Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: Shemaghs and Furoshiki

I had a request from a reader to cover the myriad uses that the Arabian headcovering, the shemagh (or keffiyeh, or ghutrah as I learned the word) has. Rather than just covering the one form of "big square of fabric" I thought I would mix in the very similar, but culturally diverse Japanese multipurpose carry-cloth, the traditional Furoshiki.

 Whilst fairly divergent in purpose, each style relies on the same thing: a single, square piece of fabric.

Fabric is everywhere, and whilst patterns, weaves, materials, sizes and shapes may differ, it is a fairly simple thing to be able to put your hands on. With the increased Western military presence in the Middle East (yes, its been 22 years since the First Gulf War,) this fairly ubiquitous piece of  Arabian attire has worked its way into the mainstream western culture. I lived in Dubai between 1989 and 1991, and the red-and-white ghutrah in the middle there was from then.

Starting up kendo in 1997, I was exposed to the use of squares of fabric to bundle up our keikogi and hakama, in furoshiki style, which allowed us to keep it neat, tidy, transport it and also letting the often very sweaty clothes dry after a hard session. At least, far better that it would if stuffed into a plastic shopping bag, or gym bag.

I wont spend a lot of time on furoshiki, as it is an art all to itself, rather I will show you a couple of links. This picture was produced by the Japanese Ministry of Environment as a means of demonstrating the many ways different sized packages and items can be bundled into a square of fabric, offering stable, padded and accessible wrapping for a variety of goods.

I've mentioned shemaghs before, as I picked one up off the street her ein Melbourne as part of my eagle-eyed urban-salvage mentality, but I have quite the collection of them. Warm in winter, shady in summer, easily stowable and highly variable in wear and use, the shemagh is a versatile and essential part  of being apocalypse equipped.

There are a variety of sites that can show you "how to tie a shemagh like the military"so I'm not going to go through a step by step, rather, I will show you some of the ways that I have worn mine, and that you might find useful.

Most of these involve folding the square into a triangle, which leaves the little dangling tassels on the short edges, rather than the forwards long edge. I learned to wear min in Emirati and Bedouin style, which usually consists of a single triangular fold, and topped with the double ringed agal but any cord or banding could suffice, and keep it on your head, whilst providing much needed shade.

Even without an agal, it is possible to keep it on your head in fairly easy terms. Just flicking one of the corners around your neck and towards the back will give it enough weight to hold it down onlt your head, and less lifting surfaces to blow off as easily.

You can wear it like this to cover your nose and mouth, both as a dust/sand/debris hand smoke filter, as a sun-block, but also to obscure your identity if that kind of thing is useful to you, say if you were throwing rocks at tanks in Gaza or new York...

I've worn mine like this in the sun, rain, hail and snow, and have found that it's a very versatile piece of clothing able to be adapted to meet the ever changing Melbourne weather.

Rolled loosely, that same triangular fold gives you a long length of insulating material I wrap around your neck, whether it be to trap heat in the cold, or soaked in water to give evaporative cooling to the wearer. In this way, it acts in similar fashion to the HeadSox and HeadOver tubes, but far lower-tech.

It's worth noting that certain colour patterns may be more significant than you might think, and it is well worth looking into when you are traveling, but there isn't really a hard and fast system in place. If in doubt, ask a local, or wear something in "modern" patterns.

Pulling up the front of that self-same scarf, you have a very functional face-shield to guard against identification, sun, dust, sand and debris, even some (it has been often claimed) dispersion agents like CS gas with a vinegar treatment, apparently.

 A slight tug and it's either up or down, and you can also cover your ears with the same fabric.

I've also used mine as a sieve, putting fruit in it and washing them through it...

Having also spent a bunch of time holidaying in south east Asia, I've seen similar fabrics worn wrapped around the head in a ring, more as a sweatband than as a sunshade. Worn with the tassels on the outside you also have built in bug-bothering dangles not unlike the mythical cork-strung hat of the Australian bush.

Not just a piece of clothing, however, the shemagh can be utilized in a variety of ways  (such as in its Japanese configuration, for furoshiki) and I hope I can show you a couple of these too.

So here is me having using my shemagh as a triangular bandage to immobilize an arm, something I covered recently in my First Aid Certificate Level 2 course (yay, skills ...)

Depending on the circumstance, and the need, this can be done extremely quickly. I moved from the SE Asia head wrap to this sling in about 15-20 seconds. If you take a little more time, you can make a much neater, much more supportive sling.

Similarly, I could have rolled it into a tight rope, and used it as an emergency tourniquet, or as the binding of a splint.

Other uses that I've had for it is as a shade cloth, picnic tablecloth, as a belt, a child-toy-leash and as a mondo wet-towel-snapper.

When folded up, a cotton shemagh makes a quite reasonable bandage, either as a deep square, to stem urgent bleeding, or to hold down dressings. Filled with ice they make cold compresses, left alone they make good padding for bruises, sprains and bites.

All in all, whether it be for headware, packaging, or all manner of other applications, this simple piece of cloth, however it is names, coloured or decorated, is an essential piece of kit, that I wouldn't want to travel or adventure without, let alone survive without.

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