How do you know it's Japanese Boro?

By Susan Fletcher
Boro Sashiko Japanese Hand Stitching


Although Boro is the Japanese name for a type of mending, stitching, reinforcing and extending the life of used fabric, every culture has this practice in it's history. Before cloth was mass produced by industrialized manufacturers, it was far too work intensive to make, and too important to the well-being of families, for it to be thrown out before there was no use left in it. 

So how do you know if it is Japanese Boro?  I'd look for the traditional white on blue colors, but it's not uncommon in vintage pieces to find the stitching and fabrics are all over-dyed in indigo making the whole piece a cohesive blue.  While this may have been done to make the whole stitched fabric or piece of clothing look nicer, it was often also done because the indigo dye helped to strengthen the fabric, giving a little more useful life span.

The piece below is natural linen, patched and  stitched, then over dyed in indigo.

Boro Stitching on linen fabric, overdyed with indigo

Japanese Boro is often done using plain running stitches in parallel lines, but I would also look for traditional geometric Sashiko, hitomezashi and Kogin sashiko designs in the piece. In the sample shown here, you can see the scrap from a sashiko project is stitched to some salvaged clothing pieces.

boro sashiko stitching

The sample shown below was stitched from small waste scraps of fabric, but unlike North American  traditional quilting, the fabrics have simply been layered and stitched with their edges unhemmed, and would likely be used for household cleaning cloths (dish towels, dish cloths, washing rags...)  There may be several layers of overlapping fabrics sewn together to give the cloth some thickness, and as it got used and worn, the weak places would have more fabric patches stitched over them again, until the whole thing was beyond use.

Boro sashiko

Want to try boro stitching yourself? We have a kit available on 

Talk to you soon,

Happy Stitching