Chusen Dyed Tenugui – Preserving Japanese Crafts
Written by Keiko, June 2022
I was fortunate to be able to visit a chusen dye studio in Tokyo, earlier this year in May. 20 craftsmen and women work there, and I was pleased to see that many young people were working there. As you might know, Japan has an ageing society, and many traditional craft studios don’t have any young people, who can learn the skills and knowledge to keep the traditional crafts going. The Head of the Tokyo chusen studio, Mr Abe, told me that they have lots of young people, who want to work with their hands, rather than in an office behind a computer screen. I found it so refreshing to see them, as so many people use their mobile phones all the time (including me!), and these people were choosing to reject technology for tradition! It was such a wonderful opportunity to visit there and has inspired me to try and create something with my own two hands.
The chusen dye method has a long history and was developed in the early 17th century in Japan. There are a few steps to the method:
- A pattern stencil and special glue is put on a long cotton cloth.
- A barrier is made around the outside of the stencilled pattern, to contain the dye, and separate different colours.
- Different colours of dye are poured on the cloth, the glue resists the dye and creates the pattern.
- The cloths are washed in waters in a long pool.
- The cloths are hung to dye from the balcony.
- The cloth is cut down into individual tenugui.
Our supplier who I visited, Marukyu, has been running their chusen dye studio in Tokyo for over 100 years, and has over 60,000 different pattern stencils. I saw their stencil room and found some very traditional as well as amazingly modern patterns there. Some of them have even been in use since the studio started! They are incredibly special, so I am so pleased to be able to offer these chusen dyed tenugui to our customers and introduce this technique to people outside of Japan. Each tenugui is unique as they are dyed by hand, and I love the individuality each one has. Japanese people use tenugui everyday – as a handkerchief or tea towel, to wrap a bento box, and even to wrap gifts. Tenugui themselves also make wonderful gifts!
It’s very important for all of us at Nishura East that we support small craft studios, producing high quality handmade goods, and who are training the next generation to carry these skills and traditions. Purchasing these tengui really does help this industry directly!
We aim to introduce new patterns of tenugui from Marukyu every season, so make sure to keep coming back to see them! We are also always happy to have you visit us in our showroom if you’d like to see the collection in person!