Pojagi: Patchwork & Quilts from Korea

Pojagi: Patchwork & Quilts from Korea

Pojagi Patchwork & Quilts from Korea

There is a centuries-old tradition in many cultures, particularly in Asia, of wrapping objects with beautiful textiles. In Korean culture, these wrappings, called pojagi, were made in bursts of colorful patchwork or imaginative embroidery, in fine and coarse materials, and from small to large scale. It was in pre-modern Korea, particularly during the Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1910), that the pojagi became a Korean cultural icon. Both courtly and common society during the period were organized according the Confucian creed that elevated men and subjected women to social isolation. With few options before her, a woman could direct her creative energies and her daily struggles toward the socially acceptable activities of sewing and embroidery. The profusion of pojagi is one result.

Patchwork pojagi, called chogak po, had many uses. They served to cover, wrap, store, and carry objects in the common person's activities of daily life. They were used as tablecloths, to deliver a marriage proposal, to carry possessions on a journey, and to adorn and protect sacred writings. Women used wrapping cloths filled with cotton batting and quilted to wrap fragile objects or to cover food to keep it hot. Wrapping a gift in a specially made pojagi communicated respect for the object and good will toward the recipient. Each patch and stitch added by the maker was like a prayer of good will that would enfold and carry the gift. Women adapted chogak po for clothing, sometimes combined with quilting, to "wrap" and dress their loved ones. Many surviving patchwork wrapping cloths from the Chosŏn period have never been used, attesting to their preservation as reminders of the affection and blessing of their maker.

Korean Aesthetics and Poetry

Korean Aesthetics and Poetry
Korean Aesthetics and Poetry

Korean art traditions reflect an aesthetic that has built-in latitude for unrestrained artistic expressions, yet without disturbing overall harmony. Korean music, poetry, painting, and pojagi are all artistic forms which reflect this artistic freedom. Sijo, a classical lyric poetry form, also from the Chosŏn period, is a good example. It has a formal structure of three lines but does not have restrictive rules of meter or symmetry. Therefore, sijo poets penned three lines of varying lengths as needed to freely express their ideas, yet the asymmetrical finished poems retain a harmony reflective of nature. In a similar way, pojagi allow latitude for many combinations of colors, sizes, quantities, and shapes of cloth into colorful and harmonious wrapping cloths.

Chogak Po: Patchwork Pojagi

Chogak Po: Patchwork Pojagi
Chogak Po: Patchwork Pojagi

Materials
Myeongju (silk cloth): a fabric in various weights and weaves of patterned silk. Very light silk gauze was often unpatterned and used in summer. Pojagi made with the thickest silks were usually doubled layered and used in winter.

Mosi (ramie cloth): a lightweight, hand-woven fabric, usually monochrome.

Sambae (hemp cloth): a strong, textured, loose weave fabric, often used to carry laundry or cover blankets and mattresses.

Sizes
Pojagi are classified into nine size categories using the pok, a Korean measurement unit approximately fifteen inches long. The following are the common sizes and uses of chogak po.

1-pok chogak po: used to line boxes or trays, as box covers, or for wrapping small trinkets.

2-pok chogak po: used to cover prepared food to prevent contamination. A small loop of ribbon in the center served as a handle to lift the cover. Sheer silk was used in the summer; double-layer silk satin pojagi was used in the winter.

4-pok and 5-pok chogak po: used to wrap fabrics, as blanket covers, and to wrap laundry. Wrinkled clean laundry was covered with a durable hemp or ramie pojagi and smoothed by stomping or pounding.

6-pok to 9-pok chogak po: used to wrap blankets and clothing. The very largest were used as blankets to sleep under and were usually made from scraps of ramie.

Selected Works in the Exhibition

Selected Works in the Exhibition

Quilted pojagi 
Made by Soon-Hee Kim
c. 1950-1960
IQSCM 2004.014.0001

Pojagi
Maker unknown
Made in South Korea
IQSCM 2005.008.0001

Selected Works in the Exhibition
Event Date
Saturday, August 23, 2008 to Sunday, November 16, 2008