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Furoshiki: Wrap Wrap Revolution

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | January 10, 2008

Have ya’ll heard of furoshiki? I hadn’t, until I watched this awesome video (via Lifehacker) showcasing a neat way to turn a piece of square cloth into the coolest wine bottle carrier ever. Seriously, watch it, it’s revolutionary… except, it’s not– the wrapping techniques of furoshiki have been around for quite some time:

“Furoshiki is a type of traditional Japanese wrapping cloth that was frequently used to transport clothes, gifts, or other goods. Although possibly dating back as far as the Nara period, the name, meaning “bath spread”, derives from the Edo period practice of using them to bundle clothes while at the sento (public baths)… Eventually, the furoshiki’s usage extended to serve as a means for merchants to transport their wares or to protect and decorate a gift. ”

If you lived in Japan, furoshiki was the way you carried things– that is, until the advent of the plastic bag, when the traditional wrapping technique fell out of favor. Given our current state of envirocrisis, it’s not surprising that furoshiki is making a comeback, being that it’s a reusable alternative to both disposable bags and wrapping paper. In 2006, the Japanese Minister of the Environment, Ms. Yuriko Koike, created the “Mottainai Furoshiki” as a symbol of Japanese culture to reduce waste– in a brilliantly green move, it was produced from recycled PET bottles!

In Ms. Koike’s words: “The Japanese word mottainai means it’s a shame for something to go to waste without having made use of its potential in full. The furoshiki is made of a fiber manufactured from recycled PET bottles, and has a birds-and-flowers motif drawn by Itoh Jakuchu, a painter of the mid-Edo era.”

The site furoshiki.com gives basic directions for tying up a variety of objects, and for those of us who learn best by watching, here’s a whole page of furoshiki videos. Plus, the site has the best tagline ever: “No paper, no plastic, bring your own.” Right on!

A really neat idea would be to wrap a gift in a furoshiki, and include a printout of this diagram for the recipient– so not only do they get the primary gift but also the secondary supercool there-won’t-be-two-of-those-at-the-party gift of the furoshiki. And the greenest way to do this would be to make a furoshiki from cloth you already have at home– perhaps an attractive old sheet or pillowcase, or nice fabric if you’re a crafty person with a stash. Wikipedia explains: “There is no one set size for furoshiki, they can range from hand sized to larger than bed-sheets. The most common sizes are 45cm (17.7 inch) and 68-72cm (26.7-28.3 inch).”

Have you ever given or received a furoshiki wrapped item? If WalMart started wrapping purchases in furoshiki, would you shop there?

[Image used entirely without permission from the Japanese Ministry of the Environment website, hope that's ok...]

Topics: Crafts/DIY, Home, Waste | 18 Comments »

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Comment by Eliza
2008-01-10 08:56:21

Furoshiki looks awesome, but it would take a lot more than that to get me to shop at Walmart again.

Comment by Jenn
2008-01-10 14:38:59

I agree– it just tickles me to think of them wrapping up everyone’s purchases furoshiki-style!

Comment by Harper
2008-01-10 13:05:26

Awesome video. I have wrapped gifts in cloth squares but didn’t know there was an elegant method to it.

As for Wal-Mart — the problem is if it provides the furoshiki, then the production of that cloth becomes suspect. And the possibility of the cloths becoming trash just like their plastic bags if the consumer doesn’t bring his or her own furoshiki.

Comment by Jenn
2008-01-10 14:39:53

Yup, totally. But I do love the fantasy of thinking about it… Middle America starts carrying their furoshiki everywhere they go… :)

Comment by Beth R
2008-01-10 17:47:51

we’re in the process of switching to using cloth bags for gift exchanges in our little family. i think this is a great idea to make it a little fancier. it also reminded me i’ve been wanting to make one of these:


Comment by Jenn
2008-01-11 22:47:36

Hi Beth! I love that furoshiki bag, it’s super cool– if you make one, let us know how it goes!

Comment by Fran
2008-01-11 10:17:46

What a great website. Since I “discovered” furoshiki a few weeks ago, I created a google alert for the term and have visited a lot of sites that mention furoshiki as gift wrap and wine carry bags. Yours is the first I’ve seen that wants to incorporate furoshiki into normal living, which I what I’ve been experimenting with. I’m getting pretty good at making bags and wrapping. I carry squares in various sizes with me everywhere and I haven’t brought home a plastic bag since New Year’s Day. I still feel a little self-conscious about it, but I think if I stick with using furoshikis long enough for it to be a habit, I will lose that slight inhibition.

There are a couple of entries on my blog (JustActions dot com) that goes into more detail about how I’m learning about and using furoshiki. (Once at the site search for furoshiki.)

Other things I’m doing that I still need to write about: carrying a furoshiki purse in place of a normal handbag and taking a bento box lunch wrapped in a furoshiki to work.

Comment by Jenn
2008-01-11 22:46:55

Hey Fran! So exciting that you’re incorporating furoshiki into your everyday life– I’m wondering what kind of reaction you’re getting at shops? Even pulling out a reusable shopping bag can throw off a checkout clerk (though I notice it less and less these days, which is great)– what’s your experience like being a furoshiki user? And, do you generally already have the furoshiki tied into shape when you get to the checkout counter, or will you take the time when you’re there to tie it all up?

Comment by Fran
2008-01-13 12:55:07

Amazingly, I have yet to encounter any reaction to my furoshiki, but I haven’t actually asked a clerk to use mine instead of the store bag. Rather I say I have my own bag, and I bag the items myself or I hold the furoshiki open while the cashier puts the items in. Sometimes the bagging’s done before while I’m still fumbling with the credit card machine. Then I say, “Oh, I forgot to mention I have a bag,” and I move down the counter and rebag. That’s awkward, so I’m trying to remember to announce right off that I brought a bag and to be alert to other things I can do to help make it a smooth transaction.

I do make it a point to have the bag tied, and I usually tie it while waiting in line. Once I needed a second bag and I had only tied the first corner when the clerk started filling it. I had to turn around it to tie the second corner. We ended up having a bit of a tug-of-war, but even so she didn’t seem to notice the bag was different. She had the same absent-minded look all the clerks have when they struggle to keep plastic bags open.

If I were purchasing items that stack and have good, square edges (say, books or shoe boxes) or if I were at a nice dress shop where they take the time to fold the clothes nicely, I would probably lay out a flat furoshiki, ask the clerk to place the items in the center, and tie the cloth snugly around the items rather than use a bag. Maybe that would be noticed!

Comment by Jenn
2008-01-13 18:05:49

Hey Fran– thanks for sharing. I think the idea of the furoshiki is so cool, and it’s neat to hear about your experiences.

2008-01-30 06:05:10

[...] bad bad slaves to corporate empires. And that may be true. But there’s also another angle – one that we briefly discussed in WalMart terms: what if the ethos of these smaller and more environmentally sustainable companies could be adopted [...]

2008-07-17 08:41:02

[...] were encouraged to use “creative” wrapping techniques to avoid all that wrapping paper. Gifts arrived wrapped in dish towels secured with bungee cords, [...]

Comment by Kate Kelley
2008-08-22 11:22:55

If you are interested in learning more about the ancient art of the Furoshiki you NEED to stop by my website, http://www.furoshikibynara.com where I am starting a business based around its use. The furoshiki is an ancient practice that can be used today in so many ways and is a very green product. My goal is to show our culture how great this item can be!

2008-10-11 06:00:36

[...] to traditional (and, most likely, made from chopped down whole trees) gift wrap.  There’s Furoshiki, old lace hankies or cloth napkins, maps, comics, paper bags or boxes… the list of ideas goes [...]

Comment by Mich
2009-02-20 04:27:39

Hello, it’s wonderful seeing so many people getting interested in furoshiki.

I only came across them last summer and am trying to bring them into my life where ever possible – as gift wrap (saved mounds of wrapping paper at Christmas :) ), instead of carrier bags (as Fran said, they’re great for carrying books), children’s party bags and in the home (quick new cushion covers anyone?). Such is our enthusiasm that my sister and I are creating our own range of hand printed and tie dyed furoshiki and have set up a blog to bring together lots of ideas about their uses – including different ways to tie bags.

Please have a look at http://myfuroshiki.blogspot.com/ and and let us know what you think. Happy knotting!

Comment by suburbanlife
2009-04-14 19:50:18

I have been using furoshiki for over a year now – to wrap all presents, large and small, to carry as a hobo purse (change cloth and pattern per season) carry books and groceries. I buy second-hand scarves for little and have a healthy stash of colours and patterns for all occasions. Friends and recipients rave about my gift presentation – some don’t want to open up the item; people act surprised when I say they get to keep the cloth if they like, and use the included how-to illustrations on furoshiki methods to “pay the practice forward”. A friend is making me sets of furoshiki to give as gifts this coming christmas; a good way to encourage others to make use of this method of utilizing beautifully patterned and coloured reusable cloth squares. I even use furoshiki to wrap items in my house to make decorative accents and store seasonal stuff. G

2009-06-19 02:04:42

[...] habe ich beim Weitersuchen eine hübsche Idee gefunden: Jemandem sein Geschenk mit einem interessanten Tuch zu verpacken und ihm einen Ausdruck [...]

2009-06-19 02:05:22

[...] researching I found also a nice idea: to wrap a gift for someone into an interesting cloth and include a printout of the diagram of the [...]


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