Friday, October 3, 2008

It's In The Bag

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Japanese is their endearing ability to make something out of nothing. Well, almost nothing. What other culture could have invented the Corn Flake Sundae (corn flakes, whipped cream, maraschino cherry); karaoke (microphone, tin ear); and the subject of today's post: the furoshiki (square cloth)?

Furoshiki literally means bath (furo) spread (shiki). The term was coined in the Edo period (1615-1868) when public baths became popular. Patrons arrived at the bath house with a change of clothes and other essentials, tidily wrapped in a furoshiki. The cloth was then spread on the floor, giving the bather a personal space on which to change clothes.

More recently, furoshiki have evolved into a package-wrapping art form. The concept and execution are quintessentially Japanese--space-efficient, ecologically sound, totally practical, and exquisitely elegant.

I purchased several instruction manuals on my last trip, and I especially recommend this one. For some inscrutable reason, the directions are in both Japanese and English, and the wrap jobs are just exquisite.





Although these wrappings look complicated, they are actually easy to do, requiring only the ability to make a square knot. And frankly, a granny knot seems to work just as well, although the ties might not look quite symmetrical.

Today's post will show you how to make two quick knitting bags and the most sought-after container in the galaxy: a watermelon holder. You know you need one. Go ahead, snicker. But the next time you go to the market and wrestle with an awkward, slippery, round, heavy watermelon, you'll remember I Told You So.

All you need for this lesson is a square cloth. Obviously, the larger the cloth, the more it can hold.

Let's start with the watermelon holder, which, by the way, can actually hold knitting, a bowling ball, or some frolicking chipmunks.

Place your watermelon (or pile of chipmunks) towards the back of the furoshiki.


Tie the two back corners together with a square knot. Notice the hole behind the knot. You will be using this in a minute.







Pull the front two corners through the hole.


Lift them up...



...Twist them...


...And tie them together with another square knot.


You're done!

Here's a slightly more complicated bag.

Start by tying an overhand knot in each corner of the furoshiki.



Tie two of the knotted corners together. And then tie the other two knotted corners together.


You're done!


If you want to, you can pass one handle through the other, like this:


Finally, I'll show you how to make a bag with real handles. In this case, I used a set of plastic circles. You can buy these on eBay or get them from a shop like SpinBlessing.


Pull two corners front to back through one handle.


Bring the corners around to the front and tie them in a knot.


Do the same with the other two corners.



You're done! Here's what the open bag looks like:


I love these bags for two reasons: first, when not in use, they occupy little space, and second, you can tailor the size of the bag to its contents. And, of course, when people admire your knitting bag, you can tell them you make it in under two minutes.

27 comments:

Opal said...

Oh that's wicked cool!

punkin said...

Thank you for sharing. It is a beautiful artform that is satisfying on several levels.

Carol said...

That is sooooooo neat! It's like origami with cloth.

yarnlot said...

Lovely blog post!
Only yesterday did I admire the antique fukusa on the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/), like the following one, where not a tiger is washed but an elephant...
http://tinyurl.com/4wflvz

kv said...

wow. it is like origami with cloth. but i don't know, another stash of folding fabric??

Dave said...

Very cool!

Of course, now that you've told us all how to do it, opening your own etsy shop and selling them for the big bucks is a little awkward. :-)

I'm off to gather some chipmunks so I can make one of my own.

LittleBerry said...

you don't half make life interesting :o)

Helen said...

I have silk scarves the way some women have shoes - now I know what to do with the ones I never get round to wearing :)

BadCatDesigns said...

Thank-you! The next time I see a set of handles I like I will grab them, because I already have some lovely scraves that I never use. What a great tutorial. I admit that all I can think of is "bowling ball?" when I see the watermelon. If you have any bowling readers, maybe they will put this to good use...

Laritza said...

Cool and ingenious ! I love the fabric colors.

Janice in GA said...

That's just brilliant. Thanks for sharing those!

Cheryl S. said...

How lovely! I've added the book to my wishlist, for the next time I order some books from Amazon Japan.
Thanks for sharing!

Soo said...

Amazing!!

Susan (and SmokeyBlue in spirit) said...

FANTASTIC. thank you. I have a book on folding napkins but since we rarely use them it languishes on a shelf.
This is so useful and I now know what to do with the myriad fat quarters I have picked up along the way.

What is going to be extra special is wrapping presents for knitters who quilt.
Next to put that book on my wish list.
Namaste.

Agneta said...

Wow what a great thing. Must try it.

=Tamar said...

What are the dimensions of the typical carrying-cloth?

benazeer said...

I found your blog searching for information on Niebling patterns and what do I discover but that your top post is about furoshiki. I picked up the habit of using furoshiki for everything (and I agree about their usefulness especially for watermelon) when I was doing a research fellowship in Japan. My very American partner just doesn't get it.

Shea said...

Very cool. Now I know what to do with my growing stash of chipmunks that is getting completely out of hand!

Cinders said...

wow that is so clever.

Judith said...

those are unspeakably cool!!!! Did you ever see those old books (from the 70's (I think) "How to Wrap Five Eggs" (or something like that, sorry, my books are packed for moving). There was a sequel to that, "How to Wrap Five More Whatevers" - beautiful stuff in them.

Karla (ThreadBndr) said...

VERY neat (in several senses of the word!)

I love the watermelon carrier. I may have to take a large square of cloth to the farmer's market on Saturday; this definately beats the heck out of worrying that the plastic bag will self destruct on me on the way back to the car.

miyamojo said...

Oh Fleegle!
This touches my heart. I remember when I was a kid, the little Issei women would show up with their food all wrapped/tied up in those cloths. I would stare & wait for them to unwrap them. Their food and dishes looked just as pretty.
Presentation is everything!
When I graduated high school, one of them gave me a furoshiki!
Thanks for that memory! :)

Jane said...

Wow! Now I understand why there are all those cloth squares with nice prints on them at the bookstore in Japan town! Way cool!

Anonymous said...

I KNEW there was a reason I kept those handbag handles I acquired,
when everything else in that box was sent on its way. THANK YOU!

cuddlywombat said...

I am contemplating bagging some chipmunks just to see if they can actually be used in place of that watermelon. ;-)

Celeste said...

I love the watermelon holder. I hope I can remember it next time I buy watermelon, I would definitely try it.

Shea said...

These are awesome, but I'm fresh out of chipmunks. My porch kitty cleaned the place out. Hmmm, what to use in place of the chipmunks...