most splendid boro effects take time. The way a fabric wears away to expose a layer beneath is difficult to reproduce without forcing it (such as using pumice to “age” the fabrics). I appreciate how time adds dimension to boro pieces such as this one, and how the wear is contrasted by newer fabric right next to it.

What did they think, the women who stitched such blankets? Did they see beauty in them the same way we do today? 

Interested in seeing this boro in person? Contact Carol for a viewing or textile lecture at your guild or shop. 

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