Bojagi held at Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
|Hangul||보자기 / 보|
|Revised Romanization||bojagi / bo|
|McCune–Reischauer||pojagi / po|
A bojagi or bo for short (also pojagi or bojaki) is a traditional Korean wrapping cloth. Bojagi are square and can be made from a variety of materials, though silk is common. Embroidered bojagi are known as subo.
The use of bojagi in Korea dates back to time immemorial, and historical records show any ways which they have been used. Although bojagi were created for everyday use, the also added flair and style to various ceremonies and rituals. Bojagi flourished during the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), although their beginnings appear to be from the Three Kingdoms Period. The earliest surviving example is from the twelfth century, and these early clothes were originally used in a Buddhist context, as tablecloths or coverings for sutras.
Bojagi's place in Korean culture began in part with the folk religions of ancient times, when it was believed that keeping something wrapped was tantamount to safeguarding good fortune. Wrapping cloths used within the palace were known as kung-bo and wrapping cloths used by the general population were min-bo. The popular patchwork bojagi often seen in museums today were only made and used by the common people.
Court use of bojagi
In contrast to the brightly coloured min-bo, which were made from fabric scraps, within the Joseon royal court the preferred fabric in bojagi construction was pink-red to purple cloth, domestically produced fabrics. Unlike the used and re-used frugality of non-royal wrapping cloths, on special occasions that included royal birthdays and New Year’s Day, new bojagi had to be commissioned.
Commoner use of bojagi
Min-bo or Chogakbo (조각보) seem to be the best known variety of bojagi, as the two terms are often used interchangeably in English-language sources. These cloths were created by the women of the household, from leftover scraps of fabric from other sewing, pieced together. Both symmetrical 'regular' and random-seeming 'irregular' patterned cloths were sewn, probably selected by an individual woman's aesthetic tastes.
As food coverings
Patchwork, or chogak bo wrapping cloths are closely associated with food coverings. The mid-19th century to early 20th century examples that have survived until the present day, often have a small loop of ribbon attached in the centre of the square, to aid in lifting the cover away from food. Table-sized bojagi often have straps attached to the corners, so they can be fastened to the table, to secure items in place, when the table is moved.
Different bojagi were used for covering different foods and at different seasons. While lightweight cloths helped air to circulate during summer, to keep food warm in winter bojagi could be padded and lined as well. To prevent the bojagi from being dirtied from food, the underside is often lined with oiled paper.
For carrying items
Bojagi were used for transporting items, as well as covering, or keeping things together in storage. One such example is a 'knapsack' arrangement, where the cloth is wrapped and tied so that items can be securely transported upon ones' back.
Embroidered bojagi, or subo (수보), as the prefix su means embroidery, was another form of decorated cloth. A common ornament was that of stylized trees, varying in style from 'naive', to detailed depictions of flowers, fruits, birds and symbols of good luck. These cloths are closely associated with joyous occasions such as betrothals and weddings, used to wrap items such as gifts from the family of the bridegroom to the new bride, and the symbolic wooden wedding geese.
The embroidery was done with spun thread, on a cotton or silk ground. The subo fabric was then lined, and possibly padded.
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