Boro is the name given to a traditional form of Japanese textiles, and translated into English, means 'rags'. The art of boro uses recycled material such as discarded cotton, and can make anything from clothes to bed sheets. The technique was used by the poor in nineteenth century rural Japan, who could not afford to buy new things. Often boro was used to repair things like a fisherman's jacket or futon bed.
Because these items were repaired so often, they got handed down from generation to generation, and each new repair added another saga to the family story.
The reason why cotton was so expensive in Northern Japan is because the cold climate means it was unable to be cultivated in that region. Rural people were unable to afford the imported cotton, so boats transported discarded pieces. These tended only to be available in blue, grey, black and brown. The cotton was often used as part of a trade, maybe for food like fish.
In the twentieth century, Japan moved more towards industrialisation and urbanisation, so the population became more wealthy, and patchwork textiles faded out. A lot of boros were thrown away because it was an unwelcome reminder of poverty. Although unpopular in Japan today, boros have become highly collectible in Western society.
At Somerset House, they are exploring the art of boro in a free exhibition that lasts until the 26th April. Showcasing forty pieces in the East Wing Galleries, this never before displayed collection has been put together by ompiled over six years by antiquarians, Gordon Reece and Philippe Boudin.