TENUGUI are a bit similar to English Tea towels. TENUGUI (てぬぐい）means hand wipes. These were originally made for hand towels, but because of their "handy" size (typically 35cm x 90cm) and great functionality, they began to be used in many different ways in Japan.
The history of TENUGUI dates back almost 1300 years. They used to be made from hemp or silk and were mainly used for religious rituals. Back then, Japan imported cotton from China, making it an even more luxurious commodity than silk. About 400 years ago Japanese people started to cultivate their own cotton. Cotton kimono and cotton TENUGUI became very popular. In those days, many people used TENUGUI when going to the public baths, to cover their head from dust, or as a sweat towel.
As TENUGUI became more popular, people started to care more about the designs too. There was a TENUGUI design competition called "Tenugui- Awase" and a special dyeing technique called "Chusen" was developed to create colourful TENUGUI. TENUGUI culture took root in Japanese people's life and, just like "Origami", many different TENUGUI folding styles were devised too.
TENUGUI have always been part of Japanese culture, but during the last ten years they regained its popularity back with traditional dyeing method "Chusen", but with more modern textile designs. The uses of TENUGUI today are extremely varied. You can do whatever you like with a piece of fabric, like making bags, clothes, using as decoration and so on. It's up to you!
Did you know?
About 300 years ago in Japan, TENUGUI was used as business tool! Kabuki actors printed their names or emblems on TENUGUI and gave them to their fans. Some shops printed their shop names on it and gave it to their customers. It's just like "business cards" these days.
There is no hem for TENUGUI so that it dries evenly and quickly. It is excellent from the aspect of hygiene. Without hem, it's easy to rip it off too. In old days, people used TENUGUI as a bandage and still you can. If you have one or two TENUGUI in your bag, you can use them for First aid or emergency situations too.