Monday, 25 March 2019

The Art of Precious Scars - Japanese Mending


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Mending is a tedious, but inevitable, part of life when you own clothes almost as old as you are but to the Japanese mending isn't mundane. It's an art form.

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If, like me, you're an avid viewer of antique shows you'll no doubt be familiar with the method of Kintsugi where precious metals - liquid gold, liquid silver or lacquer dusted with powdered gold - are used to bring together the pieces of a broken pottery item whilst, at the same time, enhancing the breaks. By repairing these shattered ceramics the Japanese believe that it is possible to give a new lease of life to pottery so that it can become even more refined thanks to its scars. Just because an item is broken doesn't necessarily mean it is no longer useful and that repairs can often make something more valuable. 

 Japanese Boro mending is the textile equivalent of Kintsugi. Here, as opposed to invisible mending,  garment repairs are made a feature of. By taking the time to create something unique, one is connecting with a garment and any mistakes or wonky stitching add even more charm to the finished piece.


The Japanese believe that both Boro and Kintsugi are the essence of resilience, that all of us should look for a way to cope with traumatic events in a positive way, learn from negative experiences, take the best from them and convince ourselves that exactly these experiences make each person, garment or object unique & precious.



With that philosophy in mind and inspired by the ethos of the Up-cycled Cloth Collective to use visible mending as a way to green one's wardrobe, I set about repairing an incredibly beautiful, but damaged, authentic vintage Afghan nomad dress I'd found last week.



Where the hemline trim had parted company with the skirt I used a similar shade of yellow thread to the one the original owner had used. There was something intrinsically thrilling about sewing over the very stitching an Afghan woman had toiled over thousands of miles away, several decades ago.



As these dresses are coloured with natural vegetable dyes there was no way I was going to risk soaking the marks out in Poundland stain remover. Most sponged off with lukewarm water but one wouldn't budge so I decided to patch it using a piece of similar homespun vegetable-dyed cotton cut from a threadbare Banjara blouse and some vintage cobalt thread in the exact shade of the blue embroidery as the hemline trim.



My wonky hand-stitching adds some of my personality to a dress that already has a history. Sitting in the sunshine, happily boro stitching with a pair of basking cats at my feet is a memory that I'll recall every time I wear my dress and catch sight of my boro patch. 






If you fancy giving Boro stitching a bash then there's loads of helpful tutorials out there but I'm hopeless at following instructions, so I just made it up as I went along.

See you soon.

64 comments:

  1. Was just discussing this with my friend. She actually uses a gold thread!! So wonderful 😍

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  2. I've been away, so have just been catching up on the last two posts together. I love both. Kintsugi has always fascinated me and I love the look of Boro. Your dress has been beautifully repaired and with character too.
    Over the last few years I've begun to accept tiny mistakes in stitching and started to view them as an acceptance that I'm not and won't ever be perfect, which is a good thing! I got that from reading about these two techniques. xxx

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    1. I love that wonky stitching is becoming acceptable, I've been at it for years. There's something marvelously relaxing about boro stitching and spending a couple of hours with a garment really makes you appreciate and love it all the more.

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  3. I've never seen the art of repairing pottery like that before. I handstitched a repair on hubby's hoody yesterday, best left invisible though, unlike your beautiful piece of art you are wearing.

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    1. Kintsugi is quite collectible if you ever find any. The British used to use metal staples in Victorian times to fix shattered but precious ceramics, not as beautiful but also valuable.
      Do some boro stitching on hubby's hoodie next time, I dare you!

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  4. I knew about the pottery, but the stitching technique is new to me. How wonderful! It's a cracking dress. I honestly have binbags of clothes in need of repairs - best start climbing that mountain! Xx

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    1. Get that mending pile out and have a go. It's such a relaxing thing to do I'm actively looking for things with holes now!

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  5. Oh! Oh! Oh! So wonderful!
    You must join my Facebook mending group!
    I have a decades-long habit of tidy clean stitched patches that I'm working on getting beyond and going to Visible Mending. Old habits die hard though.

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    1. Oh, I got too excited. I'll send you a invite to join.

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    2. Joined! That's fantastic, it'll keep me at it!

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  6. I'd not seen that sort of mending, but I really like it.

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  7. You did a wonderful job, Vix. Your "wonky" stitching actually looks like art. I can imagine sitting out in the sunshine doing some visible mending. Hand stitching (which is what I do anyway, as I haven't got to grips with the machine) is something that actually calms me. That dress is such a fabulous piece, by the way. Love those colours! xxx

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    1. Thanks, Ann! Hand stitching is very calming, machine sewing can be quite hectic, you have to keep the machine in check and it's a lot more work when something needs unpicking.
      I love these colours, too. They remind me of India.

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  8. I love visible stitching lines, but I didn't know there was a whole philosophy behind it, I just thought how cool it is because it makes garments look unique and hand-made. I always loved patches too. Boro seems like a great skill to learn, I'll need to look into it. I knew about Kintsugi and I always thought those ceramics with gold mending are a proper work of art. I love the idea of fixing things. The philosophy behind Kintsugi and Boro is wonderful. Turning something negative into a positive. I have the same relationship with my scars. Instead of seeing them as something negative, I see them as something that makes me unique.

    I love the work you did on that old Afghan dress. When I find a strain on vintage clothes I usually take textile paints and paint over it. I'm afraid to use stain removing products on vintage items because it's not like you can order a new one if it burns through it or the colour gets ruined. I love how you used a patch to cover up that stain. The end result is artistic and fabulous. You look fantastic in this dress.

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    1. I did think of doing something with my hip replacement scar in this post but it was too cold to get my legs out!
      Isn't it a wonderful philosophy, to repair and make more beautiful and that if something is no longer fit for the original use it can be utilised in another way? A refreshing alternative to our throwaway society.
      To be honest I've never had a problem using stain remover on vintage clothes but Asian ones are usually had dyed and should only be washed bu hand in lukewarm water with the gentlest of detergents or you might end up with a colourless piece of material!

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  9. I had never heard of either of these Japanese terms but what a brilliant idea!

    Strangely enough, my Pinterest feed has had an awful lot of embroidered mending mini videos just lately and the results always look wonderful. It's making a feature of a flaw. I did that when I had my tiny garden paved over years ago; there was a big drain cover slap bang in the middle of the garden so we covered it in great big pebbles and it looks like a feature rather than a cover up!
    xxxx

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    1. I like how you made a feature of a flaw in your garden , Vronni.
      Boro mending is all the rage at the moment, perhaps it's a reaction to the wastefulness of throwaway fast fashion.

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  10. I remember my son buying several pairs of jeans ripped at the knees. He was absolutely chuffed with himself when he worked out that he could get the same effect by taking a pair of scissors and cutting a couple of pairs he already had which he had stopped wearing. We need to lose the idea that clothes need to be chucked out thoughtlessly the minute they show any signs of wear and make a feature of it instead as you have done! Arilx

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    1. Good on him! Nothing better than DIYing rather than buying. The trouble with denim these days is that it's got Lycra in it, not like the jeans of our youth which would wear into holes in the right places after a couple of years of wear!

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  11. such a beautiful garment. I have always mended. By hand. Firstly out of necessity, then because I loved some garments too much. And now due to not liking to waste anything.

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    1. Thank you, Ratnamurti! Like you, I've always been a mender, I treasure my vintage clothes and want to keep them going as long as I possibly can.

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  12. I quite like to see a bit of stitchery on a well loved garment, i think a well loved garment is worth repairing and the patch can add to the beauty as your post has illistrated so well.

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    1. Thank you! I'm liking the visible stitching especially. If something's old and worn there's no shame in it, we should embrace it!

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  13. Oh I like the fabric mending....it looks really nice. I may have to have a look for something with a hole in it to have a go :)
    Hugs-x-

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    1. You'd love it, Sheila. A lovely, relaxing thing to do.

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  14. I love the Japanese tradition of mending items and aesthetic of wabi-sabi, in that the fabric reflects the beauty of natural wear, use, transience, and imperfection.
    Beautiful job amending that Afghan dress to a new and uniquely gorgeous garment!
    My kurtis all wear through at the elbow first- perhaps I should try some Boro patchwork.
    xox

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    1. It is a wonderful philosophy, so at odds with the modern world.
      You should do some boro patching on the elbows of your kurtas.

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  15. That dress is beautiful! I find mending to be therapeutic. Not just because it is a simple manual task, but because you get the satisfaction of knowing you're repairing, saving, etc. Today I did mend the inside cushion of a dog bed pad using both thread and duct tape. That was an act of desperation!

    I do appreciate that when I mend TBG's jeans (which he wears to work), that he doesn't balk at my use of fabric or if I throw in some embroidery stitching. He doesn't mind walking around his worksite with paisley patches, with cross-stitching. He has one shirt that looks positively scarred with mended tears, but he always asks me to fix it rather than throw it away because it's comfortable. We live in a time where people don't know how to mend and it's a shame!

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    1. It is a wonderfully therapeutic activity. The hipsters all call it mindfulness these days but that's what it is, a moment or two of peace while you connect with an activity.
      I bet TBG's shirt is a wonder to behold. There was an incredible denim workwear jacket on American Pickers recently with years and years of repairs, it was a thing of great beauty.

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  16. The Afghan dress looks just wonderful on you and your sewing skills have given it a new life and added your own touches, I am sure the original sewer would approve. I am not much good at sewing but I can and do basic mending. The Japanese pottery mending was one I knew about but not the stitching. Lets hope the make do and mend tradition of our parents and grandparents becomes the norm again. xx

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    1. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we started a mending revolution and people would once again learn to love their old clothes as opposed to throwing them out when whatever current fad passes?

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  17. How wonderful that these traditions can inspire mending garments and at the same time are so philosophical about life. X

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  18. the dress is beautiful and worth every stitch you made to mend it!! and now its even more beautiful - in person and how you feel about.
    i do my own "boro" mending - with a sewing maschine. visible patches, contrasting yarn, artsy lines. i sew the top part of worn out socks to to short sleeves of sweaters/cardigans, make a dress or skirt from two old ones etc. - always very visible. for me this adds history and meaning to a garment - i love it if clothes do tell stories.
    xxxxx

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    1. I love the sound of your machine-made boro stitching and using the top part of your worn out socks to finish the short sleeves of woolen garments. Keep those ideas coming, I know a lot of people get real pleasure for the creative and generous ideas shared in the comments!

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  19. This really turns mending into a meditative creative art form.

    The dress is stunning and it becomes even more valuable when you stitch some of your own memories into it.

    Suzanne
    http://www.suzannecarillo.com

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    1. Thanks, Suzanne! I loved sitting in the sunshine and trying out that mending technique, it really helped me to love that dress a little more than I do already.
      Mending is the new shopping!

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  20. what a fabulous job of art!, love a creative mending! and also love this japanese idea about ceramics becoming more precious as they age, love how they restore them with gold or silver to highlight their stories, their scars! A piece with a story to tell is always more interesting!
    And I'm in love with your afghan dress and the mending you did!, it's something really special, the kind of thing that probably makes you feel proud when wearing it! (I would be proud for sure!). You Totally Rock!
    besos

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    1. Thanks so much, Monica! I love the art of Kintsugi and when I heard it described as the Art of Scars I loved it all the more. I thought boro might be complicated as it looks so intricate but I was surprised at how simple and straightforward it was.

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  21. Im over excited with this blog post as I have long been interested in Boro and you have brought it to life. I'm going to send a link to a few friends who are mad keen on it themselves.
    Big big clap hands to what you have done with your beautiful dress and to the pleasure I can feel you got in repairing in.
    I took a boro kit with me to the workshop in Brighouse recently and my friend Tina Gilmore creates some fabulous little books, purses, scarves and bags and each one is a meditation to her.
    lots of love xxxx

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    1. I'm loving it! I can't believe how straightforward and relaxing it is and I'm in awe of some of those kimonos and quilts I've seen on the internet!

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  22. I follow a blog...fig jam and lime cordial and she does a lot of this type of mending and recycling. Worth a quick look see. Glad you could rescue the dress.

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    1. Thanks for that, Amanda. I've added her to my reading list!

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  23. That is such a beautiful concept! I love what you did with the beautiful dress- that patch is gorgeous and it is a story in a brocade of the life of that dress!! Beautiful!

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    1. Thanks, Kezzie! I loved the concept an dthe fact it was easy made it all the more exciting!

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  24. That's just amazing - I'm also surprised by the coincidence of two of my favourite bloggers writing about the same thing in one week, but from very different perspectives: https://www.wendybrandes.com/blog/2019/03/the-thrill-of-the-chase-the-art-of-kintsugi/

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    1. I can't believe we both posted on the same subject! Even weirder was that I was going to do something similar with my hip replacement scar. Wendy's video is beautiful.

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  25. bias tape on the inside and zigzag stitch on the outside works too

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  26. Visible mending is quite a thing - I've seen it a lot over the years within the knitting community, as people who spend ages knitting socks and suchlike won't want to throw them out when they need darning. Tom of Holland is a great exponent of it. I tend to try to mend things as invisibly as possible, but with socks where the darns go unseen I do occasionally go for a contrast, just as part of the story of the sock. Your repaired dress is an absolute beauty.

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    1. A lady on Facebook kindly sent me to link to Tom of Holland, his creations are amazing! Jumper mending is so mundane, I think I'll have a lot more fun making the repairs visible so they're more of a feature.
      Isn't that dress a joyful thing? I wish it could speak!

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  27. It's a beautiful dress and well worth the effort of mending it.
    xx

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  28. A high point of my adventures in museum restoration work was restitching the padding of a side saddle -- using my then waist length hair. The budget didn't allow for the type of thread that would fit between the weave of the existing fabric and so we improvised (and left a tiny note of explanation for future curators). Gads, I can smell that ancient leather now!

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    1. Goodness me, repairing something with your hair? That's amazing! x

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  29. Beautiful work on a beautiful dress – your skills are, to use an overused but apt word, inspiring. I took a one-off sashiko mending class with Jessica Marquez (Miniature Rhino) a couple of years ago. It was probably too ambitious of me to try to repair denim my first time out, but that's another story. Check out her instagram account if you have time – she does gorgeous mending and adornment work.

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  30. I love this! In the same way I have a 1920's silver mesh bag on my mending pile that I plan to mend with gold thread.

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  31. I enjoyed reading about the philosophy behind Boro and Kintsugi. I had heard of the pottery repair using precious metals, but not the visible mending. I'm not a very good hand-sewer, so this appeals to me! The boro stitched patch ads a personal touch to an already brilliant dress.

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Lots of love, Vix