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Here’s a not-so-fun fact: every holiday season about 4 million tons of gift wrap and decorations end up in U.S. landfills. Wrapping paper and gift bags for birthdays and Christmas aren’t just hard on the environment, but they can be shockingly expensive to boot.
I’ve made these reusable gift bags and DIY produce bags in the past, but there’s another option too. A Japanese furoshiki wrapping cloth is a simple, beautiful, and eco-friendly way to wrap objects for gifts or travel.
History of Furoshiki Wrapping Cloths
A furoshiki wrapping cloth is a single rectangular or square piece of fabric that has gone through several different transformations over the centuries. The wrap was originally referred to as tsutsumi and was used as early as 710 in Japan. By 1336 bathhouses used the cloths to bundle bathers’ clothes, and also to stand on while drying off. During this time they gained the name furoshiki, meaning “bath spread.”
Today, a furoshiki can be used to wrap gifts, wine bottles, books, groceries, or just about anything. Other countries have developed their own cloth wraps, like the heavily decorated bojagi from Korea. Many people line the wraps with another fabric on the inside so that both patterns and colors are displayed after wrapping.
Why Use Fabric to Wrap Gifts?
It may take a little thinking outside of the box (sorry, bad pun) to get used to wrapping gifts in fabric instead of paper, but here’s a few reasons to give it a try:
Because it is reusable, a furoshiki wrap is a sustainable alternative to traditional wrapping paper. Plastic-coated gift bags and boxes either end up in the landfill (and not decomposing), or even if recyclable use up energy.
I’m a fan of homemade gifts, but they are often irregularly shaped or have special packaging requirements. (Baked goods, for example.) Glass containers are handy for food, but they can be cumbersome and heavy. A fabric furoshiki wrap is flexible and will conform to many different shapes easily.
Convenient and Economical
A furoshiki wrap is a great, eco-friendly way to gift wrap. My daughters and I made reusable cloth bags one year for Christmas, and it cut my gift wrapping time in about half! These cloth wraps are just as easy and also make a good gift to go along with the present inside. Of course you can also keep the furoshiki and re-use it again next year.
This Year Give … Gift Wrap?
Furoshiki cloths aren’t just for wrapping gifts … they’re for gifting too!
If gifting a furoshiki cloth to someone, be sure to include wrapping instructions with their gift. This helps to prevent the cloth wrap from just sitting at the bottom of a drawer somewhere! Just find some fabric with Christmas (or birthday or Valentine’s Day, etc.) patterns, or a solid color can be decorated with fabric paint.
Fun project for kids: give them temporary or permanent fabric marker and let them decorate the fabric with a message or some personalized artwork. Instantly the wrap becomes a keepsake for grandparents … or even for your kids’ future kids!
How to Make a Furoshiki Wrapping Cloth
There are lots of affordable and environmentally friendly ways to find furoshiki wrap fabric. Here are some common items many of us already have that can be transformed into a cloth wrap:
- handkerchiefs and bandanas
- scarves that are square or slightly rectangular
- cloth napkins
- tea towels
- large fabric scraps from old sewing projects
Keep in mind that the furoshiki cloth should be about three times the size of the object that’s wrapped.
Choosing the Right Fabric Type
Thin fabric won’t be sturdy enough to hold the items, and if it’s too see-through it can reveal what’s inside. The ideal fabric is sturdy and thick enough to protect the objects, but not so thick that it’s difficult to tie the ends. Cotton is a durable and popular option.
For extra thickness and durability, a liner can be sewn on the inside if desired. Just make sure to choose thinner fabrics if making a lined furoshiki wrap so that the end product isn’t too thick to tie.
How to Make a Furoshiki from Fabric (Old or New)
Make eco-friendly and reusable gift wrap in just two steps:
Step 1 – Use a yardstick to measure out a square or rectangular piece of fabric. A typical size for a furoshiki wrap is 36 inches by 36 inches, but these can be made larger or smaller depending on what will be wrapped. Larger premade fabric pieces, like tablecloths and bedsheets will probably also need cut down to size.
Step 2– For a no sew version, cut out the fabric with pinking shears. (Fabric must not be prone to fraying.) Otherwise, use scissors to cut out the measured fabric. Pin the edges like you would for a hem and sew.
Nothing fancy here, just quick and simple!
How to Make a Lined Furoshiki Gift Wrap
If doing a lined furoshiki wrap that uses two different patterns/colors, then cut out two pieces of the fabric that are the same size. Be sure that the fabric isn’t too thick, or it won’t tie well.
- Lay the fabric so that the right sides (the pretty sides) are facing each other in the center.
- Sew around the perimeter of the fabric, leaving about a 4 inch gap. Turn the fabric right side out and tuck the fabric in at the gap so the whole side is even.
- Use a slight zigzag stitch to sew around the perimeter of the fabric. This will close the gap and help the fabric lay flat all around. Iron the edge if needed.
Not into Sewing?
There are plenty of furoshiki wrapping cloths you can buy … and use again and again!
How to Wrap Gifts the Furoshiki Way
There are many different ways to fold a traditional cloth wrap and some can be quite beautiful. Here are a few practical options for wrapping common gift shapes:
Wrapping Books, Boxes, or Flat Items
- Place the object diagonally in the center of the cloth.
- If the object is rectangular, then draw up the corners of the fabric on either side of the longest edges of the item. Make sure the fabric is tight and tie the two opposite corners together once.
- Next, do the same with the other two corners but tie it twice so it knots. If the object being wrapped is square, then it doesn’t matter which opposite corners are tied together first.
Here’s a quick video that shows how:
Wrapping Round Items (Like One Bottle)
- Lay the cloth out in a diamond shape on a flat surface and place the object upright in the middle.
- Gather the top and bottom corners together and tie them securely in a knot on top of the object.
- Take the two remaining corners and wrap them around the bottle so that they cross over the back and end at the front. Make sure the fabric stays tight while wrapping. Tie the two ends in a knot.
- If a handle is desired, then tie another knot with the loose ends at the top of the bottle. To do this, twist the ends a little and tie a small knot with the very ends of the fabric.
Wrapping Two Bottles
- Lay the cloth out in a diamond shape on a flat surface and position the bottles horizontally in the center with their bottoms facing each other, and the tops pointed towards the left and right corners of the cloth.
- Fold the bottom corner up and over the bottles as far as it will go without moving the bottles. Place both hands on the bottles and carefully roll them towards the top corner, wrapping the fabric tightly around them as you roll.
- Once all of the fabric is rolled around the bottles, set them so they’re standing up and tie the ends of the cloth together.
Make a Bag
This cloth bag is perfect for carrying around items like bread, apples, or other items at the grocery store or farmer’s market.
- Lay the cloth out diagonally, right side down, on a flat surface and draw the top and bottom corners together. This will fold the fabric in half to create a triangle shape.
- Tie the bottom two corners of the triangle into knots about 1/4 of the way into the fabric.
- Take the top of the triangle, separate, and pull the fabric to opposite ends of each other. Flip the fabric over and tuck the knots into the sides.
- Tie a knot with the two loose ends to create a carrying strap.
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Have you ever used a cloth wrap before? What items would you use the wrap for?
Discussion (6 Comments)
This is confusing:
“Sew around the perimeter of the fabric, leaving about a 4 inch gap. Turn the fabric right side out and tuck the fabric in at the gap so the whole side is even.
Use a slight zigzag stitch to sew around the perimeter of the fabric. This will close the gap and help the fabric lay flat all around. Iron the edge if needed.”
Could you add diagram or video?? thanks
This is awesome! I don’t really sew – though I’d like to learn – and I live that you have no-sew options posted.
Could you post a video of that bag making? I don’t quite understand the whole process.
Wonderful! We didn’t even know, that we have been doing Fukoshiki-Christmas “for ever” :).
About 15 years ago my mom gave me a big box full of old nice white bedsheets. And since we wanted to wrap the presents for our kids and ourselves in an eco way, we took the big bedsheets and hid them inside. They still have fun every year digging through the mass of fabric to discover them. And the living room looks so clean with “white presents” instead of the wildly colored paper spread everywhere.
This is a clever idea. I imagine that it would take some time to get right but honestly, that’s half the fun.
Years ago we decided to eliminate Christmas wrapping paper so I made a ton of fabric bags with ribbon ties at the top in various sizes. They work great and look cute (I used different kid friendly Christmas patterns and the patterns help hide any show through). I put the fabric bags away each year with the Christmas decorations so I don’t have to store them in any of my usual places. The only thing I add are little paper tags so we know who the gift is for but if I had to do it again I would make a set of bags for each person using a different print so we wouldn’t need the tags. It was a great investment in time and fabric/ribbon that has served us well for 8 years now. We do still wrap gifts in paper that are going to someone else’s house but our overall consumption is way way down.
This looks fun!!! Thanks for the inspiration!