How to wrap your gifts in reusable fabric, Furoshiki style

(Photography: Christie Vuong)

The moment I knew for sure that Santa Claus wasn’t real was when I was 9 and I heard my mom creaking out of duct tape, wrapping presents late in the house. night. Fortunately, you can avoid this telltale holiday reveal with a wrapping tradition that is also a nice way to cut down on waste on single-use wrapping paper. Japanese furoshiki gift wrapping – wrapping gifts in reusable fabric – has been practiced in Japan since the Edo period. This could help reduce the 540 tonnes of non-recyclable plasticized packaging that Canadians throw away each year. The most durable (and cheapest) way to wrap the furoshiki style is to reuse old fabrics or vintage silk or polyester scarves.

While the fabric originally used in furoshiki and bojagi, the similar tradition of Korean fabric wrapping, can be a lot of work to be made, the spirit of both is to use what you have and stick to it. the finish and utility of the fabric. I tried it, here’s how.

1. Get a large square cloth

object in the middle of a square fabric

To wrap a gift like a furoshiki, choose a fabric diagonally about three times the length of the gift. It doesn’t have to be exact; this proportion gives you just enough fabric to cover the entire giveaway without too much extra flop on the sides. I started with the simplest style of packaging, otsukai tsutsumi, the basic transport, for a small gift. A patterned ladies square scarf is just the right size for this. Ayano Hasui, head of international sales and press for Musubi, a furoshiki store in Kyoto, advises using any cloth “that is not too thin, not too thick, and soft enough to do a knot. [of two of the corners]”. His shop uses silk, cotton, organic cotton, rayon, polyester, linen and wool. The vintage scarf I used is made of polyester, with a graphic foam green pattern, on a cream colored background. It cost about three dollars. Other options could be a square tablecloth or a length of unused fabric. (I recommend washing the rag, if you are using something bought second-hand.)

2. Lay your cloth on a flat surface and place the gift in the middle

Graphic showing how to fold a fabric over a gift
Graphic showing how to fold a fabric over a gift

I laid my scarf flat on a large table, diagonally, and placed the gift in the center with the pointed edge of the square facing me. I tried to think of the long ends as handles that will be attached to the top of the gift. It’s a bit like a beginner’s origami, or wrapping a book in paper. I took the corner in front of me, laid it on top of the gift, and hid the extra fabric corner underneath. Likewise with the opposite lower side. It doesn’t matter if the extra fabric in the corner is loose. At first, I was worried about wrapping the gift in a correct and traditional way. But Hasui reassured me that the most important part is “learning how to tie a square knot – called ma-musubi in Japanese – because it is not safe when carrying things, if it is in a knot. ‘a different way’. In other words, the exact folding isn’t as important as making sure the gift is actually secure.

3. Reduce the sides that will be attached

If you’ve ever made a paper airplane, the principle is the same. Bring the edges on each side towards the center, so that they look more like small handles. Ideally, the edges of each side will meet in the middle, in a line pointing to the corners of each side. The fabric will move; don’t worry if these shapes don’t stay exactly straight, because you’re about to tie them together.

4. Gather these side handles and tie them in a square knot at the top.

Finally, I took the left and right side handles, put them together at the top of the gift, and tied them in a double knot, also known as a square knot. The ma-musubi, or square knot, is important if you are carrying a bottle of wine or a watermelon in your furoshiki. It is actually the exact same knot that is taught to Boy Scouts and macrame as a square knot – two loops that cross each other, allowing it to support weight. The trick is to use the same side to tie both knots. The free ends should end up pointing in the direction they came from. For my purposes, this knot did not need to be a carrier. It was snug, but not too tight to loosen. The extra ends fell to the sides. I was impressed with how cute it turned out and how quickly the wrapper formed. The result was a small package wrapped in a beautiful checkered fabric, ready to be presented to my friend.

How to add style to your packaging

Some styles of furoshiki use only one fabric; others will also use an elastic or ribbon to hold a folded pattern together at the top, like patterns that look like flowers. You can also slip a real flower into the top knot, which isn’t traditional, but it’s fun. There are styles of packaging for different items and uses, such as covering a tea set, carrying a bottle of wine, and many more.

Is it easier than using gift wrap?

The process was much easier than estimating the size of the wrapping paper, cutting it straight, and trying to get more scotch tape on the gift than on my fingers. In the time I have left before the holidays, I’ll be looking for fabric squares to match the gifts I have in mind. Fortunately for me, these are mostly books! I have a few other vintage scarves of a similar size, as well as an extra length of printed cotton. The thrift store near me often sells old linen tablecloths, but any fabric I can square cut will work. The furoshiki or bojagi wrappers, which use very similar wrapping techniques, would be useful for anyone traveling with their holiday gifts, as hopefully it will be possible this year. I could do all the wrapping in advance, without worrying about tearing the wrapping paper in transit or putting the gifts in bulky, non-recyclable gift bags.

The history of furoshiki and bojagi

Two sheets of fabric

(Hand sewn bojagi via

Furoshiki were originally used to transport clothing, towels, and personal effects to and from public baths. This allowed you to keep everything packed, clean, and separate from other people’s belongings. Furoshiki showcased innovative fabric production techniques that were also used in silk kimonos, such as yuzen dyeing, a technique that allowed for the use of several distinct colors on the same fabric, in intricate patterns or scenes that appear to be hand painted. While low cost is not a priority with furoshiki packaging, there are also some very nice furoshiki sheets available in Canada, at stores like Vancouver-based Chideno, Montreal-based Lunchporter, and Calgary-based Nanao Kimono. .

Traditional furoshiki

The furoshiki comes from a time when the fabric was very popular. The fabrics commonly used for furoshiki or bojagi are silk, cotton, and ramie (although polyester is quite suitable for use today). Back then, the work of raising the silkworms and mulberry trees in which they live, or cultivating the ramie plants – which go into a fabric like flax – and processing the fibers, as well as dyeing and the weaving of the fabric, would have been carried out. in manual processes requiring a lot of labor and skill. As a result, the fabric was to be used until it was worn: first in new clothes, for a special event or to wear on the first day of New Years, then in other formats like bojagi and the furoshiki.

Traditional bojagi

Furoshiki and bojagi fabrics were carefully crafted, often hand-embroidered or quilted with symbolic patterns or knots, such as the family crest in Japan, or a ceremonial wedding knot in Korea. Korean textile artist and bojagi teacher Youngmin Lee explained that bojagi quilting was sometimes made from the fall fabric of formal dresses and costumes, the hanbok, which, unlike the kimono, used curved lines in their design. As a result, the bojagi would reflect important events in the life of a family: weddings, births, funerals. Large bojagi could be hung from windows, where dyed silk would color the sunlight, like a stained-glass window, or in a doorway, like a sort of airy door. Beautiful examples of bojagi quilting can now be found in museums around the world, such as the Met in New York and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Zero waste fabric packaging today

Today, the fashion industry is one of the worst polluters after the oil industry. Since learning about the many traditional uses for fabric wrapping, I’ve noticed other times where I can use fabric instead of plastic, which will end up in landfills, in the oceans, and in animals like we. I can wrap my morning tea pot and keep it warm, or wrap my summer quilt for storage, so the cat sleeping on it doesn’t mean a boring wash cycle next spring. I like to pack my lunch boxes to avoid spills inside my bag, a disaster that has happened dozens of times. By trying new zero waste substitutions, I enjoy the things I use more. I’m more reluctant to buy things I don’t need or will throw away. My individual choices may not save the planet, but for there to be enough pressure on governments to legislate and businesses to reduce their carbon output, it will take massive cultural change to which everyone contributes.

If you are feeling a little depressed about the carnival of wrapping paper thrown away during the holidays, or if you are bothered by all the hustle and bustle of wrapping paper, furoshiki gift wrapping is a nice alternative. You might even think of other furoshiki or bojagi style uses for fabric around the house as Canada moves away from single-use plastics. It’s good when “being good” environmentally is so simple; an ecological alternative can be a joy in itself. And you won’t hear any squeaking from the tape rollers.

And here’s how to wrap books the Furoshiki way:

book in the middle of the fabric
Graphic describing how to wrap furoshiki style books Graphic describing how to wrap furoshiki style books Graphic describing how to wrap furoshiki style books Graphic describing how to wrap books in the furoshiki style Graphic describing how to wrap furoshiki style books Graphic describing how to wrap furoshiki style books
Graphic describing how to wrap furoshiki style books Graphic describing how to wrap furoshiki style books Graphic describing how to wrap furoshiki style books Two books wrapped in furoshiki-style fabric

Get more ideas on how to wrap gifts, without using wrapping paper, here.

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