Written on December 8, 2008
Today I am presenting two beautiful boro futonji or futon covers. As is the case with most boro futon covers seen on the market, these are fragments from a larger piece: an intact futon cover is usually constructed like a very large pillow case into which stuffing was inserted, exactly like the duvet covers that we know today.
In rural areas in Japan where cotton was scarce, where it was not native and where it was too pricey to buy, cotton rags were used to create a futon cover as were the ones shown here. Cotton rags, however, were purchased from rag sellers who were ubiquitous in old Japan. The stuffing of the futon might not have been cotton batting as we are accustomed to, but most likely it would have been crudely plied or leftover bast fibers (hemp, ramie, etc.) that would have been stuffed into futonji for warmth.
Boro futonji such as these are almost impossible to date exactly since the scraps of cotton used could be quite old, probably dating to the mid-nineteenth century or so; the actual construction of a boro futonji could have been ongoing for a generation after it was first made since the futonji would have been mended, patched and altered as needed.
I estimate these two futonji to be old pieces; the one on the left seems to be from the nineteenth century; the one on the right could date to this same period or could be slightly ‘younger’, dating from the early twentieth.
Look carefully at the detail photos of the piece on the left and you will see small scraps of very old cloth which has been intensely layered and stitched. The piece on the right has marvelously eccentric stitching done in white thread.
Below is shown a clump of okuso, or left-over hemp fiber or hemp “waste.” It is this material that would have been used as stuffing in old futonji such as these. Also, it is this material that was spun into crude yarn to create work garments, shown here.