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!

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…