being green

Often, in my world, one thing leads ever-so-sneakily into another. So with my interest in furoshiki. From research and interest and admiration springs the desire to try it. Trying it means needing to have one. But, coming from a long, long line of do-it-yourselfers, do I just go buy one? No.

Considering the possibilities, I decide to make one. It’s essentially a square of cloth. It helps if the square is of fairly fine fabric, so that it knots without much bulk. In Japan they often use crepe of one kind or another. Crepe, however, is hard to find cheaply and hard to sew. In Japan they sometimes also use cotton. So okay, cotton.

Having practice at DIY projects, I know that I should use something I don’t mind throwing away in disgust, but it should be something I wouldn’t mind keeping if it works. Off to Mardens to find cheap fabric.

Having located some attractive-but-not-too-girly fabrics, withstood the perplexed look of the very nice Mardens clerk when I asked for “a square of each, please”, and gotten home, I sit down at the sewing machine.

The first one I hem in my usual way: roll the hem, pin the heck out of it, sew. It comes out just fine.
On the second one, I get cheeky. Hmm, think I. there is somewhere a hemming foot. (rummage rummage) Ah hah! I have heard these are hard to use, but what better practice than hemming a square of cotton? I read the internet. I read the instructions. I try it.

The third time ripping out the tiny stitches, I get frustrated and slice off the edge.
All said and done, I slice about four inches off the edge on successive attempts. I have had three inches of successful hemming. The fabric is 45″ square.

I get out the pins. Pin, pin, pin. Sew. It comes out just fine.


The next morning I go on to the third one.

Do I learn my lesson and use the pinpinpinsew method?

I noticed something interesting while slicing off the edges of the last one: as long as I ignored the directions, it worked really well.

So here, without further ado, are the things I have learned which I have not seen in any set of directions anywhere.

1) Your fabric needs support, people! Let’s say you’re just sewing along, everything is fine, and about halfway through your piece, something goes terribly wrong. You have no idea what just happened, but suddenly your machine and your project are in cahoots and the seam is crooked, the hem is off, the buttonhole was designed for a button by Salvador Dali. What did you do?

In all likelihood you are sewing near the edge of a table. Your fabric has mass. It pulls ever-so-slightly (unless you are sewing a cape out of boiled wool, in which case it pulls like a St. Bernard after a rabbit) and as you begin sewing, you adjust for the added tension. But when the mass moves, the tension moves. And when the tension moves and you don’t adjust, whoops! There goes your seam, your hem, your buttonhole. The ideal solution: a bigger table. If that’s not realistic, keep piling the fabric on what table you have so that it’s supported and the only tension you have to adjust for is in your shoulders.

2) Sometimes the technology will tell you how it wants to be used. After some observation I discovered that even 1/8″ hemming feet can be used to good advantage if you ignore the directions. Turn a hem of, say, half an inch. Let it run across both sets of feed dogs, under the whole presser foot. Keep the left edge running into the scroll. The foot will roll the edge under. I hear that bigger hemming feet can be used the way they were designed to work; I don’t know. I hear that starching the edge helps. I have to admit I didn’t try that. This time. But my half inch hems are tidily turned under.

3) Even cotton has a lot of stretch across the grain. Ignore this at your peril.

4) If you are frustrated, and this is important: get up and walk away. Really. If you fight when you are angry, your project will look like the enemy and it will win.

* Bonus lesson: if your front loading washing machine is acting unbalanced for no good reason (i.e., it’s level), try putting more clothes in it.

So it goes in pursuit of a more environmental life.

In my web wanderings I stumbled across this instructables entry and got seduced. Essentially, furoshiki is fabric-based origami (work with a square or almost-square, no cutting or sewing, although there is knotting) with the object of creating wrappings and bags that can be untied and tied again around something different. incredibly simple. totally customizable. very environmental. and apparently, rather fashionable. I know next-to-nothing about Japanese culture, but this seems like a reasonably-borrowable technology. Apparently there’s a Korean form, too. I wonder if South Asia has a history of something like this? Seems like if we’ve got unstitched clothing we must have unstitched carryalls…

In the interest of simplifying and environmentalizing this seems like a good direction to go.

Edit: more furoshiki links: which includes videos here
Wikipedia’s page
the Japanese Ministry of the Environment guide, with words to go with the diagrams
and one particularly good video from YouTube (included in the website)

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