Bojagi and the Chojun Textile & Quilt Art Museum • Seoul, South Korea

It was the last day of our trip to Tokyo and Seoul.  I was laying in bed, so so tired from our trip, and already the events and obligations of home were pressing in.  I communicated to my husband that all I wanted to do that day was lay in bed. He leaned over and said “There’s a quilt museum here in Seoul.”  I was dressed and ready to go in a flash.

The Chojun Textile and Quilt Art Museum wasn’t too far from our hotel, up a narrow street, and it is very small: a room for the entry, a side room for the gift shop and more, a hallway and a one-room display. Right off the bat, we see Yvonne Porcella’s quilt hanging up on the right side of the display room.  When we were talking about it, the assistant curator, Jeehye OK, who spoke English and was  a good guide and help, lifted it up to see if there was a label.  There wasn’t, but instead a hand-written note on the rod pocket: “Top.”  The quilt was displayed upside-down, but apparently the curator likes it that way.  I wondered if it were because of the way language functioned in Korea until the early 1990s: written right to left, but I’ll never know.

This quilt was on the left side of the door.  Again, no name or title.  Most of the quilts were down a long poorly-lit hallway (below), but my husband’s camera picked up amazing amounts of info in dim lighting.  

So here is a collage of the quilts, however dimly colored they are:

You can click on any quilt to get a larger photo.  What I found interesting were the colors they used, the placement of motifs or accents, and the general symmetry of the quilts.  The little birds are just a photo fragment of a quilt–I thought they’d be cute improv pieced as a filler block.

I also find interesting the impact of American traditional quilting, as shown in the quilt with the scenes of an old-time quilting bee.  I don’t think we often realize the impact we from the US have on other countries, and not just in quilting.  Maybe we’d tread a little more lightly if we realized that others have good ideas, many countries do a lot of things better than we do, and that we could all learn from each other.  (It’s that traveling thing, again.)

These three displays of quilts, seemingly made of organza or other transparent fabrics, were in between the hanbok, or traditional Korean clothing.  I think we in the U.S. think of transparent patchwork  as “bojagi,” but really that is a word for a square cloth that can cover something, or be used as a wrap.  The patchwork style is known as “chogak bo,” or so Jeehye explained to me.  I had a hard time figuring this out, given my belief that bojagi is patchwork cloth.  All this new info was not so clear cut.  {And by the way, it’s bo-jag-i, which rhymes (nonsensically) with “row-hag-ee” with a hard-sounding “g.”}

When I got home, I looked it up on Wikipedia, and found these tidbits:

“Bojagi were used for transporting items, as well as covering, or keeping things together in storage….Min-bo or chogak bo were “patchwork” bojagi made by commoners. In contrast with the royal [wrapping cloths], which were not patchwork, these cloths were created from small segments (“chogak”) of fabric from other sewing, such as those left over from cutting the curves in traditional hanbok clothing. Both symmetrical ‘regular’ and random-seeming ‘irregular’ patterned cloths were sewn, with styles presumably selected by an individual woman’s aesthetic tastes.”

Seoul QM_hanbok1

This exhibit was also shown at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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This is what we saw when we entered, and immediately I leaned over for a closer look.

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All these contemporary bojagi were made by local artists, demonstrating the concept of pieced cloth.  They appear to be all sorts of organdy, printed organza and perhaps some chiffon here and there?  I said to Dave that they must have gone shopping at Dongdaemun to get this range of cloth.  I don’t think I could find this many kinds of sheer cloth in this range of colors here in the States.

Seoul QM_hanbok5

I also think their jeogori (or the little top with sleeves) is longer on the artists’ interpretations, than in the traditional versions.  I like the bit longer one better.

Seoul QM_hanbok5a


Seoul QM_hanbok2

This is the more traditional woman’s hanbok with the long bib-front.  I think this is the perfect outfit for the mature woman (forget Kimono, which show everything!).

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Men’s hanbok.

Seoul QM_hanbok4a

I liked the juxtaposition of the new and the old back to back.  On the wall behind the blue hanbok is a diagram/display of types of sleeves on the jeogori:

Seoul QM_hanbok4

The woman’s outfit also has an underskirt, an overskirt that in the past was nothing more than a gathered length of cloth on a band which was tied tightly above the bust   But now there are straps to keep it from falling down (all this is from Jeehye, who as very patient with my questions).

Seoul QM_hanbok8Seoul QM_hanbok8a

Men’s, with close-up of the embroidered panel.  Most of these photos were taken by my patient and understanding husband, while I chatted.

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ESE and assisCurator
Jeehye and I, in front of Porcella’s quilt.

Folkwear Hanbok

I did some research and found that many would-be-sewers of hanbok used this Folkwear pattern as a basis for their costume.  Tempting, but how will I finish all those UFO quilts hanging around on my guest bed, if I attempt this?  I do have a modern-day Seoul fashion story for you, though.  It’s about a purse just meant for quilters.

While we were in Tokyo or Seoul (can’t remember which) I saw this geometric purse, carried by a woman my age.  Her daughter was with her (and she spoke English), so told me it was a bag by her mother’s favorite designer, but I couldn’t understand what she said. (This happened a lot.)


The last night, we were over by the Shinsegue Department Store to look at their lights, and as we were wandering through the store, I stopped in my tracks: The Purse!  And of course, it was by Issey Miyake (slaps head).

The way it draped and moved, was beyond amazing.  So was the price tag.  I snuck a few photos (asked permission, finally, and the sales clerk said it was okay), and snapped a few more.  Sigh.

Seoul purse1

Fast forward a few days, when I was talking to my sister, who is totally with it in fashion, unlike me.  “Oh,” she said.  “That’s been around so long there are knock-offs.”  Cue up Amazon, type in BaoBao, and after a few mouse clicks and a couple of days, the aqua knock-off arrived in my kitchen.

Seoul purse2

I plan on bringing it to all the Quilt Shows, as it is definitely a purse for quilters: very cool, very light and holds a lot.

So, no hanbok for me, but yes! to a geometric purse and yes! to bojagi patchwork.

Now it’s back to those UFOs on the guest bed.  Oh, and maybe get ready for Christmas!


Antique Crib Quilts and Karl Benjamin

triple irish chain crib quilt

Recently we went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and viewed a small exhibition of crib quilts.  I thought I’d share them with you because while they look so old and antique they also are refreshingly current in some of their color choices and design.  Above is a Triple Irish Chain from the 1930s, one of the “younger” quilts in the exhibit.  I did find interesting that while no one really knows the origin of the label “Irish Chain” some suggest it came from the quilts fashioned “from bags of scraps sold to workers in the Irish shirt industry, who made quilts for sale in their spare time.”  No dimensions were given, but they are smaller quilts, roughly 2 feet across and 3 feet high.

triple irish chain crib quilt detail

Detail of Triple Irish Chain crib quilt.

square in a square crib quilt

This “Square within a Square” quilt was made in Pennsylvania around 1880.  All of the crib quilts were protected behind a plexiglass box, and some quilts were really hard to photograph, given the glare of the lights (I never could get a decent photo of the “Bars” quilt).

square in a square crib quilt detail

Detail, “Square within a Square.”

dutch windmill crib quilt

Another more contemporary quilt, made around 1920, is this quilt with two names: “Dutch Windmill” or “Hearts and Gizzards.”  This one is also from Pennsylvania and is machine quilted.

dutch windmill crib quilt detail

While you can’t really see it too well, on each larger black piece is a name embroidered in red, perhaps revealing the “creators of each separate block.”

churn dash

While this pattern is known as “Hole in the Barn Door” or “Monkey Wrench,”  we typically refer to it as “Churn Dash.”  This one is both hand and machine pieced and is from the 1880s.  The title card next to this had this tidbit: “From the beginning of the 1880s, the primary sources for patterns were magazines and newspapers with diagrams and instructions, and ultimately mail-order companies.”  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

mariner's compass crib quilt

“Mariner’s Compass,” from the 1880s.

mariner's compass crib quilt detail

“Mariner’s Compass,” detail.

lemoyne star crib quilt

This little “Le Moyne Star” is hand pieced and quilted and is dated to 1840.  I love the on point setting of this little quilt, as well as the use of the red setting triangles in the borders, causing it to look like a shooting star effect.  The title card shared this info about the dye: “Before the synthetic production of alizarin crimson in 1869, printed patterns on textiles were colored by “Turkey Red” dyeing, named for an eastern Mediterranean method that required soaking cloth in oil and dyeing it with madder root.  The print on this quilt resembles chintz patterns from India that were popular in Europe in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.”

lemoyne star crib quilt detail

The quilt was slightly pinkish; this is not an aberration of photography.

flying geese crib quilt

This “Flying Geese” quilt is hand pieced and hand quilted, by machine bound and dates from 1870.  This one was my favorite in the collections because of its very modern look and the fabulous fabrics.  LACMA’s curator wrote “This quilt exemplifies the reductive nature of quilt imagery, which distills and captures an enduring impression of an object. . . .[namely] the migrations of geese.”

flying geese crib quilt detail

Modern Art Painting random

We walked out through an adjoining gallery, where this painting caught my eye.  Since we were with my sister Christine and her daughter (and baby granddaughter), I didn’t linger, but did think it would make a great quilt.  And while we’re on the subject of fine-art-possibly-inspiring-a-quilt, take a look at these:


This is the work of Karl Benjamin, known as the father of Hard Edge painting.  His ideas are perfect for inspiring quilters, as we work in hard edges, with our seams and our cloth.

Karl Benjamin log cabin(from *here*)

He died two years ago at the age of 86, but has left a legacy of  “vision, not logic” as the LATimes says.  As we quilters struggle with “naming” the different factions of the quilting world (art quilters, traditional quilters, modern quilters. etc.) I loved how he talked about the various labels given to his paintings, in an interview (click if you want to read more):

“Hard Edge got started the late 50s, and I hate that word. It doesn’t mean anything. What’s a soft edge? Monet? To write about something, you have to find a word, so unfortunately I don’t think that was a very good word.
“Abstract Classicism was another one. Someone had a show in London, and irrationally corporate called it Abstract Classicism. Well, it was good for your career, because you had a name now, but it didn’t mean anything. But you take it in context. In any art, there’s the romantic and the classical. It’s always kind of torn between those two poles. So there was Abstract Expressionism, which was accepted for wild painters, which were brand new then, and Abstract Classicism, which was opposed to expressionism. But it balanced out equally.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) May 6, 2012 auction catalogue(from *here*)

You can find more of his paintings *here*  and *here* or just do a search on his name in Google Images.  (Have a great time.) Okay, back to our museum visit. . .

bojagiIt was Korean Day at LACMA and in the courtyard was this quilt-like display, titled “Community Bojagi.”  A bojagi is a “traditional Korean wrapping cloth,” and over 1700 people collaborated to make this riot of color and patches.

Boro(photo from *here*)

It reminded me of boro, the Japanese tradition of mending cloth to keep it viable and which, over time, becomes its own art piece. . . just like some of our quilts.  They, like the crib quilts shown above, are made for use but are often made for display.  Who knows how many of ours will end up in museums a hundred-plus years in the future?