As a knitter, I have always found the assertion that cotton wraps are unsuitable for toddlers perplexing. Cotton is a plant fibre and plant fibres are usually strong – for example, tencel, linen and hemp. They are often stronger than animal fibres, due to their denser cellular structure (if you are a fibre geek like me, you can read more about this here.)
Nevertheless, I hear it time and time again and I would like to address some of the most common myths on this topic. I’d love to hear any more that you’ve come across – leave them in the comments!
Myth: cotton wraps are not supportive enough for toddlers
The supportiveness of a wrap is influenced by much more than just the fibre it is woven from. The main factor is the density of the wrap, and this is affected by the raw materials (fibre type, thickness of thread, strength of thread) and the fabric weave.
Short pattern repeats, for example small geometric patterns, feature short threads ‘criss-crossing’ each other, resulting in denser fabric. Larger-scale patterns can feature long threads (or ‘floats’), resulting in fabric that is less dense. The density of the wrap is also affected by the thickness and density of the raw materials; how the threads are spun and how many threads are used in the weave.
Most wrap fabric makers will advertise the density of the fabric – this is calculated in grams per square metre, or gsm. Higher numbers equal denser fabric.
As we will discover, there is more to supportiveness than just the fabric. The way the fabric is used also plays a part.
Myth: cotton ring slings are not suitable for toddlers
This statement is one I often see on Facebook groups: ‘My all-cotton ring sling is no longer suitable for my toddler, it is not supportive enough.’ Sometimes people experience sagging of the pouch of fabric the child sits in. This can indicate that the ring sling could be tightened more effectively, particularly across the middle section.
Thinner fabrics can slip back through sling rings when the pressure of a heavier weight pulls on them – particularly when the fabric is not very grippy – for example, thinner linen, gauze, and muslin. You can use the tail of the ring sling as a supporting rope or spread pass across your toddler’s knee pits, and tuck it under at your back.
Myth: ‘blends’ are much more supportive than all-cotton wraps
It is true that wraps woven from cotton blended with a denser plant fibre containing less cellulose are usually dense and unwielding. You may have heard that hemp and linen wraps, for example can take a lot use before they feel supple and soft. However, a wrap woven from cotton and an animal fibre, for example wool, are not usually dense. Sheep’s wool is not naturally a strong fibre (although it can be spun into a strong thread). In its raw form, it is hollow and rather bouncy – this can mean that it sags more easily when woven into a fabric. Alpaca fibre is denser and has shorter hairs, so makes a denser fabric when woven.
Myth: multi-layer carries are best for toddlers
‘A ruck is no longer supportive enough for my toddler’ – this is another statement I hear frequently. Like with a ring sling, I would usually suggest checking the tightness of the carry and the height of the child first. A ruck is designed to be a high carry and the lower the child is, the more the fabric will pull on the wearer’s shoulders (for more on troubleshooting woven wrap carries, read my article here).
If the fabric is thin, saggy, or has a lot of bounce in it, it may feel like it digs into the wearer’s body. In this case, a reinforcing or supporting pass can help to support some of the child’s weight.
Myth: wrapping takes too long to do with toddlers
I can certainly empathise with this one! If your little one is keen to independently explore the world around them, they may not have the patience to wait while you try out new carries and fancy finishes. You may need to choose your timing wisely – for example, when your toddler is feeling tired and in need of a rest.
You may also like to try using a shorter wrap, which doubles as a scarf while your toddler isn’t being carried. There are single- and multi-layer carries for size 2 and 3 woven wraps, and you may be able to tie them before your little one’s patience runs out!
You are finding your cotton wrap or ring sling unsupportive for your toddler, so what can you do? I first suggest troubleshooting what you’ve got: check the tightening (particularly the middle third of the fabric as this holds the child upright), check for pockets of slack (particularly under the bum, under your armpits and in the child’s knee pits), and check the comfort (the ruck straps are digging – try a torso or ‘ruckless’ carry). Ask a friend or sling educator to check your carry in case there’s something you can’t see.
If you are still uncomfy, check the density and the weave of your fabric – or ask your friendly sling librarian/consultant to check for you. Try carries with reinforcing passes, or multiple layers to keep the fabric from slipping. Try a few different wraps at your local sling library or wrapping social, and get to know the differences between fabrics.
Finally, talk to your slingy friends about cotton wraps and carrying toddlers. You may hear some interesting experiences and viewpoints, and be able to bust some myths!