I am Youngmin Lee. I am a maker, teacher, and most of all, a textile enthusiast! I can trace my love of textiles back to my childhood. When I was young, I collected scraps of fabrics and kept them in a box, until I moved from Seoul to California. I wish I could have brought them all with me but unfortunately, I don’t remember where I left that box. My interest in fabrics led me to study and work in the fashion industry for a few years. I studied clothing & textiles in college, and continued my studies and received an MFA in Fashion Design in Seoul. I worked as a fashion designer in Seoul, South Korea, until I moved to California in 1996. Because of my history, textiles are a very comfortable subject and medium for me.
After I moved to California, I realized I still wanted to create things with my own two hands, even though I was no longer involved in the fashion industry. One day, I picked up scraps of fabrics and made Jogakbo (patchworkedBojagi). That’s how I re-connected with fabric and my native textile tradition. I always was fond of Bojagi, but barely had a chance to make it in Korea. Rather, my focus at the time was Western style fashion. Ironically, I finally found Bojagi as my creative medium in California. I chose Bojagi as my creative medium to maintain ties to my heritage and culture. I appreciate the beauty that results from the long and slow process of hand stitching. I have presented worldwide about Korean textile art and crafts, and I teach numerous workshops about Bojagi and other traditional Korean textile arts.
Bojagi (Korean Wrapping Cloths) is perhaps the most unique form of Korean textile art. It has a long history of being made and used in Korea, but at the same time it is strikingly contemporary: the designs and colors of Bojagi remind one of the works of some modern abstract artists. Bojagi could be described as a true form of abstract expressionism.
Bojagi occupied a significant place in the daily lives of Koreans of all classes. They were used to wrap, carry, cover, or store items: anything from precious ritual objects, to everyday common household goods, or foods for ritual offerings, or even dining tables. Bojagi is usually square, and comes in a range of sizes. Some of the fabrics that can be used to make bojagi include silk, cotton, hemp, and ramie.
There are many kinds of bojagi, as diverse as the items wrapped inside. Bojagi are named based on many different aspects, such as the social class of the intended user, how it was made, design, material, or size. There are many different types of bojagi, including lined and unlined, quilted, embroidered, painted, and even gold-leafed.
Jogakbo (patchworked Bojagi) embodies the philosophy of recycling, as it is made with scraps of leftover fabric. It also carries with it, the maker’s wishes for the well-being and happiness of its recipients.
Subo, embroidered Bojagi, is a good example of Bojagi imbued with good wishes, as you can see the auspicious symbols that were embroidered. Embroidered Bojagi was used for happy occasions such as weddings, birthdays, and holidays.
Bojagi was taught and passed down from generation to generation. Sewing and stitching are basic skills that women had to learn from an early age in Korea. I learned how to sew from my mother, but I learned how to make Bojagi years later when I went to college. For years, I’ve been teaching my own daughter and other school children in San Francisco as a part of a Korean art and culture program. Korean American and other ethnic background students love learning Bojagi. I think this is a small way that I can pass down traditions to the next generation. And I often feel that I am teaching horizontal way, too (if I can say from generation to generation is vertical way). When I teach, this universal language of hand sewing reverberates around us.
In addition to teaching in person, I created the DVD Bojagi: The Art of Wrapping Cloths in 2013 to reach people from afar. Last year, we all had to adjust to the new way of living due to the Covid-19, and I developed online Bojagi classes. In this way, even during lockdown I was able to meet new friends and share my passion with more people around the world.
I started out making very traditional style Bojagi at the beginning, but gradually, I found myself experimenting and broadening my horizon. Left over fabric often sparks my very organic creative process. I start by putting small fragments together, piecing more and more together as I work. Sometimes the piece grows as I planned, but other times, it grows as if it has its own intention. I just enjoy the rhythm of stitching and leave the result beyond my control. I appreciate the beauty that results from the long and slow process of hand stitching – a meditative act that creates an unexpected and spontaneous result. Using locally available materials instead of Korean silks and ramie, I was able to think out of the box.
I created works inspired by mother of pearl lacquerware that I saw at a museum exhibit. The iridescent colors reflect hidden efforts and time and this bojagi is my interpretation of old culture and tradition. I also am interested in the natural dye process.
Another experiment I did last year was making stitch sample books out of fabric.
Lately, I have been experimenting with Saeksilnubi, a traditional Korean craft that uses two layers of fabrics, Hanji cord, and colorful threads to make a quilted texture, using Hanji cords as batting or stuffing. This is my latest interest and I enjoy creating new types of work and connecting myself to my native traditions.
Last year, in celebration of the de Young museum’s 125th anniversary, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco hosted The de Young Open, a juried community art exhibition. The de Young filled the 12,000-square-foot Herbst Exhibition Galleries with 877 pieces of artwork, by 762 artists.
My Bojagi, ‘Remnants of Memory,’ was selected by the jury to be featured in the exhibition The De Young Open. For this piece, I used vintage/antique fabrics from Korea, and I hand-dyed some fabrics at home in California. I was thinking about if fabrics could hold memories from the old days. I wanted to channel these old memories through while I was hand stitching this Bojagi.
This ‘Remnants of Memory’ was selected again for the Fiber Arts X exhibit in 2021 and I was very excited to see my work at the exhibit.
Since my background is fashion design, I often dream up ways of creating Bojagi as wearable art. I wear simple handmade Bojagi garments when I give a talk or teach workshops.
Jogakbo-printed double gauze Ssamsol Hovea
When Megan asked me to collaborate with her new Hovea jacket pattern, I was so excited! I made two jackets using the pattern. Using my own Jogakbo-printed cotton gauze, I constructed the jacket using Ssamsol, the same hand stitching technique that I used to construct the original jogakbo.
Ssamsol is a durable seam that you can see in Hotbo (unlined, single-layered bojagi). One seam allowance is twice the width of the other, so it can neatly enclose the smaller seam allowance.
Place the folded seam allowances together and Gamchimjil (whipstitch) from the outside, leaving evenly sized slanted stitch marks. Press open, fold the wider seam allowance down toward the narrower seam allowance to cover the edge, and fold down again. Sew another line with Gamchimjil (whipstitch) at the edge of the second fold.
Gopsol (Kkekki)Jogakbo Hovea
For the other jacket, I used the Gopsol (Kkekki) technique using a sewing machine.
Gopsol is a very effective seam for sheer fabrics and the finished seam is fine, neat, and sturdy.
Place the fabrics right side together, sew, then fold along the stitched line. Press the folded line with an iron. Sew all four layers together, 2 mm below the previous line. Trim off the rest of the seam allowance as close as possible to the second stitched line. Fold the second stitched line downward and press. Stitch the third line in between the first and second stitch lines.
Bojagi work is comfortable and natural to me, as it connects my native culture and my adopted culture. I love to share my native culture and textile tradition with likeminded people. And I hope and believe that my wishes for the well-being and happiness get passed on to others.
I founded the Korea Textile Tour in 2017 to introduce Korean traditional textile art and culture. I lead this tour annually and travel with textile enthusiasts to learn textile traditions in Korea. Bojagi is allowing me to revisit my native country with likeminded people. Due to COVID-19, I had to postpone my 2020 and 2021 tours, but I hope I can resume it again sometime soon.
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Here’s the full list of Hovea inspiration and ideas:
- Inspiration & Ideas for Hovea
- Hovea Tester Roundup & Hovea Curve Tester Roundup
- Traditional Korean Textile Arts with Youngmin Lee (this post!)
- Introduction to Quilting concepts with The Weekend Quilter
- Top 10 tips from a quilters first journey into Me Made Clothing with Shannon Fraser
- Introduction to Indian Kantha Quilting with Manjari Singh
- Simple Log Cabin patchwork tutorial with Scribbly Gum Quilting Co
- Whole piece quilting with Natalie Ebaugh
- Introduction to Japanese textiles and embroidery with Mari Yamada
- How to make a patchwork quilt design without a pattern with Broadcloth Studio
- Modern Quilting with Porfiria Gomez
Here’s the full list of Hovea tutorials & Hacks:
- Sewalong | How to Choose Between Hovea & Hovea Curve
- Sewalong | Common Hovea pattern alterations
- Sewalong | Quilting prep
- Sewalong | Quilting Design & Planning
- Sewalong | Tips for machine quilting
- Sewalong | Tips for making a patchwork jacket from scrap fabrics
- Sewalong | Basic Binding Method for quilt coats
- Sewalong | Pockets and Seams Quilted Views BDF
- Sewalong | Inset Sleeves Quilted Views BDF
- Sewalong | Final Finishes Quilted View BDF
- Pattern Hack | Sewing a Hovea Dressing gown
- Pattern Hack | How to make a quilt coat from a vintage bed quilt
- Sewalong | Unlined pockets Views ACE
- Sewalong | Lined pockets Views ACE
- Sewalong | Flat Sleeve Insertion Views ACE
- Sewalong | Ties & Hang Loop Views ACE
- Sewalong | Hemming Unlined Views ACE
- Sewalong | Full Lining Views ACE
- Sewalong | Collar band Views ACE
- Sewalong | Belt & Belt Loops Views ACE
Don’t have the pattern yet?!