Furoshiki: How to Fabric Wrap

Every holiday season, birthday and special occasion creates a crazy amount of waste. Have you ever thought about how much paper, ribbon and tape goes to landfill every year? Tonnes, literally tonnes. In the US over 4 million tonnes ended up in landfill, in Australia almost 2 million. It’s scary.

Something we’ve loved doing in the past is the beautiful Japanese tradition of Furoshiki wrapping. Furoshiki embraces the philosophy of eco-friendly living by challenging us on how many items we really need. This beautiful and ingenious art allows one object to have many uses simply by folding and tying the cloth in a different way.

HISTORY OF FUROSHIKI WRAPPING CLOTHS

A furoshiki wrapping cloth is a single rectangular or square piece of fabric that has gone through several different transformations over the centuries. The wrap was originally referred to as tsutsumi and was used as early as 710 in Japan. By 1336 bathhouses used the cloths to bundle bathers’ clothes, and also to stand on while drying off. During this time they gained the name furoshiki, meaning “bath spread.”

Today, a furoshiki can be used to wrap gifts, wine bottles, books, groceries, or just about anything. Other countries have developed their own cloth wraps, like the heavily decorated bojagi from Korea. Many people line the wraps with another fabric on the inside so that both patterns and colors are displayed after wrapping.

WHY USE FABRIC TO WRAP GIFTS?

It may take a little thinking outside of the box (sorry, bad pun) to get used to wrapping gifts in fabric instead of paper, but here’s a few reasons to give it a try:

Eco-Friendly

Because it is reusable, a furoshiki wrap is a sustainable alternative to traditional wrapping paper. Plastic-coated gift bags and boxes either end up in the landfill (and not decomposing), or even if recyclable use up energy.

Versatile

I’m a fan of homemade gifts, but they are often irregularly shaped or have special packaging requirements. (Baked goods, for example.) Glass containers are handy for food, but they can be cumbersome and heavy. A fabric furoshiki wrap is flexible and will conform to many different shapes easily.

OK, HOW DO I DO IT?

This is the fun part!

Sizes

For wrapping, the object should be approximately one-third of the furoshiki's diagonal line and there are some traditional sizes that tend to work well for a range of objects.

50 cm - small book
70 cm - T-shirt
90 cm - a bottle of wine

A traditional furoshiki cloth is not square, the 'take' length (height) is slightly longer than the 'haba' (width) and you will notice this when you look up some furoshiki instructions. This dates back to the cloths originally being made from kimino material lengths but for the purpose of making your own, a square furoshiki will work just fine.

Fabric

A fabric that is not too thick yet is strong is best but use whatever you have available and experiment with different techniques. If you have a thicker fabric you would like to use but is difficult to tie, then use a simple folding technique and tie up the gift up with a ribbon.

You can double-up the fabric to make the cloth reversible, and this looks great with a contrasting colour when it is wrapped but be mindful that the fabric can easily becomes too thick to tie, so it's best to only do this with very fine fabrics.

You can also make use of fabric off-cuts from your sewing by creating a patch-work. Look up some images of the Korean 'bojagi' wrapping cloths for some inspiration.

Edging

Hem the edges any way you choose by hand-stitching or using a sewing machine. If you aren't an experienced sewer you can even make a feature of edging it in rough manner for an organic look. Pay attention to creating attractive looking corners because these will be a key feature of your furoshiki creations. I used my mum's over-locker to edge some of my cloths, and this was a quick and easy solution.

Decorating

If you are using recycled bedsheets or calico you can decorate these using dyes, fabric paint and fabric pens. Have a look at some traditional furoshiki to get some ideas. These designs look beautiful both laid out and wrapped and often feature a border, repeating patterns or asymmetry.

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"Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?"

Henry Ford