Melbourne’s airy Japanese cafe and design store Cibi has been leaning more into the design side of operations since the coronavirus lockdown began.

Locals still pop into the Collingwood warehouse for coffees, sweets and daily bento-box specials, but the usually bustling brunch spot has packed up its tables and chairs and moved its specialty groceries and artisan homewares upfront.

Laid out on a table (and draped from the ceiling), you’ll find Cibi’s large collection of tenugui – traditional rectangular pieces of hand-dyed fabric that are as versatile as they are aesthetically pleasing. There are 100 styles to choose from in-store, and plenty in the online shop as well.

Originally made by artisans in Shitamachi (a historical name for downtown Tokyo), tenugui come in a myriad of patterns and styles. They can be worn as scarves or headbands; used decoratively as placemats, table runners or wall hangings; or used practically as tea towels or wrappings. They can also become cheerful homemade face masks with some simple folds and a bit of elastic.

Currently, Australians aren’t being advised to wear face masks unless they’re sick with Covid-19 or caring for someone who is (in which case, the mask should be medical-grade). But many other countries have recently made face masks or cloth face coverings mandatory in public spaces to help prevent the asymptomatic spread of disease, and it’s a well-established practice in many Asian countries.

Face masks may also remind wearers not to touch their faces after touching potentially contaminated surfaces at places such as the supermarket.

If you’re interested in making your own, Cibi has provided instructions for turning your tenugui into a washable, reusable face mask. All you need is a couple of minutes and 60 centimetres or so of braided elastic, which you can find at most craft shops (though large elastic bands work well, too).

“Tenugui is an all-rounder,” says Cibi’s managing director Meg Tanaka, who runs the business with her husband Zenta Tanaka. “As every tenugui is handmade, each is unique. Their individual appeal grows with repeated use and washing as the cloth softens and the dyes take on a well-used patina – natural qualities that we love.”

Among the many available designs – some of which are Cibi originals – are spots, stripes and florals. There are also patterns reflecting modern Japanese landscapes and culture, and quirky ones with ninjas, sumo wrestlers, cosmic scenes, tiny umbrellas, pints of beer and piano keys.

“Good tools never age,” says Tanaka, adding that once you’ve finished wearing your tenugui, it has the added bonus of brightening up your home.

Cibi is at 33–39 Keele Street, Collingwood. A selection of tenugui are also available online.