Fit for a king


Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth
Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth

Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth
By Joan Schoettler, illustrated by Jessica Lanan (Walnut Creek, Calif.: Shen’s Books, 2011, $17.95, 32 pp., hardcover)

In “Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth,” the ties between a mother and her daughter bring modern-day readers to ancient Korea. Eomma, (Mother) has been chosen to live in the king’s court, to sew bojagi (wrapping cloths). Her skill as a seamstress caught the attention of the king’s overseer when he spotted one of her bojagi used to wrap oranges at the market.

Eomma is honored to be selected, yet sad to leave behind her young daughter, Ji-Su. When Eomma departs, Ji-Su turns to her aunt to teach her to sew. Her goal is to be chosen to sew for the king and thus live in the palace with her mother.
Ji-Su works at her craft, seldom stopping to play with her cousins. She pieces fabric together and designs fabric bats to sew onto her bojagi for good luck, just as her mother did. She presents her finest bojagi to the master. Impressed, he asks to see more of her work. Inspecting her earlier pieces, he declares her work inferior and leaves.

Distraught, Ji-su is comforted by her aunt. Lanan’s illustration of Li-Su leaning against her aunt in a dark room lit by the fire matches the mood in the text. Surprisingly, the master returns that evening to examine her finest bojagi once again. He says he will give her a chance to sew another bojagi before he passes through the village for an upcoming festival.

Ji-Su works feverishly, working her fingers until they are raw and bleeding. The watercolor illustration of Ji-Su’s blood on her sewing is poignant. When the master returns, he says, “When I saw your bojagi, I did not think a young girl could do work this fine. (But) you are chosen to sew for the king. Be ready at sunrise.” Success! As Ji-Su is happily reunited with her mother, she opens her bojagi and Eomma declares, “Each stitch has brought us together again.”

The author’s notes in this book explain that bojagi were used during the Josean Dynasty (1391-1897) for storing food and household items, and for wrapping gifts. Some bojagi were similar to patchwork quilts and others were embroidered. Good wishes and blessings accompanied each stitch and were enclosed within the cloth. What a lovely tradition.

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