It is often believed that you need to move on to heavier wraps as your child grows bigger, or at least switch to ones boosted by stronger fibres like linen or hemp. It is certainly true that carrying a child over 20lb in a thin cotton wrap can be an uncomfortable experience. But as D has grown bigger I have found 100% cotton can still be viable, provided I use a multi-layer carry and my tightening is on point.
Firespiral slings offer a particularly pleasant all-cotton experience, because they are woven from wonderfully soft and fluffy combed cotton. When matched with their signature loose weave, their wraps mould to you like a bandage, allowing every last bit of slack to be worked out. FiSpi wraps have always tended towards the thinner end of the scale, and they are legendary for their light, flexible linen blends.
I have written before about my love of linen, and I am a huge fan of Firespiral wraps. I have yet to meet one that, in the flesh, I didn’t fall a bit in love with. Often they don’t overwhelm you through a computer screen, but once you touch that supple soft fabric and see the designs wrapped and tied in place, everything makes sense. They are slings with immense charisma that inspire an almost cult-like following amongst their customers. However much other companies tempt with pretty designs and clever marketing, none will ever wrap quite as beautifully as a Firespiral.
Just prior to the European Babywearing Conference FiSpi announced they were due to release a series of heavier wraps, still using their fluffy combed cotton warp but with much thicker three-ply linen running through the weft.
First up was Sylvan Obsidian Birch Trees, weighing in at a fairly robust 380gsm. This wrap features a weft made from a combination of combed cotton intertwined with beautiful thick linen threads. I holidayed one for a week and was surprised by its fluidity and easy glide. I took it for a 3 mile walk on a very hot day and didn’t find it heavy or oppressive in the least. Although I certainly noticed the difference in weight, it still possessed some of the Firespiral floppiness I have come to love.
The positive experience wrapping with Sylvan made Prism seem like a very tempting proposition. Like Sylvan, Obsidian Prism Starmap (to give it its pedigree name) features a 3-ply linen weft on a soft combed cotton warp. It is insanely heavy – over 500gsm. The only other wrap I’m aware of that clocks up this kind of density is Pavo Klee, which I reviewed last year. Klee is also a work of beauty, and just plain hard work too. His weight comes from an extremely complex double weave, producing multiple layers of fine yarns. I wondered whether Prism, woven using conventional jacquard techniques, and gaining its density from the fibres themselves, would wrap more forgivingly.
The linen used here is a glorious technicolour trio of hot pink, yellow and turquoise green. Together they unite against the almost-black warp to create the most spectacular spiral galaxies, comets and star trails. Like fireworks bursting against the night sky, the overall effect if a joyous riot of zingy colours that reflect the beauty and magic of deep space. In short, it’s beautiful.
Most Firespiral wraps have no right or wrong sides. In fact, most are hemmed with flipped rails so you can easily wear them either way. But Prism most definitely has a better face. Whilst the ‘right’ warp face is simply gorgeous, the ‘wrong’ weft face is crazy and slightly giddying to the eyes. It reminds me of the strobing you get when someone accidentally wears a stripy shirt on TV. It’s actually quite disorientating looking at it for more than a few seconds. Allowing a peek of it here or there mightn’t be a bad thing, but I couldn’t see myself throwing it on either way as I would my seafoam or starmap.
Prism is also a beast. A big, thick, rug-like, almost unmanageble beast, at least when it arrived in loom state. I picked one up at the European Babywearing Conference, (consensually) squandering the entire savings of our community sling group on one wrap. Excited to have my hands on one of these rare and amazing slings, I took it out to admire in the lecture I was attending that afternoon. “What is that?” enquired the lady sitting next to me. “Blackout blinds?” I could sense she was only half joking.
I took Prism home and duly bathed it, setting the weave and hopefully beginning a process of breaking in. A day’s drying and a steam iron later, I had a go at wrapping with it. My first observation was how short it wrapped. Although I’d bought a size 3, it definitey behaved like a 2. Also, I couldn’t tie a knot in it. Literally, not at all. I have puny hands thanks to carpel tunnel, and Prism was just too big and thick and unyielding to pull it tight behind my back.
The next day I gave it another steam iron. This time it flopped a little more, and I managed to wrangle a ruck tied on the tippy tails in front. I decided that I would give it a proper test, a half mile walk to the shop, most of which was either going down or coming up a very steep hill. On a hot day. Laden with shopping bags and a toddler on my back. Think the babywearing equivalent of a monk in his hair shirt, but with less grace.
Prism proved plenty supportive, and the galaxies certainly glimmered and flashed in the sunshine. Surpisingly, I didn’t boil. The linen, and the air between the fibres, allow a certain amount of breathability. D bounced excitedly on my back pointing out pigeons, which seemed to stretch it out a bit and I found I had a little more length to tie off with when I prepared for the trek home. I still found it very hard to tighten at all, and needed to pleat the shoulders up into little mountains in order to get them to stay on.
Halfway up the hill she popped her seat, due to my lame tightening, and helped a little by the slippiness of the combed cotton warp face. Although the weft has some grip, the striking feature of the wrap is its silky fluidity, and combined with the weight of itself, the passes do seem to slide away from each other quite easily.
I had Prism for 3 weeks before it needed to start travelling around the members of Cwtch-Up Pontypridd. I washed it and wore it, slept with it under my bedsheet and travelled with it folded on the driver’s seat of my car. Slowly but surely it became more pliable, a little easier to tighten. The initial frustration of being unable to even tighten or knot it was forgotten.
I realised that there was no hope of using my typical carries with this wrap. Anything knotless is great. Using a ring helped too, although even a size large was only just big enough to squeeze both passes through. It never got to the point of wrapping like a true size 3, and I even dug out my tape measure to check we hadn’t been short-changed in the length department. But it measures 320cm, as a 3 should, although it is narrower than a typical FiSpi, at only 68cm wide.
In the end, the carry that worked best was a simple rebozo, tied with a HUGE slipknot. Despite its heft, the slippy fabric worked easily through the knot, and it is absolutely bombproof as a single layer carry, even with a bigger child.
Prism has now started out on a 3 month holiday, visiting families around south Wales. I imagine many will be frustrated with its unpliability, some will be enamoured with its beauty, and a couple will love it so much they won’t want to send it on.
As a huge fan of Firespiral wraps, I am glad to have tried this rare and lovely wrap. I don’t know whether it would be possible to recreate the tricolour effect using much finer yarns, to imitate the look of Prism whilst bringing the weight within a more practical range. I do think there’s a natural upper weight limit for woven wraps, beyond which it just gets a bit silly. Sylvan works wonderfully, but as things creep over 400gsm it becomes increasingly impractical for most the standard Western carrying styles many of us use. It has been fun to be pushed out of my wrapping comfort zone though, to learn new ways of approaching familiar carries, and to revel in creating a candy cane chest belt thicker than an anchor’s chain.