Guest Project: Komebukuro

Guest Project 1 – Food is Love

Pattern by Karen Stevens, photo by Sue.

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! I’ve got a special treat for you this week – my aunt Sue just finished a really cool project, and she was willing to send me her photos and process and allow me to share it with you!

She has loved sashiko and yukata fabric for a long time, and when she was introduced to Karen Stevens’ komebukuro (rice bag) pattern, she knew she had the perfect project to make as gifts for her friends!

This is a fantastic way to use up scraps of fabric from your stash! Photo by Sue.

米袋 is the kanji for komebukuro – the first one, kome, means rice, and the second, fukuro (the “f” changes to a “b” in this compound word), means bag – so no mystery here about the word! Extant komebukuro vary from 6″x6″x6″ to 10″x10″x10″ and are typically from the late Meiji to early Taisho eras – in other words, from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. They were used to carry rice or beans to temples or shrines for religious ceremonies like Setsubun and Segaki, or to wrap special gifts much like furoshiki are used today.

Carry History SriThreads Komebukuro 3
Extant komebukuro, photo credit Sri Threads.

In the case of my Aunt Sue, she already had plenty of vintage yukata fabric and her own sashiko samples just chilling – these sorts of things happen when you’ve been sewing for long enough, as I can attest! She ended up only needing to buy the wooden beads from Joann, but she did mention to me that sashiko kits and pretty much everything else from the pattern’s supplies list are available at TheQuiltShow.com!

Boro, or Japanese patchwork, is quite popular right now, particularly in quilt communities as it is a similar tradition. However, as noted by Sarah Jean Culbreath, a fashion historian, …whereas Western quilt traditions create something new from scraps, boro uses scraps to preserve. One of the biggest distinctions between Japanese boro and the Western quilt tradition, is that quilt culture in the West (specifically in the US) is centered around shared work and community. Boro is generally a solitary activity. Just as quilts are infused with the energy of the group (or generations) of women who worked on a single piece, boro offers information about the single individual who worked on an item. “ It’s easy to look at my aunt’s bag and see the precision, thoughtfulness, and love that she puts into everything she does!

Ok, I gotta step up my game – I really need sweet “made by” tags for all my projects now! 😀 Photo by Sue.

My aunt made her bags 6″x6″x8″ – so right about in the middle of the road size-wise compared to antique bags – mostly so she could gift her friends with some rice to go in their bags! Depending on where you are in the world, you may not have experienced this, but in the Pacific Northwest at the start of the pandemic it was almost impossible to get rice. Stores in my area were completely sold out, which was pretty terrible for me as I eat a LOT of rice! It was my aunt who found some at a Costco in her area, and got my cousin to smuggle it across state lines to me so I didn’t run out. ❤ So I find the gift of rice to be particularly generous and meaningful!

Pictured: love, in the form of delicious carbohydrates! ❤ Photo by Sue.

I asked my aunt about how long the bags took her to make, as that’s always something that I track in my own projects – if only to note that I could never mass-produce them! 😀 She said:

“I cut up a sashiko square from a kit that was completed many years ago.  Great traveling project.  The bag itself is not too time consuming, but of course I had to play with all the patchwork fabric options and also adjust the size of the bag by adding a 2 inch finished top strip.  My bag ended up with a 6 inch square base and 8 inches tall.  Typical…I seem to always tweak a pattern!  So, honestly, I don’t know how long it took.  Plus I made four of them and it did go faster once I made all the patchwork pieces.”

If you’re interested in making your own the pattern is available from kzstevens.com and currently is only $6! And in case you’re wondering – all my aunt’s friends absolutely adored their bags!

Ireta…
…Judi…
…and Kate!

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing the work of someone besides myself – especially something so full of love! Please do let me know in the comments if you’d like to see future guest posts here, and I look forward to seeing you next week here at Mukashi no Sewing for more history, crafts, and sewing! ❤

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4 thoughts on “Guest Project: Komebukuro

  1. Thanks for your beautifully written post. Thanks for emphasizing that food is love. When I was making the komebukuro I thought of my friends enjoying the beauty of the fabrics and the nourishment of the rice.

    Aunt Sue

    Liked by 1 person

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