Boro – The Art Of Necessity

Textile Art Book Reviews

At Mr X Stitch we love to review textile art and embroidery books for you. There are so many great books to discover, packed with needlework inspiration and textile techniques, so we dive into each book to find out what’s good, what’s bad and let you know why you should pick it up.

Boro – The Art Of Necessity – Art and Theory Stockholm


This book, we must tell you from the start, was actually a conpanion to an exhibition under the same same, at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Sweden. Yet it serves as a beautiful piece of literature to own in its own right, that is why we wanted to review it.

To give you some background history, the collection of garments and other pieces of cloth you will see in this book (also exhibited)are generally only on view in Tokyo, so getting to see them in literally form or within this book is a real treat. COVID-19 stopped the work being seen for a long time, so again, it is a celebration to be able to have it in our possession.

So, will Boro – The Art Of Necessity be of interest to you?

About The Writers

Due to the type of book this is and the fact it is a companion to the exhibition, there are five essay type articles inside, each written by a different author. The authors biographies are briefly displayed on the back page, there is Staffan Appelgren, who is a specialist in social anthropology, Petra Holmberg, a curator for Japan at world culture events and also a historian. Then there is Kyoichi Tsuzyki who lives and works in Tokyo, he documented the photographic side of this book. Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, an artist in their own right and having co-written several textile related books. Finally, Phillip Warkander, who has a ph. D in Fashion Studies.

What is Boro?

The Japanese term “boro” refers to rags and fabrics used for far longer than their expected lifespan. In order to recycle, transform, and create “new” textiles from old, various techniques are used such as patching and mending, reinforcing with simple stitch-work, or weaving from rags. Boro textiles were created throughout Japan from the 19th century into the 1950s, although the phenomenon can be traced far earlier. Published along with an exhibition in Stockholm, this book surveys the history of boro and examines its changing social, economic, and aesthetic status as a visual and conceptual source of inspiration for textile artists and designers, both in Japan and internationally.

You can find out more about boro in our dedicated post and we have a great book review that may also help.

Who Is This Book Aimed At?

Those who have an interest in Japanese culture, history, fashion and textiles.


Boro is not just a fashion term or a repair job to elongate a well loved item, it can really be a form of art, with deep rooted origins. Lets discover how this book documents this precious form of textile culture.

Boro the art of necessity contents list in text
The contents contains an interesting section explaining to the reader what boro actually is

Boro – The Art of Necessity tells the story of artistry born from hardship. It traces history and memories through patched and mended fabrics – a Japanese textile culture where no scrap of material is wasted, and where economical creations were passed down between the generations. The book contains photo documentation of key pieces from the collection of folklorist, archaeologist and ethnologist Chuzaburo Tanaka (1933-2013).

Curatorial and theoretical texts survey the history of boro as textiles, but also examine boro’s changing social, economic and aesthetic status.

The book begins with four separate chapters in the form of essays, each written by a different author. The first, Boro: The Art of Necessity tells the story of Boro, which really gives us a deeper insight and I feel appreciation for this technique. It is so much more than a skill to learn or a fashion to wear. Boro is a method borne from poverty and a need to even simply keep warm. I particularly enjoyed the writers explanation of Mottainai which is the Japanese word associated with boro, translated into English as simply not to waste. There are real lives and real stories connected with boro’s history, so its important to realise its value historically as well as within the fashion and textile art fields.

We then move on to an essay founded on boro as a fashion statement, then after that, one titled What is Boro? Which may seem like a stupid question, given the fact as a reader we will have some understanding before picking the book up. However its actually very practical, and again I feel it will deepen our appreciation for the culture and history of Japan and the real people, as well as the beauty of the technique itself. I will not go into every detail of each of these essays as that would spoil it for you, but the final essay is more directed to the collection actually on exhibition and which has been photographed for this book – after this essay we are lead through key pieces from the collection, all documented in picture form with close ups and large images.

I will now highlight a few of the beautiful garments you will come across in this book…..

Boro the art of necessity kimono
A beautiful example of a kimono
Boro the art of necessity two page spread of stitch details
Two page spread close up, showing the fine details alongside the back of another kimono
Boro the art of necessity cloth example
Each image has been well explained with its details documented
Boro the art of necessity garment

Every detail has been explained, take this textile example, which discloses the dyeing techniques used (indigo) and how it was achieved.

Boro the art of necessity blue and white textile example

You may be surprised to discover what can be made using boro… adult nappies anyone? I won’t say any more, but do turn to page 141 to find out! There are also more usual forms, i.e. trousers.

Boro the art of necessity close up detail on trousers
what type of garments were made in boro? Trousers are just one example

The exhibition also features Swedish artists’ own interpretations of boro as art. Newly produced works by fashion brand Rave Review and poet Burcu Sahin will be on view. The Swedish-Japanese artist Takao Momiyama’s contemporary boro objects will also be shown among the 100 boro objects, a selection of patched and mended clothes from Swedish museum collections. The exhibition is designed by acclaimed Stockholm-based design and architecture studio TAF. Sadly we could not all visit the exhibition itself, so its a treat to be able to view it in this book. I like how it hasn’t all been based on the ancient history of boro, but we really see its connection with our modern age. We see a renewal of interest surrounding re-using clothes and creating less waste; this collection really focuses on this as well as the historical, cultural and fashion aspects.

What Is Good About This Book?

I really liked the photographs and even the paper the book has been printed on. The book itself has a no nonsense fabric cover, which is durable yet not pretentious, which I feel ties in with the Boro ethos itself. The books pages have been dipped in blue, again a reminder of the indigo dye associated with Japan and boro. What I am getting at here, is that there a lot of little details which do not add up to much in themselves, but have a silent value when all brought together under this boro umbrella.

Boro the art of necessity two page spread of texture
beautiful close ups have been captured by the photographer


After the collection of photographs, there is a last section on collecting boro. Will you take on the collectors mantle, sourcing your own pieces? Or maybe you will be inspired to have a go at making your own piece of boro.

Boro the art of necessity collecting boro advice
The last section of the book discusses collecting boro items

For those who are behind the slow stitch idea, using more hand stitching techniques than machine based, I really feel that this book will be an inspiration.

Grab your copy of Boro – The Art of Necessity now.