Getting Started with Boro Denim Repair

For those who follow my work on Instagram, I often get questions about how to get started with boro denim repairs. The good news is that literally anybody can do these kinds of repairs, and the tools and materials are readily available. Some very basic sewing knowledge is helpful, but not necessary. Really the only thing you need is time and patience. The reward for your patient work will be a pair of jeans that are utterly unique and unmistakably yours.

So where to begin? Here are some basic resources and tips for those getting started.

SUPPLIES:

You’re gonna need some basic tools and supplies. Here’s what I use:

Needles: Tulip Sashiko Needles.

Thread: Olympus sashiko thread (indigo, white or natural are most traditional, but it comes in a ton of colors).

Ring Thimble: Clover Ring Thimble. You use this to push the needle through the fabric.

Fabric: You can get still get small yardage of selvedge denim from Cone’s White Oak Shop. Try to match the weight of the patching fabric with the weight of your jeans, keeping in mind that a well-worn pair of jeans will have come down in weight by the time you’re repairing them. So if you had a pair of 15oz raw, the fabric is probably more like 12oz after heavy wear, especially in the places where the repairs are required. The other way to source fabric is by picking up a pair of thrift store jeans and cutting them up (or take an old pair you already have). If you’re looking for antique indigo-dyed fabrics to patch with, check out Sri Threads (but prepare to spend some money, and know that most of these antique fabrics are a lot thinner than denim, so be prepared for them to wear through quickly).

Pinking Shears: Denim frays pretty badly at the raw edges, especially when washed, so a way to control the amount of fraying is to cut the edges with pinking shears. Another way to control the fraying is by serging the edge, although this is not traditionally done in boro.

Thread cutters: Not strictly necessary (any old pair of scissors, or even the pinking shears mentioned above will do), but a pair of Japanese thread cutters is a beautiful tool to handle, and makes the experience nicer.

Line markers: If you want to sew in straight lines (really a matter of preference, but I find that it makes the repairs look less “homey”), you’ll need to mark straight lines before sewing. You’ll need a ruler (assume you already have one), as well as a marking tool. You can use any number of things for the marking, from chalk pencils to tailor’s chalk to a Japanese hera marker. Just make sure you get something that marks easily and that washes or brushes off easily. I most often use the hera marker.

Safety pins: You might want some safety pins to hold fabric in place. You’ll definitely want safety pins that close (not straight pins with open tips) in order to prevent pricking yourself.

Cheap thread: You’ll also need some cheap sewing thread to baste your patch in place before doing the actual repair work. Any thread is fine (it’s completely temporary — you’ll remove and discard once your repair is done), but here’s an example if you don’t already have some laying around.

TECHNIQUE:

Boro repairs are done primarily using the sashiko stitch, which is a simple running stitch. It’s worth taking a little time to actually see the stitch being done, because it’s hard to describe in words, but you’ll get it right away if you see a visual. This is a good video of the stitch itself. Atsushi from sashi.co has a bunch of other useful videos up on youtube and he has been doing live streams on his instagram as well. Another good resource is the Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook, which has a great front tutorial section, and an encyclopedic reference section for traditional sashiko patterns.

One thing you might want to do as a way of getting started is to practice the stitch on a sashiko kit. These come with pre-printed lines that mark out each stitch, and it’s a great way to get the muscle memory into your hands. These kits also have the benefit of coming with some thread and a needle.

You’re also going to want to see lots of examples of repairs. Some places I’d recommend taking a look: deverellsco, which used to be called Darn and Dusted…some of the cleanest repairs I’ve ever seen. Sashikodenim is another good one to check out. Very different style of repair, but really well done. Kimonoboy has some terrific boro images, as does Sri Threads. And I have a large catalog of boro repairs on my pinterest Fades and Repairs board as well.

TIPS:

  1. Secure the patch before doing the repair. Most of the time, I’m holding the patch in place with safety pins, then basting the patch in place (remove the safety pins once the basting is in place), and then doing the repair (remove the basting stitches once the repair is done). This is really helpful in repairing jeans, because you’re not working on a flat surface. You’re going to be manipulating the fabric a lot, so it helps if you know the patch isn’t going anywhere.
  2. Anchor the patch into solid fabric. The edges of the patch need to be anchored into fabric that still has integrity. Usually this means cutting the patch much larger than the actual hole you’re repairing, as the fabric immediately around the hole is probably pretty flimsy as well.
  3. Work from the inside out to the edges. Repair the hole first. It might seem natural to sew the edges of the patch first. But I’ve found it works out best when you repair the hole first, then do the edges. If you’re doing large panel sashiko lines, work from the middle of the patch out.
  4. If you’re using a raw denim patch, wash and dry it first. Hot wash and hot machine dry. You want to take all the shrinkage out of it before using it for the repair.
  5. Reach out if you get stuck. Just hit me up on IG (@rhomatt), or via email (matt@afterthefades.com). Always happy to help.