[Kosode] (Garment with small wrist openings) Design of paulownias and phoenixes on a red figured-satin ground


[Kosode] (Garment with small wrist openings) Design of paulownias and phoenixes on a red figured-satin ground

Textiles / Edo

Edo period, 18th century


身丈158.0 裄63.0


Kosode are the predecessors of modern-day Japanese kimono. The name kosode derives from the small wrist openings of the garments. This kosode features a tree rising sinuously across an opulent red ground. The design of a single tree stretching up the entire surface was a common feature of women's kimonos from the early- to mid-Edo period.

This is a paulownia tree with blooming flowers. Phoenixes also flutter nearby. These fantastical birds were said to appear as good omens. Phoenixes were also said to perch on the branches of paulownias, so this is a very auspicious design.

The paulownia is rendered using kanoko shibori, or “fawn-spot dyeing,” a technique whereby small clumps of cloth are tied together with thread and dyed one by one, with lines and shapes formed by the tiny spots. There is a method of stencil dyeing that creates a similar effect to kanako-shibori, but the sheer quality of the red hue could only be produced by tie-dyeing, so we know this garment was the result of this painstaking process.

The phoenixes, paulownia flowers and leaves are also embroidered with silk and gold thread dyed dark blue, light indigo, greenish-yellow, crimson, white, and golden brown. The design on the sleeves stops abruptly at the lower seam. Combined with the auspicious motifs, this suggests the garment was once a robe with long hanging sleeves that was worn as a bridal costume by a woman from the warrior class, with the robe subsequently refashioned as a shorter-sleeved garment after the wedding. A garment with an expensive red ground like this one could only have been worn by someone of high social standing. The enjoyment of this garment is perhaps enhanced by imagining who might have worn it.

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