Korean patchwork · life in Korea

A Brief History of Pojagi

When I began this blog, I did not know what Pojagi was.  I had seen many stores with hanbok, beautiful traditional Korean clothes, but that was all.  Then one day I was with my friend when she went into a local community centre to register for a class.  She does Hanji, a traditional Korean paper craft which is also very beautiful.  I was not interested in the paper craft, but when I realized that the lady at the desk spoke English, I asked her about the cloth items that were on display.  She registered me for my first class.

In my Korean patchwork class, not everything I do is Pojagi, but my great teacher has opened the world of Korean patchwork to me.  Pojagi are square pieces of cloth that are used to store, carry or cover things.  Like western patchwork, they were originally made out of scraps left over from making clothing.  Women used whatever fabric was available, usually silk, ramie or hemp.  Also like their western sisters, they turned this utilitarian sewing into an art form.  They would take all their bright-coloured scraps and lay them out in patterns or designs.  Some designs are regular, like a checkerboard or pinwheels and others are more like crazy-quilts.

Pojagi is sometimes referred to as Bojagi, as there is only one sound in Korean for B and P.  The city Busan is sometimes called Pusan, and the airport code is PUS.   Historians that study pojagi and Korean history look at the difference between pojagi made in the royal courts and that made by working people.  Some is very ornate, used for things like wrapping wedding gifts or storing silverware, and some is very utilitarian, like for children to carry books to school.  It is still quite common to see Korean people carrying things tied up in cloth.  Some pieces of pojagi have tabs in the centre.  These are used for covering things like dishes of food.  Lightweight covers would be used in the summer to keep bugs away, and heavier covers would be used in the winter to keep food warm.

From all that I’ve seen, I don’t think pojagi was ever used as bed coverings like quilts.  Possibly that’s because traditionally Koreans did not sleep on beds the same as in the west, they slept on mats on the floor and everything got put away in the morning.  Even now, most of my Korean friends do not sleep on beds, they have mats on the floor.  Some are there permantly and some are put away, depending on the size of the house.  Korean homes have heated floors.  We LOVE this, and will miss it in Canada.  Logically, if your floor is the warmest spot, why would you want a bed to lift you off of it?

I am still learning about pojagi and different techniques, and will share what I learn here.  It is beautiful, especially silk pieces hung in a place where light can shine through.  Many families have pojagi heirlooms that have been passed down through generations.  They are now appreciated as an art form, and are likely to be displayed on a wall or in a window rather than folded away in a cupboard.


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