Japanese Hand-Dyed Tenugui Cloth in 8 Steps

Step 1: Checking the fabric

The fabric is delivered from the factory to the dye workshop. This fabric is called 'someshita' or undyed fabric. The fabric is washed and dried when the fabric is received to prevent the dye from being uneven. During this process, we check to make sure there are no defects and roll the fabric back up again so that is easy to work with when the paste is applied.

Step 2:Applying paste

The second step to making tenugui is applying the paste. We apply the paste to the fabric to ensure that the dye does not pass through and stain unwanted areas. When hand dyeing by pouring the dye onto the fabric, we create the design by applying paste to areas we don't want dyed. This process of preventing dyeing is called resist dyeing or 'bosen'. This may seem like an easy process when watching a craftsman do it. However if an amateur tired applying the resist dye paste, often times the paste will not be applied evenly leading to uneven dyeing.

Step 3︓Preparation of the dye

While the paste is being applied, we start to mix the dye. We tailor the dye mixture to the amount of fabric to be dyed and the concentration of the desired color. The dye mixture is created by using a dye powder that is weighed on an electronic scale to make sure we are using precisely the right amount. The dye powder is then dissolved in hot water. Our craftsman know exactly how much dye powder and hot water to use based on the amount of fabric so there is no waste.

Step 4:Dyeing using one color

After applying the resist dye paste to the fabric, it is placed on the dyeing stand and the prepared dye is poured onto it. The dye is poured from a funnel shaped vessel in a process called pour-dyeing or ‘chuzen’. This stand is like a big vacuum cleaner and is constructed so that the dye is poured on the fabric from the top. It then sucks the dye that drops down at the bottom. This method is better than screen printing because the dye liquid goes through both the front and back surfaces of the material causing the color to seep in and stick firmly. By using the pour-dying or ‘chuzen’ dyeing method, the inherent water absorption qualities of the cotton isn’t changed since it dyes the thread. That is why these towels are more absorbent than western cotton towels and why they were originally used in kendo wrapped around the head.

Step 5:Sashiwake (Dyeing using multiple colors)

When dyeing using more than one color we use a process called ‘sashiwake’. When we are dyeing in one color, we spread the dye onto the entire surface of the towel. With sashiwake, we create embankments with the glue to prevent the dye from flowing into unwanted areas. We then pour different colors of dye in-between the embankments using a funnel-shaped vessel. This is a very delicate process and is repeated once more before the dyeing is complete.

Step 6:Washing

After the dyeing process is finished, the resist dye paste is washed off. The fabric is about 20 meters long and we can make more than 20 hand towels with it. Because the cloth is so long, we have to use special machinery and a long pool to wash it. The resist dye paste does not contain any toxic ingredients and is made primarily from seaweed and rice flour. Nevertheless, we dispose of this water through the sewage pipes. After washing the fabric, we extract as much water as possible by spinning the cloths at a high speed in a washing machine type drum to make the drying process quicker.

Step 7:Drying

After spinning the cloths in the drum, we continue drying the fabric indoors in a room with high ceilings. The craftsman hang the tenugui cloths making sure the fabric does not overlap. The drying process requires the craftsman to climb up high and hang the cloths from the rafters which can be a daunting task for an amateur.

Step 8:Finish

Once the cloth has finished drying, it is rolled up once again. Two people then fold the cloth to the prescribed length. It is then compressed to iron out the wrinkles and the washcloths are cut one by one. This completes the process of making traditional teugui and our Kanno Towels.

Hand dyed towels : » Traditional Towels

» How to use?