As part of a special series in wrap care, Melinda Ciaccia (BWICL Librarian), has authored posts for our blog to help new and seasoned wrappers care for, break in, and maintain the wraps in their personal collections. Proper wrap maintenance ensures the cosmetic and structural integrity of your wraps for many years of use.
Cotton is a natural, plant-based fiber harvested from cotton plants. It is the most widely used natural fiber in the world and the United States is currently the world’s largest exporter of cotton. Since cotton is highly preyed on by pests and disease, many pesticides and herbicides are used. Organic cotton, which some wrap companies boast using, is not genetically modified, and pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are not used in its production. On a funny note, you’ll see the word “baumwolle” come up a lot on German wrap tags. In medieval Europe, when cotton was imported from other countries, they had never seen the plant so imagined trees bearing tiny lambs. Baum means tree, wolle means wool, so it literally translates to “tree wool”.
Cotton wovens make wonderful carriers. Cotton is very breathable, especially in airy weaves, and makes a good summer wrap. It’s the perfect wrap for new wrappers since it is easy to break in, easy to care for, and easy to wrap. It’s not as durable as linen, hemp, or silk but can still be used with toddlers using multiple layered carries. It has a high elasticity, which is what gives linen, hemp, and silk blends their “cush”.Thicker cottons also tend to have a lot of cush and are supportive enough for any age ranges. Cotton is the most widely used fiber for woven wraps because it is soft, universally liked, and the least likely to irritate skin.
Cotton is very easy to care for. It can be washed in warm or cool water, dried in the dryer on low, and steam ironed. It is known to shrink slightly after the first wash so make sure it is washed if you plan on having a wrap converted.
Linen is a plant-based fiber made from flax plants. To obtain longer fibers, flax is harvested by hand, by pulling up the entire plant from the ground (one reason why it’s more expensive than cotton!).
Linen is another strong, durable fabric, similar to hemp. It is lighter weight than cotton, absorbs up to 20% moisture without feeling damp, and feels smooth and cool to the touch (making it a wonderful fabric for summer wearing), and not to mention linen has a nice lustre, giving it a gorgeous shimmer.
As a blend or in its pure form, linen is commonly used in both ring slings and woven wraps. Pure linen ring slings and wraps make great newborn carriers and/or great summer carriers. While linen itself is strong and supportive, it has poor elasticity so can sometimes feel diggy if not wrapped carefully while carrying a heavier child. When blended with other fibers—commonly cotton or bamboo—it often makes a wonderful supportive, cushy, and moldable wrap.
Linen blends do not need any special care. They can be thrown in the washing machine in cold or warm temperatures with an approved liquid laundry detergent, tossed in the dryer, and steam ironed. Like hemp, pure linen and its blends are subject to extensive wrinkling and perma-creasing so should be stored folded (never braided) and ironed every now and then.
Hemp is a plant-based fiber and is naturally one of the oldest, most ecologically friendly fabrics; it grows well without herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides. It is one of the strongest and most durable natural textile fibers. It has superior insulation properties, with one of the best ratios of heat capacity of all fibers. In a woven wrap with hemp, it will be a soft, snuggly, supportive, and very durable carrier. Due to its heat retaining properties, hemp may not be the best choice in multi-layered carries in a hot summer.
When blended with other fibers such as cotton, silk, or bamboo, you get the best of both worlds in terms of durability and softness. Hemp wraps are extremely easy to care for; they are not particularly sensitive to heat so can be washed in any temperature water, tumble dried on low, and steam ironed with no issues. Keep in mind that, if hemp is combined with a more delicate fiber such as bamboo or silk, the washing instructions should err on the side of the more delicate fiber. As with linen, hemp can crease easily. Hemp can take a little while to break in, they often feel pretty rough when brand new. Since it can easily be washed in warm (even hot) water and tossed in the dryer, it’s pretty easy to break in. High heat in the dryer should be avoided because hemp can shrink easily. In general, if you’re looking for a true “workhorse” wrap, a hemp/cotton blend is the way to go.
Obviously, wool is obtained from animals, usually sheep. Three common types of wool found in the babywearing world are sheep’s wool, merino, and cashmere. Other types of wool such as alpaca and even qiviut are used, but they are more rare.
Wool is surprinsingly breathable and has the highest elasticity of the fibers used for woven wraps, making it the cushiest fiber. While most people think wool can only be used in cold weather, it is a temperature regulating fabric that insulates in the winter, wicks moisture, and keeps cool in the summer.
It’s a good wrap for newborns and toddlers alike. Many people avoid wool because they are afraid of ruining it. While it is the most delicate of fibers in the wrap world, it’s not that difficult to care for once the fear of washing it is overcome. Wool should always be handwashed in a detergent free of optical brighteners, softeners, and most importantly, enzymes. Some machines have a “handwash” feature but even the handwash setting has been known to cause felting.
It is very sensitive to temperature changes, which can lead to felting, so tepid water should be used throughout both the wash and rinse. It should be laid flat to dry and can be ironed on a wool setting.
Silk is a natural protein fiber produced by moth caterpillars. There are two types of silk used for woven wraps: Wild silk (known as Tussah silk), and commercial silk. Wild silk is gathered from cocoons in the wild after the moth has already emerged. Since the cocoons are already broken open when the silk is collected, it is more labor intensive to turn the silk into a suitable textile. Commercial silk is produced from the cocoons of the silkworm pupae. Silkworms are specially bred to produce a smoother, whiter silk. The worms are killed before they emerge from the cocoon, which allows the thread to be unraveled in continuous strands. Silk is a wonderfully soft, silky, and strong fiber. However, it can be weakened and/or damaged by deodorants, heavy perspiration, and sunlight. In woven wraps, silk is often blended with cotton, though there are some 100% silk ring slings. Since silk is one of the strongest natural fibers, it is very supportive and many silk blends work well for newborns and toddlers. It’s great for both warm and cold weather wrapping. Care should be taken when washing silk because the fibers become weaker when wet. Spin cycles in washing machines can break the fibers or cause thread shifting, so silk should be hand washed or washed on a delicate cycle with no spin. It should be line dried or laid flat to dry out of sunlight, as sunlight can weaken the fiber.
Bamboo is a plant-based fiber made from, you guessed it, bamboo plants. Two types of bamboo fibers used in woven wraps: natural bamboo and bamboo viscose. Natural bamboo is derived directly from the bamboo stalk and is the more expensive fiber of the two; it is stronger than viscose bamboo and has a similar structure and performance to linen. Bamboo viscose has been reconstituted from the original bamboo plant so smaller amounts of original bamboo remain. Viscose is the more popular of the two for woven wraps and is less expensive; it looks similar to commercial silk but performs completely differently. Bamboo is a sustainable fiber and doesn’t require pesticides or large amounts of water. It’s also hypoallergenic and has antibacterial qualities so it’s good for people with allergies, sensitive skin, and also reduces odors. It makes a great summer wrap since it can absorb up to three times its weight in water, meaning it wicks moisture from the skin to keep you cool. Bamboo fibers are the epitome of “kitten-belly soft”, you’ll want to rub your face on the wrap all day. Due to the soft, silky feel of the fiber, bamboo blends can either be easy or difficult to wrap with, depending on how you look at it. Passes glide easily into place and are easy to tighten, which is a big pro. A big con is that, since the fabric is slippery, a good wrap job is required to make sure the passes stay in place. Cotton/bamboo wraps are the perfect wraps for newborns and smaller babies but, due to the slippery feel of the fabric, can begin to sag with heavier children. If you want the softness of bamboo with more support, you can find hemp/bamboo and linen/bamboo blends. It is one of the more delicate fibers. Bamboo is extremely frail when wet so should never be actively wet for more than 40 minutes at a time. Hand washing is highly recommended in cold water, as heat can damage the fibers. Since it’s very sensitive to heat, it should never be put in the dryer and should, instead, be dried flat. It can be ironed on low temperatures.
“Hemp: Facts on the Fiber”. OrganicClothing.blogs.com.
http://organicclothing.blogs.com/my_weblog/2005/12/hemp_facts_on_t.html. Accessed March 2,
Susoeff, Rachel. “Wrap Fibre Focus” Super Awesome Babywearing Collective.
http://www.sabcollective.com. Accessed March 2, 2015
“Tips on Silk.” Drycleaning & Laundry Institute International. http://www.dlionline.org/Silk. Accessed
March 2, 2015.
“Cotton vs. Linen: What’s the Difference?” Brahms Mount. http://www.brahmsmount.com/blog/cotton-
vs-linen-whats-the-difference/. Accessed March 2, 2015
“Fabrics FAQ: eco-fabrics with bamboo.” Brentano.
http://www.brentanofabrics.com/fabrics_FAQ/eco_bamboo.aspx Accessed March 3, 2015