Chusen – Japanese traditional hand towels
If you travel in Japan you will probably see special stores that sell traditional hand towels hand-dyed with various patterns and colors. Those towels are made of a piece of thin cotton about 40 inches x 14 inches. The towels are dyed using the Chusen technique: artisans dye 30 to 40 piles of towels all at once. I went to see a chusen dye factory and experienced the dyeing process.
‘Chu’ means ‘pour’, and ‘sen’ means ‘dye’. Chusen towels are dyed by pouring dyes onto a pile of fabric. Although the Chusen method dyes 30 to 40 sheets simultaneously, each sheet of cotton fabric first has to be covered by hand with glue resist. This has to be done one sheet at a time in order to create a pattern on a plain white sheet before pouring the dyes. In the picture below I am placing glue resist through a stencil screen onto a white fabric.
The instructor, Sanae Naito, is pulling out a new sheet onto the sheet on which I had already applied some glue. Then, I place the screen onto the new sheet and put some glue on that. Usually artisans repeat this 30 to 40 times.
After the dyeing process, the glue is washed off.
I made a curtain out of the towel I made in the factory. The fabric made with Chusen method is dyed both sides, so it is very beautiful to use as a curtain: I can enjoy looking at the curtain from both inside and outside a window!
Please try looking for a traditional towel dyeing store when you travel in Japan. The towels are only 8 to 20 dollars. You can choose your favorites from hundreds of various patterns and colors.