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Japanese recycling inspiration

The Brunei Gallery in London recently had an exhibition focussing on the Japanese aesthetics of recycling, showing objects that were created between 1603 and 1925.

I have always been reluctant to throw anything away and try to find new uses for scraps and items that would usually end up in landfill, so I loved learning about the holistic Japanese approach to recycling. Part of the Japanese culture is the mindful use of resources and the avoidance of waste (Mottainai). The exhibition covered the repair/reuse of broken household items (Kin-tsugi/Gin-tsugi), the repair of textiles (Boro) and paper recycling.

I had been aware of Kin-tsugi ("Golden joinery"), but learned that there is also Gin-tsugi ("Silver joinery"). I particularly liked a plate that involved the repair of laquerware.

Regardless of the materials used, the underlying philosophy is Wabi-sabi - imperfections are celebrated rather than hidden, and there is an acceptance of transience and the passage of time. The repaired objects become metaphors for life, with flaws and scars becoming an integral part of the story.

Boro is another Japanese art form where no attempts are made to hide repairs and flaws. Using a simple running stitch, scraps of fabric are stitched on a piece of cloth that needs reinforcing. This technique has its origins in impoverished farming communities which could not afford to waste any resources. I love the way that each patch can tells a story and that the pieces have become heirlooms that are passed on through the generations.

The recycling of Japanese paper (Washi) creates an intriguing textured paper where markings from previous papers are allowed to show through.

I have recently experimented with reusing old journal pages which are made of Khadi paper (recycled cotton). I have used eco-household paints, a plant-based acrylic binder and collaging - I love the idea of the occasional words peeking through without the words becoming a distraction.

I am also going to try my hand at a simple textile patchwork when repairing a pair of jeans and a waistcoat.

I hope this post has inspired you to view your resources in a new light.


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