Which Woven Wrap?
If you're new to wrapping, buying your first woven wrap can be a bit overwhelming. As soon as I mastered the Front Wrap Cross Carry (FWCC) I launched myself into the world of wrap "for sale" groups. I was like a pig in mud, wallowing in pictures of beautiful woven fabric to the point that my friends barely got a look-in on my Facebook newsfeed! My first wrap purchases were hit & miss. Despite my interest in textiles, I was buying purely on the basis of looks, and gave little thought to anything else. I was lucky with some, and stumbled on brands that I still love today, however some were a huge disappointment.
If you're considering your first wrap purchase and the length of this article looks a bit daunting to you, then feel free to skip to the summary paragraph at the end, which gives my general advice on buying your first wrap. If however you want a bit more food for thought, or are on your second or sixth purchase (beware - this lark is addictive!) read on and wallow in wrapping geekery!
Here are my tips on what to consider before investing in a woven wrap:
Well, I got something right in those early days! It is important that you love the look of a wrap, and that the design and colours are ones that you will feel good wearing & wrapping your little one in.
It's worth considering whether it's a small repeating design, or a larger 'picture' design, which may get lost when wrapped if placement isn't perfect. Also, if you're planning to use carries that turn the wrap orientation, is the design reversible and does the back of the wrap look as good as the front?
People in the Wrapping world often talk about "GSM, "g/m2" or grams per square metre. GSM is a measurement of the weight of the wrap per square meter, but is often used as an indicator of wrap thickness. Of course, some fibres are heavier than others, and a dense weave will be heavier (but not necessarily thicker) than a loose weave. If you take these things into consideration, GSM is an important factor to consider. As a general rule, thinner wraps are normally the preferred option for younger babies, and thicker, heavier ones for bigger children, although you'll likely also develop your own preferences. As a rough guide:
Really Thin: up to 180 g/m2
Thin: 180 – 220 g/m2
Medium: 220 – 260 g/m2
Thick: 260 – 300 g/m2
Very Thick: 300 g/m2
Wraps, like all fabrics, are made from a wide range of fibres. Cotton, lambswool, linen, cashmere, hemp, bamboo, silk, camel hair... the list goes on. Some are more common than others, and there are broad ranges in price. Importantly, each has its own unique properties in terms of wrapping. When choosing your wrap, you need to decide what properties you want from the fabric, both in terms of its wrapping qualities and the care it requires. You're likely to want a combination of characteristics, as determined by factors as broad ranging as your home climate, weight of your children & whether you're vegan. Once you've thought about the fabric properties you're looking for, consider the type of fabric that matches them. There's a lot of information about regarding the wrap properties and care requirements of different fibres, but here's my quick checklist of what you might expect from the most commonly found ones.
- The ultimate all-rounder; many wraps contain cotton either as the sole 'ingredient' or mixed with other fibres, and for good reason!
- Soft, cool, breathable, mouldable
- Can be very supportive for bigger children as well as perfect for small babies, although thin (see 'weight section') cotton wraps from some brands can lack support.
- Usually require very little 'breaking in'.
- Easy to machine wash & can usually be tumble-dried on low heat & steam ironed*.
- Cool, airy, strong & supportive, which makes it great for heavier wrappees, although it can be a bit 'diggy' on the shoulders.
- Fantastic in warm climates.
- Often feels stiff when new, and can require work to break in before it becomes beautifully mouldable & soft (but it will -broken in linen is spectacular!).
- Has a tendency to be wrinkly and develop permanent ('perma') creases, which don't look great.
- Virtually indestructible! Easy to machine wash & can usually be tumble-dried & steam ironed*.
- Strong, supportive, fairly cushy and great at temperature regulating. Hemp can be warm in winter & still comfortable in summer.
- Can feel a bit dry or stiff when new, and require a little bit of work (but less than linen) to break in before it becomes mouldable & soft (but it's worth it when it does!).
- Usually has characteristic 'slubs' in the weave which give a gorgeous texture and grip.
- Easy to machine wash & can usually be tumble-dried on low heat (hemp loves heat but high heat can shrink the best of wraps!) and steam ironed*.
- Think sheep and woolly jumpers! Bouncy, cushy, snuggley warm & cosy.
- Great for heavier wrappees as it's so comfortable on your shoulders.
- Can sometimes feel itchy so take care, especially if you or your little one have a wool sensitivity. Options like Merino wool or cashmere are usually finer, softer and nicer on bare skin.
- They're a bit trickier to wash and care for as they usually require hand-washing in tepid water (although some can go in the machine on the wool wash). Don't agitate too much as friction, moisture and temperature changes can cause felting (a nightmare situation where the fibres become dry, brittle & inflexible rendering your wrap unsafe for babywearing). Wool should be dried flat after placing between two towels to remove excess moisture. Don't let wool even see your tumble-drier & take care ironing (avoid steam in case of felting)*.
- Usually thin, cool and supportive, but lacking in stretch and bounce. It can be a bit slippery to wrap with but looks lovely and shimmery and has a luxurious (umm silky!) feel.
- Like wool, it requires special care on the washing front. Hand-wash in tepid water (cool can dull the silky sheen & hot damage the delicate fibres). Never tumble-dry, & iron on cool 'silk' setting (beware steam as it can water-mark silk)*.
- I've just discovered viscose & it's a new favourite of mine. Floppy, thermo-regulating, mouldable, strong & supportive.
- Great for small babies as well as heavier wrappees.
- Easy to machine wash & can usually be tumble-dried on low heat & steam ironed*.
- Super soft, bouncy, mouldable & breathable.
- Bamboo has excellent moisture absorption properties making it great for use in warm or humid climates.
- Great for small babies but sometimes a bit too stretchy and lacking support for bigger wrappees.
- Can be a bit slippery to wrap with.
- Can be machine washed (usually the 30 degree 'delicates cycle') & ironed at low / medium heat, but avoid the tumble-drier due to shrinkage*.
*Always follow the manufacturer instructions on how to care for your particular wrap.
You'll notice I say "can" and "often" and speak in generalisations. This is deliberate. I've used linen blends that are softer and less supportive than pure cotton, and ones that were like wrapping with Persian rugs! Some of my most supportive, toddler-worthy wraps are pure cotton. Some hemp wraps have been great at temperature regulation, and some haven't. In short, there are huge variations between wraps, even those of the same blend. You have to consider blend in conjunction with other factors such as weight and weave.
Size & Width
Wraps come in different sizes based on their length. There can be some variation between brands, but the standardised scale is as follows:
Size 1: 2.2m
Size 2: 2.7m
Size 3: 3.2m
Size 4: 3.7m
Size 5: 4.2m
Size 6: 4.7m
Size 7: 5.2m
Size 8: 5.7m
When deciding on size, you need to consider both your size and the carries you want to do. A 'base size' wrap is the size you need to do carries including Front Wrap Cross Carry (FWCC) or Double Hammock (DH) comfortably, in my case a size 7 (I'm UK dress size 16). I found the Didymos size guide useful.
It's also useful to bear in mind that some wraps are wider than others, if you have a particular preference. Too wide and there can be extra bulky fabric when wrapping a tiny baby, too narrow and you could struggle to create a nice deep seat for a taller child.
New or Used
The second hand wrap market can be a bit confusing to a new wrapper (or even an experienced one for that matter!). Frankly, it's like no other second hand market I know! Although there has been a significant levelling out in recent years, it's still one of the healthiest used goods markets I'm aware of. It's not unusual for used wraps to sell at close to their original retail value (although this is by no means the case for all wovens), and some highly sought after ("HSA") wraps can go for a good deal more than their original retail price. This is the result of basic supply & demand forces, with a bit of propaganda thrown in! Many wraps are woven in limited numbers, and not rewoven / restocked, so buying a used one is the only way to get hold of one if you missed the release. If your "ISO" ("In search of" or "DISO" if you're desperate!) is popular or rare then it will likely have a mark-up price tag on the used market.
When deciding whether to buy new or used, I'd consider the following:
- Think carefully about the wrap you want and follow brands you're interested in to see what they have in stock & what they're releasing. Something new might be coming along that you love more than what's already out there in the used market.
- Research the original retail price of used wraps so you have some context to what you're paying on the second hand market.
- Consider the fact that if you really don't fall in love with your wrap when it's in your hands (it does happen!), you can return it new & unused to a retailer, but not usually to a private seller.
- If you do buy used, always ask all questions before buying, research the seller's feedback, and use the 'Goods & Services' option on PayPal to ensure that you're protected in the unlikely event that the seller is untrustworthy.
The more wraps you try, the more you learn about the characteristics of certain brands, both in terms of their products and their business practices. That's not to say that different wraps from the same company will be the same. They won't. However, you can get a 'feel' for the following things:
- Weave structure: Lots of wrap companies use a finite number of different types of weave. Some are looser / tighter / thicker / cushier etc. than others, or add more / less diagonal stretch. Some wraps are handwoven and some machine woven. Once you learn what a particular weave feels like from a particular company, you can get an idea about some of the characteristics of other similar weave wraps from that same company (taking into consideration all the other factors detailed above).
- Location: The wrapping community is a wonderful global market, with companies all over the world. They range from tiny one-person hand-woven operations to huge multinational set-ups. While this is great in terms of variety and enterprise, you do need to consider things like import tax and postage costs if you choose to buy from overseas.
- Ethics: Many companies focus on the sourcing of ethical materials and pay heed to things like animal welfare, environmental impact, supporting local businesses and fair wages. If these things matter to you (& I know they do to me), make sure you pick a brand that cares about them too.
- Business Model: Wrap companies release their wraps in a variety of different ways. Some do it as a kind of lottery draw where you 'apply' to buy one, some stock in their own shops online and some use sites like 'Etsy'. Some release larger numbers and restock, and some announce release times where a 'fastest finger' rush ensues to buy the stock. If you're an adrenaline junkie, then you might prefer some options over others, but it's worth considering that a company's release method may not always be an indication of the number of wraps released, or their quality. Marketing strategies of course play a huge part in the wrap business as in any other. The reputation of and customer service provided by a company is another thing to think about.
There is huge variation in the price of woven wraps. As a general rule, handwoven wraps will cost more than machine wovens due to the time / labour involved in making them. Also, they're more likely to be released in much smaller numbers. Some materials cost more than others for companies to source, so your baby unicorn hair wrap will cost more than cotton! There's sometimes also an element of 'paying for a name', which can raise prices in a similar way to a designer label in clothes. In any case, a woven wrap is an investment. It's a piece of art as well as being functional, so it's going to cost more than a table cloth. My advice is to decide how much you want to spend and stick to it. Research the market and choose a wrap and company that fits the bill.
There's a lot to consider isn't there?! The variety out there is spectacular, but if you're buying your first woven wrap, or just want an easy all-rounder, I suggest buying a medium weight, 100% cotton (versatile & easy care) wrap that you love the look of, from a company you like to sound of, at a price you can afford. Enjoy your wrap and welcome to the wonderful world of wovens!