babywearing

In praise of the short, thin wrap

It’s hard to write anything right now – even a wrap review – without reference to the overarching situation of the coronavirus lockdown. My husband and I are lucky in that our incomes are not under any threat, at least right now, due to the lockdown, and since it all started I’ve been conscious of the importance of taking advantage of our good fortune to support small businesses where we can. As is probably obvious from previous reviews on this blog, one of my favourite small wrapping businesses is Firespiral Slings. I’m not going to say I wouldn’t have purchased a wrap from their new ‘Blood Moon and Pink Moon’ warp collection anyway, but the lockdown made me even more keen to support this fantastic two-woman venture right now.

Which wrap, however, to choose? The new series is a ‘split warp’, meaning that it features four different designs / blends, but each in two different colourways: Blood Moon or Pink Moon. One of the first details Firespiral dropped about the new collection, even before they released photos of the warp, was that there would be one wrap with a 40% viscose, 60% cotton blend. The last time Firespiral did something like this was Vega Birch Trees, which I believe was one of their most lightweight wraps ever released. I was intrigued by this from the start.

If you’re fairly new to wrapping, you may have come across the concept of ‘toddlerworthiness’: the idea that some wraps are only really good for small babies. Generally, wraps that are deemed ‘toddlerworthy’ tend to weigh in at the mid- to high-end of the spectrum (say, 280gsm and up). I certainly started off wrapping thinking it was best to get a heavy wrap from the outset, so that it would last me ‘all the way through’. However, the longer I’ve been wrapping, the more I find myself reaching for thinner wraps – despite the fact that my massive nearly-10-month-old weighs the same as many toddlers. I find that having less bulky fabric to work with when strand-by-strand tightening results in a neater wrap job that more than makes up for any lack of ‘cush’.

So, I chose the lightest-weight wrap of the new Firespiral collection: the Astral Curves of Pursuit. This is woven using their ‘Elements’ weave, rather than their classic, looser, ‘Alchemy’ weave, and due to this weighs in as more of a midweight wrap at 245gsm. I ordered a size 3, which is my base-3, because with the Little Weaver getting more and more active I can see a very near future in which I’ll want something I can wear as a scarf in between up-and-down wrapping outings. I initially ordered the ‘Blood Moon’ colourway, a red to orange grad, but changed my mind after more photos of the ‘Pink Moon’ were released, and the ever-helpful Tamsin at Firespiral patiently changed my order in the face of my indecisiveness! In terms of wrapping qualities, however, the two are essentially the same wrap, so if you’re interested in the Blood Moon then everything below, apart from the discussion of the colour, also applies to it.

This is a really special wrap. The blend, weave, and pattern all work together to produce what is, for me, the ideal short-and-thin wrap. The ‘Curves of Pursuit’ pattern (who else spent their school years doodling that gradually-rotating series of squares in the margins of exercise books?) is pleasingly grippy, whilst the viscose gives the wrap a lot of diagonal stretch. Together, these two characteristics mean I’ve found it possible to eke out base-2 as well as base-3 carries; not only does it wrap a little ‘long’ for its size, but the grippy pattern means I personally feel comfortable tying off on shorter tails than I might with a more glidy wrap. Meanwhile, the tighter Elements weave prevents the viscose from giving the wrap too much stretch. This is not a ‘saggy’ wrap: tightened well, wrap jobs feel very solid. The wrap is very thin in hand, and makes for neat, narrow ruck straps. It isn’t a wrap that requires any work to break in (unlike Kokiri Mercury Birch Trees, which took a bit of loving!).

And yes, we are extraordinarily lucky to be on lockdown in a very beautiful place!

So far I have enjoyed wearing it in a ruck tied in front, a ruck with a candy-cane chest belt, a Half Jordan’s Back Carry, and semi-pocket wrap cross carry. It sounds like a cliche but it felt like the fabric made it so easy for me to wrap and to wrap well; I had been struggling with Half Jordan’s and with Astral it just suddenly seemed to ‘click’. I have also tried wearing it as a scarf and the thinness of the wrap means that even looping it twice round my neck it doesn’t look like a excess of material; it just looks like a (very very) nice, normal scarf. I think this is going to be fantastic for nursery drop-offs and pick-ups (once nurseries are open again!).

Ok… so about the colour choice. I spent most of my childhood, once I was able to express an opinion on my clothes, furiously resisting my mother’s efforts to dress me in the sort of soft lilac that forms the cooler end of the Pink moon grad. At first glance the strong red tones of the Blood Moon seemed much more ‘me’. But the more photos and videos the Firespiral ladies released, the more I found myself really drawn to that pink grad, and now it’s arrived I’m so glad I chose it. (I’ll say it quietly: Mum, maybe you were right that the colour does suit me…). The silvery-grey viscose weft just harmonises beautifully with the pink and purple warp, and the grad, whilst quite gentle, offers sufficient contrast to make identifying what strand you need to tighten a breeze.

Anyway, that’s a very long blog post about a pretty short wrap. But I really hope it helps if you’re considering getting either of the Astral Curves, whether now or once lockdown and all the associated uncertainties are over. Stay safe and enjoy the wrap cuddles!

positive birthing

An open letter to women giving birth during lockdown

I never did get around to writing about birth on this blog; it never felt like the right time. Now, it feels not just like the right time, but the necessary time. I believe that a woman’s experience giving birth is incredibly important, largely because of the enormous difference my own experience made to me. I have lived with depression for many years now, and one of my biggest fears around becoming a mother was that I would suffer from post-partum depression and have difficulty bonding with my baby. Thus far, though I have enjoyed a few skirmishes with garden-variety, chronic depression, PPD has thankfully not formed part of my story, and I credit two things for this. One, that a compassionate consultant encouraged me to go onto medication halfway through my pregnancy, during the first 20 weeks of which my depression had peaked, bringing with it fun friends like panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. Two, that I had an immensely empowering, positive birth experience, and so started my time as a new mother on a high. I truly believe that a negative experience would have greatly increased my likelihood of developing further mental health problems in the aftermath. Positive birth matters.

And yet, right now, in the middle of a global pandemic, the context in which women can expect to give birth is changing, as the NHS responds to the double challenge of stretched resources and the need to reduce rates of infection. Standalone midwife-led units are closing and (in some trusts) homebirths are being stopped. Some women are being told they can only have one birth partner, or none at all. The priority – as it rightly should be – is on safety, and on responding to this unprecedented situation. But positive birth still matters. So, if you are expecting to give birth in the next few weeks, or even months, the below message is for you.

Firstly, I cannot imagine how you must be feeling right now. I would find it enormously stressful to be pregnant, effectively in quarantine, and facing so much uncertainty around birth. It is ok to be feeling worried, or panicked, and to feel sad and angry about this pandemic changing so much for you. At the same time, you’re going to have to do something really hard, which is to acknowledge those feelings… and put them aside. All I can do from behind my screen is wish you the strength to do that.

That said, you do not have to accept everything. Yes, we are in the middle of a global crisis, and yes, as a society we all have to comply with lockdown procedures in our day-to-day life to keep everybody safe. But that doesn’t mean you need to unquestioningly accept every new policy surrounding birth. You matter. Your birth experience matters. The charity Birthrights have released a position statement calling for better support and guidance for care in birth during this crisis. If you don’t feel up to reading the whole document, these are some of the key points: you have a right to a birth partner of your choice, provided they are not showing symptoms of COVID-19 (and if your first-choice birth partner is symptomatic, you can choose a ‘back up’). You have the right to a range of pain relief measures, including a birth pool. You have the right to ask your hospital to explain measures to the contrary, and to consider varying their measures based on your unique circumstances. For example, if – as I did – you had planned to have a second birth partner (I had a doula), you can ask whether this is possible, taking into account your specific circumstances (such as, in my case, vulnerable mental health). Or if you are having a planned ceasarean, and the hospital says partners are not allowed in theatre right now – it is your right to ask them to explain clearly why this is a proportionate measure (your baby’s other parent, of course, has a right to a family life and to be present at your baby’s birth if they wish to be). They might say ‘no’, but you do have the right to ask, and you can also seek support from charities like Birthrights if you feel the response is not reasonable.

There is also a great deal that you can control, even if you find yourself giving birth in a labour ward room instead of at home, or with fewer birth partners than you’d planned. You can – and should – ask midwives to empower you to remain mobile during labour and birth if that is something that you want. You can ask them to move the bed so you can labour on a birthing ball, or leaning against it. You can ask them to dim the lights. You can take with you items that make the hospital space feel more comfortable: I took my own pillow, my husband’s dressing gown, and half a dozen electric tealights. You can refuse routine vaginal examinations if you do not want to have them performed on you. If you want to go home after giving birth but before you are ‘allowed’ to, you can self-discharge. All of these things were true before COVID-19 and they are still true now. You have choices. Just because you are giving birth during a pandemic does not mean you have to do everything ‘by the book’. Do not worry about asking for things that you need to make your experience a positive one. It is ok to prioritise your physical and emotional needs when giving birth.

If you are expecting to give birth during lockdown, I want to wish you a few things. First, I wish you the strength to accept the things about this situation that you cannot change, but also the confidence to advocate for the things you can change. I wish you a birth experience in which you feel empowered to make the choices that are right for you. I wish for you to come out of the other side of giving birth feeling strong and proud of yourself – as you should do! I wish for you to be able to remember the kindness and flexibility of the individuals who care for you, even within the scary-seeming walls of protective, pandemic policies. I wish for you to never forget that you matter, your birth matters.

I wish you a positive birth.

babywearing

How to make your own DIY baby wrap: UK edition, Part 1 (scouring!)

If you spend long enough on certain babywearing Facebook groups, in addition to talk of various wrap brands, you’ll also hear talk of homemade baby wraps. These come in a variety of forms – you can buy woven fabric that is purpose-made for babywearing (such as from Honeycomb Loom in the UK), or you can buy fabric that happens to be suitable for babywearing. One such fabric is osnaburg, which is much-vaunted for its affordability (at least in the US) and wrapping qualities. On the bolt, osnaburg looks quite unlike any purpose-made wrap fabric: it is coarse, thin, and firmly located in the ‘utility’ section of the fabric store. However, it is said to be grippy, breathable, and coming only in one shade – natural off-white, with little brown specks – it is perfect for at-home dye jobs.

Because, obviously, I have neither enough wraps, nor enough things to fill my time with, I decided to make and dye my own wrap using osnaburg fabric. I followed the excellent instructions on the DIY Babywearing Wiki, but since this is maintained by American DIYers, I thought I’d do a UK-specific (and an Accidental Weaver-specific) write-up of the process. Here goes!

  • Step 1: Decide you’d quite like to make a wrap out of this ‘osnaburg’ stuff people keep referring to. Discover that it is not as attractively affordable in the UK as elsewhere, but think, ahah! – we’ll be visiting the Little Weaver’s grandparents in the US soon, so we can go fabric shopping whilst there. Mention this to the Scottish Historian, who points out that a nearby village you regularly drive through, Dairsie, was previously called Osnaburgh. Look it up and discover this is thought to be derived from said village historically weaving osnaburg fabric (which itself derives its name from the town of its origin, Osnabrück in Germany). Reflect on the irony of travelling halfway round the world to buy something once woven ten miles from your front door.

  • Step 2: Fly to America. The Little Weaver catches flu (actual, gosh-darned flu) on the flight over. Transmits it to you. And to the Scottish Historian. And to his parents. And to his 94 year-old grandmother. Spend 10 days of your 14-day stay eating takeaway and mostly being stuck inside. Once he is out of bed, your father-in-law remembers you wanted to visit Hobby Lobby (a big chain fabric store) and insists this be the focus of one of the very few expeditions you all make as a family. Visit Hobby Lobby with Little Weaver, the Scottish Historian, and parents-in-law. Secure enough osnaburg to make a size 7 wrap (and more!). Spot some nice duck cloth, which you’ve read is also good for making wraps, and get that for good measure. By the till, notice some discounted duck fabric and get that too. When you pack to go home, discover that the acquisition of fabric, among other things, means your gear will not fit into the two suitcases you came with. Borrow a third bag from parents-in-law.

  • Step 3: A couple of weeks after getting home, work up the energy to do something with the giant pile of fabric in your spare room. The first thing you need to do is scour the osnaburg. Osnaburg is an unprocessed fabric, which means it’s covered in a lot of gunk. Which leads us to the focus of part 1 of this ‘guide’…

Scouring Osnaburg

  • Step 3a: Gather your equipment. You need Dawn dish-soap and soda ash, which in UK-terms means a bag of soda crystals and some Fairy Liquid. You also need a big plastic tub or box with a lid. Because you live in a small village and refuse to order said plastic box from Amazon (think of how much cardboard they’d package the thing in!), this delays the process by quite a few days.
Photo ID: A bag labelled ‘soda crystals’ and a bottle labelled ‘Fairy’ resting on top of a bundled pile of natural-coloured fabric.
  • Step 3b: You have a box! Manage to get contact-napping baby to sleep and roll away rather than falling asleep yourself. Get the kettle boiling and heat up a large saucepan on the hob.

  • Step 3c: Weigh the osnaburg. This means weighing yourself and then picking up the osnaburg and figuring the difference. Remind yourself that whilst the figure on the scales is currently fairly pleasing, you mustn’t maintain your current rate of chocolate consumption once baby stops breastfeeding. The purpose of weighing the osnaburg is to know how much washing soda and Fairy liquid to put in later.

  • Step 3d: Mention to the Scottish Historian that you need a sticky thing of some description to stir the osnaburg in the hot water. He offers to go break up a chair for you (you currently have an excess of chairs awaiting pickup by a charity shop). You say this is wasteful. He offers to go saw off a bit of the Christmas tree currently awaiting pickup in the compost bin. Point out that this might snag the fabric. He vanishes to the shed, and comes back with a chair leg left over from the last chair he broke up for stirring paint with. This leg is un-painty and he has sanded the ends so they don’t snag the fabric. This is high romance with a seven-month old.
Photo ID: A foot-long wooden stick, flared in the middle, sits on top of a clear plastic box. Condensation can be seen dripping on the inside and, faintly, the part-soaked osnaburg.
  • Step 3e: Start pouring the hot water on the osnaburg, refilling kettle and saucepan and adding more and more by batches (putting the lid onto your 64L Really Useful box in between to keep the heat in). Despite the whole weighing-the-fabric business at step c, just chuck a load of washing soda and Fairy liquid in and say “that looks like it’ll be enough!”

  • Step 3f: Little Weaver wakes up from nap in a terrible, I-am-a-teething-seven-month-old rage. Put her in a wrap on your back to continue working on making a wrap. Mentally acknowledge that this is slightly silly. Finish pouring water over the fabric until it is fully immersed. Chuck in a bit more washing soda and Fairy for good measure. Stir it with your patented Stirry Stick. Set a timer for an hour.

  • Step 3g: Make dinner whilst avoiding the box full of hot water in the middle of your kitchen. Someone thinking ahead more would have put the box not in the middle of the kitchen. You are not this person.

  • Step 3h: After dinner, the timer goes off. Take this as an excuse to abandon the Scottish Historian to the unenviable task of cleaning up the Little Weaver post-meal. Realise this won’t work since the box is filled with approximately 30 litres of water and you cannot lift it by yourself. Enlist his help. Transfer soaking wet wrap to washing machine and put on rinse cycle (which in a UK front-loader takes 45 minutes, rather than the 5-10 minutes of mother-in-law’s top loader, which you developed great affection for during the Flu Holiday). Empty really disgusting water down utility room sink. Wipe down sink thoroughly because the cats sleep in there and they are so not above licking the disgusting osnaburg residue.

Photo ID: Osnaburg fabric peeking out of really disgusting, pale-tea-coloured water. The colour is solely from all of the gunk removed during the scouring process.
  • Step 3i: Do an extra rinse cycle because it turns out that my free-and-easy behaviour with the Fairy liquid bottle resulted in a lot of bubbles.

  • Step 3j: Once the rinses are complete, put the wrap up to dry. You don’t have a tumble drier and you live in Scotland and its winter, so the wrap is hung up in an elaborate fashion in the living room with a (constantly-supervised!) electric heater underneath it.
Photo ID: A long stretch of natty-coloured fabric is hung up to dry on a fairly eldritch combination of clothes horses, and clothes hangers hanging from a a curtain rail. A tidyish (for once) living room can be seen behind.

And so, I now have a scoured length of osnaburg which, once it is dry, I will be able to cut to size and hem. To be continued (once I get myself organised with thread and other useful things like that) in part two…!

babywearing

An Enchant(ress)ing Visitor

A couple of months ago, my favourite wrap company, Firespiral, announced that they were looking for new testers – basically, people who would ‘host’ a wrap from among their new releases and share photos and thoughts about it with other wrappers. I promptly sent a very gushing email volunteering myself for this onerous (!) task. Shortly after Christmas, I received a message asking whether I would host Enchantress Mercury Gossamer for a week. The catch – I was going to be abroad for two weeks, visiting the Little Weaver’s grandparents and great-grandma in the States. The tour co-ordinator kindly agreed to let me have the wrap for a bit longer than usual, so off it went with us across the Atlantic.

Enchantress Mercury Gossamer (bottom) with Kokiri Mercury Birch Trees, woven on the same weft.

Enchantress is woven on the difficult-to-define olive/gray Mercury weft, the same as Kokiri Mercury Birch Trees, which I own and talked about in a previous post. But where Kokiri is a heavyweight, 325gsm 30% linen blend, Enchantress is a much lighter 270gsm, and an intriguing blend of 74% cotton, 18% linen, and 8% merino wool. I found this a fascinating proposition: for me, linen is a smooth, somewhat ‘hard’ fibre (it’s often a fibre that wrappers report their shoulders taking a dislike to), whilst wool is fluffy and soft. I wondered what this sweet-and-savoury combination, at least in wrapping terms, would feel like.

First, however, a word on looks. Enchantress is neither the pattern nor the colour that I would choose for myself: I’m not a big fan of muted pink or red shades, and the Firespiral designs that I really love are those which have some sort of variation across the height of the pattern (the Winter Hill design is a great example of this, with the different layers of the underground, with the sky above, helping to differentiate the strands as you wrap). That said, Gossamer is a wonderfully organic, subtle example of a smaller-scale, repeating pattern, and the alternating weft threads makes for a wonderful richness of colour which changes depending upon the light, sometimes seeming a more muted, dusky pink, and sometimes almost coppery.

For me, Enchantress felt very solid, and rewarding of careful strand-by-strand tightening. In terms of wrapping qualities I feel that it was the linen content that really had the greatest impact on the wrap’s overall character: it reminded me a lot of wrapping with my Zora Twilight Tourbillon, which is 25% linen, and no wool. Once you got baby where you wanted them to be, they were not going anywhere! However, I was struck that in terms of the haptic experience of the wrap – basically, what it felt like to run my hands over my baby’s bottom in a front wrap cross carry! – it was the small percentage of wool that really ‘spoke’. Enchantress has a delightful, gentle fuzziness (but not prickle) to it which made it a pleasure to handle. It’s also the first wrap I’ve tried which I noticed having a distinctive sound. Perhaps due to the weft fibres, or the pattern, or a combination of both, passes seemed to let out a tschh, sort of like the sound of dragging your feet through dried leaves.

Whilst hosting Enchantress, I tried a whole variety of carries – kangaroo, front wrap cross carry with spread passes, semi pocket wrap cross carry, a simple ruck, Autumn’s ruck – and found it equally supportive in all, even the single-layer carries. I also had the trying experience, halfway across the world from home, of my baby coming down with flu and giving it to the entire household (talk about an extended family bonding experience). Throughout, I was reminded yet again of how valuable wrapping is to me as a parenting tool: it helped me rock my baby when I felt too tired and ill to hold her in arms, it helped her nap in a strange new place, and it brought us both comfort. Enchantress, with its solidity and fuzziness, was a wonderful wrap to have supporting us, and I’m very grateful to Firespiral for the opportunity to try it!

babywearing

Wrapping among the Birch Trees…

If you dip your toe into the world of woven wraps, you’ll quickly discover a dizzying array of options: machinewoven, handwoven, all-cotton, bamboo blends, linen blends, seaweed blends – and brands. Many, many brands. One brand of which I am particularly fond is Firespiral, who produce wraps inspired by science, nature, and landscapes local to the company’s home of Lancashire. One thing I love about Firespiral is their evident consciousness of environmental ethics and the need to avoid waste, and a particular example of this is their use of a collection of long-forgotten display cones of Peruvian linen that had ended up in a weaver’s mill in Yorkshire. To use this linen to make baby wraps, they had to group multiple shades of the same colour together, and then ask their weavers to run the different shades into one another, creating a series of similar, but also excitingly unique, wraps. Their first such output was Whinlatter Midnight Birch Trees, which utilised red, brown, and cream shades from the old display cones. Their most recent release, Kokiri Mercury Birch Trees, saw a weft partly composed of the light blue and sandy-toned cones of linen.

I wasn’t wrapping when Whinlatter was released, but I’d come across the story about the linen and seen people’s excitement discussing the variation across wraps. So when the new release was announced, it didn’t take much for me to give into the good story, and the lovely idea of a completely unique wrap. The final push was when Firespiral posted a couple of, well, more variable ‘variations’ on their website: Dark Forest (with a darker blue thread to the weft) and Misty Forest (with a noticeably duck-egg blue shade). I ordered the Misty Forest variation, but for the purposes of this review that one thread is the only difference between it and its fellow Kokiri Birches: blend composition, weight, and wrapping qualities are all the same.

So, some vital stats: Kokiri is woven on an all-cotton warp, with four different weft threads, two cotton, two linen, making for an overall composition of 70% cotton and 30% linen. It weighs in at 325 GSM (which makes it a fairly heavy weight wrap). It is Firespiral’s ‘Alchemy’ weave, which is a fairly loose weave structure. I bought a size 5, which is my base-1 and not a size I’d normally go for, because there were limited sizes available in the Misty variation.

Here are my first thoughts on Kokiri, shared last week on the Firespiral Community and Marketplace Facebook group:


After its wash, dry, and iron yesterday, our new birches were ready for wrapping! I am already so excited for how this wrap will feel once it is fully broken-in: it holds the promise of such amazing strong softness.

Firstly, a word about appearances… over the last few months Firespiral has transformed my ideas about my own colour palettes. Before starting wrapping I would probably not have looked twice at these colours. But FiSpi wraps in particular have made me so aware of the depth and beauty that even ‘subdued’ colours can have in a woven wrap. My Kokiri is the Misty Forest variation, with a slightly more ‘duck egg blue’ as one of its linen weft threads, which adds a coolness to the wrap in some lights, whilst the spring green cotton and natty linen weft threads just make it shine gold in some lights. It is just enchanting to look at! I’m also a big fan of the new variation on the Birch Trees design, with the ferns / bracken around the base of the trees.

Next, texture. I’ve been struck in photos by how ‘3D’ Firecrest appears, with its raised weft sections contrasting with the flatter warp. Kokiri has this quality too to some extent, and I find it so pleasing both to look at and to feel. When wearing Kokiri for a front carry I couldn’t resist stroking my hands across the trees, and really appreciating the tactility of the pattern, especially with the varying thickness of the multiple weft threads.

Finally and most importantly, WQs! Limited sizes were available for the Misty variation, so I went for a 5, which is my base-1, and so far have tried out semi-PWCC and ruck TIF with long tails, and FWCC tied at back on tippy tails. I’ve mentioned previously that the listed 325 GSM is deceptive: even with fairly minimal breaking-in this does not feel like a heavy wrap. It makes for a fantastic slip-knot in semi-PWCC, and its strength gave me renewed appreciation for FWCC, a carry I’ve been getting less fond of lately as my ‘wee’ 91st-percentile lass gets increasingly heavier. I’m still very much in the learning stage as a wrapper, but I felt it was easier to do very precise strand-by-strand tightening with this wrap than with any other I’ve tried. This wrap has, for me, the Goldilocks amount of diagonal stretch: not so much that it sags with a weighty baby, but enough to give it that comfortable ‘bandagey’ feel. Like I said at the start, I cannot wait for this wrap to get more broken in and even more wonderful to wrap with.

I’ve had another week of wrapping with (and braiding, and sitting on…) Kokiri now, and it just keeps getting better. The Scottish Historian (aka my husband) is also a firm fan, and the Little Weaver has enjoyed some fabulous naps in it so far. I’m so glad to have this lovely, unique stretch of fabric to help us make dinner and have adventures!


babywearing

Wrapping (Mentally) Well

I am wearing my baby as I write this, sitting on a bench looking out over the sea in the gorgeous place I am lucky enough to call my home. Being Scotland in October, it’s breezy and a bit chilly, but we’re both wrapped inside my jacket, she is asleep, and so am soaking up the autumn sun and enjoying some much-needed fresh air. It is International Babywearing Week*, and (so long as the Little Weaver stays asleep) I want to write about how wrapping my baby has, for me, been an enormous positive factor in my mental health postpartum.

I’ve lived with depression for many years, and I was very afraid of this evolving into postnatal depression after the arrival of my daughter. So far (I’d touch wood, were the bench beneath me not made of plastic) I’ve actually felt pretty good since giving birth. Indeed, at times I have felt the happiest and most mentally stable that I have in years. Babywearing isn’t the only thing to credit with this, of course – thanks to some incredible support I had a very empowering experience of labour, and, let’s be honest, the daily dose of anti-depressants certainly helps.

But wrapping has helped, far beyond enabling the simple and lovely act of sitting in the sun and wind with my sleeping daughter snugged to my chest. Here are a few of them.

It has made me feel capable

There have certainly been times during pregnancy and after when I haven’t felt very much like a strong, independent woman (for example, when trying to fit a carseat at 36 week pregnant left me a hormonal, sobbing mess, or when an infected perineum had me struggling to walk to the end of the street). Wearing the Little Weaver – who, as a friend accurately put it, was never that little – has certainly rebuilt my muscles. As for independence, I enjoyed a somewhat aching relish in travelling down south by train with my daughter strapped to my chest, changing rucksack on my back, and rolling suitcase laden with five day worth of baby gumph to hand. Although people offered much-apprciated help most times I got on and off a train, I didn’t need it, and that mattered to me. I felt, oddly, quite as I did aged 17, travelling across China with an 80l rucksack on my back. That my boots were made for walking.

Wrapping has also made me feel more capable as a mother. When nothing else works, the wrap will. When she sees me pick up a wrap, the Little Weaver actually grins. And if it takes a while for the wrap to work its soothing magic? I just keep walking and singing, knowing that my overtired girl could not be any closer. It’s a tool I trust, and whatever form that tool takes (walking in the pram, being in the car, a favourite toy or piece of music) I think every parent needs one like that. And when your brain frequently tries to tell you that you’re doing everything wrong, it’s even more important to know there is at least one thing you can do that is right.

The wrap maketh the woman

I am very happy to admit that vanity plays a part in my love for woven wrap as a form of babywearing in particular. I told a friend years ago that you could tell I was particularly depressed if you saw me in dull, casual clothes. I don’t wear makeup and rarely blow-dry my hair, but bright colours and nice fabrics make me happy. To deny myself these is the sign not only of a day in which I don’t feel happy, but of a day in which I don’t feel I deserve to be happy.

These days, I spend most of my time in clothes which will inevitably be vomited on at some point, and which first and foremost have to meet the criteria of offering fairly easy access to my boobs. But no matter what I’m wearing underneath, the wrap on top (which, to be fair, will also end up with various bodily fluids on it) offers a funny sort of self-care in the form of colourful, tactile fabric.

Two of my self-decorating wraps; Firespiral Kingfisher Charters Moss and Firespiral Zora Tourbillon.

There’s some good crack

I’m lucky enough to live in a small village, and so reap the benefits of having a small baby in the midst of a community of friends and neighbours who look out for us both. But being a parent in the twenty-first century also inevitably means finding the ‘village’ in which you raise your children online. Of all the Facebook groups I have joined since becoming a mother, it is on those relating to wrapping that I have felt most at home. My favourite group is the ‘Geeky Wrappers‘ group, where people keen to learn new ‘carries’ (ways of tying a woven wrap) and improve their technique gather to get advice and share stories of wrapping and parenting. The only way I can put it is that the people in this and other wrapping groups feel like my people, and their kindness, humour, and positivity helps me retain my own sense of humour and positivity even when the going gets tough.

The (hasty) bottom line

This blog post has been written over the course of quite a few days, and my wee girl is wriggling after a long feed, so I’m going to wrap up (hahaha) there. All I can say is that wrapping hasn’t just helped me care for my daughter over the first four months of her life: it has helped care for me in my first four months as a mother, too.


* Or it was when I started writing this post…

cloth nappies

Pockets and two-parters and all-in-ones, oh my!

When I first started looking into cloth nappies and discovered that they came in different types (or ‘nappy systems’!) I found it quite difficult to conceptualise how they actually worked just by looking at photographs on a screen. It really wasn’t until a friend gave me a starter kit (from the Scottish company TotsBots) which contained a couple of different types and I was able to physically handle them that I finally went “oh I see!” So, if you’re overwhelmed by the options, my best advice would be to try to actually handle some nappies. However, if that isn’t possible, here is my guide to different nappy types, expressed as simply as possible…

An absorbent bit and a waterproof bit

Basically, all nappies require an absorbent bit, and a waterproof bit. Every nappy you could use will have both of these things. The only difference is how the absorbent bit is attached to the waterproof bit! There are pros and cons to each system, and different people have different priorities, but I’m not going to get into those aspects right now. Instead I’m just going to focus on the physical makeup of the nappy.

Two-parters

The absorbent bit: this could take the form of good old Terry towels (or muslins for newborns), which you fold onto your baby, or a ready-shaped nappy which fastens using velcro or poppers. You can also get ‘pad’ or ‘prefold’ inserts (a ‘prefold’ is a square bit of material divided into thirds, usually with a more absorbent section in the middle, that you then fold over itself).

The waterproof bit: a separate cover, which fastens using velcros or poppers.

How the two work together: if using Terries or shaped nappies, you put the absorbent bit on the baby first, then you put the cover on. (Forgetting step 2 can be damp). If using a pad or prefold insert as your absorbent bit, you just lay it inside the cover and do the cover up.

Pocket nappies

The absorbent bit: a rectangle of material.

The waterproof bit: imagine a pillowcase (so open at one end) with one side made of waterproof material and the other side of something soft and absorbent, like fleece. This is your pocket.

How the two work together: you put the absorbent rectangle into the pocket, just as you’d put a pillow inside a pillowcase. After this ‘stuffing’ you have, in effect, a single, waterproof-and-absorbent nappy to put onto your baby, fastened with either velcro or poppers.

All-in-twos

(Yes, these are different from two-parters. The difference lies in how the absorbent bit and the waterproof bit work together).

The absorbent bit: usually a rectangle of material with poppers on it.

The waterproof bit: A nappy-shaped piece of waterproof material with, you’ve guessed it, poppers on it.

How the two work together: You pop the absorbent bit into the waterproof bit before you put the nappy onto the baby.

All-in-ones

The absorbent bit and the waterproof bit are permanently attached to each other. Ironically despite sounding simplest there are lots of different ways the two bits can be attached! Some all-in-ones have “tongues” which fold over each other, or which need to be tucked into the nappy, whilst in others the absorbent part is only attached to the waterproof part at certain points to allow for more airflow when drying.


So, if you’ve just started thinking about trying out cloth nappies, don’t be put off by talk of ‘systems’ and ‘all-in-twos’, or by the profusion of brands to choose from. All it comes down to is getting an absorbent bit, a waterproof bit, and fitting the two together over your baby. I’ll hopefully talk about the pros and cons of the different options in another post.

babywearing

Falling deeper down the well

The second stage of my descent (or ascent?) into willow-weaving was marked by the purchase of our first woven baby wrap. What’s a baby wrap? Well, it’s a long piece of woven fabric, which you can arrange around yourself and your baby to securely ‘wrap’ them to you in an endless variety of different ways. Just like cloth nappies, babywearing – especially with woven wraps – brings with it geekery, beauty, and community.

I distinguish above between babywearing in general and woven wrapping in particular. Babywearing encompasses all ways of securing your baby to your body. The most familiar in the UK these days are probably structured buckle carriers, like the Ergobaby or the Baby Björn. Stretchy wraps are also becoming increasingly popular for wearing newborns, and you can even get t-shirts specially designed for you to pop your baby in for skin-to-skin. (I considered the latter during my pregnancy as they looked sweet. However I am glad I didn’t spend any money on them as I suspect the Little Weaver would have soon stretched the carrying capacity of t-shirt fabric!)

When I first thought of babywearing, it was these sorts of carriers I had in mind. Rather than doing solo research, though, as I did with the cloth nappies, I decided to seek out an expert for some hands-on guidance. The Scottish Historian and I ended up attending a pre-baby consultation with Emma Gilmour, who runs the Fife sling library. She talked us through the ‘TICKS’ guidelines for safe babywearing – and let us try out different ways of carrying babies (or, in the setting of the consultation, realistically-weighted dolls). We tried out stretchy wraps, such as the one included in the Scottish Baby Box… and then Emma got out her woven wraps.

I’ll start with the beauty aspect of wraps, because it was the aesthetics – both visual and haptic – of these woven lengths of fabric that first struck me: the colours, the textures. Woven wraps come in an unimaginable variety. Some people make their own from affordable fabrics (and dye their own – I have visions of my cats running around suddenly pink if I tried this at home). Individuals, companies, and co-operatives around the world offer a variety of handwoven and machinewoven made-for-purpose wraps, with patterns to suit more or less every preference; Oscha, a Scottish wrap producer, offer a range of ‘Middle Earth’ wraps for the Tolkien-lovers among the babywearing community.

And of *course* I got a Middle Earth wrap. This is Misty Mountains Rauros (outside of maternity leave I’m a historian of mountains).

And there’s that word again – community. Just as with cloth nappy users, when it comes to babywearing birds of a feather certainly flock together. ‘Fan’ pages for different wrap brands and types tend to also serve as hubs for buying, selling, trading (and even ‘holidaying’, where you send your wrap to be used by other people) activity. One of my favourite online wrapping communities, however, is the ‘Geeky Wrappers’ Facebook group, dedicated not so much to drooling over gorgeous textiles (although this also occurs!) as to offering advice and troubleshooting on wrapping technique. And here, of course, we see the pseudonymous geekery which I so enjoy indulging. I’m going to write about this more at a later point, but wrapping is most definitely a skill, and one that requires work (and one at which I am most certainly still an apprentice!). There’s a real satisfaction, in the midst of the repetition and hard work that is early parenting, to feel that one is building a skill and learning something new every day.

There are about a million other advantages to babywearing – for example it’s a wrap that has allowed me to finish writing this post with a fast asleep bairn snuggled to my chest – but I’ll leave it there for now.

cloth nappies

The Gateway Drug

It was the nappies that started it all: my descent into willow-weaving. A lot of people in the cloth nappy world (and yes, it is a ‘world’!) have noted the ‘Blue Planet effect’, crediting David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II with prompting many people to take up cloth nappies. Now, I don’t own a TV (probably an early clue of my willow-weaving tendencies, huh…), so have never seen the series. The initial decision wasn’t even a conscious one – when the Scottish Historian (my husband) and I started planning a family, I think we had a conversation along the lines of “we’ll be using cloth nappies, right?” and “yes, of course”. It was probably the least controversial parenting decision ever. (Far more heated discussions occurred over the number of middle names the Little Weaver would have). I don’t know why but I’d always assumed this was something I’d do – perhaps because my mum often talked about using Terry towelling nappies on me and my brothers.

However, it could all have ended there, with nothing to write about on this blog, if using cloth nappies had been as plain and simple as it had been when I was born: terry-towels fastened with a nappy pin and, as my Mum puts it, ‘a plastic bag over the top’. Instead, when I started to research I discovered the complexity of that aforementioned ‘world’ of reusable nappies.

The first thing that drew my attention was the variety of ‘systems’ you could choose to use: pocket nappies stuffed with boosters, all-in-ones that basically function like disposables, all-in-twos (huh? was my first reaction), and, yes, the trusty old terry-and-cover combination. Sad as it sounds, this appealed to me immensely. I’m a researcher by trade and training, but my love of research goes beyond historical documents. One of the best indoor aspects of outdoor pursuits, as far as I’m concerned, is the selection of new equipment: mulling over brands, materials, and reviews for that new rucksack or pair of boots. When I bought my first car, I spent hours reading about different makes and models before deciding on one, searching for used sales of that specific car, and then buying it. I am now on my second iteration of the same model car, and I suspect it will take a similarly intense burst of research to persuade me towards any different model in the future. I like taking the time to choose and then finding something which works. So put simply, nappies piqued my sense of functional geekery.

Something else – which talk of ‘systems’ and ‘all-in-twos’ above might have advertised – which struck me is that cloth nappies come with their own vocabulary. Once again this struck a chord with pre-baby pursuits: ‘stroke side easy’ is a phrase which efficiently communicates something very specific to a rower, but is at least somewhat obscure to the uninitiated.

Of course, vocabularies or languages are nothing without a community to speak them, and in a time in which using cloth nappies is the exception to the norm (rather than the other way round as it was a few decades ago – and hopefully will be again), doing so offers you membership to the ‘club’ of other people making the same decision. The virtual community of cloth-nappy users is a pretty amazing thing: the group I engage with most is ‘The Nappy Lady Pregnancy, Baby & Parenting Group’ on Facebook. A common opening for a post is ‘NNR’ (not-nappy-related), with parents seeking and receiving advice on all areas of life.

Cloth nappies are also simply a lot more aesthetically pleasing than they were in my mum’s days of ‘plastic bag’ covers. Changing dirty nappies is a fact of life as a parent of a baby: you may as well have something nice to look at whilst doing it. (I refer you to the image at the header of this post, of a set of newborn nappies from Baba+Boo). It sounds trivial, but it adds genuine pleasure to my day to have lovely constellations, or adorable sloths, to choose between when returning to the changing table yet again.

So: the potential for geekery, the availability of a parenting community and, yes, aesthetics all contributed to my not just choosing to use cloth nappies, but becoming truly enthusiastic about them. And on that note, you must excuse me, as another trip to the changing mat calls…