Saturday, 30 January 2016

An adventure in ombhus...

I love babywearing - but if I'm honest, I love the slings just as much. I have a couple of wraps, a Lenny Lamb ergo carrier and a few homemade mei tais which do different things (newborn soft, padded shoulders for comfy back carries etc).

I love making carriers too and if I hear someone's pregnant, chances are I'll make them a cute mei tai - because even if they're not into babywearing much, or even at all, there are times when your baby wants to be held, you want to get on, and a sling - if it's there - might just be the magic answer that time.

With my latest Peeling, a Goliath of a chap who was in 9-12 month clothes from 20 weeks, I've hit a bump to get over... Munchkin could be worn on my front with a waterproof over her sling and my waterproof zipped up to meet her bum, keeping us pretty dry, until around 9 months old. Goliath stopped fitting around 4 weeks ago. He's too young to be exposed to the elements really, but on very wet days, we need a way to both keep dry and be comfortable. An umbrella is a poor solution when you live on top of a windy hill, too.

My solution is to make a carrier out of an old waxed jacket - and to add poppers or zips so that my waxed jacket can meet it. Then, when he's older, it's a waterproof carrier in its own right and he can have his Muddy Puddles onesie under it (other brands are, of course, available!)

My mum gave me her old jacket - but it's a beautiful Barbour and I couldn't bring myself to hack it apart until I knew exactly what I wanted. And almost the same time, I came across ombhus... Hmm - maybe I want a Barbour Ombhu? So I started my prototypes.

An ombhu, or ombhuimo, is an Asian carrier similar to the mei tai, only instead of having ties at the waist to hold the carrier in place and create a seat, it has little loops which the top straps pass through - so as you tighten the straps, the seat gets deeper too, holding the little'un nice and high on your back.

A brilliant carrier for squirmers and legstraighteners, it seems, because the seat cannot be gotten out of whilst the straps are on your shoulders. With the lesser amount of fabric, (only 2 straps and a short body - see further down the article) these are really compact carriers, and are great for out and about with walking toddlers who want to be up and down a lot, they're so simple to put on and take off. Because they don't have a waist strap, they're good for pregnant wearers or those who don't like a waist tie. These carriers literally look like a standard rucksack.

My first ombhu I made fabric loops, having read that some find the traditional metal rings dig in a bit. Only I made the loops too big so they meet when I'm tightening the straps and I can't get a tight enough carry. My straps were too long and really bugged me with all that tail. And I attempted to pad lightly around the leg given my big little man is only young and I thought it might be comfier on his tender legs. The problem with the padding is that it's in the wrong place while the loops are so big - the seat is really very deep. Finally, my body was a bit long - I read after making this one that an ombhuimo body is generally shorter than a mei tai, and designed more for older kidlets with arms out. So, my unpicker will be coming out to re-do the loops, and I'll be lopping off a chunk of strap tail on each strap. I'll also be popping a little padding into the top section of the straps so they stay spread when in rucksack style on my back. It'll be perfect if ready for summer as it's a really lightweight one with a vibrant colour scheme and it'll fit beautifully by then (it was close to beinget too high on his back - almost to upper neck).

All this learning under my belt, I set to making a new-and-improved prototype. I cut a good 2" off my length to shorten the body, went for shorter straps, smaller loops and light padding on the shoulders. I'm a bit proud of this one; it looks quite cool - as the Munchkin calls it 'the boofaloo carrier' - but it's still not quite right. The loops and straps are good, but the body's slightly shorter than I'd like, in that it's ok for an older child (Munchkin is just ok in it but I wouldn't advocate her napping...) but it's too low on my Goliath's back. With the padded shoulders there's less grip on the wearer and my husband and I both found we needed to tie Tibetan to get a good snug fit (crossing straps back through the shoulder straps to give an X shape on chest then tying it off). The biggest issue though isn't, I think, to do with my making...

As with all carriers, there's a learning curve, even if only a little one. With the ombhu it seems to be getting the perfect balance between tight and loose... To explain: not tight enough and there's not a good seat, they're not secure on your back, you start to get backache after a short while and your centre of gravity is all wrong. BUT tighten too much and the seat pulls up too much, off setting the top of the carrier and causing a bit of a tilt. The body shortens too much, the tightness at the bottom pushes out the top and you're left feeling like your little one is pulling back from your shoulders.

When my husband wore the Munchkin, I was able to help pull the carrier back up on her back and feed the seat back a bit while he kept tension on the straps, which stopped the leaning - but a carrier should be fine to use on your own, unassisted - or at least for me it should.

I rather love the second ombhu I made; it's so compact a carrier that it's a perfect option to carry in my bag for if Munchkin gets tired when she insists on walking and I know she's not going to manage it all. It's also handy, given that I tandem carry when she's in a carrier, that you can thread the ombhu around the child, stand them on a bench or similar (when they're toddler age or older, obviously!) and tighten them up onto your back without the standard 'forward lean' of babywearing set-up. Ideal if you've already got a mini person strapped on your front.

However, it's going to take a bit of shifting weight and pulling fabric each time to get a good, snug and safe fit, I think. I'll persevere, and I'd welcome any suggestions or tried and tested ways around this issue, but for that reason, I'll not be making any more. It'll be a Barbour mei tai for me, I think.

If you're an ombhu fan and you have any thoughts on avoiding the lean, please let me know. Or have you also tried an ombhu and found it less straightforward than it seems?! I'd love to hear :)

My first mei tai - 
with a 3 day old Goliath in it! 

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