The Story Of The Cushion And The Pillow
In American phraseology, the words ‘cushion’ and ‘pillow’ are virtually synonymous, but in the rest of the English speaking world, a pillow is used on a bed for supporting the head and a cushion is used on elsewhere for supporting other parts of the body. A pillow is usually much larger than a cushion nowadays.
The cushion and pillow were most likely first used by well-off Asian men to lounge on. They would probably be referred to as throw cushions these days. However, we are going back so far in history that dyes and fabrics were very expensive, so pillows and cushions were just for the wealthy and the designs were so elaborate that they became pieces of art in themselves.
Needlework became a skilled profession as did weaving. Cushions were large sacks or cases filled with feathers, hair, wool, straw or something equivalent. These days they are more likely to be filled with man-made fibres such as polyester. Down is the most costly filling especially down from the eider duck.
Due to international trade, the concept of the cushion started moving westward and had reached Egypt by the time of the Pharaohs. Cushions have been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs. By the Middle Ages, cushions were to be found in all the royal palaces of Europe. Cushions were still regarded as representing wealth.
The cushions of the royal palaces were substantial enough to sit in, a bit like modern beanie bags, and even started replacing traditional chairs. In those days, cushions were very substantial sacks manufactured of leather, many of which had needlework designs on them.
Cushions were also used in churches for the wealthy to kneel on when saying their prayers. These special but small cushions were called carreaux because they were square (from the French).
Nowadays cushions are everyday objects because they are much cheaper. Most cushions in the West are 17 inches by 17 inches and the reason for this is the traditional size of a roll or bolt of fabric. A roll of cloth is traditionally 54 inches wide, so it could be cut into three pieces of 18 inches, allowing for seams, this allows the manufacturer to make a 17 inch cushion.
Japanese cushions were much and still are, but they have a different task. In the West they are used for support, whereas in the East they are used for sitting on on the floor. In Japanese they are known as ‘zabuton’ and measure 20-30 inches square by a few of inches thick, which is less than a quarter of the thickness of traditional Western cushions.
Zen meditators will often sit on another special cushion known as a zafu or meditation cushion, which is placed on top of the zabuton. A zafu can be round or square but is small, often merely 8-10 inches in diameter and 4-8 inches in thickness.
Zabuton are used in all facets of Japanese life especially those aspects that have religious overtones or traditions such as sumo. Spectators of the sport will sit on zabuton whilst watching the bouts. If there is a questionable move or a dispute, spectators often throw their zabuton into the ring in revulsion.
Owen Jones, the writer of this piece, writes on a variety of subjects, but is now involved with decorative sofa pillows. If you would like to know more, please visit our website at Modern Throw Pillows For Sale.