Futon Cover Fragment, Japan, 1868-1912, 14×13 in
By Sophie Downs, a fourth year student in SoHE, studying Textiles and Fashion Design.
This floral piece of cloth is a futon cover fragment from Japan from the turn of the twentieth century. A futon (pronounced fu-tone not fu-tan) is a Japanese style of bed that is essentially a very comfortable, foldable mattress that lays on the ground. They are relatively thin in comparison to the mattresses to which many of us are accustomed today, but they tend to lay atop tatami floors, which are made of rice straw and are much softer than a typical wood floor. I would guess that the cover that our fragment is from was likely a fitted sheet to put over the actual futon, and not a top comforter or blanket, because of the size of the repeating flowers. The flowers are smaller than I would anticipate for a blanket, plus the cloth fragment is thin.
The cloth is made of cotton, and we can see the use of what appears to be indigo, as well as stenciling and resist printing in order to get the patterns. Indigo is a very popular dye in Japan, and has been used there for centuries, which is why I assume indigo was involved in the making of this piece. The cloth also is patterned with layered chrysanthemum flowers, which is a very popular flower in Japanese textiles and art.
The chrysanthemum has held a lot of meaning throughout generations in Japan, and is still known for representing longevity and rejuvenation. It also tends to be associated with autumn/fall, (as every season in Japan has a corresponding flower) which makes me wonder if this futon cover was meant to be used in the fall months. The chrysanthemum has been so popular in Japanese culture that a simplified version became the official Seal of Japan, and can be seen on Japanese passports. This beautiful fragment of cloth shows delicate yet artful stenciling and dye work, and is a wonderful representation of historical and traditional Japanese textiles and art.Discover more about the piece.
In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launched a yearlong anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Over the past half century, the collection has grown from an original 4,000-piece gift to more than 13,000 objects that have inspired and informed thousands of students, researchers, historians, and textile aficionados. The 50-year celebration began on January 27, 2019, with the opening of new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, a space dedicated to year-round displays of the collections. Activities continue into 2019 with a calendar of public exhibitions, symposia, lectures, and public workshops.