Boro Kimono

Boro Kimonos: Threads of History

Indigo Plant and Indigo Dye Powder

In 2018 Trey Trahan contacted me to photograph some of the Boro kimonos in his collection. Both Trey and I were impressed by the rich cultural beauty embodied in these pieces of Japanese antiquity. Boro Kimonos: Threads of History, bears homage to the inspiration, workmanship, and heritage of the creators of Japanese Boro kimonos. These kimonos date to the Edo period (1603–1867) which marked a significant period when indigo and cotton were prominent in the textile industry. I perceived the kimonos as a continuum: threads that connect different aspects of human utilization of plants, differing levels of society, and on a more personal level, artists separated in time by hundreds of years.

I approached the photography for this project at two scales: full-view photographs and close-ups images focusing on details of the fabric. I then combined some of these images to create scroll-like, comprehensive renderings of the fabric.

Full view photographs of the Boro Kimonos portray their grandeur as clothing, macrophotographs reveal the details of their fabrics. The term Boro describes a tattered appearance resulting from mending, re-mending, and patching of garments.

Otsuzure kimono: Wisteria Bast and Paper

Detail of Otsuzure Kimono

The Otsuzure kimono illustrates the ingenuity of in the Meiji period. From a distance, this kimono looks as if it is denim, but, in fact, the fabric is a weave of wisteria fibers and paper. Strips of paper, most likely mulberry with its long fibers, were spun into yarn. This paper yarn was, in turn, twirled around wisteria fibers that were dyed with indigo and woven into fabric. Or, possibly, the indigo dye was applied to the garment after it was completed. Women in fishing and farming families created sturdy and beautiful work kimonos worn by farmers and fisherman. The lighter-colored area most likely indicates areas worn and creased by workers’ toils.

Saki-Ori Kimono

The unique look of the Saki-Ori kimono – with its distinct linear weave design – is born from the way it was woven. Indigo-dyed cotton remnants, torn and twisted into strips, were inter-woven with bast to create a strongly textured and vibrantly colored cloth.

Macrophotography reveals the details of the kimono fabrics. On the sleeves the stitched starburst or floral motif suggests that this garment was made for special occasions.

Detailed photographs of Saki-Ori Kimono

The fabric’s undulating weave and variation in blue hues provoke a feel of flowing water.

Tapestry created from details of Saki-Ori kimono

The Atlantic Ocean (Photograph by Emily Owens)

Waves of the Atlantic Ocean superimposed onto the digitally created Saki-Ori kimono tapestry

Okusozakkuri Kimono: Bast fabric (probably Hemp) with indigo-dyed cotton patches.

The Okusozakkuri kimono made of waste bast fibers shows the hardship and poverty endured by much of the Japanese population in the Edo and early Meiji period. While the best bast fibers were sold, the left-over waste was used to make yarn to weave into clothing.

Detail of cotton patches on Okusozakkuri kimono, Detail of cotton patch on Okusozakkuri kimono

Hantens are jacket-length garments made from scraps of indigo-dyed cotton, carefully stitched together. The multiple layers of stitched patches reveal reinforcing of worn hantens with new scraps of fabric. As the layers built up, the hanten gained durability and warmth.

Indigo-dyed cotton Sashiko hanten: Interior (top photographs) and Exterior (bottom photographs).

Details of fabric from Sashiko hanten

Close-up photographs of the details of the fabrics reveal varying designs: patterns of shells, crosses, plaids, and geometric figures.

Detail from Interior of Sashiko hanten             Detail from Exterior of Sashiko hanten

The interior and exterior designs of this hanten are distinctly different. The bright patchwork landscape of the interior fabric contrasts with the exterior’s subtle color transitions.

Detailed Images Joined into Photographic Scroll-like Tapestries

Sashiko Hanten with areas photographed for details outlined in yellow

Areas outlined in yellow depict the five details used for constructing the digital Sashiko tapestry

By creating digital threads, I wove together close-up photographic details to create original renderings of the fabric as scroll-like tapestries.

Five details of Sashiko hanten kimono used to create digital tapestry

White areas on represent areas of details not included in the Sashiko hanten tapestry

Sashiko hanten tapestry

Sashiko hanten Tapestries Mounted in Japanese hanging scroll tradition

As I studied each detail of the hanten, I observed two defining features: fragility and durability. At first these qualities seemed in opposition, but, to me, these attributes arise from the hanten’s journey from its creative origins to its ultimate utility. The patches added reinforced and preserved its integrity, adding to its character and value as a historical piece of folk art.