What are Tenugui?
Our Japanese tenugui (手ぬぐい) are beautiful cotton wall-hangings, printed with a Japanese design to brighten up your home.
The first syllable ‘te’ (手), of ‘tenugui’ means ‘hand’ in Japanese, and ‘nugui’ comes from the verb ‘to wipe’.
Traditionally, tenugui were used as hand towels, but unlike Western towels that are made from looped cotton that is fluffy, tenugui are thinly woven and gauzy, making them the ideal medium on which to print artwork.
The long sides are finished with selvage, which prevents them from fraying. The short sides are simply cut and so part of the aesthetic is the slightly unfinished edge. The loose threads are a part of the tenugui’s appeal, and it is a mark of their authenticity.
There are all sorts of uses for tenugui. Just like furoshiki, they can be folded and tied to create gift-wrapping, bottle wraps, and small bags. Pleating the fabric can create beautiful and interesting decorations too.
The History of Tenugui
In the Nara era, tenugui were decorated with images of Buddhist and Shinto deities, and were associated with temple rituals, and used to clean.
In the Heian era, when Kyoto became the capital of Japan, textiles were very expensive, and only the aristocracy could afford beautiful fabrics like silks. The textiles that were used for wrapping clothes evolved into furoshiki.
In the Edo era, tenugui became the widespread choice for the home, once cotton was cultivated in Japan, as it was now more available and inexpensive. Tenugui became associated with the Japanese traditional arts, as kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers printed their tenugui with their family crests, to give away in the manner of a business card. Kabuki at this time was regarded as high fashion, and people were keen to imitate it. Tenugui became known as a stylish item, and merchant stores, keen to please their customers, soon followed this idea too.
Hanging your Tenugui
Tenugui Wall-hanging Kits
Our tenugui are approximately 35cm x 90cm.
Here at Zusetsu, we can supply you with small-width hangers for the top and bottom of your portrait tenugui. Take a look at our Tenugui Wall-hanging Kits by Zusetsu. Everything you need to be able to hang your portrait tenugui in your home is available here instore!
We believe the landscape tenugui (90cm x 35cm approximately) look spectacular framed!
Many of you have enquired about our lovely picture frame which features in our product photos for our horizontal tenugui. We'd love to share this info with you so you can have your own tenugui frames made, and display this artwork beautifully in your home too.
We asked our local picture framer Paul (Foxwist Picture Framers in Shipston-on-Stour) to make this frame for our tenugui. We gave him the dimensions of our tenugui and a photo of how we wanted it to look. He matched it exactly!
The horizontal tenugui fabric is 330mm high by 900mm wide approximately, and so I asked him to make the frame to snugly fit this. The fabric is happy at being folded slightly if necessary to fit, so it's a lot better if the frame is slightly too small than slightly too big!
The actual wooden moulding is 23mm wide as you look at it on the top, and it's a lovely light wood.
I asked for no glass, and the whole frame, with board backing and pins to secure the tenugui cost me £40 (in 2020). I'm sure you could fit safety glass if you prefer!
If you have a local picture framer they should be able to look at our photos and dimensions and make something very similar for you too! If you need any further help do get in touch!
Nowadays, innovative Japanese companies have recreated tenugui as lovely art pieces with gorgeous Japanese designs. The tenugui has become a beautiful part of the home, whether they are hung on the wall, or used as table runners when serving Japanese tea!
They are hugely popular in Japan, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide them in our online Zusetsu store, as a compliment to our furoshiki.
How our Yokohama Tenugui are Made
Our beautiful range of Hamamonyo tenugui are created using nassen, a traditional hand-dyeing technique from Yokohama, south of Tokyo.
The tenugui fabric is a specially woven fabric called wakaba.
They are created from an inherited tradition and require skilled craftsmanship.
The History of Yokohama Nassen
The Yokohama nassen method of textile dyeing has over 120 years of history ands highly regarded.
Many foreign companies were established in Yokohama when the ports opened to foreign trade in 1859. Yokohama had long been a trading centre for silk, and it developed into a major production centre for textile printing: there were up to 130 indigo-dyeing companies in Yokohama alone.
Woodblock printers from all over Japan, who had until this time been producing ukiyo-e and labels for the export of tea boxes, moved to Yokohama, and, influenced by the superior woodblock printing techniques of both East and West, they developed the Yokohama nassen printing technique.
The Nassen Printing Technique
The nassen printing technique begins with a cut stencil mould. Originally, these would have been carved, but now the designs are photo-engraved.
The coloured dyes are mixed to achieve the distinctive richness of colour and depth of texture that is the well-known nassen quality.
White cotton is stretched upon a 25m printing stand, and the printing frame is placed on top. The first colour is screen-printed onto the fabric, by hand, with a squeegee. When it is dry, a second colour is applied, and so on.
The depth and texture of the colour depends on the mix of the dyes. Even the humidity and temperature can influence the colour slightly, but the skill of the craftsperson allows adjustments to accommodate this. These skilled craftsmen were originally known as katatsuke shokunin (‘stencil craftsmen’).
Next, the fabric is steamed to fix the dye within the threads of the cotton, which vivifies the colouring.
The fabric is then water-washed at a high temperature, to remove all residues. Traditionally, the fabric would have been washed in the cool, flowing rivers of Yokohama.
Wakaba Special Fabric
The fabric that is used for our Japanese tenugui is a specially woven bleached cotton (wazarashi) called wakaba. Dyeing wazarashi while enhancing the natural fibres of the cotton is a difficult skill that requires years of experience, but it is this that creates the distinctive texture of Hamamonyo’s tenugui.
Wakaba is made using Japanese threads, to a thickness that creates optimal dyeing. The cotton is cleaned of impurities using an environmentally-friendly process called ‘eco-bleaching’. Owing to this, the cotton retains a natural colour.
Because the tenugui are produced by hand, there may be slight differences in the width of the fabric. It is these features that add something unique and special to our tenugui from Yokohama.