Eco-friendly and beautiful Japanese wrapping cloths, 'FUROSHIKI'
written by Nadiah Sorait
Performers in kimono - 2018 production of 'Tale of Himeji Castle' , based on play written by Kyoka Izumi in 1917
Origami is not the only transformative 'square' in Japanese culture!
The Edo period in Japan, between 1603 and 1868, is known to be one of the most eco friendly times in Japanese History. Reusing and recycling was a huge part of daily day life for the general public.
A great example is the kimono. To begin with, unless one was a member of a noble household, kimonos were purchased at a second hand store although it was everyday wear back in those days. Size isn't such a big issue as extra material can be folded in and the length adjusted and held in place with the belt known as obi 帯. Eventually when one completely outgrew one, the whole kimono can be undone at the seams and sewn again in another size. When that's been worn and mended for another few years its time for its next stages of transformation; 1) remade into children's garments, or smaller items like bags, obi belts, furoshiki 2) dyed in another colour 3) patch worked with other fabric remains 4) shredded into thread. In this way, the material was reused over and over until it almost melted away.
Today we're focusing on one item mentioned above, the 'furoshiki' 風呂敷. A square piece of cloth with already many years in it, was recycled to be reused in a myriad of ways. Nowadays they are mostly made from new fabric but it still seems fitting to share this now, with environmentally friendly 'all-vegan zero waste shop' and 'plastic-free supermarket' sprouting around London.
Talking to the 'Furoshikist'
Inabarie is a self-confessed 'Furoshikist' and ambassador of the versatile Japanese cloth for over ten years. We each borrowed a furoshiki from her remarkable collection to learn some important tips. First and foremost, the essential 'mamusubi' 真結び. 'Mamusubi' is the basic knot where the two ends run parallel to the knot and the only one used in furoshiki tying unless attending a misfortunate formality like a funeral at which the 'tatemusubi' 縦結び would be apt. The wonder of the 'mamusubi' knot is that it can be undone in a two step motion which fascinated us all.
Learning the essential 'mamusubi' 真結び
Extra Pocket Making
Once we'd mastered the 'mamusubi' a whole new world opened up. Here's the wonderful Rie-san demonstrating how to quickly tie two ends to forms a makeshift pocket. Super easy! It can of course be switched to inside your bag so it's less conspicuous. With this method you could make a quick extra pocket on your jeans using your belt loops.
Left: two wine bottles wrapped snugly in one furoshiki, with a layer between them so they don't clank. Right: one bottle of beautiful Cahors wine. Both ready with handles and all to be taken to a dinner.
Rough guide: How to wrap two bottles
①Place bottles in centre with space between the bases ②Wrap tightly....
③End with flap on top, where finger is showing ④Stand bottles and tie ends with 'mamusubi'
There's of course a separate method of folding to carry around smaller bottles.
Variations of wrapping a small box or a book
Ad-hoc raincoat in the event of a sudden downpour!
This particular furoshiki is cotton with a waterproof lining - just as light but twice as handy.
The biggest takeaway of the session I think was the fact that there are no rules to furoshiki folding but the essential 'mamusubi' knot. In Ukiyoe paintings people are often depicted carrying furoshiki in various ways. Merchants selling their merchandise, bathers hurrying to the public bath with their toiletries, moving families wrapping up their belongings... As long as it keeps the contents safe, together, and snugly fits around the waist or hurled over the shoulder or however fits you, the ways to fold and tie the furoshiki are unique and endless.
Furosiki come in various fabrics, in three main square sizes; 100cm, 70cm, and 50cm. Silk has a wonderful structural texture, is the most expensive and used for formal occasions, cotton is firm and machine washable, will soften with use and most widespread, then there are various synthetic versions of which some resemble silk in touch and texture but are sturdier. The formal furoshiki would be 'muji' 無地 meaning 'with no patterns', or with a subtle design on the upper left with a main design in the lower right. Purple and red are used for celebratory events and blue or green for funerals and such. Those with patterns all over are regarded casual and suitable for everyday use.
Our sister company neconote.com will hold a folding demonstration with lots of ideas to utilise the fantastic furoshiki at Hyper Japan in July. They also designed a furoshiki and tenugui towels that will be available for purchase at the event. Learn more in their IG.
* neconote.com is a platform to find your perfect Japanese speaking helper in UK. (website in Japanese only) * Browse Inabarie's IG for more furoshiki inspiration (all posts are in Japanese but it's a lovely ride nonetheless)
* Here's a video to learn how to tie and swiftly untie the aforementioned 'mamusubi' knot (referred to as the square knot in video).