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Staring at the wall.

A brief history of cushions

9. December 2016

We’ve just launched our first cushion range: a stunning collection of 11 artist-made designer cushions, perfect to accent a modern sofa or chair.

Nowadays, throw or scatter cushions are an everyday luxury, used to bring colour and comfort to the home.  But they started as true luxury item, available only to the wealthiest.

The earliest known is use is circa 7,000 BC, in the early civilizations of Mesopotamia.  Cushions were related to status – the more you owned the more affluent you were seen to be. In a time of discomfort for the majority, to be comfortable was to be wealthy. Although no cushions survive from this period, we are able to ascertain their style and usage from ancient wall art.    As dyes and fabrics were very expensive, cushions became individual pieces of art that represented the taste (and wealth) of the owner. 

Cushions from the Egyptian period are best known for being wooden or stone headrests.  In this way, they are closer to the meaning of the word ‘pillow’ which derives from the latin word ‘pulvinus’.  ‘Pulvinus’ shares its etymology with the word ‘pulpit’ – the raised standing platform in churches.   This is, essentially, what pillows or cushions were to the Egyptians – raised platforms for the head. Most famously, these hard cushions have been found in the tombs of Egypt, supporting the heads of mummies.

In Europe, the tradition of cushion and pillow usage derived from the classical Greek and Roman usage.  These cultures, having taken a long hard look at the wooden cushions of Egyptian times and the fact they mostly seemed to support the head of dead people, decided that something more comfortable was in order.  Stuffing their cushions with straw, feathers and reeds, they created cushions akin to those we still use today.  They had large cushions for reclining on smaller cushions for chairs, cushions for sleeping.  Just like the Egyptians, they still placed cushions under the heads of the dead – but at least those resting in peace, now rested in a little more comfort.

Meanwhile, in China the tradition of the hard cushion and pillow continued.  Materials used included ceramic, bamboo, wood and bronze.  The cushions were softened by laying fabric over them.  Their usage continued right up until the 20th century, with ceramic cushions being slowly phased out from the 14th century onwards, but still on use up until the 1910s.

Across the sea in Japan, cushions played a different role.  Rather than supporting the head, large cushions on the floor called ‘zabuton cushions’ were used for seating.  These cushions would be scattered around a room and used to host guests.  If meditating, the owner of these cushions would place a smaller cushion called a ‘zafu’ on top of the zabuton.

Like many everyday items that were once luxuries, cushions and pillows began to appear throughout middle class homes during the 19th century.  The industrial revolution brought about efficiencies in weaving, dying and fabric that began to make once luxury cushions available to a wider audience.  In Victorian Britain, cushions played a traditional role of adding comfort and style to the bedroom, couches and chairs.

During the 20th century, cushion usage became even wider and more experimental.  As homes became more modern and relaxed, large floor cushions like beanbags became popular.  Travel also played a role – as people began to visit Asia, they discovered and bought back traditional Asian chair and floor cushions.

So mass production and globalization made the once luxury cushion an everyday item.  But this has come with one problem.  Mass production is mindless.  So when we created our first cushion range, we wanted to bring back some of creativity displayed on those first Mesopotamian cushions.  Our cushions our made by artists and intended to be piece of artwork for your sofa, bed or chair.  Because we work with over 70 artists in over 30 countries, our cushions are unique and original designs – and all exclusive to FEATHR.

And we’ve done something that a Mesopotamian king could never had done.  We used all the digital smarts available to a modern brand  - we work smart, we make to order, we ship direct - to ensure we get unique, artist-made cushions into your hands at an accessible price.   Sound good?  Then discover the full range of our designer cushions here.

Before you go:

Explore our range of artist-made designer wallpaper and modern fabrics.

 

Now read:

The history of sex in 9 walls & wallpaper


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