Tenugui are a common household item in Japan. These versatile cloths can be used as anything from washcloths and headbands, or simply for decoration.
The form a tenugui takes today; a woven length of light weight cotton with bright printed patterns, is not how these humble cloths began. Tenugui actually date back to the Heian era of Japan (794-1192 A.D.). They were first were made using materials such as silk and hemp in service of ceremonies and religious rituals. At the time, fabric production was still an extremely labor intensive process, making any high quality fabric including tenugui, a commodity afforded only by the wealthy.
Improved fabric making techniques through the Kamakura and Edo periods enabled mass production. In turn, this gave people of common classes better access to fabric. This is when tenugui began to flourish! The usefulness of a simple and straightforward piece of cloth was utilized in every way possible. Bath houses and summer festivals popularized the use of tenugui while also using the cloth as a way to advertise local imagery and patterns. Eventually the practice of placing images on tenugui grew into a full out competition between artisans. Today the incredible drive of creativity still exists for tenugui makers, proof of which lies in the innumerable patterns and designs they have created!
Here are a few examples of how tenugui can be used to conveniently carry various items:
Carry flat objects such as books with a tenugui as well! Place the book in the center of the cloth, fold over the long edges to enclose the book, and then collect the ends on either side to tie them in a knot.
The long rectangular shape of a tenugui makes it easy to wrap a bottle with a handle to carry it with! Just securely tie two corners around the neck, twist the loose end around the bottle, and tie the twisted strand back to the neck section.
Wrap a couple of smaller items by rolling them within the tenugui, twisting the section in the middle of the objects and then joining the open ends by tying them together!