Sewn Boro Cloth: A Paintbrush Roll-up

boro cloth

Have you ever experimented with boro cloth? A Japanese style of mending, boro has grown in popularity along with the ‘slow stitching’ movement. Meditate in cloth along with artist Blair Stocker as she creates a bespoke paintbrush roll-up.


A special piece of clothing worn by a loved one. Baby clothes outgrown long ago. Kitchen curtains from a favorite aunt’s house. The storytelling power of fabrics is one of the strongest inspirations for the quilted pieces I design. One of my favorite ways to create a larger piece of cloth from smaller scraps is using a Japanese technique called boro. A term that translates to ragged or tattered cloth, boro is the stitching of small scraps or remnants onto old or weakened cloth to strengthen it and make it useable. I consider it the ultimate example of upcycling.

These cloth compositions are a unique way to create a narrative of special fabrics that hold memories. The most mismatched of scraps appear cohesive once all the textural stitches are added to sew them to the base cloth layer. This paintbrush roll-up is a wonderful gift for the artists in your life. Include special scraps of quilting cottons, needlework pieces, vintage napkins, bits of a favorite scarf, the hem of a curtain, and more. Settling into the meditative act of hand stitching is a big part of the process for me, and worth the trouble.

Materials

  • Acrylic quilting ruler (I used an Omnigrid® ruler, 3″ × 18″.) (affiliate link)
  • Rotary cutter (affiliate link)
  • Self-healing cutting mat (affiliate link)
  • Adult-sized shirt. NOTE: Other clothing items can be used, just be sure it’s a shirt weight fabric and large enough to cut a 15″ × 17″ piece.
  • Cotton fabric, quilting weight, solid, ½ yard for the inside panel, binding, and ties
  • Quilt batting, thin cotton, at least 22″ × 22″ (I used Quilter’s Dream Cotton® Request.) (affiliate link)
  • Fabric and trim scraps, assorted sizes. TIP: Avoid scraps that are toothick to hand stitch through.
  • Temporary basting glue (I used Roxanne Glue-Baste-It®.) (affiliate link)
  • Sewing machine and a fresh needle
  • Thread in a neutral color
  • Embroidery thread, 3–4 coordinating colors (I used DMC® Perle Cotton size 8.)
  • Embroidery needle
  • Water-soluble or disappearing marking pen (I used a Pilot® FriXion pen in black.) (affiliate link)
  • Temporary basting spray or safety pins (I used 505® Spray and Fix Temporary Fabric Adhesive.) (affiliate link)
  • Hera™ marker (affiliate link)
  • Hand-sewing needle
  • Iron and ironing surface

Directions

1. Using a quilting ruler, self healing mat, and a rotary cutter, cut one large 15″ × 17″ panel from the shirt for the outside of the roll-up. I used the back panel of an old chambray shirt.

2. Using a ¼” seam allowance, machine stitch additional assorted scraps to the shirt panel to create a piece that measures at least 22″ × 22″. I chose fabrics that coordinated with the chambray, yet still let the shirt fabric be the focus of the piece.

3. Using a rotary cutter and self-healing mat, cut the solid cotton fabric. Cut one 22″ × 22″ panel for the inside of the roll-up; three 2″ × 42″ strips for the binding; and one 2″ × 42″ strip for the ties. Additionally, cut a 22″ × 22″ piece of quilt batting.

4. Place the outside panel of the roll-up right-side up on your work surface.

5. Place the special scraps you gathered on the panel right-side up, but try to avoid the outer 2″ on all 4 sides, as this area will eventually be trimmed off. Cover a few seams with these scraps, and overlap some pieces to create a nice composition. Consider spreading stronger colors all around instead of placing them in one area. Aim for a balanced look, but do not overthink the design. Remember that boro was originally made for purely utilitarian purposes; there wasn’t much thought to artistry. Traditional boro cloth used scraps to add strength to seams or weak areas, so if there are thin or delicate areas that need shoring up, consider covering those areas.

6. Once you are happy with the arrangement, use a few small dots of temporary basting glue to hold the fabrics in place. Optional: Machine stitch around the edges of each scrap piece, using a neutral thread. This helps secure the scraps to the base fabric, which is useful if you are like me and enjoy the portability of hand stitching projects and like to stitch on the go.

7. Hand embroider over the scraps with running stitches, using contrasting embroidery threads and creating patterns with the stitches. Using a quilting ruler and a water-soluble pen, I marked lines spaced ¼” apart.

boro cloth

Add running stitches as decorative elements and to reninforce the cloth | Process photos courtesy of the artist]

8. The running stitches add a decorative element to the piece and will also reinforce the cloth. Any stitch pattern that covers the patch and secures it to the base will work. Do this to all the patches to complete the front panel. I added some needlepoint pieces, which were cut from a larger piece. To secure these to the base cloth, I added running stitches around the needlework, and did not add further embroidery over those pieces, so the design wouldn’t be obscured.

boro cloth

Make a sandwich of the panel, batting, and outside panel

9. Place the inside panel wrong-side up on your work surface, add the quilt batting, and lay the outside panel on top, right-side up. Adhere the layers together with a bit of basting spray or several safety pins. The layers should be even and smooth.

boro cloth

Make vertical crease lines 1″ apart

10. Working on the front of the outside panel, use a hera marker and ruler to create vertical crease lines 1″ apart, all the way across the piece. Alternatively, use a water-soluble marker or chalk. Quilt the layers together by hand stitching along each of the creases or lines, using embroidery thread and a running stitch.

TIP: Start stitching in the center of the piece first. Though this is not mandatory, the finished piece will lie flatter. NOTE: I hand stitched these lines through some of the patches and avoided others, stitching up to and beyond the patch, not through it.

boro cloth

Trim the piece and secure the layers

11. Trim the piece to 20″ × 20″. Machine stitch close to the edge around all 4 sides to secure the layers.

12. Machine stitch the three 2″ binding strips together, end to end, to create 1 continuous strip. Press the seams open. Fold the strip lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press the entire strip.

13. Decide which long side of the roll-up you will turn up to create the pockets for the brushes, and add binding to that edge. With the front panel facing up, line up the end of the binding strip on one side of the panel and then align the cut edges of the folded binding with the cut edge of what will become the top of the pockets.

14. Machine stitch the binding to the panel, using a ¼” seam allowance. Trim away the binding that extends beyond the other side. Fold the binding over the edge to the back of the panel, and hand stitch the binding into place. I used blind stitches, spacing them approximately ¼” apart.

15. Still working on the side with the binding, fold up 8½” toward the inside panel and pin it in place. With a water-soluble marking pen and a ruler, mark lines on the folded section to indicate where the channels for the paintbrushes will go. I created a variety of channel sizes: 1″ for smaller brushes and tools, and 1½”–2″ for larger brushes. Machine stitch over the drawn lines, stitching through all layers and backstitching at the beginning and end.

16. Make the ties. Cut the 2″-wide strip in half to create 2 strips approximately 21″ long. Fold each strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press with an iron to create a crease. Unfold 1 strip, fold ½” toward the wrong side at each short end, and press. Bring the long cut edges of the strip in toward the center crease, and press. Fold the entire strip in half lengthwise, enclosing all of the raw edges. Machine stitch around the 3 folded edges, close to the edge. Repeat for the second strip.

17. Lay 1 strip on top of the other and place the ends on the edge of one short side of the panel, with the length of the strip lying on the panel. Baste the strips in place.

boro cloth

Add the remaining binding around the edges and insert brushes into pockets

18. Add the remaining binding around all 4 outside edges, in the same manner used in step 10, being sure to catch the ends of the ties. Insert the brushes into the pockets, fold the top section over the tops of the brushes, and roll and tie the bag to secure.

boro cloth

Stitches

I used stab and running stitches for this project. These stitches are basically the same, except the stab stitch is made one stitch at a time. I created designs by stitching in different patterns, such as diagonal rows, crossing stitches, or creating squares with four stab stitches. I also added eyelet pieces and trims by stitching through them at certain areas with a contrasting thread.

Blair Stocker has always been a prolific maker. A former textile designer and apparel merchandiser, she makes modern quilts and home accessories and is inspired by vintage, old, and forgotten textiles. Her newest book, Wise Craft Quilts: A Guide To Turning Beloved Fabrics Into Meaningful Patchwork (affiliate link), celebrates memory keeping and storytelling with 21 quilt projects. Blair lives in Seattle, Washington. Visit her website here.

boro cloth

Love this article? Check out more boro cloth exploration with Sandra Johnson on “Quilting Arts TV” Series 2400!

Sew long,
Katie

This article first appeared in our sister publication, Cloth Paper Scissors. Feature image by Sharon White.

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