This is the most special carrier in my collection- a nursing shawl dating from the last quarter of the 19th century (it's around 125 years old). It is a twill weave, made of 100% undyed wool. It came from the Ceredigion region of Wales. The fringes are 9 inches long, which was standard for Welsh nursing shawls, and hand twisted.
Modern babywearers usually call these Welsh shawls (siol fagu in Welsh). Wales seems to have the strongest cultural memory surrounding the use of nursing shawls (in Welsh, the term used for carrying in a shawl is to cwtch, pronounced kootch, which translates roughly as cuddle), although they were in common use in Ireland, Britain & Northern Europe throughout the last several centuries. It is likely that they have been in use for as long as craftspeople in these areas have been weaving wool garments. They remained more or less in use until well into the 20th century- a Scottish man I know remembers his mother carrying him in one! Shawls were the traditional & common woman's garment, it goes to say that babies would be wrapped & carried in them to keep them safe, warm & fed.
There are very few online resources to access information on using a nursing shawl- as part of our International Babywearing Week celebration, we decided to create our own! In these photos, I am using a 10lb demo doll, although I have carried babies ranging from 2-6 months in it. The traditional carry shown here leaves one arm free for the wearer & allows for partial use of the second hand.
Fold the shawl in half, making a triangle
Wrap it around your shoulders
Place the baby high & offcentered...
& wrap the corner of the shawl around the baby...
bringing the baby back in towards you.
Take the other side of the shawl,
bring it under your arm, keeping it taught
& bring the point of the shawl across the baby
& tuck the point of the triangle around the baby. The weight of the baby pulling down on the fabric holds it together- there is no tying or knotting.
Done! The baby rests in the crook of your arm while you go about your day.
Photography by Trish Agrell-Smith
Nursing Shawl purchased from Jane Beck