The original thin, sheer tape derived from rice paper was imported from Japan and pounced on about eight years ago by scrapbooking fans and other paper crafters. Its popularity has grown as a creative and simple way to add a personal touch to holiday gifts, wrapping or party decorations.
Washi tapes "tear like butter and they adhere to everything lightly," says Hannah Milman, executive editorial director of crafts and holiday for Martha Stewart Living. "It's so inviting to work with them."
Washi tape has become so popular that it's now made by U.S. companies such as Scotch Brand from 3M and sold at large stores such as Target. Martha Stewart Living boasts its own line, as do many paper-supply companies such as Paper Source. Two well-stocked online sources are cutetape and Happy Tape.
Quality varies and not all tapes are washi, which is made from transparent washi paper that easily tears. Other tapes may be labeled "decorative" or "craft."
Quick and easy gifts include covering an uninspiring notebook or phone cover with patterned washi tape, or decorating an inexpensive white photo frame with it.
"You can spend thousands of dollars on white frames," says Eddie Ross, Better Homes & Gardens' East Coast editor. "But you can really do a lot with a colorful washi tape and a (simple) white frame."
Gift-wrapping ideas from Martha Stewart Living's crafts editors include adding a strip of washi to envelopes; or wrapping cookies in wax paper, or gifts in butcher or craft paper, newspaper or paper lunch bags, then decorating with washi tape instead of ribbon.
You can update old ornaments with washi tape, or try this fast craft from Kimberly Sneed of Phoenix, who blogs at A Night Owl and The Washi Blog: Adorn a papier mache ornament with two co-ordinating washi patterns, topped with a craft-store monogram.
"Washi tape is simple to use, has almost zero learning curve, has room for error, and has the ability to take simple items from drab to fab," says Sneed, a mom who works full-time and looks for easy crafts to do after her two young sons are in bed. "I find that most washi tape projects can be done in minutes and can really add something special."
Edge a counter or bookcase with holiday-themed washi tape; temporarily spell out holiday greetings on a wall; mark off some wall space with washi and insert holiday greeting cards or family pictures into the temporary "frames"; wrap glass votives or glass hurricane containers in co-ordinating patterns; decorate the inside front door with washi colours; or add it to lamp shades.
"You can transform anything and make it magical," says Milman.
"Anything you do, even trimming a room — it has a handmade quality," she says.
Some holiday party ideas using washi:
— Customize wine glasses to keep track of which belongs to whom.
— Decorate wine bottles.
— Add washi to place cards or wrap it around napkin rings.
— Attach strips to toothpicks or disposable straws and then dovetail the ends to make small flags for decorating appetizers and drinks.
Washi can be applied to walls, moulding, bookcases and other furniture — then just as easily peeled away, leaving no residue. It doesn't work on fabric or anything that may get wet.
Milman says washi adheres especially well to metals, so you can decorate lockers, blinds and furniture — even bicycles.
It's so simple that children can help with the wrapping and decorating. Milman recommends letting kids build forts out of empty boxes pieced together with washi tape, or map out train tracks on the floor.