Book Review: Bojagi & Beyond II

Bojagi & BeyondBojagi & Beyond by Chunghie Lee

This book was sent to me by Karen Searle at the publisher, Beyond & Above, after I offered to review it. This edition is, apparently, the revised edition of Bojagi and Beyond published in 2010 and has new material added.

Being the tactile person that I am, the first thing I noticed was the paper. The cover isn’t as thick as other paperback/trade paperback covers of books I have reviewed, but the paper used for the pages has a thick and pleasant feel.

The first pages of the book talk about BoJaGi outside of Korea as well as some inspirations. Since I didn’t know what BoJaGi was before I read this book, I wished that the first part would have included an explanation. The author got around to it after a bit, never fear!

The introduction describes classes at the Rhode Island School of Design and how those students took the art form further and made it their own. “While these classes and workshops outside Korea have produced work to convey ideas and personal expression, the same is largely true of the work made over the centuries by women in traditional Korean households. While those makers practiced the craft as a means to fill a practical need for special ceremonial textiles, they also saw it as an outlet for their artistic and spiritual expression.” (pg.iv) This reminds me of what people say about quilts. In both instances the need for something practical provided an opportunity for women to express themselves when they had few other ways to do so. This is also another example of people from different backgrounds and cultures being more alike than different.

The introduction and foreword applaud the author for her work with students and how that work influenced work in other countries and in other textile disciplines.

The true introduction (called Introduction), was written by Chunghie Lee herself, does describe what BoJaGi are and mentions that a related form called ChoGakBo which involves patchwork. Truly, however, the introduction is a mini-bio of the author’s achievements.

The table of contents comes next and tells the reader that there are many different kinds of Korean wrappings. We glean that some are especially used for events like weddings or for covering a table for a meal, but most of the table of contents leads the reader to making and designing these wraps.

The history of BoJaGi includes their usefulness, a reflection on the lives of Korean women and when and why the tradition of making and using BoJaGi was established (pg.1). The book discusses the oldest BoJaGi in Korea (pg.3) and how they were used in the royal court. In this section ChoGakBo and other varieties of BoJaGi are also described (pg.5). This section says that the wrappings “are named according to function: OpBo are large BoJaGi used to wrap large items such as bedding. SangGo are lined with oiled paper and used as food covers” (pg.5), etc. There is a long description of the usefulness of BoJaGi, which make me look at my Tupperware cabinet with a speculative eye. Colors and symbols are also covered (pg.7) in this section, which is well illustrated with examples of the cloths and symbols.

Examples are shown of the various types of wrappings in the next part. This section is illustrated with watercolor illustrations and I got an image in my mind’s eye of a pile of fabric wrapped gifts at a wedding or other major (graduation?) event (pg.14-15).

In the food covering section, different types of handles are shown, also as watercolor illustrations. These handles could be adapted and used for tote bags, I think.

A gallery of works by Chunghie Lee is included in the book. Many of the pieces are installation pieces and shown in situ (pg.24-25, etc). One outdoor installation piece reminds me of Christo and Jeanne-Claude (pg.60-61). I particularly like the journal shown on page 28. it reminds me of fabric journals I have made in the past. These works, in general, are different in influence, but do not look very different from some art quilts. A number of the works have embroidery stitches and screen printing (or similar). Chunghie Lee uses images of women’s faces on many of her pieces and this practice makes me think of honoring the anonymous women who have made other textiles such as quilts, table linens, pillowcases, etc. She also expanded into kimono shaped robes and other types of wearables, though I hesitate to call the pieces wearables. They may be normal, if large, BoJaGi draped over people (pg.44-59).

The first part of the ‘how-to’ section centers on using a BoJaGi. The illustrations are drawn and show how to wrap and object, including a decorative knot (pg.78-79). Making a basic BoJaGi is a logical next section (starting on pg.80) and includes photos of the product, drawings of the supplies and sizes in both English and metric systems. The process is simple and similar to finishing a quilt without batting in the envelope style. Directions for making the tie are also provided (pg.82), which is immediately followed by some ideas for making the tie more decorative (pg.83). Again, my mind raced to making tote bags more decorative with something like these ties. The directions for other types of specialty BoJaGi are also shown and include pictures. I can see a transformation of the display of gifts for the holidays when you use your plentiful fabric to make these BoJaGi and wrap all of your gifts in them!

A section on embellishing starts on page 105. One of the embellished Bojagi shown looks like a Cathedral Window quilt (pg.109). Another embellishment looks like prairie points (pg.111). The wedding embroidery KiLeoKi (pg.112) are very beautiful and provide a lot of inspiration.

As with many books sold today, there are projects included. The directions for the 5 projects start on page 121. The wall hangings don’t look very different from some modern or art quilts, but the other items have a distinctive Korean flair. In general, they have a different aesthetic than other projects in other books.

The final section is about designing for BoJaGi and the thing I liked about it was that the author asks you to consider your materials in a different way. One thing she says is “consider scale in the repetition of elements (pg.138)”, which makes me think of the design series.

There is a lot to look at in this book as well as a lot of inspiration to be had. I would recommend you take a look at it.

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