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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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TFS
9 months ago

The living room with deep dive is absolutely captivating! The Boro fabric DIY curtain panels looks beautiful. Thank you for sharing your such a creative blog with us!

Dana
9 months ago

Installation art! You’ve showcased the textiles beautifully; form and function at its absolute best.

🥰 Rusty
9 months ago

So. Well. Said.👍
Emily, you explained the appreciation vs appropriation really well.
Especially: “…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.”
We can try snd still mis-hit, but the fact that we try is the key.
Same with the environment, fossil fuels and plastics – awareness and effort are the key.
There’s a saying – “We are what we do every day, not what we doonce in a while” – effectively, our habits are our every day behaviours.
The Boro fabric is truly stunning, appreciated and soulful as window panels!
I think they look better as panels, than they would’ve as ruched cafe curtains. Great call!
The story, the history and unique nuance of each piece and every stitch is literally picked up by the way you have chosen to use them.❣

LouAnn
9 months ago

Really stunning fabric. I know you’ve tried to find a spot for these fabrics in multiple places around your house, and they didn’t quite work, but I think this is the first time that this use of the fabric REALLY clicks.

caitlin
9 months ago

Thanks you Emily for your braveness and desire to share about this very topic. For those of us at an age where cultural appropriation wasn’t taught, but now have kiddos who we want to raise different, I totally understand your desire to learn, always do better, and pass on a new way to future generations. You are right, we won’t always get it right, but being open to learn is exactly what we all need. On the topic of using a piece you love…thank you for also showing us how it can be done. I know you’ve gotten a lot of backlash about these fabrics. While I haven’t been strongly adverse to them, it is clear you have a love for them more than many of your readers. And I love that you haven’t backed down. Your love for them has remained and you’ve been able to use them. I think this is a reminder to all of us to think about those items in our home we have a connection to and to disregard if others feel the same, if they’re in style, or even if they totally go with our home. Our homes should be filled with things… Read more »

Admin
9 months ago
Reply to  caitlin

ah, thank you Caitlin. thats such a thoughtful comment and very appreciated. xx Emily

Monica
9 months ago

Love these so much! I am so glad you found a way to showcase this fabri that really resonates with you. Thank you for giving us the back story on these textiles. if you wnt t write more I could read edless posts about this incredible blue cloth!

Vera
9 months ago

This makes me so happy Emily!
Super excited for Monday. 🎉

Lisa
9 months ago
Reply to  Vera

I agree! Though I feel bad for my living room, as I’m sure it will result in several changes to my current design 🙂

Sheila
9 months ago

You clearly treasure these pieces. Do you have concerns about sun damage or have you taken steps to protect the fabric from that?

Admin
9 months ago
Reply to  Sheila

good point! ok so we have a covered porch and its a deep cover. the one behind our dining nook never gets sun because its blocked by the house. I’m unsure if this one (near the sunroom) does. its 6pm right now as i’m writing this comment and the sun hasn’t hit it yet so i’ll monitor and make sure. Otherwise I think we are in the clear. because no, i do not want it to fade 😉

Shannon
9 months ago

Fabulous, innovative and so very you! Congrats!!!

Michelle
9 months ago

Thank you for your lovely, thoughtful and nuanced look at respectful ways to incporate the arts and crafts of various cultures into your home and lives.

Angela
9 months ago

This is a perfect use for your fabric. I worry, however, they will fade in the window.

Lynsy
9 months ago
Reply to  Angela

A lining to protect against UV exposure is needed. The sun is going to drastically deteriorate the fabric.

Annie
9 months ago
Reply to  Lynsy

Yes, a lining and gently removing the glue and sewing some tabs to the fabric. It looks like a fairly delicate textile, and it should be handled properly by someone who knows how best to take care of it so that you can enjoy it for years to come.

zerka nz
9 months ago
Reply to  Annie

Or, if you didn’t want to line the fabric you may be able to buy a stick on film for the window glass behind it that prevents uv damage.

Suzanne Baumann
9 months ago

Love the info about Boro and discussion on cultural appropriation. Thank you for helping us learn. (sorry that sounds cheesy, but I mean it. really!)

Admin
9 months ago

Thank you 🙂 I actually think at this point it’s really exciting to learn it all and be like ‘woah, look how far we’ve come’. xx

A.B.
9 months ago

Your approach to using this fabric was really thoughtful and didn’t read as “PC” reasoning. Thanks for sharing.

Crissy Perham
9 months ago

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on appreciation vs appropriation. By trying to appreciate the art you’ve taught so many about boro fabric and its heritage. Also…it immediately caught my eye in the sneak peek!! So happy you found a place to enjoy your pieces and their beauty everyday!

9 months ago

Looks gorgeous! And love the cultural appropriation discussion. Right now it feels like we’re kind of in a pendulum swing where a lot of white people are scared of having anything representative of any non-European culture on display in their homes. It makes sense, we’ve had centuries of white people pilfering art and culture from the rest of the world. But I guess my worry is that if white people are scared to have any art or objects from non-European sources, we’ve essentially doomed ourselves to remain a Eurocentric culture. Whiteness is still centered, cultural appropriation is avoided at the cost of representation of non-white cultures being once again sidelined and left out of the mainstream discussion. So what you’re doing here is really important. You’re saying “Hey I understand that this is not MINE, I’ve looked into the incredible history and craftsmanship of this Japanese art form, and I’m celebrating it by having it in my house.” I think that is far superior to just avoiding it altogether. World culture drives forward when different people from different cultures take from each other’s ideas and improve on them. Culture dies when discussion stops. Recently, I was in Palm Springs shopping… Read more »

🥰 Rusty
9 months ago
Reply to  Orlando

Orlando, I thought I saw a mask in some pics? Red, black and white? (Maybe in your gym)
Google Lens it. 💡
I once did a project writing curriculum on the top five religions in Australia.
I had to research, deeply and liaise with the councils of each religion. As a result, I now have (and respectfully love) a menorah, a Buddha, a Ganesha and a set of rosary beads.
I am not religious. I am spiritual and believe that there is most certainly something much, much ‘bigger’ than us. My heritage is American-Australian with an ancestral background of Danish-German.
I’m comfortable with these beautiful, meaningful objects in my home.
Appropriation is hard! I think you should enjoy and embrace your mask!

Lisa H
9 months ago
Reply to  Orlando

Interesting thoughts!
I worked at a public library for 25+ years. The reality is, librarians don’t know everything, but they know how to find out! I googled African Masks, LA, and Museum, and found this event (already passed)
https://culturela.org/event/african-masks/
I’ll bet a librarian would be thrilled to help with your OWN research on your gifted African Mask.
Libraries are where it’s at! We all pay taxes, and that’s how libraries are funded. Communities join together, hire a great staff, who decides how to spend the budget. There is always a community appointed advisory board as well. Programs, books, computers, education. Help with all kinds of needs and questions. Go and use your local Public Library!

Emma
9 months ago
Reply to  Orlando

You can absolutely research the mask! Start by looking for comparisons at major art museums. You may be able to connect with a curator (my own university art museum regularly gets questions from people with art questions/provenance concerns and in fact has a dedicated person to answering those queries). It is entirely possible to use resources like ArtStor (it has several excellent search features) even if you do not know anything about your object.

Juanita
9 months ago
Reply to  Orlando

Such a good comment, agree that displaying the piece without context can be challenging. Agree with other commenters top who are encouraging you to do some research! (And ask the vendor where he picked it up.) Once you have a sense of provenance, if you choose not to display it, another option could be to ask if a local library, community center, church, or other public space might want it as a donation to display as art in their space; or, resell it and donate the proceeds to an organization that serves people of that culture.

Note too that a lot of “African” ceremonial masks (and fabrics, paintings, home decor, jewelry, etc.), especially those purchased at major tourist markets in north and sub-Saharan Africa, are mass produced in China or Indonesia specifically for the tourist trade. (That’s not to say a purchase there would not still support a vendor’s livelihood- the item is just likely not handmade or authentic to the place where it was purchased.) more here on that: https://www.marketplace.org/2009/02/27/african-art-thats-made-china/amp/.

Alice
9 months ago
Reply to  Orlando

Your mask has a context now, a whole story about how you saw it in the vintage store and your friends bought it for you.

MKP
9 months ago
Reply to  Orlando

I am so glad to read this comment because I’ve had the same mental debate. When I’ve considered buying art that represents a different ethnicity/culture than mine (I am white and American), I haven’t done so because of concerns about appropriation. But not doing so means there is not representation of any cultures that are different from mine in my home. And that feels terrible too. It really does feel like a difficult quandary at this point in history and collective awareness. In Emily’s case, she has this blog where she can talk about the history of the fabrics, pay homage to their makers and better educate her audience. This is all so valuable. And if this is THE Orlando (as in Soria), you also have the opportunity to do the same as a public figure/influencer. But what if you didn’t have that audience and wanted to display the mask? Would it feel satisfactory if you just learned about its history yourself… or would you feel like you needed to also educate people who saw it in your house? That is a sincere question. Is appropriation avoided on an internal level (I’ve done the research and understand the history so… Read more »

Devon
9 months ago
Reply to  Orlando

The Native-owned home goods company Eighth Generation does some amazing work on social media about appropriation versus appreciation, for anyone interested in a Native American perspective on it: https://www.instagram.com/eighthgeneration/. Their whole mission is to bring authentic Native art to everyone and teach folks that you CAN and SHOULD have Native art and design in your home…just do it the right way, but supporting authentic Native artists instead of buying “Native-inspired” stuff.

MKP
9 months ago
Reply to  Devon

Thank you for this resource!

Admin
9 months ago
Reply to  Orlando

Thanks, O. I agree with everything you said (agreeing with me, haha). I would be in the exact same position re the mask. We know that the fear of being wrong or offensive has shut off important cultural converasations, but it seems like its starting to open up a bit and there is just so much more grace for when people mess up without really understanding. Anyway, thanks for joining in. xx

Nicki
9 months ago
Reply to  Orlando

Great points and I agree. It is such a complex topic. What if you, as an American, travel to other parts of the world, such as Japan and bring home art pieces or antiques. We all talk about layering your home with unique items that reflect your life, travels, etc. a curated home is what we preach. Can it only be curated with things that are made in your country or reflect your own heritage? I don’t think that’s the best answer and feeling the pressure to explore the history of every artifact to anyone that crosses its path doesn’t seem realistic. So it would seem we either avoid or risk offending. Complicated, to be sure!

Jo Saintdoll
9 months ago

Reminds me of wabi-sabi. 🙂

Admin
9 months ago
Reply to  Jo Saintdoll

….and i love wabi-sabi 🙂

DeniseGK
9 months ago

I’ve scrolled back up and clicked on some links, but couldn’t find where the curtain rods are named. I’ve never seen little rods like that except for tension rods – which I have and I hate! Where are these rods from? Is there a particular term for small rods that don’t rely on tension? I’ve been googling and I dk whether I’m just having an off day or google is finally being crappy for me, but I can’t seem to get any results except tension rods. :/
Any help would be appreciated!

Tai
9 months ago
Reply to  DeniseGK

Hi Denise, I believe if you google ‘cafe curtain rods’ you will find similar smaller diameter rods with lower profile brackets. I used them to hang regular length (but lightweight) curtains because I prefer the look, and it worked well.

Lynsy
9 months ago
Reply to  DeniseGK

I think those are tension rods.

Cathy
9 months ago
Reply to  DeniseGK

I bought these cafe rods from Rejuvenation, they have a variety of ways that they can be mounted depending on your window situation:
https://www.rejuvenation.com/products/inside-mount-cafe-set/?pkey=ccontract-grade-hardware

kiki
9 months ago
Reply to  DeniseGK

Yes, I think the ones Emily is using are tension rods. But, these are a great alternative! https://www.rejuvenation.com/products/inside-mount-cafe-set/

Sheryl
9 months ago
Reply to  DeniseGK

Your question reminded me of Jess’s closet transformation from last fall. She was using rejuvenation cafe rods and a curtain under a shelf to hide cleaning supplies and planning a beautiful and meaningful paint treatment in the pass through to her bathroom. Don’t think the final reveal has been shared yet? Would love to see it!

Kristin
9 months ago

I love these fabrics as well. The colors are amazing and I’m sure the stitching is incredible up close. I don’t love them as cafe curtains though—sorry! I hate to say something negative as it’s your house and obviously you should do whatever you want. I just think they would look so beautiful if they were thoughtfully framed and up on the wall. I think they are art, and you should treat them like art. It cheapens it IMO to have them used as curtains.

Megan
9 months ago
Reply to  Kristin

These would look so beautiful framed as a LARGE piece! I think Emily has a lot of small art pieces, hence all the gallery walls throughout the house, but the blimp art is the only large piece (which I love). Framing the boro fabric together in on large frame would be stunning.

Kim
9 months ago
Reply to  Kristin

Yes! I really don’t like the curtains but love the idea of framing the fabric.

karen robinson
9 months ago

Hi Emily,
Lov what you have done with this unique fabric. Will be such an interesting story to tell when people comment which I’m sure they will. I am a bit concerned though about the fabric fading over time. I have a sunroom and fading issues have been a constant problem. Hope you can resolve this as the curtains look incredibly unique and certainly elevate your space!!! k

So chi
9 months ago

The one thing I would be concerned about is the fading/bleaching of the colors on the outside-facing side of the fabric due to the sunlight. Your could line them so that won’t happen.

9 months ago
Reply to  So chi

I’d like to add that they may actually fade on both sides. I have a fabric panel over a bathroom that gets direct morning sun and it has faded so much on the part inside the bathroom that the sun shines through the most.

Kaiulani
9 months ago

Finally the perfect place for them! It certainly has been a journey for all of us and I really like them in this space/context.

Patricia
9 months ago

Wonderful. Speaking from experience with hand-dyed fabric, consider having them lined to protect the fabric. My Shibori fabric covered pillows have faded badly. I love them still. The sun fading is just a part of it’s backstory.

Susan
9 months ago

I love your blog and so appreciate everything you write and how you have taken all of us on your journey to make this farmhouse your forever family home. I just don’t understand the cafe curtains and why cover up the beautiful sun filled windows with dark fabric. This so reminds me of the 1960’s curtains in all kitchens at that time (yes…I’m that old..71). Why not make a beautiful table runner to place on your island or dining table or placemats you can use everyday. I don’t want to sound critical but I’d let the beautiful windows be shown and not cut them in half with fabric.

Kara
9 months ago

I see and feel how thoughtfully you wrote about this, and your genuine love for craft and curiosity to learn more about how it relates to the complicated story of people really shines through. What a lovely piece of writing. What’s fascinating to me about everything humans make, is how you can follow the threads (lol) across history and place. If you asked an American, “Are denim and plaid quintessential elements of Western North American aesthetic?” They’d say yes, and they would be right! Does that mean Boro isn’t also 100% Japanese to its core? Nope! They are both true. I play bluegrass mandolin, and you can almost follow with your finger on a map how the spice trade put Arab, Slavic and Celtic peoples on the same ships, and what is lightweight and can be stored in a tight spot on a ship? String instruments. All of those folk music traditions mingled on ships, which docked in North America, and met with African music traditions, and now we have something called “Roots Music” for now. Is there a lot of human suffering in that story? Of course. Enslavement and colonialism and displacement and exploitation. It’s all a part of… Read more »

Mara
9 months ago

I love the conversation on appropriation vs appreciation. It’s so important to be aware of this so I really appreciate (pun intended!) that this was part of the post.
As someone who has worked with fabric a lot (and as others here have already said), please please PLEASE have this fabric lined to avoid fading and discoloration. Knowing that so much effort went into this handmade fabric means it needs to be treated with the utmost care. While having it lined, ask your seamstress/seamster to hem it on all sides to avoid unraveling. And hopefully that glue is removable and they can create some proper loops for it to hang from.

Heidi
9 months ago

I was just catching up on comments and enjoying having my mind opened up on cultural appropriation. Such a good discussion. I saw that my comment from this morning is gone and I’m not sure why? I just want to pass along how much I love the direction you’re taking this house. It feels confident in its personality without having to “scream”. I could see myself living there for years and never getting tired of it or bored which is a great place to land!

Suzanne
9 months ago

Love, love, love this!

SARAH
9 months ago

Ah! The last image is so good! Thank you for addressing honoring other cultures and not cheaply duplicating or stealing.

Addie
9 months ago

I was so excited to see the Boro fabric in the living room sneak peek post! I appreciate your doing a post about this textile and discussing appreciation vs. appropriation. I’m a textile and design lover and am always learning about art forms across places and times. I think what makes your pieces work is that they are against a background of light which highlights their pieced and stitched form. I agree with the others who suggested you sew the tabs properly to better preserve the textile. But if your windows have UV protection built in already you only need to concern yourself with preserving the fabric itself because it’s already protected from fading. If not, you could add a cellular shade behind the lower part of the window that would provide more protection without altering the curtain itself, or really being seen at all from the inside.

Nina
9 months ago

I had not heard of Boro fabric before and I wasn’t immediately convinced of the look, but after reading the post, I am now very interested to learn more and I love where you placed it in your home! I am looking forward to the full reveal 🙂

Sally
9 months ago

I’m going to be a slight naysayer – I can see the beauty in the fabric, but I think that they would work much better if you used them in a similar way but as wall hangings. The exposure to constant sunlight will surely shorten the fabric’s life enormously and will certainly bleach them out pretty quickly as they’re fairly lightweight. Similarly, if you’re so concerned about being respectful towards the pieces surely chopping some up for hanging tabs wasn’t the way to go?…

Jeffrey C
9 months ago

A good reminder too about how easy it is to not buy pre-made curtains. Maybe it is a guy thing, but only in recent years have I embraced more simple DIY ways of hanging fabric. Right now, I am staring at a cafe-style curtain that is just two large unused linen kitchen towels with clips hung on a tension rod.

Christina M. Schmiesing
9 months ago

I’m truly trying to understand, so please don’t make assumptions or jump on me. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to avoid all the caveats and just try to jump in with a bit of background and my questions. My great grandmother quilted and mended everything. I have a few of her quilts. I still have the two beautiful black dolls she made for me as a child- and I have no idea why she did it b/c we had no black relatives at the time. She was mostly Scottish. My other grandmother who homesteaded and made literally everything or built everything was mostly German/French and traveled towards the end of her life to Japan, and always had an appreciation for Native American cultures, thus décor from those cultures. It helped form me as a child… My mother, white, was orphaned and raised on an Indian Reservation (Inchelium/Coville, WA) and fully accepted/loved by the tribe. We grew up vacationing on the ‘rez’ every summer and visiting all the elders who were so formative in her life. Mom is dead, but her two brothers are retired and live on the rez full time. And the Indians there insist on being… Read more »

Julie Boyer
9 months ago

Interesting that you delete comments that you don’t like. I will try again. I don’t think the curtain is very attractive, it just looks like a bunch of old quilted fabric that you had nothing else you could figure out what to do with. I just looked at your living room reveal and it just takes away from all of the beauty of everything else. I would go with something that does not look so messy. Maybe repurpose it as a pillow. Also, I previously commented on your small banquet sitting area. The lamp you have in the photo with the curtain has a black lamp with a cord hanging down that needs to be addressed. It can be covered up with D-line cable raceways that can be painted or put it in the wall. Also your drapes are overtaking the small painting on the other side of the wall. And your table is a tad too small for the area. This was deleted by you. I guess you don’t like people critiquing you.

Admin
9 months ago
Reply to  Julie Boyer

hey julie – wasn’t deleted, we just don’t publish comments that are intentionally rude or attacking. you’re welcome to share your opinion, but appreciate you doing it without being cruel!

Julie Boyer
9 months ago

Hi Caitlin, I was not trying to be cruel. Just straight forward and maybe in a joking way that came across as mean. I am sorry if I offended anyone.