Sashiko, Boro, and Wabi Sabi

Kate: What are all these clothes sitting in this pile?

Mel: They all have holes in them.

Kate: Are they to be thrown out?

Mel: I guess. I don’t want to throw them out. They still fit. I just can’t wear them with the holes.

Kate: Do you want me to mend them?

Mel: I don’t think they can be at this point. Pretty big holes. But if you can fix them enough to at least allow me to wear them around the house, I’d really appreciate it.


She had read in an article the the value of ‘mottainai’ or ‘too good to waste’ was dangerously lacking in modern consumer culture.

In her world, going to the mall or (even worse) a box store was a dreaded chore she worked to avoid. It was not some forgotten value of frugality that made her explore the art of sashiko. It was the relatively common desire to not have to wander through aisles of Target crowded with weekend shoppers just to buy more cheaply-made clothing that would quickly develop holes requiring her to repeat the same process.

She wondered if the Japanese had a word for that emotion.

Mel: At first when I looked at the big patch, I thought, “Hey. Not bad. I can wear these outside the house.” But then I saw the square patch. I don’t like it. It’s just a weird square patch.

Kate: Yeah. I agree. I’ve seen sashiko done both ways. Sometimes the fabric meant to patch the hole is placed on the inside of the garment and sometimes it’s placed on the outside. Because of where that hole was located, I couldn’t see how to patch it with the fabric placed on the inside. The seam there next to the hole was just too thick. Therefore I decided to experiment with a patch on the outside of the garment. I can try to fix it later if you like.

Mel: I don’t expect you to try to change it or something. I’ll wear the shorts around the house. But I actually like the big hole now. It give the shorts character. It’s like that one Japanese word. . . what you call it.

Kate: Wabi sabi

Mel: Yep. Wabi sabi.

Kate: From what I understand, sashiko is the use of the running stitch and scrap fabric to patch a hole in clothing. After the clothing has been patched a number of times, it becomes boro. At one time, boro was a pejorative word. It was the tattered and repeatedly mended clothing of the peasantry. Now boro is kind of shabby chic. Like younger people who buy expensive new jeans with fashionable prefabricated holes. . . The boro though does look kind of cool when you get several of those little patches covering a garment.

Mel: Yeah. I could see that. Give me a few months and I make another hole and then you can make it even more wabi sabi and boro. But right now, it’s just a weird square that says, “Here’s my crotch.” I don’t like to draw unnecessary attention to the area of my junk.

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