The first time I saw a 'magic cloth' used was during a bonsai workshop with John Naka. I was a novice.
I don't remember the tree, but I remember John looking, somewhat frantically, around the room.
Someone asked if they could get something for him … “a handkerchief, paper napkin or something” he replied.
I reached in my lap and handed him the - not so clean - small towel I always kept with my bonsai tool set. He promptly covered a branch with the cloth.
Suddenly, his design concept for my bonsai became very clear! I never forgot the lesson, and continued to use it.
Many years later, when I began to teach bonsai, the magic cloth was a way to guide students to better design without cutting their trees.
“When in doubt, cover the branch and imagine
what the tree would look like without it.”
- John Naka
The dwarf powder puff bonsai - Calliandra e. - shown here, arrived in full bloom for a critique.
The overall tree design and flowers were so wonderful, it was difficult to find fault.
However, the first two branches were heavy bar branches – and a bit distracting to me.
I suggested losing one of them, and covered it.
(I'm not sure I convinced the owner.)
Sometimes, it takes a larger towel or even two small ones to get the full impact.
If you're not sure -- cover everything under consideration for removal, before reaching for your bonsai tool set.
I have gone so far as to leave the cloth on all day, while I worked on other trees. When I went back to the bonsai in question and removed the cloth -- I often wondered why I ever doubted.
This technique worked wonders with this tree – as did the bonsai tools that came next! Half of the original bonsai rightfully disappeared.
(Instead of cutting off the top of this tree, I used an air layer.)
I no longer have a dirty rag, I have embroidered cloths. My daughter Angela surprised me with two of them as a gift. I hope you will find the value in this tool and make it an addition to your bonsai tool set.
This Magic Cloth is now available for your personal use. As a teaching tool, it will be much more professional looking than a "dirty rag."
It will also make a fun gift for a bonsai friend!
Also available in green.
is my free monthly newsletter. Subscribe to get current tips, ideas and photos that may not appear on this site.
Know the basics? Ready for more? Watch these amazing Colin Lewis bonsai class videos.
Craftsy sent me a copy of this class to review. Very impressed, we became an affiliate and receive a small commission on purchases. (Which helps support this site.)