Aug 24, 2017

what's a tenugui, you ask?

Meet the Tenugui - an iconic Japanese cotton textile.


The Japanese Tenugui is a bit of an enigma. On the one hand, you see them pretty much everywhere in Japan. On the other hand. some Tenugui are considered precious and rare works of art.

The cotton Tenugui has been a part of Japan's textile history for many centuries. The translation means hand towel.

Its infinitely practical, yet highly decorated. In fact, the "real" ones are all hand dyed using a process known as Chusen. The design is applied using stencils and a paste-resist, then steaming hot dyes are poured over the cloth. Mastering this art form takes many years of study and dedication.

Making a hand-dyed Tenugui is a painstaking process... I describe it thoroughly in my new book: "Cotton & Indigo from Japan." Want to read more, click here.


The cotton Tenugui is a type of super thin towel, originally designed to be used at bath houses.  The paper thin cotton was designed to dry fast... and the Tenugui does not have any sewn edges or bulk.



 The Tenugui is almost always the exact same size - about 35 inches long and about 13 inches wide.

The width is slightly slimmer than the standard kimono width of about 14 inches.

Today it has many uses. One of the most obvious is as a type of head band - its worn they way this artist below is wearing his. Staff in many noodle shops and restaurants wear Tenugui on their heads.

They can also be worn under a kimono as a type of collar, and they are very popular at festivals and outdoor events. 

And here's a tip. If you visit Japan, buy one of these and keep it in your purse (guys you're on your own). Most public restrooms in Japan do not have paper towels or dryers for your hands. Everyone carries their own hand towels... and these little jewels are perfect. Light and cute! Tenugui also make great gifts.


The Tenugui and its sister textile - the colorful, hand-dyed Yukata - are both fully explained in my new book. During my research, I visited two of the very small number of studios still making Tenugui and Yukata the way its been made for centuries. Its a fascinating process and the results are both stunning and charming.



"Cotton & Indigo from Japan" is available on Amazon, or from my website.

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