Originating from the Japanese traditions of Tsutsumi (“wrapping”), the art of wrapping with fabric has been around since the 8th century in one form or another, its main purpose was to protect and carry garments. Around the 17th century, as bathhouses increased in popularity, the square wrap became known as Furoshiki (literally “bath” and “to spread”), they were then used to carry toiletries and acted as bathmats. Wealthy families would commission customized Furoshiki with the family crest and good luck symbols.
When cotton was introduced in Japan in the 1800s, Furoshiki began to be produced on a much bigger scale, rendering it affordable for the masses, who used it to transport goods for sale as well as their belongings on the road. In the 1900s, mass-produced textiles were common in Japan and Furoshiki to wrap gifts became an established tradition. People would usually wrap the item up and present it in person. The giver would unwrap and reveal the gift and then keep the beautiful cloth to take back home.
However, after the Second World War, the Japanese became highly influenced by American culture and the use of the paper bag, followed by the plastic bag, meant that Furoshiki almost vanished until the 1980s. In the 1990s, people became more aware of the disadvantages of such practices and the waste caused.
In 2006, in the wake of the Kyoto Protocol, the Minister of the Environment (Ms. Yuriko Koike) launched a campaign to encourage the return of the tradition and even designed a Furoshiki square that was called Mottainai Furoshiki which translates to “waste not, want not”(link). Furoshiki became popular again and new designs can be seen, even outside Japan, as people worldwide are eager to make their lives greener. I believe everybody would benefit from knowing this technique and that’s why I decided to include the diagrams in my pictures. More information regarding this tradition can be found on the Japanese Environment Ministry website, who owns the copyright (link).
How it works
Furoshiki come in different sizes (ranging from miniature for tea ceremonies to incredibly large, big enough to wrap a futon) but are always square. There are three basic ways to wrap with the technique:
• Fukusa-Tsutsumi – Cloth simply folded around the item, most commonly used for small gifts or envelopes.
• Otsukai-Tsutsumi – Wrap that has been knotted once.
• Yotsu-musubi – Wrap that uses two knots or double handles for heavier items.
To this day, Furoshiki still have traditional Japanese imagery, but a lot of modern versions in bright and graphic prints can now be found as well. The motif usually reflects the occasion and the significance of the gift, as was common with Kimono fabric. For example, Chrysanthemum was preferred for weddings, as they represent longevity and good fortune in Japanese culture. I chose a white fabric to show the polyvalence and international quality of Furoshiki. I’m glad to have found this subject; it is now part of my daily routine.