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Seduction: Japan's Floating World

Bed cover with phoenix in flight above stylized paulownia
Edo (1615-1868) or Meiji period (1868-1912)
Cotton, paste resist-dyed and painted (tsutsugaki)

This kimono-shaped bed cover's bold design was defined in rice paste passed through a cone-shaped tube onto cotton fabric, a technique of reserve dyeing on utilitarian fabrics called tsutsugaki. Secondary colors were painted in by hand and protected with another paste layer before the cloth was dipped in indigo dye. Stitched into the form of a kimono, the cover was padded with cotton wadding (removed from this example). An extra panel, added at the center back, makes the yogi wider than a typical robe, providing ample room for a sleeping couple.

The colorful pattern on this bed cover is an auspicious combination found in many tsutsugaki textiles: a phoenix spreading its wings and long tail feathers above a paulownia tree with clusters of reddish flowers. According to legend, paulownia is the only tree upon which the phoenix will alight. The bird's colored tail feathers are associated with traditional female virtues, and as such the phoenix was often used in the decoration of dowry objects.[1]

1. Brandon, Country Textiles of Japan, 24.

John C. Weber Collection

Image © John Bigelow Taylor.