Over the Blue Horizon

Michinoku no Boro

“Michinoku no Boro” roughly translated means “The World of Old Cloth Illustrated”.  This book presents a wide array of Japanese folk textiles, including sakiori, kogin, and boro, as well as other woven accessories such as rain capes and cushions for carrying heavy bundles.  

Many of the textiles shown are from the Tsugaru region in Aomori prefecture, located on the northernmost tip of the main island of Honshu, home to poor farmers who created astonishingly beautiful textiles out of necessity. This frozen north country was too cold to grow cotton, so the local folk grew and wove hemp for clothing and made almost everything, from diapers to futon bedding to work clothes, from scratchy hemp cloth. And if a single layer of cloth wasn't warm enough, they stitched and reinforced layer upon layer, patching holes and stuffing hemp fuzz in between for whatever insulation they could get. Or they cut the cloth into thin ribbons and re-wove it as ‘sakiori’ or they braided bits of fibers into rope to be worn as headbands or fashioned into protective cushions for their backs to wear while doing farmwork. 

The text of this book is in Japanese, but page after page of color and black-and-white pictures of garments,  and a few documentary photos of people wearing these types of clothing provide a wonderful reference for the study of these Japanese folk textiles.  Scroll down for pictures!

The book begins with approx. 38 pages about kogin stitching. Kogin is a uniquely Japanese needlework technique that was born of a practical desire for warmth, and the need to strengthen a fabric used in everyday life so it could withstand hard use and frequent laundering. Kogin is recognized by its characteristic blue and white geometric designs, which are embroidered with thick threads on a base fabric. The origins of this technique can be traced to the peasants in the Tsugaru Peninsula in the 1600's.  The characteristic blue and white designs were given names for things common to everyday life (soybean, cat's eye, running waters, etc.) Naming the patterns for items surrounding a stitcher helped to recall the patterns from memory, since formal graphs or charts had yet to be developed. Eventually, over three hundred patterns grew from the diamond shape, with certain designs associated with specific geographic areas.

The next section of the book shows stitched indigo-dyed work garments, but the stitching is done in closely spaced rows of straight stitching.

The next section contains black-and-white photos of clothing accessories or work implements woven from bast fibers or tree bark fibers.  You'll see hino (thatched rain capes) handwoven from "wara” straw, probably from rice plants.  The long shaggy ends stand out from the body and throw off the rain.  Other items include baskets, shoes, bags, and ropes made of braided fibers.

The next section (12 pages) shows ‘boro’ garments, literally rags that made up clothing and household textiles.  These garments are heavily stitched and patched, showing layer upon layer of various fabrics.  

The next 4 pages show sakiori textiles, in which worn kimono or bedding are torn into strips and woven into new fabric for obis or rugs.  

The final 28 pages show a variety of garments, including a couple of Ainu garments. The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido and northern Japan. There has been a recent interest in traditional Ainu culture, especially their embroidery work, which resembles Celtic design and techniques. 

This small (6.5 by 8.5-inch), softcover, 111-page book was published in 2009 by Owl Books, and the author is Saburou Tadashi Tanaka.  This copy is brand-new, and has minimal shelf wear.  If you love Japanese folk textiles, you will enjoy this beautiful book!