“Furoshiki has a distinctive style reflecting [the Japanese culture’s] interest in ceremony, beauty, multi-functional objects and thoughtful detail in their approach to everyday living.”
- 1 million women
I don’t know about you, but growing up my house was the kind that had a dedicated gift-wrapping station around the holidays. Tupperware storage bins full of wrapping paper, ribbon, gift bags, bows, gift tags, special scotch tape dispensers and scissors were pulled out after Thanksgiving and didn’t get put away until after the New Year. Gift wrapping was always a tradition that my mom and I put a lot of time and thought into. It was time we spent together, just the two of us — we talked, we listened to holiday music, we watched our favorite holiday movies — and often joked that we spent WAY too much time and effort on our wrapping for someone else to rip it apart. These days, the wrapping station still exists and my mom is using up the supplies she’s had on hand for years, but each year we’ve been transitioning more and more gifts to another style of wrapping, Furoshiki.
What is Furoshiki?
Furoshiki is a traditional Japanese wrapping technique that embraces the philosophy of reuse in some of the most beautiful, functional manners by challenging us to take ONE thing — a cloth — and use it in many different ways. Throughout history, Furoshiki has been used to transport everything from clothes, gifts, food, to other goods and it’s easy to see why. It’s versatility both in wrap style and cloth design allow any item to be wrapped functionally and beautifully.
Today, there are many different furoshiki styles and uses including:
a bag for shopping
a scarf, belt, bandana, or hanky
protecting items when traveling
a lunch bag (especially for bento boxes and tiffins)
An (eco) friendlier way to wrap
Aside from helping our environment, one of the biggest reasons why I have embraced the furoshiki style as my go-to wrapping method is money! Like with many other swaps I’ve made in the zero waste lifestyle, money-saved is a huge motivator. It’s estimated that American consumers spend $3.2 billion dollars a year on wrapping paper — presumably including gift bags. That’s $3.2 billion dollars spent on something that gets used once and (more often than not) thrown away. Imagine the money, resources, and time we could save if we all switched to quick, easy, reusable wrapping methods, like furoshiki.
Some Quick Stats
98% of consumers wrap gifts during the holidays
38,000 miles: distance covered if every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon
45,000 football fields: the amount of paper saved if every family wrapped just three presents in reused material
4 million tons: the amount of trash wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for annually in the US
25%: the average increase (5 million extra tons) of waste produced during the holidays
50% of paper consumed in the US is on gift wrap and decorating products
3 hours: time Americans will spend wrapping gifts
25% expect to spend 4 or more hours wrapping
Getting started with furoshiki
The first (and only) thing you need to start wrapping is a cloth! Before you grab just any old cloth, here are a few things to think about:
Size/Shape: Typically, furoshiki wraps are not square with the length being slightly longer than the width, but for the purpose of finding/making your own, a square cloth will work just fine. You’ll also want to be sure that it fits your object. As a rule of thumb, your cloth should be about 2/3 larger than the size of your object.
Fabric: Choose fabrics that are strong, not too thick, and have a little bit of stretch. A fabric that is too thick will be difficult to tie. I always go for fabrics with designs that catch my eye first and then do a few test knots to see how easy/difficult it will be to tie. And remember, if you find a piece of cloth that’s not square/rectangular you can always cut it to size when you get home!
Once you have an idea of the size, shape and type of fabric you’re looking for, it’s time to source! Some of my favorite ideas for acquiring and/or making cloths are:
vintage scarfs at thrift stores
fabric scraps from secondhand craft stores or friends who quilt or sew
cut and dye old sheets or t-shirts
bandana, handkerchiefs, or teatowel
Wrapping your gift
Wrapping your gift can be one of the most fun and creative parts of furoshiki, mostly because there isn’t a right and wrong way. That being said, there are some tried and true styles that you can follow when you’re just getting started. Below I’ll be guiding you through 14 of the most popular styles — outlined by the Japanese Department of Environment — with bonus tips on what types of gifts each style is best for!
Traditionally, furoshiki wrapped gifts are presented to the receiver by the giver, unveiled, and the cloth kept for the next use. This is a great method when you’re gifting family members — everyone unwraps their gifts and clothes get collected at the end for storage and reuse next year. If you’re gifting someone outside of family, where you know the likelihood of taking back the cloth is minimal (or you just feel plain awkward asking for it back), you can include a set of instructions on how to tie furoshiki as part of the gift. You can even give the person a demonstration on how to do it to increase the chances of your cloth being passed on!
Looking for even more eco-friendly ways to wrap your holiday gifts this season? Check out my low waste guide to holiday gift wrapping and be sure to share ALL of your zero waste wrapping with me on Instagram by tagging @simplyzero_ and using the hashtag #simplyzerowasteholidays in your photos!
As we navigate the holidays, here are some tips on organizing the best zero waste holiday party of the season.