This holiday season, once the gifts under the tree have been ravaged and unearthed, avoid dragging that garbage bag of crumpled wrapping paper and wilted bows down the driveway. Designer and illustrator Jenn Playford offers an environmentally-friendly and irresistibly pretty alternative.
Jenn’s interests in colors, graphics, and textile, led her to the traditional Japanese wrapping cloth of furoshiki, and eventually, her own line of reusable fabric gift wrap, called Furochic™. Here on The Storque, Jenn shares some techniques and inspiration from her book, Wrapagami, the Art of Fabric Gift Wrap, along with a fascinating history of this resurrected craft.
I love fabric. Walking into a store where the shelves are filled with beautiful fabrics makes my heart race with anticipation, and the gorgeous colors, textures, and patterns are always invigorating and inspiring. I have always enjoyed making things using my vast collection of fabric, ribbon, yarn, trinkets, gems, and odds and ends — and, especially, using these embellishments to decorate gifts. For years, pages from fashion magazines were my gift wrap of choice, as I felt that wrapping paper was wasteful. Eventually, my love for textiles and concerns about the environment prompted me to try wrapping gifts with fabric remnants from my collection.
An interest in Japanese art and design, especially textiles, led me to furoshiki, a cloth wrap used in Japan since the seventeenth century to wrap and carry items.
History of Furoshiki
Nara Period (Eighth Century): Starting in the eight century, a square piece of fabric called hokei-fuhaku was used to wrap special items of value, including clothing for Buddhist priests and elaborate minstrel costumes. The wrapping was called tsutsumi, and its main purpose was to protect and carry garments.
Edo Period (1603-1868): As bathhouses increased in popularity, the square wrap became known as furoshiki: furo meaning “bath” and shiki meaning “to spread.” Furoshiki were used to carry toiletries and clothing to the bathhouses and were also placed on the floor to act as bathmats. During this period, wealthy families commissioned bridal furoshiki of different sizes, decroated with their family crests and symbols of good luck.
1800s: When cotton was introduced from overseas, furoshiki began to be produced on a larger scale. At the same time, people of Japan were traveling more for pleasure, often selling goods along the way. Furoshiki were used for not only transporting the travelers’ belongings but also their goods for sale.
1900s: At the turn of the twentieth century, the advances in textile production — mainly automated looms from overseas — made furoshiki even more accessible to the public. Furoshiki became mass-produced, and the tradition of using cloth to wrap gifts was established. Gifts wrapped with furoshiki would often be presented in person; the person giving the gift would unwrap and reveal the gift, and then keep the cloth to take home. The bridal furoshiki also became commonplace, and the bride used the large cloths for wrapping her belongings and the small cloths for wrapping gifts.
Post-World War II: After World War II, the Japanese became more highly influenced by American culture, resulting in the decline of furoshiki. The invention of the paper bag, followed by the plastic bag and the emergence of supermarkets across Japan in the 1970s, contirbuted to the disappearance of furoshiki. Plastic boxes and bags replaced furoshiki as a means of storage and for carrying goods. By the 1980s, the custom of using furoshiki to wrap gifts had declined almost to obscurity.
1990s – Present: When Japan’s economic boom ended in the early 1990s, people began to reflect upon the disadvantages and waste in a disposable society. In 2006, Japan’s then Minister of the Environment, Ms. Yuriko Koike, launched a campaign to encourage the use of furoshiki, instead of paper and plastic, and bring back the cultural tradition of wrapping and carryin gitems in fabric. She designed a furoshiki called the “Mottainai Furoshiki,” mottainai, translating to “waste not, want not.” The result has been a renewed and widespread interest in the tradition of tsutsumi and a flowering of creativity associated with it. Furoshiki are beginning to be seen outside of Japan as people worldwide embrace greener lifestyles and adapt different cultural solutions to their own ways of living.
The 4-Tie Box Wrap is simple yet elegant. This wrap can hold almost any square box securely, and it works equally well for small or large and light or heavy packages. You can even carry the box from the top, holding it under the knots as a handle. The knots on top of the box give the illusion of a fancy bow.
What You Need
1 square wrap. The size should be large enough to have 5″ (12.5cm) left after tying the knots. A 28″ x 28″ (71 x 71cm) wrap works well for a 6″ x 6″ x 4″ (15 x 15 x 10cm) box.
Almost any fabric will work, but if your box is heavy, it is best to avoid stretch fabric. Stay away from fabrics that are too thick, or the double knots will be bulky.
Tips + Variations
This wrap works well with a scarf that has a 5″ (12.5cm) border. The wrap to the right has a solid color border, which looks like a separate element sitting on top of the box — a big, complementary bow.
Tuck a note, card, or photo beneath the first (lower) bow for a surprise when the recipient opens the gift.
How to Do It
1. Lay wrap flat on a diagonal and place box in the center.
2. Pull up “b” and “d” and center above the box while arranging gathers evenly. Tie a square knot.
3. Adjust corners of first knot. Turn box and pull “a” and “c” up, arranging gathers evenly. Tie a square knot above the first knot.
4. Adjust bow corners so that there is one flap in each of the four directions.
The Over-the-Shoulder Wrap is simple yet functional. Three knots (two hidden) hold it in place and leave room for the bag to slide over a shoulder. Inside, there is ample room for items of varying sizes. It’s a great way to wrap a gift for the crafty person on your list — fill it with yarns and other knitting and crochet supplies. This wrap can be easily reused because it holds its shape even after the gift is “unwrapped.”
What You Need
1 square wrap. The wrap has to be at least 36″ x 36″ (91.5 x 91.5cm) to sit over the shoulder; otherwise, it will be more of a handbag.
A strong, durable fabric such as a thick cotton or denim is best. If the fabric is too flimsy, it won’t hold its shape and may tear when carrying heavier items. Try a thick embroidered Chinese silk for a more formal look.
How to Do It
1. Lay wrap flat on a diagonal and fold “c” up toward “a” to form a triangle.
2. Gather corner “d” and measure approximately 1/2 the length of the side of the triangle. Tie into a single knot. Repeat the same for “b.”
3. Flip the wrap inside out so that the two knots are sitting inside of the bag. Hold “a and “c” up.
4. Tie “a” and “c” into a square knot. Adjust fabric and gathers and place your gift inside the bag.
Thanks to Jenn Playford and the good folks at St. Martin’s Griffin for sharing these projects with us. If you’re looking for more reusable wrapping inspiration, check out Wrapagami and Jenn’s Furochic website.