Introduction: Boro Tote

About: I am retired and love to spend my time at our cabin, birding, hiking, sewing, and repurposing; I especially enjoy working with wool.

This Boro Tote was made from a patchwork of scrap material.

What is Japanese "Boro" and how did it develop?
A traditional patchwork style - boro, grew out of necessity as opposed to aesthetics. Meaning “ragged” or “tattered,” the boro style was favored by nineteenth and early twentieth-century rural Japanese. Cotton was not common in Japan until well into the twentieth century, so when a kimono or sleeping futon cover started to run thin in a certain area, the family’s women patched it with a small piece of scrap fabric using sashiko stitching.

Over generations of families, these textiles would acquire more and more patches, almost to the point of the common observer being unable to recognize where the original fabric began. Covered in indigo scraps, what is beautiful to us was at one time shameful to these Japanese. As they recovered after the end of World War II, to some the boro textiles reminded the Japanese of their impoverished rural past.


Supplies needed for a Boro Tote are minimal - scrap material, thread,
scissors, needle, backing material, interfacing, sewing machine, and pattern (I used McCall's 5994).

Step 1: Creating and Stitching

Assemble scraps of material and pin randomly on your backing material. (Note: Although I made a tote, anything can be made using the fabric boro technique; i.e., tablecloth, clothing, upholstery cover, pillow, curtains, duvet cover, etc.) Overlay each scrap sufficiently - a minimum of 1/4". The scraps can be frayed, worn, faded, uneven, etc. - these imperfections/inconsistencies add charm and character to your finished product.

To ensure straight rows of stitches are fairly evenly spaced, draw straight lines with a ruler on the reverse. Since my material was black, I used a white colored pencil. Alternatively, white interfacing could be sewn to the reverse and straight lines could be drawn on the interfacing.

Double thread your needle and begin hand sewing. I used old cotton thread I had on hand. Attempt to use consistently sized stitches - but don't be too concerned as inconsistencies add charm and character.

Step 2: Complete Your Tote (or Project)

Using my boro created fabric, I made a tote!

I enjoyed the ease and flexibility of being able to stitch while watching television, traveling, etc. as well as picking it up and spending a few minutes or an hour stitching. I found the hand stitching to be very repetitive and calming - I hope you do too!

Fiber Arts Contest

Participated in the
Fiber Arts Contest