Wrapped up in the history
Before mass production, plastic packaging and modern tote bags, Japan had a beautiful traditional way of wrapping objects to store or carry around — the furoshiki.
A piece of patterned material that can be tied in many decorative ways, the furoshiki is enjoying a rebirth in popularity, not just in Japan, but also internationally. Reusable, eco-friendly and a stunning way to wrap gifts, it’s become synonymous with Japanese culture.
There’s also some fascinating history behind the square piece of fabric. Dating back centuries, the etymology of the name “furoshiki” is unclear, but it oddly translates to “bath” (“furo") and “to spread” (“shiki”). Many believe that it began as a tradition related to the custom of bathing in sento public baths. Bathers, wanting to protect their belongings and not get them mixed up with others’, would spread out their clothing on distinctive cloths or wrap them up, before taking a relaxing dip.
By the Edo Period (1603-1868), its uses varied to become a ubiquitous tool for merchants to protect, transport and wrap goods. Even today, it's still a common feature in households, used to shield goods from dust and light.
Fabric of society
Now, furoshiki come in numerous fabrics — from natural cotton and silk to more durable polyester and rayon. Traditional designs, like the arabesque swirls of kyo-karakusa, remain popular, while contemporary iterations offer designer aesthetics. Many are still made by traditional artisans and decorated with hand dyeing techniques, screen printing, jacquard weave, embroidery and more. All are hemmed to the precision of a silk scarf.
Not just a piece of cloth
It's the numerous techniques to tie a furoshiki decoratively that make it more than just pretty piece of material. We have to say it has truly surpassed its lowly origins.
As gift wrap it can beautify almost any shape and really emphasize the thought and care that has gone into a gift. Small ones can be used as decorative place mats, medium-sized ones make beautiful scarves and wall hangings. Large ones can even be tied into an unusual shopping bag.
Wrap it, bag it, wear it
That versatility was in mind when we selected our range of furoshiki made by Musubi, a Kyoto-based maker and purveyor of textiles.
We were thinking eco-conscious festive gift-wrapping, but also — how else could we use the furoshiki once a present has been unwrapped?
We picked reversible Apricot and chrysanthemum patterns to give double the joy, and a traditional Kyo-karakusa that’s perfect as a table centerpiece or wall hanging. The contemporary Peony design and muted colors of modern girl would make fabulous bags, while the organic cotton geometric Cracked Ice, could be cute little neck scarves.
But, of course, like history has shown, how to use a furoshiki is really up to the person who owns it. Click here to see more designs — we’ll keep adding to the collection — and decide for yourself!
Here's a simple guide of what you can do with the sizes on offer:
48 x 48 cm — gift wrap a small box, wear as a small neck scarf
70 x 70 cm — gift wrap medium boxes or a wine bottle, wrap around as a scarf, hang as an artwork
100 x 100 cm; 104 x 104 cm — create a shoulder bag, use as a table centerpiece, use as a table centerpiece
All photographs, aside from the top image, are courtesy of Musubi