Japanese Art on a Hillbilly Budget-Part 1

I’ve wanted to write about something for a while.  It has nothing to do with woodworking and is somewhat frivolous, so I kept putting it off.  Finally I have a tie-in with woodworking and I feel a little better about writing about it.

We have triple “H” summers here where I live and grew up.  Hazy, hot and humid.  As a consequence, I grew up with a bandana wrapped around my head to keep the sweat out of my eyes.  For as long as I can remember my sock drawer has always had at least a half-dozen of the ubiquitous red and blue paisley bandanas at the ready.

My interest in Japanese tools led me to an online retailer, Hida Tool.  They specialize in Japanese tools and have a pretty good selection.  Most are out of my comfort level in price, but I have purchased layout tools and saws from them.  The first time I placed on order I was poking around looking at all of their offerings and stumbled upon something called a tenugui.  After reading the description, I realised that it was basically a Japanese bandana.  So I added one to my order just to check it out.  I liked it so much that it became a routine to always add one whenever I placed an order with them.

So why do I like them?  My familiar paisley versions are almost always 22″ square.  In order to tie them around your head, you must fold them diagonally in order to gain enough length, especially with my big noggin.  The tenugui is rectangular.  Roughly 14″x35″.  Much easier to wrap around my head and tie.  The cotton material is absorbent, yet dries quickly.  One quirk that I thought would shorten the life of the tenugui is that the ends are left raw, no hem.  It has not been an issue though.  They unravel a little and then stop.  A little research says that the lack of a hem speeds up the drying process and in the days of the samurai, made ripping the tenugui into strips for bandages easier.  I also like the colors and patterns that I was able to get through Hida Tool.  It was a pleasant change from the red and blue paisley that I have used all of these years.

So I had a few tenugui, used them and liked them, but never gave them much more thought.  A few months ago as I was tying one of my tenugui around my head, I realised that I really didn’t know anything about this handy piece of cloth.  So I sat down and did some internet research.  Wow!  There is a long history and tradition in Japan for this little piece of cotton.  They have all manner of uses.  Wash cloth, hand towel, head wrap and they are often used in wrapping gifts.  The possibilities are endless.  The standout feature though, is the printing/dyeing process.  Essentially there are two methods of getting the design on the cloth. Tenassen and the chusen dyeing process.  The each process is an art form in and of itself.  Way too complicated for me to explain so I found a couple of videos.  You can’t help but be impressed.

So I went on the hunt to find a source for tenugui produced using the chusen method with more vibrant patterns and multiple colors.  My search led me to Wuhao New York Inc.  The company is owned and operated by Ruri Kabashima Kippenbrock and she has a huge selection of beautiful tenugui.  After viewing all of the offerings I placed an order and waited with anticipation.  But my order hit a snag.  One of my choices had went “out-of-stock”.  I received a pleasant email from Ruri explaining the issue and the she would gladly ship my original choice when it was back in stock with no additional shipping charges.  I answered and told her to simply pick any tenugui from her selection and surprise me.  Which she gladly did.  You can’t get better customer service than that.  Anyway, the tenugui arrived shortly thereafter and are absolutely fantastic!  Knowing the work that went into their production makes me appreciate them even more.  Every time I use one I think about the effort that went into their production and it makes me take greater care in my own efforts.

A sampling of my tenugui collection.


The four on the left are from Hida tool. The two on the right are from WAHUNYINC.

Dang!  That’s a lot of background to get to the woodworking.  The project at hand is a display hanger for the tenugui and I’ll get into the making in Part 2.  The idea is to hang a new tenugui as an art display before putting it into service.  For now I’ll let you digest the above.

Greg Merritt Part 2

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6 Responses to Japanese Art on a Hillbilly Budget-Part 1

  1. Another great post Greg. I had a look at their site Hida tools and I don’t know if their tools are of any high calibre or not as my knowledge on Jap tools are limited but if their prices were available in this country this guy would sell out everyday. The price of their augur bit of $9.90 is over $30.00 in this country and some say that these bits tend to clog but having used one on few occasions I haven’t found that to be the case at all. They bore a very a clean hole effortlessly, if and when I am able to afford them I will buy myself a complete set but I would have to buy them individually as complete sets don’t exist. I will look through those videos tonight there is much to learn from Japs they are indeed great craftsman.

    • Greg Merritt says:

      Thanks Salko…do watch the videos, the technique is quite impressive. Hida tool has good quality tools and are reasonably priced. The planes and chisels are blacksmith made and are priced a little out of my hobbyist comfort level.

  2. Pingback: Japanese Art on a Hillbilly Budget-Part 2-Complete | GREG MERRITT – BY MY OWN HANDS

  3. Coisas EM'adeira says:

    Now you’re moving on to fashion…. the world is lost!!! 😛

  4. Pingback: Tenugui Hanger-Design Drawing | BY MY OWN HANDS

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