A Living Room Deep Dive: Our Boro Fabric DIY Curtain Panels (I Finally Found Their Perfect Home)

While I don’t want to rank my favorite things in my house (they can hear me!), our vintage Boro fabric cafe curtain panels are definitely in the top five. If you’ve been following (thank you!) you know I’ve been collecting this fabric for years and years, buying directly from Japanese fabric dealers (mostly on Etsy). When I first started collecting (six years ago) there (unfortunately) wasn’t a huge conversation about appropriation versus appreciation. We were all idiots in a million ways (and still have a long way to go). But since then it’s become a much larger conversation and I’ve been both schooled and empowered by it. I feared that my favorite thing – quilted handstitched indigo plaid fabric, would be off limits to me, a white lady in Oregon. The more I dove into the difference between appreciation and appropriation I learned that it’s so much about context, acknowledgment, awareness, and historical crediting. It’s definitely nuanced. There are absolutely some things that as people not of the culture where a particular artifact is from, primarily white people, we need to be diligent about knowing its cultural significance (i.e. spiritual elements or pillaged artifacts due to colonialism). Above all, making sure these purchases are benefitting the people of the culture where a piece is from is the bare minimum. I’m not an expert or perfect but wanted to make sure this is something we continue to talk and learn about.

The Boro craft is rooted in 19th-century rural Japan where working-class people patched fabric together to make clothes as well as mend holes to stretch the life of the fabric/clothes. It’s mostly indigo, plaid, and denim and no two pieces will ever be alike. This hand-stitched technique resonates so much with me, deeply, because we are all full of holes and we don’t need to be scrapped completely, just need some mending with love. Pieces get handed down, never thrown out, just worked on and worked on for years, decades. It’s completely unduplicatable, utilitarian, and so special. Japanese design and culture are nothing short of inspiring, and even that descriptor feels short and lame.

Good art is good art and good design is good design. When we love it we should all be able to collect it (ethically) and share it with recognition of the source, awareness of the craft, and joy. I think there are a million ways to do this right and wrong, the goal is to be really thoughtful about it and try to support financially the culture that created the piece (i.e. an example would be to buy Indigenous jewelry from an Indigenous maker versus from somewhere like Free People). Again, I know that I have a million things to learn and I won’t get it right all the time either (and feel vulnerable talking about it knowing its importance) but I wanted to recognize the conversation and know that it’s always something we think about. Also, if you are a large retailer reading this please don’t try to do a version of this, it won’t work or look good – other countries’ vintage/antiques are not ours to copy.

I knew that I wanted to showcase these fabrics in this home – but where/how and what actually makes sense? They aren’t strong enough to be upholstery (maybe a bench but not something that gets a lot of use) and as you know I kept trying to hang them as curtains somewhere – to cover the washer/dryer, under the powder sink as a vanity skirt, etc. If I had enough that worked together I had dreams of sewing them together a la Adam Pogue and making them a real art statement but for whatever reason it didn’t feel totally right to me.

So one day I was playing around with putting cafe curtains in the deep sill of the double-hung windows in the living room. These two windows have an almost 10″ sill because the wall had to be thick to accommodate the track for the scenic doors. I hung a piece of fabric over a tension rod and I really really loved it (see above). It all of a sudden made the depth of the window make sense. Then as we were finalizing the house I was still playing with my vintage Boro – A pillow? A long lumbar for the sofa? Pillows for the dining nook, but that just felt like I was taking something so special and turning it into an everyday decorative item. So I hung up the Boro and when the light came through I was like, “OH YES, THERE SHE IS”. It just SUNG and was highlighted in the most beautiful way.

So then the issue became that we have two flanking windows, but not yardage enough of one fabric to match. So we played with having two different fabrics one on each window, and it looked pretty darn good. We had enough of each to split them in the middle and make more traditional cafe “curtains”.

But once bunched to the side you kinda lost the beauty of the quilted pattern. When we hung up one like a panel it had so much more power. So we decided to hang them, like art panels instead of cafe curtains.

We sewed (i.e. glued) tabs on top with fabric stolen from other Boro that we had more of. And we cut the size to match almost perfectly without any hemming anywhere. We had to patch a hole here or there but that’s obviously part of the beauty.

photo by kaitlin green

I can’t tell you how much I LOVE how these turned out. LOVE. I also love that these panels don’t compete with the Decorview drapery on the scenic doors which is light neutral and more traditional (you’ll see what I mean in the reveal:)). This combination looks really purposeful and yet interesting. It’s always nice when you feel like you nailed a design element in a way that feels totally YOU.

Opening Image Credit: Photo by Kaitlin Green

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