Monday, 4 November 2013

Favourite Quilting Books and Japanese Boro quilts

After writing about my latest, lovely quilting book birthday present last week - Quilting Happiness - I thought I'd write about last year's quilting book present. In fact two books, and very different to 'Quilting Happiness'.

They're Japanese books, by Yukari Takahara. They're not translated, so, although there are a few English words scattered around some pages, I basically can't 'read' them. And yet, they're quite possibly my two favourite quilting books. They are full of beautiful applique scenes from quilts that the author has created. And, in what are generally fairly simplistic appliques, she manages to convey an incredible amount of expression and feeling and movement and detail and  - I could go on and on really! At least, that's how I feel about her work anyway. For me they're probably the equivalent of one of Maria's favourite, old picture books - something she just loves to pick up and turn the pages and enjoy looking at. But then I'm sure they wouldn't be to everybody's tastes. I'm very much a 'visual' kind of person when it comes to inspiration, if you're someone who wants step by step instructions then these books are definitely not for you - unless you understand Japanese writing!

I haven't found it very easy to get clear pictures to show you from the books, but here are a few to try and give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

The first book is split into 4 sections, on each of the seasons. And the second book is split into a wider range of categories, like Baby, Toys, Animals, Christmas, etc. Each book has quite a lot of 'outlines' for the appliques (you can see some in the photos above), so, even though you can't understand the words, there's a lot that you can take from the books.

The applique is definitely the main attraction with the books, but it's also lovely to look closely at the fabric choices - lots of soft, natural fabrics, some look like they are wools, pretty colourful prints but nothing garish. And, throughout, really effective and effortless combinations of patterns, prints and different textures - something I always find challenging. All the 'quilts' and pictures have the kind of soft, worn look that I associate with recycled fabric - but because I can't understand the text I've no idea whether or not this is the case.

There's one of the backgrounds in particular which, I find, has this soft, worn quality that I love.

It's probably very difficult to see in this photo - but can you just about make out that this background is 'pieced' together? And it looks as though it's pieced in an old, traditional Japanese style - that I also love! - Japanese boro quilting. This kind of quilting generally uses smallish scraps of fabric patched and layered together, with lots of straight hand sewn lines, to provide warmth and make the finished item stronger and longer lasting. It's very often a style of quilting that's made from blue, indigo coloured fabrics. Here are a few more examples for you:

Boro, "tatter rags", vintage japanese quilts made by hand

Detail of "Nostalgia" - Japanese Quilt

When I started writing about Boro quilts here (way back this morning!), I realised I didn't actually know that much about the history of them - I suddenly wondered, for instance, why they are traditionally blue. So, after a bit of research, off and on during the day as I snatched a few moments to come back to this, I found out a bit more about them, rather than just knowing that I admire their appearance. And I found it so interesting that I'm going to include a couple of excerpts here - sorry if the history of quilting isn't something that overly interests you!

(But if it does and you'd like to read even more, then  have a look here - 


'Boro is a Japanese word meaning “tattered rags” and it’s the term frequently used to describe lovingly patched and repaired cotton bedding and clothing, used much longer than the normal expected life cycle. Like early North American patchwork quilts, boro textiles revealed much about the Japanese family'sJapanese Boro Futon Cover living standards and the nature of the economy of their time.
The penny-wise Japanese rural wife repaired the family’s sleeping futon covers again and again by “boro” patching fabric scraps over thin areas and holes in the fabric. Adding sashiko sewing to the repair gave greater strength to the material. Today international collectors regard boro textiles as uniquely Japanese and striking examples of a bygone and lost folk craft.

  • The Japanese discovered that cotton was a difficult fabric to dye except with indigo. Consequently, organic indigo dye was widely used throughout Japan as a coloring and designing agent for cotton textiles. Indigo dye became especially popular in the Edo period (160Japanese Indigo Dye Vats3 - 1867). The indigo fabric dyeing process lasted a week or more and required individual cotton pieces to be immersed and removed from the indigo dye vat more than twenty times. This process assured the dark blue color was firmly fixed in the material. Over time, use and washing, the dark blue appearance gradually faded, producing a visually striking variegated indigo coloring, a unique feature of indigo favored among collectors.
    In addition Japanese peasants preferred indigo blue shades for their textiles because they felt the color mirrored the hue of the oceans surrounding the Japanese islands, a symbol that was both culturally and economically important.
    The Japanese made indigo dye through a natural organic process by fermenting the native indigo weed which transformed the plant material into liquid indigo dye. This pre-industrial method of making indigo dye required that the indigo plants remain in a vat where a culture soup of heat loving bacteria disintegrated the plant material, while drawing out the dark indigo dye.
    Interestingly, Japanese believe that indigo dyes contains properties that naturally repel insects and snakes. This belief is the primary reason why Japanese farm women prefer wearing indigo clothing when working in the fields.'
Again, apologies if I've just inflicted that upon you when it's not your kind of thing. For me, I think it's added to my appreciation of boro quilts. But, back to the books to finish. If, after reading all this, you think they're something you'd maybe like to put on your Christmas list, then you can find them on ebay here - Story Quilt  and  Story Quilt 2. A year ago, when I was looking, they weren't the easiest or cheapest books to come by. It may be that they're easier to find now. Unfortunately, I'm not sure they're any cheaper and I don't think they've been translated still!

Back again tomorrow, Sally.


  1. Absolutely fascinating, Sally. No wonder you like to look at the pictures in the books. I didn't realise the background in the picture was actually quilting till you pointed it out. I have lots of jeans saved to one day make a quilt - who knows when. Maybe I should look at Japanese boro quilting and sashiko. After reading your post, it appeals to me more than a rag quilt which I was thinking of doing. Thanks for sending me the link.

  2. Am not sure if this is helpful, but I found them in English through Amazon. But yeah the publications were in Jan 2014. Aft this post. And Story Quilt 2 in Jan 2015. Can't wait to buy them.


Please post a comment, I love to hear from you!