Tawashi are quickly becoming very popular with knitters and crocheters. Tawashi is Japanese for "scrubbie'' and the patterns vary from colorful to cute. Tawashi are sort of like amigurumi that you scrub your dishes (or yourself!) with!
I didn't even know tawashi existed until about a week ago, when someone posted to a craft group I belong to that they were their favorite small project. I got nosy and asked her to explain what they were...she sent me some links and I was hooked!
There are all sorts of free Tawashi patterns on the internet, and Ravelry.com has a group called "Tawashi Town'' with all sorts of tips and links to patterns. Most patterns are in Japanese, but include charts that enable those who don't read Japanese to still use the pattern. Plus, Google Translate can roughtly translate Japanese to English. If you try to load a pattern and get mostly a blank page, you just need to set Windows to show Japanese characters.
I had to reset my thinking a bit when it comes to kitchen items. I've always been a fan of cotton for kitchen stuff, since it soaks up water. But, Japanese patterns call for using acrylic for scrubbies. I can see the point, as the plastic/nylon/acrylic yarn would have more of a scrubbie effect than cotton. Japanese yarn used for tawashi is even advertised as "antibacterial.'' Not sure if that is true, or a gimmick to sell yarn. The scrubbies are sometimes called "eco tawashi'' because the acrylic yarn allows less soap to be used when scrubbing dishes. I'd be more apt to call it "eco'' if I was using natural fibers though, as who knows how long it takes acrylic yarn to break down in a landfill, but that's just my opinion on the whole "greenie'' side of the craze.
The pattern books and the antibacterial Japanese yarn can be a bit tricky to find in the US. I ordered a pattern book from Etsy, and I know many people have ordered the yarn there as well. Just search for Tawashi under "supplies'' and several sellers in Japan pop up. The shipping ranges from $5-$10 since it does require international postage, and it takes about a week or so to receive here in the states. All of the sellers I found are willing to combine postage if you order more than one item.
Some of the patterns are just incredibly cute -- smiling pandas, cute little fish, frogs, pieces of fruit. And some amigurumi patterns could also double as tawashi patterns. I've seen patterns for both knitting and crochet.
If you're looking for a cute little project, that is also useful -- tawashi are quick and easy! Plus, they're just FUN to make. My 4 year old loves them, and wants to wipe off the kitchen counters all the time and to help with washing the dishes. So, they're great incentive for the kids to help with kitchen chores as well!