Close up of Tenugui Towels
Inspiration, Textiles

Tenugui Towels at Nikkei Place

A few weekends ago, I traveled with some friends to Nikkei Place in Burnaby to see their exhibit of tenugui towels. I’ve seen cheap tenugui in Japanese dollar stores here but it had never occurred to me they were more than mass-produced tea towels. This exhibit was eye-opening.

Tenugui means ‘a hand-wiping cloth’. Since the 17th century, these hand printed cotton cloths have been used widely in Japan. Not only used for cleaning and wiping, tenugui are used for wrapping items, as garments, and as ceremonial cloths.

Tenugui Towels

I was amazed by the vibrancy of the dye saturation on the towels in the exhibit.

Tengui printing process

The exhibit also demonstrated the tools used to print the towels by a technique called ‘chusen’. With chusen, dye is poured on the fabric to settle and the design is created by a cut paper that resists the dye. Not only does this technique result in deeply saturated pattern, but it creates a print that is reversible – the pattern is the same on both sides of the fabric.

The most pleasant surprise of the exhibit was how charming and quirky some of the the designs could be, such as these ramen and udon noodle prints, lobsters, and quirky-looking fish:

Lobster tenugui towelIf you live in the Lower Mainland, you can still catch the tengui towels exhibit at Nekkei Place. The exhibit is on until March 24, 2012.


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