During the Edo period in Japan (1615-1867) it was customary to give gifts on many occasions, including weddings, births, a child's first day of school, and the Thirteenth Year Ceremony celebrating the attainment of manhood. Annual festivals like the celebration of the New Year, the Cherry Blossom Festival, or the Tengin Festival also called for the presentation of gifts. WIth typical Japanese ceremony, these gifts were covered with a rectangular cloth or fukusa, which was later returned to the giver. The design of the fukusa was specific to the occasion for which the gift was being presented, and, on a more symbolic level, served as an indication of the giver's wealth, scholarship, aesthetics, and cultural sensitivity.
In the first part of the 18th century the custom was in use among the daimyo and samurai classes of both Edo and Kyoto. During this period the designs were often very sublte, referring to literary sources which would only have been recognizable to these aristocratic classes. As the 18th century progressed a wealthy merchant class emerged which began to imitate aristocratic customs, including the use of the fukusa. They preferred large-scale patterns with more color, and the designs became less subtle, more obvious, and naturalistic. Blue satin backgrounds became popular at the end of the 18th century, a suitable background for expensive gold thread embroidery. They were lined with red crepe which gradually extended to border the blue satin, increasing in width as the 19th century progressed. At one point the borders were padded to resemble late Edo period kimono. At times the design of the kimono worn while presenting the gift coordinated with that of the fukusa.
Although the subtlety of the design decreased over the years, the technical skill used in their creation remained high, a sign of the giver's wealth, creating some of the finest examples of Edo period embroidery. During the 18th century, embroidery was combined with other methods of decoration such as paste resist and, later in the 18th century, yuzen dyeing. In paste resist, a rice paste is painted or stenciled over the area which is to be reserved from the dye. After dyeing, the paste is washed out and the reserved area often hand painted. In yuzen, the textile is first painted and this area reserved with a paste resist, then the background is dyed. Also employed was tapestry, or tszure-ori, an expensive textile where discontinous wefts were set-in by hand to create the patterning.