Woven wraps: some love ’em, some hate ’em. Whether your feelings about woven wraps are that polarised, you will probably have experienced at least one of the following:
- you finish off a woven wrap carry, only for your child to wriggle about and loosen it
- you simply cannot stand a ruck, because your child consistently ‘pops’ the seat
- your carries quickly become uncomfortable, pulling on your shoulders or back
It is my belief that most common issues with the comfort and ease of woven wraps are to do with uneven tightening. In this post I will talk about some of my findings during four years of using woven wraps, training with two consultancy schools, and many many times spent helping parents to wrap. Warning: the following post contains much wrapgeekery!
Rails are not hems
It happens so often: I will advise a client to ‘reach for that top rail’ and their hand goes straight for the top hem of the fabric. The hems of a woven wrap are the top, bottom, and at either end where the fabric is folded over and sewn in place to prevent fraying (note: many handwoven wraps are not hemmed due to the nature of the handwoven fabric selvedge). The rails are not visible. When teaching, I usually talk about the top, middle, and bottom rail and the easiest way to imagine this is by mentally dividing the wrap into thirds along the width. When holding the wrap flat in front of you, the part closest to your chin is the top rail and the part closest to your feet is the bottom rail.
The problem of the top rail
This is something I see most often with single-layer carries such as kangaroo or ruck; however I see it with front wrap cross carry as well. The woven wrap relies on even tightening across its width and throughout the carry. When trying to tighten the top rail, people often tighten only the top hem or the first few centimetres of the wrap at the top. This will pull on the child’s neck, bringing them closer to your body, but it will not tighten the carry beyond the top of the child’s shoulders. The child will slip around and the top hem will dig into their neck.
So much about getting a woven wrap carry comfortable is about stopping to think – not always easy when you have a wriggling child on you! When tightening, think about where you want the wrap to travel. This affects in which direction you will tighten the fabric, and pulling it another way will affect comfort.
Take ruck ‘straps’, for example: when gathering and tightening the fabric, pull each tail diagonally outward at the shoulder and not simply over the shoulder. Pulling over the shoulder towards the floor does not result in even tightening across the three rails. It can over-tighten the bottom rail of the wrap, making it will slip out of your child’s kneepit. It can result in the middle rail not being evenly tightened, and a loosened top rail will loosen. This allows the child to slip down your back, which will then pull on your shoulders.
The elusive middle rail
Many wrappers have heard of the top and bottom rails but often I am met with surprise when I mention the middle rail. However, it is actually the most important of all, as it keeps your child’s back straight and supported. This is especially important with newborns, as they can otherwise slump down, causing the chin to compress onto the chest. Taking the time to tighten the middle rail adequately can help your child to remain in a comfortable position and avoid the wriggling about that affects your comfort.
The rail and the ruck
The term ‘strand by strand tightening’ is such a useful one to keep in mind with woven wraps. However, it does not mean that you should tighten each strand to the same degree. You are tightening just enough that your child is securely held in a comfortable position against your body. If you over-tighten part of the fabric, you can alter your child’s natural position and affect the comfort for you both.
This is often seen in the ruck back carry: this is a high back carry, where the child sits in a deep ‘seated’ position, with their legs much higher than their bum. All of the child’s weight is borne by the fabric under the bum – the weight is distributed across the wearer’s body with even tightening of the fabric. When tightening the fabric in a ruck strand by strand, the top rail (or top third of the wrap) should be tight – this is what provides the structure of the carry and keeps the child secure. The middle rail should be taut – this supports the child’s back and keeps them in an upright position, without allowing too much wiggle room. The bottom rail should be tightened only enough to remove the excess fabric between the child’s knee pit and the wearer’s shoulder. Tightening the bottom rail any more than this will mean the fabric slips back from the child’s knee pit towards the pelvis, and their weight is then no longer borne by their bum. This can cause comfort issues for both the child and the wearer.
Woven wraps are not like other carriers
With woven wrap fabric, the individual threads matter. All individual threads work together in a specific way, depending on the weave, to support the weight and distribute it evenly across your body. If you do not take your time, there will be pockets of slack in some areas, and/or areas that are too tight. The key to a comfortable wrap carry is to take time to tighten the fabric evenly – precision matters.
But (and this is a big but) – you can re-tighten and troubleshoot once you have tied off the carry. It is hard to slow down enough to be precise when you are trying to wrap your screaming child, and it feels like everyone is staring at you. I teach clients to aim for safe and comfortable carries, not perfect ones. Perfection may come with practise, and understanding the way wraps work!
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