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Used in Japanese bathhouses to contain clothing and personal belongings and to serve as a floor mat nearly 2000 years ago, furoshiki has made a resurgence in recent years as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic and paper wrapping materials. This time it has even found its way into the Western world. Basically, furoshiki is a wrapping cloth that is folded in a fast and clever way to tote groceries, wrap gifts, carry lunches, and even in lieu of a purse. Similar to origami techniques, furoshiki has very specific and ingenious folds that will turn a square of cloth into an attractive and environmentally friendly carrying vessel in a matter of seconds.
Some of the folds are the basic wrap (otsukai tsutsumi), four tie wrap (yotsu musubi), shoulder wrap (katakake fukoro), watermelon wrap (suika tsutsumi), roll wrap (maki tsutsumi), hand wrap (tesage bukoro), slender object wrap (kousa tsutsumi), two books wrap (hon tsutsumi), two knots wrap (futatsu tsutsumi), flat object wrap (hira tsutsumi), hidden knot wrap (kakushi tsutsumi), one bottle wrap (ippon bin tsutsumi), two bottle wrap (nihon bin tsutsumi), and the padded carry wrap (sao tsutsumi). A fold exists to accommodate nearly any size or shape of object.
Furoshiki cloths usually come in eight sizes, ranging from 18 inches (45.7 cm)to 52 inches (132.1 cm) on the longest edge, but the folds will conform to any size. They are slightly off square, so this should be kept in mind if cutting unique sizes. Any fabric can be used. Cotton is a versatile and relatively durable choice, but some use high quality silks, especially if using furoshiki as a gift wrap.
One of the most popular uses of furoshiki in recent years is as a bento box carrier. Bento boxes, also a Japanese invention, are lunch boxes with small compartments that hold a variety of foods. Pairing a bento box with a furoshiki cloth can be a healthy alternative to a trip through a fast food drive-through at lunch time, plus it spares the earth the paper and plastic packaging that comes with a fast food meal.
Keeping a stack of furoshiki cloths in the car for grocery shopping is another popular use. Purchasing reusable grocery bags is sometimes costly, and they take up more space in the car than a stack of furoshiki cloths. Also, old sheets or materials around the house can be recycled/repurposed by cutting them into furoshiki cloths for this purpose. With billions of plastic bags ending up in landfills every year, using furoshiki cloths for shopping is not only convenient for the consumer, but also kind to the environment.
The prettiest use of furoshiki is as a gift wrap. Interesting patterns and textures lend a luxurious feel to a gift, and since they can be reused, even pricier fabrics are economical if passed amongst a group of gift givers. With a little imagination, the possibilities for uses of furoshiki cloths are unlimited.