Last month I was lucky to have an exquisite West of the 4th handwoven wrap visit for a brief stay. This earthy-toned flax/Tencel/cotton blend offered a unique wrapping experience, characterised by lightness, fluidity and glide, backed up by the wonderful supportiveness of the flax fibres.
West of the 4th wraps are woven in Canada, the creation of Nancy Warwaruk. Nancy was previously the head weaver at Uppymama, but in 2014 she and her husband Corwyn set up West of the 4th Weaving. They produce a range of textile products from their studio in Erskine, Alberta. As well as baby wraps they make tea towels, bags, scarves and shawls, woven in a palette of beautiful natural shades.
This wrap is a size large – approximately a 6, although I measured it at around 5m using a soft tape. It is finished with blunt ends, which may account for a little of the extra length. It is woven from a unique flax and Tencel blend weft, on a soft cotton warp. This is the first wrap in the world to feature this new flax, which W4W claim is the softest on the market. The harvested flax fibres are put through an additional process where they are digested by enzymes, breaking them down further than conventional flax or linen. Finally, the super-soft flax fibres are blended with Tencel to create a shimmery and incredibly strong yarn. Tencel is known – perhaps oxymoronically – as a natural man-made fibre, produced from cellulose extracted by processing wood-pulp. Tencel fibres are eco-friendly, soft, absorbent, very strong whether wet or dry, and resistant to wrinkles.
Straight from the box, and barely worn, the wrap is silky soft to touch. There is literally no breaking in needed. It feels light and very fluid in hand. It drapes easily and doesn’t have a trace of crunch or crinkle. I love linen wraps but will admit the initial crispiness and perma-creasing are sometimes downsides to the blend. The pairing of super-soft flax with Tencel has produced a wrap with all the glories of good linen, but immediately wearable and completely wrinkle free.
W4W wraps come in a variety of colourways inspired by nature. This flax/Tencel blend is woven in their ‘signature’ colourway, with layers of warm earthy reds, oranges and ecrus. The graduation of colours is spectacular when wrapped into place. There is no clash, just perfect compliment. It looks great with denim and is simple enough to sit alongside patterned clothes without looking busy.
This W4W wraps very differently to a machine woven jacquard wrap. The plain weave has less diagonal stretch than most machine woven wraps, and gains more of it’s grip from the texture of the fibres rather than the patterns woven into the cloth. It is soft and floppy, which makes it very easy to handle, especially when tying knots and layering passes .
I started with a ruck, and found the fabric just fell into place. The wrap is nice and wide, so creating a good seat is no issue, even with a toddler. It is much longer than most wraps I use, but the fabric is so easy to manipulate I don’t mind chucking it over my shoulders and threading long tails through knots. It tightens with no effort at all, and working out slack is a doddle. What surprised me was how easily the passes just flopped and moulded into place, which left little tightening to be done.
The fibre blend makes it plenty strong enough to wear my 2 year old in a single-layer kangaroo. It is breathable and easy-to-wear even on a hot summer’s day. It remains airy even when the passes are layered in a double hammock or back wrap cross carry. The sleekness in its heart means it easily folds on itself when sandwiching shoulders or creating fancy finishes. There is very little bulk, but that doesn’t mean you compromise on comfort. The thick threads of the yarn create delicious cush, even when hasty wrapping means the fabric gets a bit bunched on your shoulders.
It’s fair to say both D and I grew very very fond of the W4W wrap while it visited us. She chose it every time we decided to carry, and even took to snuggling and cuddling it when I had taken it off. I am still pining for it a little.
W4W wraps are certainly priced at the higher end of the wrap market, with ring slings from £190 and a long wrap such as this retailing at around £305.
However, when you consider the hours put in by the weavers, each warp and weft thread lovingly placed by hand, plus the elegant design, and the provenance of the raw materials used, it is completely reasonable.
There are many high end machine woven wraps that cost twice as much as a W4W, and whilst they are also beautiful and comfortable, they don’t have the sheer effort of the human weaver running through them.
This wrap has now headed off on a huge tour of Europe, visiting families across the continent for the rest of the year. Who knows how it will have changed by the time it has been worn by so many people? Flax is a hardy fibre, and so, it seems, is Tencel. I didn’t feel it was prone to pulling or snagging; the tension was perfectly even throughout all the threads. It will be interesting to see how much softer it will become. I am sure that most of the hosts will fall a little in love and sigh as they send it on.
Just Keep Slinging are the exclusive UK retailer for W4W wraps, and the lovely proprietor Henrietta does a huge amount of work promoting babywearing in the Severn and Wye region. I am looking forward to visit one of her meets and trying another very soon.