Baby Origami, DIY Style: The Fabric Store

If you follow the woven wrap gossip – or belong to a babywearing facebook group- you know a custom Uppymama handwoven slot recently fetched over 4,600 Canadian – dollars? Moose pelts? Hogshead barrels of syrup and tears? Regardless of the preferred Canadian currency*, that chunk of maple-money didn’t cover the actual physical wraps. As in, that more-than-my-first-car-and-horse-combined sticker price only paid the custom fee. The buyer still needs to fork out by the per meter, up to 21 meters.

Take a moment to put your eyeballs back in your head, and a deep breath. Most people who wear their babies do it out of necessity and use whatever fabric comes to hand. Cloth specially woven of unicorn fur and glittery elf poop on a full-moon Saturday night not necessary.

While the recent uppy auction’s the biggest knock-down sticker shock in the babywearing world, most purpose-woven wraps aren’t cheap. Their average 100-200 USD retail covers fair trade wages, organic farming, and baby-safe dyes, not to mention justifiably decent profits for the WAHM storefronts for stock them. Then there’s shipping from at least one continent (Asia or Europe) to another (North America, Europe, Australia). And yes, purpose-made wraps feel great. If you don’t drop them in paint or riddle them with holes, they hold most of their retail value.  And yep, it’s still  less than you’ll drop on a stroller.

But still, a hundred bucks is a lot. Many, many mamas don’t want to spend that much, can’t spend that much, or simply want an alternative to mainstream purpose-wovens. You don’t need to drop a ton of cash to be a wrapper. All you need is a simple piece of cloth.

But what cloth? You have two options: fabric stores, where you can buy lengths of yardage for a long wrap, or tablecloths, which will make a shorter one useful for rebozo or rucksack carries (though we’ll discuss seaming later). This post will cover choosing fabric for a long wrap; we’ll do tablecloths next.

Buying Your Material

Let’s visit the fabric store**. It’s bright. You’re surrounded by bolts of fabric. And you have no f-ing clue what to get. So let’s narrow it down. You’ve found your 50% off coupon for Joann’s or Hancock’s or wherever (most fabric stores have great sales; there is no need to pay full price per yardage. Check around the internet for coupons). You’re ready to wrap.

In a nutshell, a great DIY is made of natural fabric (cotton, wool, linen, hemp – no polyester, which gets too hot) that’s thick enough to provide good support, but with a weave loose enough for light to pass through. You’re aiming for something like this:

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BaBy SaBye hemp/linen blend: purpose-woven

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Didymos primula indio, cotton; purpose-woven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You don’t want anything too stretchy – no cotton jersey, or what you think of as t-shirt material. While this will make an awesome DIY Moby, it’s too stretchy to be safe in a back carry. 

And be sure your fabric is not too thin. Think of your bedsheet – normal, not flannel. Go fondle it some to get a feel for the fabric. Got it? You need something thicker. While you can feasibly use something like it, it will dig and sag and hurt and cut off baby’s circulation. A lot of mamas try to use a thin muslin or quilter’s cotton. The only case in which thin fabric works well is in a kanga carry*.

This cotton is too thin to wrap with. Notice how you can see my hand through it, but can't see the weave.

This cotton is too thin to wrap with. Notice how you can see my hand through it, but can’t see the weave.

Black linen; while you can see my fingers behind it, you can also see the thickness of the individual threads, and you can see through the weave. This is a good choice for a wrap.

Black linen; while you can see my fingers behind it, you can also see the thickness of the individual threads, and you can see through the weave. This is a good choice for a wrap.

 

 

So you want something of at least medium-thickness: in the fabric trade, they call that “bottom weight“. It should have a bit of diagonal stretch. If held up, some light should pass through the weave; however, in most cases, you shouldn’t be able to see through it easily – your fabric ought to be semi-loosely woven, but not sheer.

Many mamas use osnaberg. Osnaberg is a loosely woven, cotton fabric usually sold undyed and unbleached, with what wrappers call “nubs” and “slubs” – thicker threads throughout the weave that are not considered flaws. It’s often sold quilted and unquilted varieties – you want the unquilted stuff – and sometimes in 45 inch widths. Since a woven wrap usually requires a 30 inch width, accounting for shrinkage, you need at least 72 inches of width for two wraps. Many mamas choose to dye their osnaberg. If you go that route, check out the safe dyeing thread on The Babywearer.com forums (you’ll need to register) for tutorials and advice. Osnaberg, like linen, is a notorious shrinker – buy extra. Many mamas have bought 7 yards and ended up with a generous size 6 (about 4.6-5 yards).

Other kinds of fabric to look for include thicker jacquard and damask, both terms for patterned weaves that don’t have a wrong side (as opposed to printed patterns, in which one side of the cloth is white or solid-colored). I often find great examples of these in the upholstery and home decor fabric sections, but you’ll need to double-check that your fabric isn’t a poly-blend, and that it’s not too thick. If it feels too heavy to mold over your shoulders, keep looking.

Many wrappers adore bottom-weight linen, which, with the advent of Oscha and Wrap Nap Fairy’s 100% linens, is about as close to a purpose-woven as you can DIY (unless you go buy the exact same cloth as Heartiness’s machine-woven ethno from this dude on etsy). Linen makes a solid wrap without much bounce; it’ll stay where you put it, so wrap carefully. Many mamas love it for older kids and hot weather. I have my own 100% linen DIY. It breathes well, but it calls for slow and precise wrapping. If you buy linen, though, be warned: it shrinks a lot, so snag plenty of extra – up to 2 yards above your intended length.

100% cotton gauze wrap, this one a DIY from a WAHM company.

100% cotton gauze wrap, this one a DIY from a WAHM company.

Cotton gauze is another popular DIY choice, used for many WAHM wraps (babyette and lil peepers keepers, both etsy sellers, made their names with gauze) and Bali Breeze purpose-wovens. Gauze is lightweight. It’s cheap. And it works well for little babies in hot weather. It requires super-careful wrapping to avoid pressure points, however, and digs in your shoulders after baby passes somewhere around twenty pounds. I learned to wrap with thin gauze, and I found it a marvelous teacher – because it’s quite unforgiving of sloppy wrapping. A mama who’s just starting will be far more comfortable in something cushier, unless she’s super careful.

Basically, you need to grope a lot of cloth. Pull it. Stretch it. Pet it. Remember, this stuff wraps around you and your baby – you need to love it! If it’s not perfect, move on. Many new wrappers turn to DIYs because of a condition I call “Didymos Sticker Shock”. But if you buy two DIYs that don’t work, you’re 50 to 75 bucks in the hole, without a wrap, when you could have dropped another 25 dollars for a used Didy that would hold resale value (though quality DIYs do sell on the facebook swaps). I did this in the beginning. I wish I had saved the money and just bought a damned purpose-woven.

Finally, let’s talk sizing. Your wrap needs to be at least 30 inches wide after washing – so if you want two wraps from one purchase, your fabric must be at least 72 inches wide. Some fabrics come in 84 inch increments, in which case, you’ll need to cut the width down: wraps wider than 32 inches becomes unwieldy.

And then we comes to length. To help you choose the size you need, The Babywearer has a helpful chart that breaks down by body size and carry. Most beginners need a size 6; fluffier mamas and most dads needs a size 7. Beginners should size up rather than down. For a long wrap, you’ll want the final product somewhere between 4.6 yards (4.2 meters, or a standard 5) and 6 yards (a little larger than a standard 7). A mid-size wrap (a standard size 4) should be about 4 yards. Account for shrinkage when you buy – at least a yard of it, and often more. You can’t add yardage, but you can sure as hell chop it.

And you’ve got your wrap! But not so fast. You still need to make it wearable.

Put Down that Fabric: Prepping your DIY

First, wash it. Throw it right in the machine, as soon as you go home (though if you’re me, you have to hit those diapers onto another cycle first, because they sat clean in the washer for three days and soured). Do not skip this step. It’s tempting. I know. You want to use this wrap yesterday. But the fabric needs to shrink before you sew – trust me. Otherwise, it’ll pucker and fold and look ugly.

After you’ve washed, and dried, you have two options: You can sew it. Or you can pay someone else to sew it. Don’t use it unhemmed – your wrap will fray – or use hem tape, which will feel bulky and diggy on your shoulders and baby’s knees. Most seamstresses will hem from under ten bucks – check your local dry cleaners. 

But you’re adventurous. Your mom/grandmom/aunt/girl scout leader taught you to sew way back in the dark ages. And you’ve got that sewing machine. Dust it off. Sew a few scraps first, to make sure your machine hasn’t self-destructed in the decade it’s lived in the closet. Then buy some cotton thread – if you’re planning to dye, polyester thread won’t take the color – and make sure you have the right kind of needle.

Then iron that thing. Iron it good (the iron is up with the sewing machine, in the top of the closet, next to the bong you’re saving for when the legalization bill finally comes through). Pay special attention to the edges, or rails, because that’s where you’re sewing. On the ironing board, fold your edge once. Press. Then fold it again, so the raw edge is hidden. Press and pin. Do this all the way around, attempting to keep the hem somewhat even. You can be lazy and leave the selvage, or the finished edge that prevents fraying, if you absolutely have to. Because yes, I know ironing and pinning takes forever. But your wrap will look pretty and this is the annoying part, I swear.

Then sew a straight stitch all the way around. Clip your ends. Congratulations, you have a wrap. If you want, taper the ends: like a parallelogram (/—–/) rather than a rhombus (/—\). Most factory-made, purpose-woven wraps are tapered; handwovens, like uppymama or warped and wonderful, are not. Tapering tends to be a matter of taste more than anything else, and helps bulky fabric make a smaller knot.

Congratulations! You have a usable wrap. Now figure out how to use it. If you’ve never wrapped before, or only used a Moby, stick to front carries for at least a month, or until your baby is about three months old, whichever comes last. The only times I’ve heard that someone has dropped a baby, they were novice wrappers attempting back carries with a small baby (the babies are fine). See the Babywearer.com’s comprehensive list of wrapping instructions, or check out the Facebook groups Babywearing Love and Support, Babywearing 102, or your local babywearing group – nothing beats in-person help! If you like videos, Babywearing Faith has some amazing tutes on YouTube.

Good luck, and happy wrapping! Next time, we”ll tackle DIY wraps, tablecloth style.

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*JK Canucks. Nothing but love, y’all – you gave us Degrassi High and Alanis Morrisette. (And Bryan Adams, though I hear you’ve already apologized for that one).

** a fairly advanced torso carry used predominately in Africa. It’s super comfy. It terrifies passers-by. And it’s not a great idea until you’ve been wearing for six months.

*** I don’t recommend buying online, since most of what you’re doing here is groping fabric, and you can’t get down and dirty on the Interwebs (at least, not the way I mean). The only exception here is osnaburg, which doesn’t vary as much as other fabrics.

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