Sunday, June 21, 2015

Crafting: Tenugui

From left to right, my original tenugui, purchased from Nichi Bei Bussan, the first tenugui that I made for myself and finally, the one I made for this post! You'll see more of it later.

Tenugui, the versatile, traditional hand-towels (not to be confused with furoshiki, or wrapping cloths, which I will cover in a later post), are the perfect project for lovely bits of cotton that you don't quite know what to do with but don't want to see languishing in your stash. They are also a project that involves no sewing whatsoever-- just a bit of strategic measuring, cutting and ironing!

My first foray into making tenugui was last year, after I went through my own fabric stash and found some lovely fabrics with large patterns that I found to be too large for my usual quilting and patchwork projects, and too graphic to work effectively as han-eri on juban.

This adventure also happened to coincide with the beginning of Obon Odori dance practices. At least one dance every year calls for the use of a towel as a prop, and with a friend joining me for then dancing for the first time, I wanted to be sure that she would have what she needed to be able to practice effectively. Obon Odori time is here again  and practices are starting soon, so this seems like the perfect time to revisit this project and share it with you.

What you will need:

Fabric (at least 35 inches x 14 inches)

If the fabric that you wish to use is larger than the traditional dimensions given, you may also find the following useful:

Scissors and Tailor's Chalk (or other means to temporarily mark your fabric) or...
Rotary Cutting Mat
Rotary Cutter

Ideally, the fabric that you are using will be a high-quality cotton. It is washable, absorbent, and will not be as prone to fraying edges. This last is very important as we are not finishing any of the edges with a hem or seam, but are simply hiding the longest exposed edges by ironing them to the inside.

My original, store-bought tenugui is 35 inches long by 14 inches wide (unfolded). The fabric that I picked out for this demonstration happened to be about 44 inches by 9.5 inches, so I didn't feel any need to cut it down. This works to my benefit because it means that the ends of fabric that wind up being the ends of the tenugui are on the selvege and will not unravel. The downside to this is that you can see the printing that is often in this area (manufacturer, pattern name, color swatches, etc), depending on where on the selvage your particular piece happens to have been cut.

My first home-made tenugui, with selvage edges in place.

With my first home-made tenugui, the fabric I chose had one edge where the pattern went all the way to the selvage, but another end where, as you can see in the image above, there was a white strip with printing information instead of the full pattern. I chose to leave this in place because this was meant for practice and personal use and by not cutting the selvage edge off, it meant that I didn't have to worry about fraying edges, like the ones you can see below.

My original tenugui with an ayame pattern. It's hard to see with the white-on-white, but these edges are unfinished and fraying. Tenugui are meant to be used and there is nothing wrong with finishing (or not finishing) your tenugui in this manner!

These are the edges from the tenugui I made for this post. The pattern does not go all the way to the edge, but the white is relatively uniform and any manufacturer's marks were folded to the inside. 

Once you have the length and width of fabric that you need, the next step is a little bit of strategic ironing. You don't really need a ruler for this, but if you are not comfortable with gauging distances by sight, you might find it useful.

You will wish to start by ironing the entire length of your fabric to remove any creases it may have acquired from being folded while stored. Once that is done, lay your fabric right or patterned side down on your ironing board.

Here, the fabric is folded in half, so that the right side is facing up. You will wish to iron the fold to create your middle crease-- the main one you will be using as a guide-line for the next folds. 

I've opened the fabric again and you can see the main middle crease. You can also see some of the softer folds that I was not able to get out with my first pass with the iron. Please do your best to ignore these- they will disappear wen ironing the secondary folds.

This is the first fold that will help establish the final width of your tenugui and hide that long, unfinished edge. 
 Once you have folded your fabric, press along that fold but be careful to NOT press the first, middle crease that you created. You will want that to stay as crisp as possible. Your finished tenugui can be as wide or as narrow as you like, but I find 2.5 to 3 inches to be comfortable for handling. At this point, you can tell how wide your finished piece will be by measuring from the middle crease to this first folded edge.

You are going to repeat the previous step with the other side, folding the raw edge towards the middle and pressing.
This is where you might find a ruler to come in handy, as you will want both unfinished edges to be about the same distance from that middle crease.

The moment of truth! Folding again along that middle crease, we sandwich the raw edges to the inside of the finished tenugui! Press the entire length of fabric and the project is finished.

I hope that this might help you and inspire you to take a few moments to make tenugui for yourself. Not only are they delightful, fluttering props for dances, but they have many more practical uses if you make a practice of wearing kimono out and about.

Not quite tenugui in action. This was at Obon Odori in 2012.