If good design is sustainable design, then boro is both.
Meaning rags or scraps, boro is a waste-not-want-not textile tradition dating back to 17th-century Japan, when, for nearly 200 years, all trade was prohibited with foreign nations. As a result, cotton became a currency: coveted, treasured, and passed down through generations. Year after year, mending after mending, generations communicated through prints and patterns, textures, weaves and seasonal dying techniques, leaving their mark in hand-stitching for the next.
Impeccably made and process-oriented to the core, not surprisingly, boro’s rebuilt-to-last ethos found a home away from home in Portland’s maker community. And, for the first time since February 2016, you can learn the art at Kiriko Made’s quarterly boro workshops.
Since December 2012, when American-born Dawn Yanagihara and her Japanese-born partner Katsu Tanaka first opened the doors, Kiriko Made has grown from a PNW cult destination to producers of a sold-out collection exclusive to mass marketer J. Crew. It’s been a particularly busy year since their last boro workshop: Kiriko hired new staff, launched a collaboration with Portland-based Eggpress, as well as a capsule collection with local apparel brand Bridge & Burn, and opened a flagship store, moving from a low-ceiling basement studio on NW 5th to an airy street-level brick-and-mortar retail space at 325 NW Couch. Here and now, once again, Kiriko Made returns to their roots, in thread.
Surrounded by a stunning collection of antique kimonos, rare Japanese ceramics, and hand-painted kokeshi dolls, boro workshops are held in-store toward the end of the business day.
Last week’s workshop proved a most handsome and inspiring setting for the three-hour class, filled with warm light and a playlist of upbeat Brazilian music. Classes are limited to 14 students, seated in groups of four or five per work table. On each table, there are baskets stuffed with a colorful array of vintage textiles and remnants for mending.
When registering for the workshop (follow Kiriko's blog for updates about the next one), you can choose between making a scarf, with all materials provided, or bringing your own garment in need of repair.
You're welcome to sew your own patches, but for those who've never even sewn a button, fear not: three master seamstresses man their sewing stations throughout the evening, only occasionally stopping their work to confer with colleagues. Heads bowed and always smiling, the women consult in rapid-fire Japanese, and then, having arrived at a solution, instantly separate and return to their machines.
Throughout the evening, owner Katsu Tanaka does not stop circling the room, attending to students as though they were guests in his own home, refilling cups with a fresh pot of green tea, and making sure everyone has Japanese confections and rice cracker treats. Joined by several Kiriko staff members, each student receives plenty of individual attention, and the time passes surprisingly quickly.
It would be easy to spend a whole hour digging through the baskets of scraps at each table. For that matter, you could spend the entire evening simply watching what other students are creating. At the end of the workshop, the takeaway isn’t simply a deeper appreciation of 400-year-old techniques and Japanese history, but a one-of-a-kind garment with which to tell your own story.