At an early age Sara Cook had an enthusiasm for sewing. She saw an exhibit of Chunghie Lee’s work in a gallery and her journey with Bojagi began. Her textile work is now influenced by Bojagi and a pressing need to find a way to live sustainably.
How did you get started designing bojagi? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
The first sewing machine in my life was a blue Singer. When my mother found me as a child trying to get the bobbin thread through that little hole in the throat plate she knew I longed to know how to sew. It was set in a teak sewing cupboard and I can still remember the smell of the drawers filled with paper patterns and mysterious sewing equipment like stilettos and bodkins, rolls of bias binding, a leather patch for an elbow.
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At an early age I discovered that I had an enthusiasm for all things sewing related. Toys and teddy’s alike had clothes made and scarves knitted for them. With a professional seamstress for a mother and an uncle a Saville Row Taylor, I was never far from fabric and sewing advice. The family scrap bag was a treasure trove of inspiration.
As an adult I honed my creative skills training as a theatrical costume maker in Liverpool. From training to Glyndebourne Opera House I enjoyed the most demanding and rewarding job in theatrical costuming and there learned a love of teaching.
When as an adult I encountered Chunghie Lee’s work in a gallery at the Festival of Quilts in 2009 my journey with bojagi began. Attending the Korean Bojagi Forum in Seoul in Korea in 2016 gave me a further opportunity to research Korean Textiles and to work with bojagi teachers. As an invited solo exhibitor at the next Korean Bojagi Forum, I was able to exhibit my collection the Grey Line. This expresses the change of light in the landscape, the boundary between night and day as the sun sets and twilight descends.
My practice is now influenced by the textile traditions of Bojagi, Korean wrapping cloths. The translucent qualities of Bojagi, seem to me a perfect medium to express these fleeting moments. The word Bo means wrapping happiness or fortune and was expressed using colour and symbolism. In my works I try to achieve, Cheon-ji-in, which translates into sky, earth and the harmony of human coexistence. A traditional Korean value that chimes with the pressing need to find a way to live sustainably.
What do you do differently?
I try to embrace the Confucian ideal of making something beautiful out of scraps. In order not to waste my materials, I save tiny off cuts in jars. When there is enough, I make these into more fabric using water soluble material and free motion embroidery.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I am a planner. I use my sketchbook to record and develop ideas, to respond to an exhibition or inspiring activity. Once I have a design in mind, I often make a full-size outline pattern and lay work over this as it develops on my design wall.
Finalising the design for me is the most exciting and the most time-consuming part of creating my work. Making is mindful for me, whether it is by hand or working on the sewing machine. Once I get started it is hard to a walk away from my workspace.
When you travel, do you create while on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
I always have smaller hand worked pieces on the go. I could be using up the scraps from larger projects or playing with the traditional coloured silk fabrics to create informal Jogakbo or pieced patchwork designs. These pieces are framed for sale.
What is your most treasured acquisition?
My most treasured acquisition is Bojagi Simple Elegance by Huh Dong Hwa. I was lucky enough to meet and share tea with him at his flat above the Museum of Korean Embroidery where he told me about his life time of collecting Bojagi covering cloths. My collection of books spans a lifetime of study of textiles. Starting with my earliest children’s books of Things to do and make, to current books that I have contributed my own work to.
My book Bojagi: Design and techniques in Korean textile art, is the culmination of more than 10 years of research into this ancient form of textiles and shows that it is still as relevant today to modern textile designers.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works?
Learning how to create Saeksil-nubi, Korean corded quilting technique, traditionally worked by hand informed my choice of textured surface for my piece, Moon light over water.
Inspired by the monthly ritual of observing the full moon rising during 2022 provided a rhythm to the year that was both magical and reassuring by its constancy.
A Banjitgori or sewing box was where a woman kept her seven sewing friends: needle, thread, a thimble, a ruler, a pair of scissors, a small iron, and a large iron. These would have been kept in either a basket or a wooden or papier-mâché box and were an essential part of every home.
My Banjitgori celebrates both the traditional fabrics and the decorative techniques used in bojagi making. It is pieced from Korean organza and mulberry paper. It is my homage to all those Korean women who made the beautiful bojagi that we can still see today but whose identity has been lost to time.
How does a new work come about?
I like the stimulation of working collaboratively with other artists and enjoyed the invitation to work with Korean fabric designer Seong Ok on her Double Happiness project.
Using her fabrics to create traditional wrapping cloths I then made further work using up every scrap.
How does your environment influence your creativity?
In continuing to develop my creative practice towards a more sustainable approach I am now dyeing all my own fabrics with natural dyes with the aim to grow as many of those dyes that I can in my garden.
How have other people supported or inspired you?
The V&A and its collections have been inspiring me since I was a teenager. I can feast my eyes on the colours and shapes to be found in the beautiful glass and ceramics galleries or wander through textile exhibits from around the world and leave feeling uplifted by so much beauty and great design by makers over the centuries.
I enjoy sharing my passion for bojagi and it was a great pleasure to run a workshop this year as part of the Hallyu Wave (Korean culture) exhibition at the V&A. The enthusiasm for learning more about this wonderful textile tradition has kept me busy delivering workshops and lectures in both the UK and internationally.
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