This article will be based around the traditional Korean wrapping cloth, known as bojagi, or pojagi (보자기). Often found square in shape, bogaji became popularised during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and has repeatedly changed itself over the years. The cloth itself holds a variety of uses, ranging from everyday domestic use as tablecloths, covering food and bedding, wrapping precious objects even within a religious context.
There are two forms of bojagi: Kung-bo is used within the royal palace to wrap various kinds and expands into elaborate processes of dying and embroidery. Min-bo is used by common people, used for daily purposes, weddings, special events and rituals. The clothes are created by making use any spare pieces of material lying around the house, similar to a patch-work blanket. They have a unique double seam which not only makes the seam reversible but it also brings an anomalous yet familiar aspect to the piece; forming irregular and irregular intricate designs.
It is seen as an art within textile, using a variety of materials, most commonly silk. I prefer using thinner materials when working with this technique, as you have to double the material over and it can be difficult to attain a clean finish if your material is too thick. Also,with the use of thin materials, when the final piece is held to light you gain a completely different perspective as the seams block out the light providing an array of lines. Many artists use bojagi as a form of abstract expressionism as it takes on the ability to work at something with an unknown goal; simply add pieces where you feel the need to add them and see what your outcome is. As you can see from the gallery, different individuals take on a different approach; some using thick materials for practical use, some using thin cottons to capture the lines created in the seams, others choosing colours to accommodate a certain design. The thinner the material the more transparent and delicate your bojagi piece will appear, printed cottons which project through when held up to the light are my personal favourite.
The seam itself is simple, and can be used outside of this project as it is a handy way to neaten your seams without an overlocker. The following ‘how-to’ gives you the basic idea of the Korean seam. Ideally it works best when working in strips, and to then stitch these panels of bogaji together.
You’ll simply need some odd scraps of material, scissors, a needle and thread, possibly a ruler and an iron (optional). Firstly, place right-sides together and mark a seam of around an inch into the fabric.
Stitch down this line with a simple line-stitch if you’re not using a sewing machine. Next, fold the seam out as shown and iron it flat, this will ensure your seam is pulled tight. Ironing is optional; it depends on the material you’re using, but if you’re working on a sewing machine it may help you out to iron it flat, especially if it’s a longer seam.
Next, flip it over and hold the raw edges, fold it in half as show and iron it flat (again optional) this is why it’s important to allow at least an inch in seam allowance because it’s infuriating when you realise there’s not enough to fold over; but this is also why many bojagi pieces stray from the original design because of the change in seam allowance, thus shrinking certain squares of material.
Finally, sew as close to the edge as you can to complete the seam.
And we’re done! That’s how easy this ancient Korean seam is, and as mentioned earlier, when held to the light you can create interesting patterns depending on the length of the seam, width of the seam, and placement. This is a wonderful project to attempt, whether selecting colours carefully and planning each part of the cloth or attempt it blindly and see what design you end up with.
If you’re in the London area, the Victoria and Albert have a section on Korea. There, you can see a contemporary hanbok display which makes use of this among other intricate Korean ceramics. As you can see this piece uses a variety of shapes and soft pastel colours to achieve its design. For more information visit the V&A Website.