What is Bojagi?

The word Bojagi roughly translates as wrapping or covering cloth and is the over-arching name given to this type of stitched textile.

Bojagi have played an important role in traditional Korean culture and have been used to wrap, carry and store objects as well as for religious rituals and marriages. These functional items were made not as a pastime hobby but were an integral part of daily life.

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Used at court, by the rich and poor alike they could be folded and stored taking up minimal space in more compact homes. They could be made from one large piece of fabric and embellished with lavish embroidery or pieced from scraps in designs known as Jogakbo.

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Most surviving examples are from the Chosen period 1392-1910. Confucius ideology dictated the social order to the second invasion and occupation of Korea by the Japanese.

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In this patriarchal system, women lost their economic independence and were reduced to their role of wives. Essentially leading lives isolated from men, they spent most of their time taking care of their home, and dealing with their household belongings with care and thrift.

Women made clothes for their family and retained all the off-cuts. These were then sorted and used to make wrapping cloths for the household. Traditional Hanbok clothing has sahped sleeves that so that after cutting there are scraps of fabric left over.

The word Bo means wrapping happiness or fortune. Mothers would have made Bojagi to give to their daughters who when married would often be cut off from their own family. The textiles that went with them remained one way of linking mothers and daughters together after marriage.

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Bojagi can be made up from just one layer of pieced fabric or two. This example from an exhibition of work at the Hwaseong Fortress in 2016 shows how the light illuminates the fabrics and their colours are revealed.

The translucent quality of this type of textile immediately makes you think of stained glass or when tiny pieces are joined together of crazy patchwork but that is where the similarity ends.

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Historical examples trick your eye into thinking that these must be contemporary pieces of abstract art when they actually predate any such description. Plain fabrics used to create bold designs with perfectly balanced use of colour speak equally to modern quilters today.