Three Easy Ways to Mend Fabric, Inspired by Japanese Textiles

japanese-boro-6860
Ever since I started embroidering I’ve had a growing love for textiles. Surface design, pattern, texture and embellishment have crept their way into my everyday work. Fabric is also everywhere! From the clothes we wear, to the blanket at the foot of the bed, we use and need fabrics for daily living. I wanted to share some ideas to help keep, care for and mend our clothing and other textiles in heavy use, inspired by century-old Japanese textiles.

patching-final_7064
On a cloudy afternoon I visited Stephen, the owner of Sri Threads — a showroom specializing in antique Japanese folk textiles, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn — and pretty much touched every piece of fabric I could. There are kimonos and other clothing, futon covers and weavings, painted and indigo-dyed textiles beautifully worn with use, layered over time with careful repairs of patches and stitches. The repaired textiles with many patches and stitches are called boro, or ragged, and are often built up of many layers of stitched-together cloth and scattered patches as needed. At the time of repair they were not meant to be an aesthetic enhancement, but purely functional and even hidden.

reinforced-sttiches-final-7055
Instead of throwing away a torn piece of clothing, or paying the tailor to hide the repair, I love the idea of seeing a flaw as a chance to playfully enhance the beauty of the garment. Using these Japanese textiles as inspiration, here are three ways to easily repair your own clothing and textiles, with minimal materials and fuss, in tried and true methods. The stitches are very easy, a running stitch or backstitch, and you can be as loose or precise as you like with the stitching — as you can see in the various example pieces. —Jessica

running-stitch-6845
Materials:
Fabric to repair
Sashiko Thread (embroidery thread or thick thread will work, too)
Darning or sashiko needle
Fabric scraps (denim and canvas make great patches)
Scissors
Fusible webbing (optional)
Chalk wheel and ruler (optional)

Patching with fabric

japanese-boro-6868
Mended futon cover with a pink safflower dyed patch and hemp stitching. Late 19th century.

patch-inspiration-6833
Patches in a Sakiori, ragweave, work coat. Early- to mid-20th century.

patch-inspiration-6838
A boro futon cover featuring chrysanthemums dyed with a stencil-resist technique called a Katazome. Late 19th century.

reverse-patch-inspiration-6842
Often made from scraps of old cloth, an Obi shin was placed inside of an obi, a kimono sash, to add fullness.

Mixing patterns and adding color is a great way to immediately transform your textiles. As the examples above show, you can patch on top of your fabric, use several patches in layers, or patch from the reverse side, so that the patch peeks through. I chose to patch from the reverse. First, I cut the frayed edges of the tear. Then, secured the reverse patch with sewing pins and stitched an outline of running stitches around the tear. For added strength, stitch rows of running stitches up and down the patch as well and you can also add another layer of fabric. I added a layer of sturdy canvas behind the striped linen fabric. Start and end threads with a knot. Cut around the patch to remove excess fabric.

Note: If you’re worried about fraying fabric edges, you can also use fusible webbing to adhere your fabric patch with an iron and then stitch over, dab a bit of Fray Check on the fabric edges, or machine sew around the patch. For a more authentic look and stronger patch, leave the full square patch intact, don’t trim it and hand sew or machine sew around the outline.

reverse-patch-steps
patching-final_7064

Decorative reinforced stitching

reinforced-stitches-6830
reinforced-stitches-6832
Mended child’s jacket. Early 20th century.

reinforced-stitches-6853
reinforced-stitches-6852
Mended trousers. Combination of hand and machine sewing. Early 20th century.

reinforced-stitches-6902
reinforced-stitches-detial-6904
Farmer’s or fisherman’s jacket with sashiko stitching. Early- to mid-20th century.

In areas of greatest wear to garments, like the elbow or knees, adding tightly placed rows of running stitches helps to reinforce the fabric, adding lots of strength and a killer decorative pattern. Add a patch underneath the worn or torn area before stitching. I used a thick canvas. Mark rows with a chalk wheel and ruler. You can also eyeball this, which I did in between rows in an alternating pattern of stitches.

reinforced-stitching-steps
reinforced-sttiches-final-7055

Patching with solid stitching

Sakabukuro_6864
Sakabukuro-detail-6866
This sakabukuro, or sake bag, was once used to filter sake. Great pressure is applied during the process and heavily used bags often required mending. To strengthen the bags, the cotton sacks are dyed with green persimmon tannin, or kaki shibu.

First, create a patch of fabric a bit larger than the tear. I used a thick canvas again. I wanted my stitches to be the focus so the patch is on the reverse side of the garment adding strength, but out of sight. Then I used the backstitch in tightly packed rows to create an area of solid stitches. Leave your thread tails long when beginning a length of thread, so you can weave your beginning and ending threads underneath your stitches for a seamless finish, without knots. Cut excess fabric around the patch.

solid-stitching-steps
solid-stitching-finial-7037

Thanks to Stephen at Sri Threads for sharing these amazing pieces with us! I highly recommend visiting Sri (pictured below) if you get a chance, so many beautiful, inspiring pieces to explore.

sri-showroom_6823
sri-threads-showroom-6889
sri-threads-showroom-6893

  1. Sarah says:

    Such a beautifully photographed and informative article! My mother taught me to embroider as a child, and I’ve been thinking of mending a few things with decorative stitching. This article is perfect timing for some inspiration!

  2. carolinAUS says:

    What a brilliant story. Thank you for sharing. I think the mending makes the pieces more beautiful.

  3. sunshine says:

    Thanks Jessica! I’ve a sweater that I can’t part with that’s worn at the elbows. This is a great way to extend its life.

  4. cfromd says:

    I have an old sweater that I love but has been slowly falling apart over the last few years so I use it as my “mending sampler.” Thanks for giving me a few new techniques for next rips / holes!

    Pretty soon there won’t be much left of the original fabric…

  5. Malia says:

    This is wonderful and really useful! I have a huge stack of clothes waiting to be mended and have been needing some inspiration to tackle this project.

  6. Emmy says:

    This is such an awesome post! I love how it blends DIY with learning something new/culturally specific about a certain craft. Now if only some clothing of mine could rip a little so I could try this out :)

  7. Zoe says:

    Such beautiful pictures – and very inspiring. I too will be pulling out that sewing kit pronto. We have long been Sashiko fans and when we launched our small London-based online shop selling party and wedding decorations we commissioned these Saskiko Papel Picado from a maker in Mexico. Thought you might like to see! http://www.peagreenboat.com/decorate/bunting-and-garlands/sashiko-papel-picado.html

  8. I just (today) ripped my most favorite pair of jeans… so this post came at just the right moment! I am going to go through my scraps of fabric to find something fun to use to repair them. Thanks for the inspiration!

  9. Karen says:

    A wonderful article! It makes so much sense on a planet with dwindling resources to make everything last longer…..especially if it can be done beautifully!

  10. Keri Binskin says:

    Breathtaking stunning and fundamental my belief in how I choose to live love and adore thank you

  11. Sally says:

    The founding mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters of the United States as well as European countries have been mending clothing for centuries also and when an article could no longer be patched or darned it was turned into quilts with other fabrics from worn clothing. But thank you for the article bringing back the idea that just because it maybe worn you can still salvage it in some way.

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Sally

      Yes, their thriftiness and skill is also worthy of much praise. These particular techniques are more common in Japanese textiles, which is why we referenced that here.

      Grace

  12. Chelsea says:

    This is so beautiful!! I almost wish I had more holes to mend now!!!! I am definitely going to apply this inspiration to my own items!!!

  13. elena +deco says:

    Finally a bit of sewing that doesn’t involve the sewing machine which I can’t use and never had the time to learn!
    It is very interesting I will give it a go and make a cushion for the sofa even if jeans doesn’t have the same deep shades of blue of Japanese textiles.

  14. I love the unique design elements and techniques you’ve featured to help mend clothing. Green Issues by Agy did a similar post and I loved the embroidery featured in it. These are great inspirations!

  15. Elaine says:

    Great post!! I visited with Stephen in his glorious shop about 3 years ago. I, too, could not keep my hands off all the fabrics. He had some boxes with scraps of material that I really enjoyed going through and purchased some of them. They’re still waiting for something to sew them onto.

  16. Floria says:

    Love, Love, Love this idea! I have a 2 yr old granddaughter and think this would be so cute to do this on purpose on some secondhand clothing! I am going to try this.

  17. Lynn says:

    These mends are lovely, useful and deep. Thank you!

  18. Martha says:

    Thank you for all these wonderful ideas! Yes, so inspiring for artfully reinventing and carrying the value and preciousness forward!

  19. We are such a throw-away society – thank you for such a great reminder of a beautiful way of saving clothing. I only just learned of this method, it is beautiful, thank you for the detailed photos. I will work on learning how to incorporate it into my own clothing and those for my family.

  20. Bilikis says:

    Thank you so much for these wonderful ideas…

  21. GREGORY says:

    ITS BEAUTIFUL AND PRACTICAL WAY TO SAVE FAVORITE CLOTH, MONEY AND WORLD TOO!!! I LIKE IT AND BRING THIS IDEAS TO MY COUNTRY IN EUROPE WHERE PEOPLE FORGET THAT OLD METHOD OF SAVING OR SHAMED ABOUT IT!1

  22. Jennifer says:

    As a tailor, I’m always looking for lovely lasting ways to mend and patch clothing, especially with vintage. I agree, careful mending should be celebrated as it adds to the wisdom of the garment x x

  23. Teresa says:

    I got so inspired starting my stuffs. Thanks for this!

  24. Velia Lauerman says:

    Have been in a lifetime of love with MENDING. Also sewing alterations gives My stash of scraps a big boost. Boro has inspired my passion that I use in Repairing & Restoring quilts and other comforts. This information and photos are wonderful ThankYou. Velia Gutierrez Lauerman, 108 North street, Hudson, Michigan, 49247 USA

LEAVE A COMMENT

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.