Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Sacred and Ceremonial Textiles: Proceedings of the Fifth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Chicago, Illinois, 1996. (Minneapolis, 1997).


Copyright 1996 by the author.


Altar cloths are rectangular cloths on which Buddhist offerings are placed. Generally, they are made with gorgeous textiles of gold nishiki, a multi-colored weft-patterned fabric. In the Momoyama and Edo periods from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, however, they were also made from refashioned kosode, an early type of kimono.

1. Banners and altar cloths remade from kosode

When a person died, his or her kosode were often donated to the family temple. The kosode were then remade into various religious objects such as altar cloths and banners for Buddhist ceremonies for the deceased. Most of the donated kosode were originally created for wealthy women and hence were made with superior materials.

Generally, kosode were used until they wore out. That is why few kosode remain today. Kosode that date to before the late-sixteenth century are especially rare. In contrast, kosode refashioned into altar cloths and banners are relatively well preserved in temples. They make up for a shortage of historical examples of kosode. Occasionally, an inscription on the altar cloth or banner gives important clues about the kosode's date. This banner [fig. 1] has an inscription indicating that it was made from a katasuso kosode in 1530. Katasuso is a kosode design with motifs only on the shoulders and skirt of the kimono. This is the oldest tsujigahana textile piece with an inscription that offers a clear date.