Carry My Cariad

Wraps, slings and cwtched-up things

West of the 4th woven wrap


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Modern fibres woven with age-old artistry

w4w logo

West 4th logo

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.

Plain weave close up

Close up of the plain weave

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.

DSC_2638Straight 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.DSC_2616 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 .

Double hammock poppins finish

Double hammock poppins finish

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.

Ellie Harwood w4w wrap

Great support in a single layer

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.IMG_20150718_175715

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.

D took to snuggling the wrap when she wasn't wrapped up in it

D took to snuggling the wrap when she wasn’t wrapped up in it

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.

IMG_20150721_215206This 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.


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Heavenly heavyweights

File of firespiral woven wraps

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.

Close up of Sylvan Birch Trees weave

Sylvan Obsidian Birch Trees

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.Ellie Harwood babywearing Firespiral sylvan birch trees

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.

Scrap of Firespiral Prism showing weft threads

This frayed scrap of Prism shows the triple-spun linen threads used in the weft

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 specDSC_2485tacular 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.

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Right face

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.

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Wrong face

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.

Ellie Harwood babywearing Firespiral Prism starmap

Shoulder pleats

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.

Ellie Harwood babywearing ruck with a ring

Ruck with a ring

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.

Ellie Harwood rebozo slipknot

Rebozo back carry with a huge slipknot

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.

Candy cane chest belt

World’s biggest CCB

Pavo klee


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A wrap like no other

I always leave a slingmeet happy. Often tired, talked out, but always buzzing from helping people to begin carrying, or to learn something new. And I quite often come away with just as many, if not more, wraps than I went in with.photo 1photo 1

The last meet I went to, I came home with something really special. A lovely local mama with an incredible stash and a very generous disposition let me holiday one of her most ‘highly sought after’ wraps. Pavo Klee is a bit of a legend in babywearing geek circles, and I was honestly happy just to have a little stroke and attempt a quick carry. D wasn’t much in the mood to be wrapped that day, so Sam suggested I take Klee home and enjoy him a little longer. I did not take much persuading.

Pavo released Klee to celebrate their first anniversary, and he has attained near-mythical status since. Originally retailing at $500 for a size 6, its scarcity and unusual qualities mean these wraps now often change for hands for more than twice that.  The wrap was designed and woven by Bethanne Knudson of Oriole Mill, one of the last American textile houses operating in North Carolina. Bethanne is an artist, designer and an artisanal weaver, and her understanding of the complexities of jacquard weaving really show in the extraordinary properties of this wrap. It seems, to me, that the wrap is mostly strongly a nod to Klee’s painting ‘Ancient Harmony’. A precise tessellation of harmonious coloured tiles, the ethos of that artwork is echoed and repeated in the many unique coloured patches of this fabric.

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Ancient Harmony – Paul Klee (1925)

All the best wraps have a presence that cannot be conveyed though a camera lens or a computer screen. When you see them in real life, the colours of the fibres pop and sing. They cast out light and bewitch your eyes. Klee is perhaps the most enchanting of all. Online, I had thought he looked checked, and perhaps oddly disjointed. The colours sometimes appear strangely placed, and the texture of the weave was hard to appreciate.

But in hand Klee makes perfect sense. The wrap is composed of many layers of closely woven threads, in complimentary and contrasting colourways. Each tiny tile is in fact several colours layered, and as the wrap moves different shades peek through. Where the light hits, what appeared to be mustard become gold, or burnt orange or chartreuse green. The cotton has a real sheen to it which makes it shimmer and dazzle, even in low light. It reminds me of the complexity of an iridescent feather, the extraordinary rainbows of a hummingbird’s throat.

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Klee deftly illustrates why jacquard woven fabrics make for the best baby carriers. You can see and feel the complexity of the weave, and literally look through into the three dimensions of the material. There is space and air between the many layers of stunningly coloured cotton threads. Klee helps you appreciate the theory of warp and weft, whilst leaving you thinking ‘how?’. How could something like this have been made? It is so unique, so complicated and so perfect it barely seems possible.

IMG_2747IMG_2742Klee is quite unlike any other woven wrap I have tried. He is heavy; really, crazily heavy. He tips the scales at just over 450gsm. This size 6 wrap is also very long, around 490cm when measured from tail to tail along the seam with a soft tape in hand. It’s also wider than your average woven, measuring around 80cm. The fabric has a very generous stretch too, meaning it seems even wider than this when you wrap. So this big, wide, ultra- thick wrap weighs over a kilo and a half. And boy can you feel that weight as it rests on your shoulders. It is not necessarily unpleasant though, it is more like a constant reassuring arm around you, and certainly kept us warm on a cold and sunny spring day.

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Klee is a weaver’s wrap, rather than a babywearer’s one. He is stubbornly grippy, and tricky to tighten. You need to think hard before you wrap, because passes will stick where they land and there is very little you can do to tighten up once the fabric has locked in place. The weight of the the tails took me back. I admit my day-to-day wraps are FiSpis – I am used to soft, silky, easy-to-knot finishes. I found Klee heavy in hand, and especially so when trying to tie a square knot behind my back with 1 metre tails. IMG_2709Given this, double hammock took a couple of tries to get anywhere near a decent wrap job. Not that a bit of slack mattered. The strength of the weave meant as long as I got the original rebozo pass tight, the reinforcing hammock really didn’t need to do a lot other than look pretty. I even managed to wrestle the tails into a saltwater finish, which looked beautiful and proved very comfortable too.photo 3

Robin’s hip carry proved to be the best way to get comfortable with this wrap. Partly pre-tightened, it allowed me to do most of the adjusting before putting D in, and the supportiveness meant she was weightless in a single layer whilst the bulky shoulder leant a lot of cush where it was needed. It also showed off both sides of the wrap; the bold, blocky ‘right’ side and the subtler, prettier ‘wrong’ side too.

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Klee is so beautiful I have spent quite a bit of time folding and unfolding him, petting him and taking his picture. He is so beautiful and complicated and lovely. He is a meta-wrap, somehow more than the sum of his parts. Every time I put him on he appears completely different. There’s just so much of him, and so much variety in the colourways and how they group and contrast against each other.

In the real, pragmatic world, the only way I could get much babywearing use out of Klee would be as a shortie or maybe a ring sling. He’s just too thick to wind around my tiny little girl’s legs, and she wriggles too much to achieve precise and perfect wrapping in a split second. But I feel so lucky to have had him to stay. There are few wraps out there as highly prized, highly sought after and widely admired as this one. If you get the chance to meet him one day, do! He will take your breath away.

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Danu woven wrap


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For the Love of Linen

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Many aspects of slings are a matter of personal taste, especially when it comes to the different fibres used to weave a wrap. Some blends are definitely marmite, and perhaps linen more so than most. I feel it gets an unfair reputation in some circles, as too tough to carry small babies, prone to digging or lacking the mouldability of other blends.

First up, I’ll put it out there. I am a lover of linen. I like its strength, the way it lends backbone to even very light wraps, the way it breathes so you never feel too hot even in a multi-layered carry. I like the way it breaks down to incredible smooshy loveliness if you work long enough to soften it up. And I love the way it lets a wrap emit light, bringing a shimmery dimension to the weave, detailing the intricacies of the warp and weft as they intersect. Linen was the first fabric humans ever produced, and archaeologists have discovered flax fibre remnants dating back at least 36000 years. It is a beautiful plant with many uses, and because of this its production processes tend to be more environmentally sustainable than cotton.

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Flax flowers

Being a linen aficionado, it was great to read that a new wrap company were starting to produce wraps using Irish linen. Danu slings, based in Newry in Northern Ireland, launched in 2014 with the stunning Sky Songs wrap. Sky Songs is woven with linen made from locally produced Irish flax. Linen really is the national cloth of Ireland, and has been produced for centuries in both the north and south of the Isle.  Owner Maebh has said that she wants Danu to become known as the company for linen wraps, reviving a heritage that has been slowly declining since the start of the 20th century.  Early reviews suggested Danu wraps were medium-to-heavyweight, and while utterly beastly new from the box, quickly broke down to being sumptuous and blankety soft. I actively enjoy breaking in wraps, so I must admit this tempted me even more.

A lovely member of our Cwtch-Up sling group was treated to a Danu wrap for Christmas. Knowing their rep for having a long breaking-in period, she asked if anyone would be willing to have a go at softening it up before it was wrapped in paper and put under the Christmas tree.

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I was so pleased to have a chance to try a Danu in real life. I was the second person to have the wrap on its short holiday, so it was already significantly softer than I expected. The first thing I noticed was the wonderful interplay between the colours of the warp and weft threads in the design. The White Stag looked pretty on Danu’s website, but in real life it was simply stunning. The purple and teal cotton contrasting against white linen threads created an almost tapestry-like effect; close up the flecks of purple added a three-dimensional effect to the trees and deer adorning the wrap. From a distance the colours blended to appear a fresh sky-blue colour, delicately contrasting with the creamy backdrop. The reverse side shows the deer and trees in the creamy white linen, with the backdrop appearing a vivid blue-mauve from a distance.

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The White Stag – Caspian is part of Danu’s Narnia series, based on the novels of local author C.S. Lewis. The stag depicted on the wrap features in several of the Narnia chronicles as a mythical beast, rarely glimpsed, who will grant the wishes of anyone who captures him. The wrap design features intricate drawings of the stag running about amongst a variety of native trees. 02_04_01The artwork is drawn in a naïve style that has echoes of early European cave art – similar creatures adorn the walls of the famous Chauvet cave complex in southern France, the Cave of Forgotten Dreams in Werner Herzog’s extraordinary film of the same name. The stag as a symbol of wild nature is a recurring motif throughout Celtic art and literature right to the present day.

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This wrap felt heavy in hand, but its GSM is just 270g, placing it more in the midweight range. Even barely used, it was able to glide quite comfortably as I wrapped. It still had a tendency to stand proudly by itself if it wasn’t wrapped very tight, but each use helped draw it closer to its natural state of cushiony loveliness. I also braided it over and over, ran it through rings and steam ironed it twice. I knew that another wash, some time with a hot iron and a week of wear would have it pretty much done.

The design looked wonderful when wrapped, especially the dots along each rail, which are a hallmark of most Danu designs. imageThe pattern size and repeat is just right – not too large and not too small. It manages to be intricate without being busy – even in a fancy finish like Double Hammock Saltwater there is enough space between the motifs to create an uncluttered effect. I felt I could wear this with patterned or printed clothes without appearing completely demented – something I do occasionally fall foul of with other heavily patterned wraps!

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This wrap didn’t disappoint in terms of the support it offered – it was magnificent in a simple ruck and provided three hours of weightless front carrying during one particularly long Christmas shopping trip. And it also made an amazing backdrop for D’s Christmas photos, especially when she was dressed in her own little reindeer outfit.

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I only had the White Stag stay for four days before it went home to its rightful owner. It’s fair to say I fell in love with Danu from this brief vacation. For such a small company, they have an absolutely crazy release rate. Every other week Maebh lists new designs and colourways, and they now have five collections featuring a huge range of motifs.photo 4-1~2 A lot of the wraps are connected to the literary heritage of the region, including the Brontes and WB Yeats. I was born in Ireland and have an enduring love affair with the poets of the Isle, so I am keeping a close eye on the next releases in the Yeats collection. Seamus Heaney is pretty much my favourite writer of all time, and I can only dream of the ways his poetry could inspire a wrap. As a writer who continually unearthed the history of Northern Ireland and wove it so deftly into lines about the present, I’m sure Danu would do an amazing job of translating Seamus’ genius into a beautiful piece of textile art.

You can buy Danu wraps at www.danuworld.com

Huge thanks to Kristina for letting me borrow her wrap and review it here x

Pile of woven wraps


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How many slings do you really need?

In recent weeks I have been forced to begin a process known as de-stashing. For the uninitiated, this basically means selling off the majority of the slings I own. De-stashing is rarely fun, especially if signifies a financial crisis or the end of babywearing days in the household of the seller. In my case, the timing belt on my car broke and mangled various parts of my engine. Then my lovely old cat Meg became progressively more ill, and ended up in the emergency vets with breathing problems. Both events have landed me with big bills that need paying before Christmas. As my only vaguely covetable asset, the slings have to go. Obviously, this is a total first world problem. You could probably include it in a meme about middle class motherhood, right next to worries about your child preferring buckwheat to quinoa. Owning even one sling is a privilege, and I am well aware how many families would love to afford a single basic wrap.

When people first start out babywearing, they’re often horrified by how much woven wraps cost. I was definitely one of these people. I just couldn’t understand how anyone could spend more than £50 on a piece of cloth, especially one that was inevitably going to be covered in sick and bogies and mashed banana.

I paid £20 for my Moby and wore it every day for months. But D was sick an awful lot, and as babywearing became such a crucial part of coping with her reflux, I worried about washing it and being slingless, even for 24 hours. So I bought another one, and it was a little bit prettier and a little bit more expensive than my first.

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Moby One, well loved

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Moby two, also well loved

As I’ve detailed before, using a sling quickly became something that we loved and enjoyed immensely. It helped me bond with my beautiful little girl, and brought enormous freedom and comfort to our lives. The happiness we both felt was (and still is) utterly priceless. Suddenly, it seemed a lot more reasonable to spend money on something that made such a huge difference. And as D began to grow heavier I started looking for my first woven wrap.

I still wasn’t going to be one of those crazy women spending hundreds though – my budget was £40, right at the bottom end of the scale. I joined the Affordable Slings Facebook group, and managed to pick up a brand new size 5 Ellevill for £45. I can still remember the excitement of waiting for the parcel to arrive, watching for the postman, hurriedly signing for the recorded delivery before running inside to open it up.

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Ellevill Jade Ming, our first woven.

D and I loved that wrap. I mastered a Front Wrap Cross Carry and took her everywhere in it. But it was turning to autumn and the long tails dragged in puddles as I wrapped and unwrapped her out and about. I hired a half-buckle meitai to see if it would prove quicker and easier. And then my parents paid for one for me as a birthday present. It was very pretty, with a body panel made from a raspberry-coloured Girasol wrap and Russian dolls on the hood.

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Fraulein Hubsch on her first outing down Porthcawl

And so suddenly I had a stash. Two stretchies, a woven wrap, a meitai and a Boba (ostensibly Al’s, although I paid for it). I’d tried hard not to get sucked into the consumerist baby marketing thing. I’d bought nearly all of D’s stuff secondhand, except her car seat and her cot mattress. I guess I still clung to the ethos that all tiny babies really need is to be clean, fed and cuddled up next to you. The hoarding of slings seemed to go against this somehow. How many slings did I really need anyway?

Unfortunately, I had a baby that liked being awake at night. Every night. For hours. And as any mother with this type of baby knows, an internet-enabled phone is a godsend in those long, lonely sleep-deprived hours. The Facebook sling pages are incredibly soothing when you just need something to look at as your baby settles into another marathon feed/wind/sick/feed cycle. I imagine 80% of the slings I have bought have been acquired between the hours of midnight and 5am.

When I went back to work I had just survived 8 months on SMP, and got used to living on a shoestring. So even though I was now earning half of what I used to, I still had more money than I had become accustomed to. I added up all the money I had saved by breastfeeding – every tub of formula we didn’t have to buy, every bottle of wine I didn’t get to drink. Every night out I had to say no to, because I was putting my baby to bed. D has various food allergies which mean I can’t eat eggs or milk or soya. So I added up all the cakes I didn’t eat, and the lattes I didn’t drink, and the chocolates I had to turn down. I figured that all of that together was blatantly worth a wrap at the end of the month.

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Peak stash

And that’s how I reached peak stash – a wrap a month, some very cheap and some not so. A golden wrap on D’s first birthday, to celebrate a whole year of night feeds and no sleep. An Okinami Sia when she turned 18 months, for adding another six months to that total. And a FireSpiral, and a Girasol, and a Pavo. A wrap in every length. A ring sling,or two. And I loved each one, and used them all. And I began the Cwtch-Up Pontypridd group, and began getting donations, and lent out the ones I wasn’t using to other families.

And then money got tight, and I realised I had to let them go. So I am selling as many as I can. And it hasn’t really been fun, but I am glad I have had the opportunity to own, and use, and love so many amazing carriers. And the memories of the cuddles, and the adventures, and the joy they have brought us will last me for many years to come. I know that these slings will carry new babies in other families, enable mothers to share that same special closeness, give fathers a brilliant way to build their own unique bond with their child.

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Stash as it stands today

I am down to just a few slings that I can’t let go. I’ve lent the most sentimental of them away to friends, to carry their little ones, in the hope they’ll come home again. I’ve committed to learning new carries, so I don’t need one in every length but can do more with the wraps I do have. The most expensive sling in my stash cost me £65. The rest were £40 or under.

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Holiday Ivy

I am also incredibly lucky to have made wonderful, generous friends in the babywearing community, who trust me enough to holiday their wraps with me. So every few weeks a different sling comes to stay, and I endeavour to use it as much as possible, to break it in and soften it up and just enjoy it lots before passing it on to the next person in line.

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Holiday Pellicano

A regular topic of conversation at our slingmeet is whether it’s acceptable to buy another sling if you already have one, or two, or ten. At this point, I like to crack out the shoe metaphor. Really, we could all get by with one pair of shoes. But most of us prefer trainers for running, smart heels for the office, sandals for the beach, wellies for the woods and hiking boots when we’re off up the mountains. If you walk a lot you’re probably going to invest more in your shoes than someone who drives everywhere. If you carry your child every day, in all weathers, it’s reasonable to have a decent sling, and possibly more than one.

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Holiday Starmap

And ultimately, if you can afford it, and can use it, then why not? There aren’t many hobbies you can share with your child. It isn’t like you’re spending your money on cocktails, or slot machines, or parachute jumping or some other pastime that doesn’t benefit your family at all. Babywearing has huge, well documented benefits for your child. It’s hardly a frivolous indulgence. As long as you’re not cutting back on the weekly grocery shop to stalk the latest Oscha release, it’s nothing to feel guilty about.

So the key question isn’t really how many slings do you actually need? Because you can carry in a bedsheet, a blanket, a towel or your arms if you really need to. It’s a privilege to carry your child, to have a child to carry in the first place. Whether you exclusively use a £20 Palm and Pond meitai or have a pile of Artipoppes worth more than my car, it’s worth remembering the carrying bit is more important than the carrier. So as long as I have one, I’m happy (provided that one is a FiSpi, of course).

Woven wrap Joy and Joe Luceo Non Uro


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I shine, not burn

It’s always a gamble, buying a wrap before it’s even been woven. Generally I like to have a good look and feel of the material before committing to a purchase I may not love. But I was instantly smitten by the design of the Luceo Non Uro wrap. I love wraps with a nature theme, and this wrap features a beautiful hand drawn stag’s head, it’s antlers intertwined with flowers and leaves. Tiny birds nest on the uppermost branches. The name means ‘I Shine, Not Burn’, which is the motto of the MacKenzie clan, who have a stag’s head as their family crest. The design certainly feels slightly Celtic, very much something wild and green and close to nature.

Joy and Joe, the wrap’s manufacturer, had a public vote to decide the colourways the wrap should be woven in. Unfortunately my first choice, an amazing teal colour, didn’t win. But the wrap was offered for pre-order in two beautiful shades of green, so I opted for the subtle sage and started saving up.

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Pre-order teaser shots from Joy and Joe

The wrap didn’t arrive for another three months, although J&J kept the anticipation up with some photos of the prototypes in action. Although they’re not yet a big name in the woven wrap world, Joy &Joe’s awesome Shiver Me paisley design is very well thought of, and the initial reviews of this wrap were very complimentary too. It came with a really cool tote bag, wrapped in tissue and ribbon and topped with a little paper bag containing an English breakfast teabag and an oaty biscuit. A really nice touch, which I quickly put to good use

I was really pleased with how the wrap looked straight out of the packet. It’s a 75/25 cotton and linen blend, and it had that familiar linen glossiness to it. It also had the familiar linen crunchiness too, and was a bit beastly to tie off in the first ruck I attempted.

The stag’s head is really well defined whichever side you choose to wrap, so it’s great for carries like kangaroo or Robin’s hip carry, which show off both sides of the wrap. One side is very shiny and smooth, and the other a little more grippy, with an embroidered feel. It would also make an awesome wrap conversion, either to a ring sling or a buckled carrier.

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LNU in natural light

Unfortunately the design is not justified with the middle marker on my wrap, so I have struggled to wrap it in a way that shows off the full magnificence of the antlers. It still looks nice, as these action photos show, but I haven’t yet cracked getting the deer’s face fully justified. If I do succeed in getting it near the middle of D’s back, I then end up with lop-sided tails, or a knot at the hip instead of directly behind me.

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Not quite justified

Nonetheless, it’s still a very comfortable, strong, sturdy wrap which carries my toddler without any sagging at all. An evening of braiding, plus a cool wash and steam iron, have softened it up considerably. The sateen weave also means it has retained its beautiful shine, which can sometimes dull as linen is broken in.

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Robust enough to handle welly walks

We’ve taken it out for a few autumnal walks now, and it’s perfect for jumpers and wellies weather. The tight weave and easy care instructions mean I don’t feel anxious about getting a few twigs on it, even though the colour is quite pale. It certainly goes well with the turning leaves and pale sunshine of these October days.

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Perfect when matched with a big woolly scarf

Long term, I have a feeling I will have this wrap converted into a carrier than can do justice to the art it features. It’s glossy sturdiness would make it perfect for a toddler-worthy ring sling. This autumn it’ll be a great wrap for exploring the woods, but come the new year I think it’ll get a new lease of life matched up with a pair of shiny green rings.


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Why a sling is my favourite thing

I read too many books when I was pregnant, caught up in fevered dreaming of the mother I was going to become. I would be gentle, I decided, responsive, attached. I read Penelope Leach and William Sears, Sue Gerhardt and Sheila Kitzinger. I believed that if I was assertive and prepared enough, I would be able to have a positive natural birth.

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Pre-natal reading

I decided to set myself one seemingly simple objective – I’d try not to let my baby cry. I would hold her, breastfeed her, respond to her, keep her close day and night. I would not let her go hungry, or feel cold or lonely. I’d do everything I could to meet her needs and make her happy.

Of course, all the birth preparation in the world can’t prevent preterm premature rupture of the membranes. I was stuck in latent labour for 5 days, compounded by increasingly painful interventions, until D’s faltering heart necessitated an emergency dash to theatre, where she was hauled out with a pair of forceps. I suffered a major haemorrhage during the delivery, and D was unexpectedly tiny and a bit bashed up from her rough journey into the world. I attempted to feed her, but was soon too weak to hold her because of my blood loss. Within hours she developed hypoglycaemia and I had to lie and helplessly watch a nursery nurse force a teat into her mouth and fill her little tummy with formula.

D spent the next night of her life away from me. I needed a 9 hour blood transfusion and was too ill to hold her. The midwives took her off while it happened, fed her from a bottle and passed her around between themselves. In the ward I could hear newborn babies crying everywhere. My mind raced; was it my child crying for me? I realised I didn’t even know her cry, couldn’t recall her face, had barely inhaled her delicate smell. I began to wonder if I had even given birth, or was still pregnant and just dreaming some terrible nightmare.

I slowly felt myself come back to life as the strangers’ blood drip dripped down into my veins. I was able to feel my limbs, lift myself out of bed. I desperately needed to be close to my child. I rang the buzzer and begged the midwife to bring her back to me.

When we were reunited D was yellow and sleepy.  I laid her on my chest, her tiny cheek pressed against my heart, and together we just fed and slept and slept and fed. But the paediatrician kept coming and taking blood from her heels, told me she was jaundiced and needed phototherapy. For two days my little baby was strapped in a biliblanket, on top of a UV light. I would only get her out to feed her or change her nappy. It was agony to suppress my need to hold her, to keep her close. I hunched by her crib for hours, holding her tiny hand to try and keep attached to her. She weighed 5lb1oz and was fragile as a little bird.

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D in her phototherapy pod

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Holding hands

Eventually we were allowed home from hospital, but I was slow to heal. I was badly stitched and in pain for weeks as a result. D had a tongue tie and breastfeeding was painful too. She started being a sick a lot, and cried for hours on end. Colic, the Health Visitor told me. She’s sick because she’s overfeeding. Try giving her less milk. Breastfeed more, the midwife said. It’ll help her get over the jaundice. Try massaging her tummy, try infacol, try gripe water.

D continued to cry a lot, and be sick a lot. Al went back to work and I tried to do all the things those books had told me – I breastfed on demand, I kept her close all day and all night. I cuddled her all I could. She still cried, and I held fast to the belief that her cries meant something, that she was trying to communicate an unmet need to me. I felt like a failure. Maybe she was crying because of her awful birth, or because I didn’t hold her enough in her first few days. Because I let those midwives take her away, because strangers fed her when she needed me. However I tried to soothe her, nothing worked.  She cried and cried.

I had read about ‘babywearing’ in the Dr Sears Baby Book when I pregnant. To be honest, of all the tenets of Attachment Parenting™, it was the one I felt least sure of. It seemed pretty out there – surely it would be exhausting and awkward having your child tied to you all the time? I remember looking at the lovely soft moses basket I had set up and thinking, I’m sure my baby will love lying in there. Of course, D simply hated the moses basket. She screamed if you laid her down, and threw up if she was laid flat on her back. After a few days of trying, I gave up trying to settle her in there, and the basket sat unused for the rest of her infancy.

When I was pregnant I bought a secondhand Moby wrap on the recommendation of a friend. I’d been too scared to put D in it at first, because of her low birth weight and fragile little limbs. But I soon realised that her reflux meant she was unable to sleep when laid flat, and she needed to be held upright for 20 minutes after every feed. I was feeding her every two hours, for 40 minutes at a time, and if she was set down for even a second she started screaming. I had read other mothers singing the praises of slings for helping them cope with refluxy colicky babies, and by this point I was willing to give anything a go.

I wound the fabric round me, scrutinising the instruction leaflet closely, and failed to get it right several times. Eventually I felt brave enough to put D in. She was having a particularly bad day, and I was utterly exhausted from the lack of sleep, the marathon painful cluster feeds, the mountains of laundry, the fact I’d been living off hobnobs and dried almonds for the best part of a week. As her tiny body was enveloped by the soft fabric she instantly relaxed. She gave two tiny wails, turned her head to one side, and fell promptly asleep.

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First cwtch in the sling

I sat down on the sofa and drank a whole cup of tea. Then I made another one and drank all of that. I put the washing machine on. I put my feet up and watched a whole episode of Homes Under the Hammer. D woke up, and I fed and changed her. She cried a lot as I dressed her again. I still had the Moby tied around me, and I picked her up and popped her straight back in. She was instantly peaceful, and within a minute she was asleep.

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Probably drinking tea

As I sat there, feeling her little body perfectly nestled against mine, my heart began to shake. I felt this huge, all-encompassing tidal wave of love crash over me. I cried and cried as the oxytocin poured through my body, overwhelming me with how much I loved my little girl, as I saw just how beautiful and perfect she was. I realised that I never had that magic moment so many parents get when their baby is first born. I never had that instant rush of love. I’d felt fiercely protective of her, but somehow joyless too. Suddenly, belatedly, I was experiencing a feeling of love like I had never known.

The Moby wrap became the very best thing I ever spent £20 on. I put it on first thing when I got up, and carried D as much as I could. We walked for miles, explored mountaintops and woods and waterfalls.

1001936_10152141744103569_8338947_n It became a place of peace and happiness that helped us get through those tough early months. Every time I cwtched her up she would fall asleep listening to my heart beat. That blissful oxytocin buzz would kick in again and I would be reminded anew of how wonderful motherhood can be.

D still suffered from reflux and ‘colic’ until she was 6 months old, when we discovered she had multiple food allergies, which were making her sick and causing her to be in constant pain. Her tongue tie had been divided and breastfeeding was going well, so we both embarked on an exclusion diet, and within weeks her symptoms disappeared and she was happy, healthy and thriving.

Around this time she had finally grown too big and strong for our beloved Moby and I began to explore the world of woven wraps. Nearly a year later, I still carry her every day and it is a huge and wonderful part of our lives. I really enjoy helping other parents take their first steps into babywearing, especially if they’re dealing with a poorly, colicky child. Using a sling has helped both of us cope through a very painful and difficult time, and it enables me to be the loving, responsive mother I dreamed I would be. People often comment on the strong bond that D and obviously share, and I am sure carrying her has helped to foster that.

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D rarely sleeps in the sling now. She wants to be involved in everything I am doing, and the sling is her platform for doing just that. But every so often, she will ask to get up just so she can snuggle in. And as I feel her suck her thumb, nestle in and place her ear over my heart, that tidal wave of love comes rushing round us both again, as strong as the first time I ever wrapped her up.

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Happy