Japanese Boro stitching


Traditional Japanese boro cloths have a beauty like no other. Each cloth tells a unique story of its journey through life with patches carefully sewed on and reinforced with stitching, often over generations of a single family.

Boro is my antidote to the fast fashion world. The cloths can be viewed to embrace the concept of ‘wabi sabi’, that sees beauty in an object’s impermanence and imperfection.

Making a feature of garment repairs is an alternative to the art of invisible mending. Taking the time to create something really unique is a beautiful way of connecting with a garment or textile, and because mistakes and wonky stitching can be embraced it’s the perfect project for beginner sewers like me.

Recently I’ve been exploring images of boro cloths and sashiko stitching to add some inspiration into my repair repertoire.


Image: na0905 (Flickr)

History of boro stitching

Although beautiful, boro cloths came about through pure necessity. During the 18th and 19th centuries cotton was a luxury afforded only to the nobility. The lower classes had homespun fibres that were more difficult to make into fabric and didn’t last as well. By patching and stitching, the fabric could be strengthend and its life could be extended. During the Edo era there were also laws that restricted lower classes from wearing bright colours which is why the cloths are indigo blue and brown. Boro textiles are now highly sought after collectibles.

During these times pieces of cloth were re-purposed in various forms. Often starting off as a kimono then becoming every day clothing, a piece of sleepwear, a futon cover, a bag then finally a dusting cloth. Every scrap was used until it wore out.

This relates to the Japanese philosophy of ‘mottaini’, which centres around wasting nothing of the intrinsic value on an object.


Image: Lucy Portsmouth (Flickr)

Contemporary stitching

Sashiko stitching started off as a functional running stitch for mending and reinforcing boro, but as cloth became less expensive it developed into decorative embroidery.

Each repair becomes a creative challenge. It’s a chance for the sewer to express themselves whilst also being an important time for contemplation and mindfulness.

This style of making embodies the ideals of slow fashion. This concept has varying definitions but generally involves the use of sustainable materials, spending an appropriate amount of time with the materials to make an item in order to value and connect to it, and exploring the emotional or spiritual dimension of the process.

Where could I try this?

Use your creativity to mend any of these items or more:

  • jeans or trousers
  • skirt
  • dress
  • shirt
  • coat
  • scarf
  • a bag
  • a quilt cover
  • a cushion
  • canvas shoe


Image: Heather (Flickr)

What you I do need?

  • Sashiko or darning needle (a long needle with a small eye)
  • Sashiko thread, high twist cotton or embroidery thread
  • A ruler and fabric chalk or pen (if you wish to have neat lines)
  • Fusible webbing (optional for patching)

Types of stitches to try:

  • Parallel lines
  • Crosses or pluses
  • Chaotic lines
  • Boxes
  • Intersecting lines
  • Formal sashiko pattern
  • Long and short stitches


  • Use what you have and share resources with others
  • Look at images on Pinterest for inspiration
  • Make up your own designs and enjoy the process
  • Be playful and remember there is no such thing as making a mistake
  • If your thread is too thick try dividing it into two separate strands
  • Consider different textures of fabrics and threads
  • Consider different lengths and directions of threads
  • Think about how you can use stitch-free space as well to balance out a design
  • Old spools of cotton and silk thread as these will have a nicer finish than polyester mixes
  • Deconstruct pieces of fabric from unwanted textile items to use as patches
  • Consider using natural dyes if you can’t find the right colour match for your thread or fabric

Let me know how you went! Take an image and share it on my Facebook page!

Banner image: Procsilas Mosca (Flickr)

Read this next:  Upcycle With Furoshiki: The Japanese Art Of Fabric Wrapping


4 thoughts on “Japanese Boro stitching

  1. I have been trying to get this thing done and very near good, but got dicouraged
    Help me with the how to of it. Help me with this please.

  2. Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it, you may be a great author.
    I will always bookmark your blog and may come back very soon. I want to
    encourage one to continue your great work, have a nice afternoon!

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