Pojagi is an ancient Korean textile art form. The first documented mention of it was in AD 42, so it is about 2,000 years old – much older than western quilting.
A pojagi (po) is a cloth that is used to wrap, carry and store things. Traditionally, they are square. In antique collections, the smallest measure about 35 cm (about 14 inches), but they went up to ten times that size.
These wrapping cloths were used by all social classes in ancient Korean society and made with different fabrics. Fabrics available at the time were silk, cotton and ramie (a plant based fabric similar to linen or hemp).
In the palace, each new item of clothing came wrapped in its own pojagi. People used pojagi to store family heirlooms and valuables and to give gifts. The wrapping ensured love and good wished were part of the gift.
The were and still are used to carry things – the original reusable shopping bag. At Korean weddings, traditional carved wooden ducks or geese are wrapped in pojagi and given as a sign of fidelity. In Korean parliament, they are used to present important documents.
There are different terms to describe pojagi.
Kung Po is the word for pojagi used in the palace and Min Po is pojagi used by commoners.
Kyop Po (meaning double) is lined, Hot Po (meaning single) is unlined and reversible.
Som Po is padded, and Nubi Po is quilted.
Jogak Po is patchwork and Su Po is embroidered.
A piece could be described using more than one term. If is was a lined, embroidered pojagi for a princess, it could be called su po, kyop po or kung po.
Jogak po (patchwork) was used only by commoners. You can imagine a Korean peasant of long ago sorting out scraps from clothes making and laying out beautiful patterns and designs.
Although they were worlds apart and had very different materials, these women made beautiful things with their leftover pieces just like historical western quilters and other women around the world.
Today this art is recognized and many old pieces are in museums even though they were made by women in poverty and isolation.
Reversible patchwork is the most unique option of pojagi. It is very different from western quilting because the seam are finished on both sides.
The best way to view these items is with light shining though them. It gives the impression of stained glass.
Designs tend to be geometric and random rather than the shapes and repeating designs of western quilts.
The techniques involved in pojagi are now used for many things beyond wrapping cloths. You can see them in table linens, clothing, and other decorative pieces.
If you ever get the chance to view a pojagi exhibit go and check it out. You will not be disappointed. It’s interesting that this ancient art is similar to “modern” quilting.
Elizabeth DeCroos is the designer and teacher at Epida Studio. She loves to work in quilting, pojagi and embroidery and teach these techniques to others.
Learn more and get her to speak to your group.