Imabari Towel Roots Part 2: The Terry Towel

From Turkey to England – The Birth of the Terry Towel

Soon after the absorbent pile fabric known as the Turkish towel was born in the 18th century, it would make its way to England. It is said that in 1850, English ethnologist Henry Christy received a Turkish towel from the Sultan as a gift while traveling through Turkey.

Christy, whose father had been manufacturing cotton goods, saw the Turkish towel fabric as a business opportunity and took it back to England with the hope of producing it on an industrial scale.

By studying the characteristics of the Turkish towel, Christy and fellow Englishman Samuel Holt succeeded in designing a loom which was able to weave the 3 dimensional, looped pile fabric which would become known as the Terry Cloth.

In 1851, the Terry towel was showcased at the Great Exhibition, where Queen Victoria took a liking to them and placed an order for 6-dozen towels. From there, the popularity of the towel took off, and marked the beginning of the mass production and widespread movement of the piled fabric we’ve come to know as towels.

…and then to Japan

While the exact date of when towels made its way to Japan is unclear, it is said that it was sometime during the early Meiji era (1868-1912). The first official record of towels being imported was in 1872 at the Osaka customs house where 2-dozen cloths for bath-use for 7.6 yen are declared as being imported.

In 1887, the first Japanese loom capable of weaving the Terry cloth was invented in Osaka and marked the beginning of towel production in Japan. The highly absorbent, quick-drying qualities of the towels quickly gained recognition, and the looms, which started off as being hand-powered, evolved into foot-powered, then into electric-powered machines. Towel production spread rapidly throughout Japan during this time and in 1897, a man named Abe Heisuke would bring 4 looms from Osaka to the city of Imabari…

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