The Japanese word tenugui derives from te (hand) and nugui (wipe), with a tradition of use dating back to the 8th century. (Some things cannot be improved upon.)
Simple lengths of hand-printed cotton measuring about 13” x 36”, tenuguis have always been common in Japanese homes because of their multiplicity of uses: drying dishes, setting the table, bandaging, warming a neck, gift-wrapping — you get the idea.
It should come as no surprise that in typical Japanese tradition, the union of visual appeal and utility is the result of centuries of craftsmanship. The tenuguis at SHED are made by Kamawanu, a relatively young Japanese company established in 1987, yet rooted in years of artisan traditions.
Kamawanu employs venerated centuries-old dyeing and printing techniques known as chusen to produce tenugui.
Chusen dyeing is a specialty of Konoya craftsmen, color artists who mix the dyes applied to the cloth. This process is affected by temperature and humidity. In chusen printing, the dye stains and penetrates the cloth, so the tenugui are reversible.
To decorate the tenugui, a hand-cut paper stencil is placed on cloth that has been stretched across a wooden frame and affixed with a glue made of clay and seaweed. Dye is carefully poured onto the cloth with a watering can, except for the areas covered by the paper stencil. This process is repeated for 25 meters of cloth.
Once the entire length has been saturated, the dye is pulled through the cloth by means of a compressor.
The fabric is washed in a machine and then again by hand to remove excess paste and dye before being laid in the sun to dry. Folded to 13″ x 36″ tenugui lengths, the work is inspected and finally pressed under a roller to smooth out any wrinkles before each length is cut and folded by hand.
In choosing for SHED, we had a devil of a time restricting our selection of beguiling patterns from Kamawanu’s copious archives. However, we know that we know we will not run out of uses for tenugui, which gives us the perfect reason to continually add more!
—Toby Hanson, Buyer, Healdsburg SHED