This very beautiful fukusa has a large embroidered design of the famed "Legend of Takasago" - see footnote. On this piece Jou, the old man, is carrying a rake and a fan - both made from couched gold thread. Uba, the old woman, carries her broom which is also of couched gold thread. Their garments are made from a variety of colored threads - some couched some of free embroidery.
Behind the two is a large gnarled pine tree soaring over their heads - its trunk and limbs made with couched gold thread and the needles made with pale yellow and green threads. The fukusa measures 29" by 27 1/2". It is in very fine condition - the border of orangish gold silk shows considerable wear - however the main scene is in excellent shape. When matted and framed these border issues could be covered and the entire fukusa would be quite spectacular. (We have three other fukusa in our personal collection and all have framed out beautifully.) We date it to the late Edo to early Meiji period, circa 1840s - 1880s.
Footnote: Takasago, the legend of the contented couple, is one of Japan's oldest and is performed in the Noh Theater story by the same name. Takasago is actually the location of the tale. The old man is called Jou and the old woman Uba, and as a couple they are called Jotomba. Deeply devoted in life, the old couple passed away within moments of each other and their spirits were transformed into pine trees: he a black pine and she a red. They are most commonly depicted with a pine tree in the background.
Jou is always shown to carry a rake and Uba a broom. As she sweeps away all sorrow and ill fortune, Jou takes care to rake in the blessings of the past. They are an excellent reminder of the joy and contentment that comes from striving through life's challenges in a devoted and loving relationship. This makes them ideally suited to be placed on display for all new undertakings. You will find their images portrayed at weddings, anniversaries, and New Year celebrations.
The fukusa was made with a combination of embroidered techniques. Couched gold-work is the art of embroidery using metal threads. It is particularly prized for the way light plays on it. The term "gold-work" is used even when the threads are imitation gold, silver, or copper. The metal wires used to make the threads have never been entirely gold; they have always been gold-coated silver (silver-gilt) or cheaper metals, and even then the "gold" often contains a very low percent of real gold. Most metal threads are available in silver and sometimes copper as well as gold; some are available in colors as well.
Goldwork is always surface embroidery and free embroidery; the vast majority is a form of laid work or couching; that is, the gold threads are held onto the surface of the fabric by a second thread, usually of fine silk. The ends of the thread, depending on type, are simply cut off, or are pulled through to the back of the embroidery and carefully secured with the couching thread.
In embroidery, couching and laid work are techniques in which yarn or other materials are laid across the surface of the ground fabric and fastened in place with small stitches of the same or a different yarn. The couching threads may be either the same color as the laid threads or a contrasting color. When couching threads contrast with laid threads, patterns may be worked in the couching stitches. Couching is also characteristic of Japanese metal-thread embroidery.