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A traditional, elegant, and environmentally friendly Japanese wrapping method

Reusable wrapping. A cheerful tablecloth. A casual purse. Is it possible for one square of cloth to have so many uses? In Japan, people have been using these versatile square cloths, known as furoshiki, for centuries.

Although now furoshiki are commonly used to wrap presents, the custom dates back 1300 years to the Nara period, when nobles wrapped their valuables in cloth for safe-keeping. The name “furoshiki” comes from “furo,” the word for “bath,” and “shiku,” meaning “to spread” or “to lay.” During the Muromachi period (1392-1573), the upper classes used to stand on large cloths while they undressed and took steam baths and also wrapped their clothing in the cloths. The furoshiki as we know it originated in the more recent Edo period (1603-1867), when commoners used square cloths to wrap everyday items and as “suitcases” when traveling. The rich used furoshiki emblazoned with their family crests for special gift exchanges, and furoshiki became popular for wrapping gifts until the 1960s, when disposable wrapping paper and bags replace them. With today’s increasing interest in the environment and sustainability, however, the furoshiki is once again becoming popular both in Japan and abroad.

I turn my furoshiki into a handbag under Ms. Iida’s watchful gaze.

The furoshiki itself is a simple square; it takes some expertise to turn it into elegant wrapping for a present. I went to Kiteya, a large shop on Broome St. in SoHo that features a varied and beautiful collection of Japanese items, for some lessons. Kiteya’s owner, Ms. Keiko Iida, extolled the virtues of the furoshiki: it is environmentally friendly, it is attractive, and it is just so versatile. Ms. Iida explained that there really are no rules for furoshiki but was kind enough to demonstrate two basic furoshiki methods.

Furoshiki Bag
Although my attempt at the bag looks less elegant than Ms. Iida’s model, it is very quick and easy to make a small handbag out of a furoshiki. First, tie a knot in each corner of the square of fabric, leaving a few inches at each end beyond the knot. Then, tie two ends together in another knot to make one handle of the bag. Repeat this with the remaining two knotted ends to make the other handle and—voila!—a small shopping bag.

The finished product (Ms. Iida’s version).

Furoshiki–Wrapped Bottle
This technique, a bit more advanced, is for wrapping bottles of wine or sake. Place the bottle in the center of the square of fabric. Fold up half the fabric to make a triangle with its point at the top of the bottle. Tuck the front top corner over the top of the bottle and under the back half of fabric (the points should be overlapping). Then tightly twist the lower right corner of the triangle up and across the front of the bottle. Repeat this with the remaining left corner so that they cross in front of the bottle. Knot the two ends together in the back. For a finishing touch, Ms. Iida suggests tucking a flower in the front where the two twisted ends cross.

Adding decorative ties to the front of the furoshiki-wrapped bottles.

Ms. Iida and I with our beautiful bottles.

You can find more furoshiki techniques on the Internet, or, if you purchase your furoshiki at Kiteya, one of the store’s employees will wrap whatever item you bring in for free.

—— Reported by Kate Williamson

Kiteya’s top-selling items: a bag with “Shima Modern” pattern, fans, hair accessories (bottom right), and flower-shaped brooches(bottom left)

464 Broome St.
New York, NY 10013