Pojagi, or bojagi depending on the English rendering, is a Korean textile traditionally used as a wrapping cloth for gifts or to store or carry important items. While there is evidence that they have been in use for as long as 2000 years, beginning in Buddhist contexts and with the earliest surviving example dating from the 12th century, pojagi began to be seriously adopted by wider society during the 14th-century Joseon Dynasty.
The use of pojagi eventually permeated every stratum of Korean society, with clear stylistic distinctions emerging between classes. Pojagi used in the Joseon royal court became known as kung-po, made from whole lengths of cloth of rich pinks, reds and purples, specially commissioned for the presentation of gifts and of new items of royal clothing. The pojagi used by the common people and the variety best known today is min-po or chogak-po, fashioned from scraps of leftover or recycled silk, cotton or ramie — woven from nettle fibres and similar to linen or hemp — to form a patchwork with heavy seams. Because the scraps used in pojagi usually came from old clothing and the use of colour in clothing was strictly prescribed according to class, traditional min-po tended to be of natural colours.The patchwork might be carefully balanced or somewhat random, depending on the tastes of the maker, and the cloth used for anything from wrapping food or gifts to carrying everyday items to bedding. Pojagi used to cover food could be small or large enough to cover a table, and often had ties or straps for easy manipulation. In general, those used for summer were made of silk or ramie in a single layer, while winter cloths were created from layered cotton and silk; often they would have been lined with oiled paper to protect the cloth from the foodstuffs. Sub-classifications of pojagi include kyop-po (lined), hot-po (unlined or reversible), som-po (padded), nubi-po (quilted) and su-po (embroidered). This last was often decorated with natural motifs and used on special occasion such as weddings, when the bridegroom's family would present wooden ducks or geese to the bride, wrapped in su-po.
The seams used to create min-po from scraps are similar to the tough flat-fell seam used in the construction of, for example, jeans. Traditionally though, min-po are sewn by hand and using a thread of contrasting colour. Two scraps are tacked together with the edge of one protruding 5mm or so. They are then folded and sewn so that the edges tuck into one another and are stitched firmly together. The process is repeated with every scrap until the cloth, typically square and anywhere from 35cm to 4m wide, is complete.
Pojagi are still made and used today and there are a number of contemporary textile artists such as Jung-Yul Park and Chunghie Lee moving the craft forward. While their work is innovative and beautiful, I'm always most entranced by the strangely modern yet ethereal quality of traditional-style min-bo such as those in the wonderful collection of Sri Threads' Stephen Szczepanek (see above). I would love to see pojagi become more widely known and available for everyday use — if anyone knows of this happening, please get in touch!