Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Making A Wrap Conversion Ring Sling

by Rebecca Hickman

This is part 2 of chopping a wrap. The first part walked through selecting a wrap, and cutting it into a shorter length. This tutorial assumes you’re using a wrap piece with an unhemmed edge, however, the same instructions apply if you’re starting from a whole wrap.

If you’re interested in making a ring sling from a completely unhemmed piece of fabric you bought from the fabric store, there are some additional steps you need to do (namely hemming the other three sides of the fabric) that I’m not discussing here. Jan Andrea of Sleeping Baby Productions has exceptionally good information on making baby carriers, safety, copyright and the like. In particular, she has good information on selecting fabrics and rings that you should probably read regardless.  If you’re interested in hemming your own fabric, she also has a good tutorial on how to use a hemming foot.

Selecting a Shoulder Style
Shoulder style for a ring sling is a uniquely individual preference. Many people adore Sleeping Baby Production’s pleated shoulder (she has instructions for personal use only on how to do this on her website). A simple gathered shoulder is very easy to do with some simple sewing skills and proper measuring and marking. Jan Andrea has good descriptors of the various kinds of shoulders.  In this tutorial, I'm making a gathered ring sling with some pleats thrown in. This is similar to the shoulder on some commercially available ring slings – I love a gathered shoulder, took a look at one and decided to try something similar. If you don’t think your sewing skills are up to making your own ring sling, SewFunky and Metamorphosis are some Canadian converters to consider.

  • Sling rings
  • Soft tape measure
  • Pins
  • Stitch ripper
  • Removable marker or chalk
  • Rotary cutter, mat & rulers (preferred) or scissors & large flat surface
  • Iron
  • Hem measuring tool (optional)
  • Sewing machine with new needle
  • Thread that matches thread used in existing hems (I used Mettler silk finish here, but Gutterman is also good and readily available)

*A very important note on sling rings – DO NOT use craft rings purchased at WalMart, Michaels or somewhere similar. Slingrings.com or slingrings.ca sell aluminum and nylon rings specifically designed and tested to be used in baby slings and to hold weight up to 250 lbs. They also don’t have a welded seam – a rough welded seam can rub against the fabric and over time, weaken it.  Yes, this means you may have to wait for them to arrive and you can’t make your ring sling today, but you don’t want your baby to fall on the floor, do you? It’s just not worth the risk. 

* A note on sling ring sizing – slingrings.com sells rings in aluminum and nylon, and in small, medium, and large. Aluminum is good for most fabric, but nylon can be a good choice for mesh or water slings. Small is best for doll or child-sized slings, medium for lighter weight fabrics, such as linen or twill. For a wrap conversion, your life will be much easier if you use large rings.

Sizing a ring sling is not a science, but more of a personal preference. Again, Sleeping Baby Productions has good info on sizing. In short, your t-shirt size is a good place to start, and ring sling lengths are (from rings to tail, not including fabric needed to fold over the rings):
X-small – 65”
Small – 70”
Medium – 75”
Large – 80”
XL – 85”

For most people, medium is a good size. Some people prefer a longer tail, some people like it shorter. Some people want it to fit both them and their partner, who are significantly different sizes. I wear a small or medium top, so I'm making my ring sling to be somewhere between a small and a medium.

Measuring & Squaring up one end
Since I'm working with half of a wrap, and I needed the other half  on an angle to rehem as a shorter wrap, the raw edge of the ring sling half is also on an angle. I want a straight edge to work with, perpendicular to the rails and along the grain of the fabric. My piece is also longer than I want.

Since one end of my ring sling piece is nicely hemmed on an angle, I'm going to leave that be. My length is being measured from the short edge of the taper. I want my finished ring sling piece to be 71” at it’s shortest point, so I want to cut 76” from that end to leave enough extra fabric to fold around the rings. Measure and place a pin at both points (71” and 76”), indicating where to cut and where you want your rings to end up. Since I'm using a quilting ruler & cutting mat, I don’t need to measure from the other rail.

Lay out your piece on your cutting mat so it’s nice and flat near where you want to cut and the entire width of the wrap is on the mat. You may need more than one ruler to be able to cut in a nice single cut along the entire wrap width. Line up your first ruler so that one mark along the entire width of the ruler is even with the top rail of the wrap, with the edge next to your pin. Without shifting the first ruler, line up the second ruler right against the first with the edges  and inch markings aligned. Remove the pin and cut along whole length of the wrap, making sure to hold the rulers in place with one hand while cutting with the other. Now you have a nice straight edge to sew your rings into, as well as a wrap scrap to use for other crafts.


Marking your pleats
In this tutorial, I'm making a gathered ring sling with a centre box pleat and an overlapping pleat on either side. This still leaves a fairly wide shoulder that you can gather or spread where you like, but with less total width than a simple gathered shoulder.

To make the box pleat, find the centre of the unfinished edge. I found it helpful to lay the wrap out along the cutting mat with the raw edge at the top. Mark the centre with a pin. Place a pin 2” on either side of the centre. Bring one outer pin into the centre pin to meet. Place a pin to hold the overlapping pleat in place. Repeat on the other side.

To make the side pleats, place a pin to mark 3” and 5” in from either edge. Bring the pin closest to the rail over to meet the second pin. Pin pleat in place. This is what it should look like now:

Continue the pleat folds further along the length of the fabric. Pin the pleats down about 5 and 10” away from the unfinished edge (the picture does not show this, do as I say, not as I do, it will make sewing in the rings easier, I promise). Press all the pleats using the appropriate heat setting on your iron.  

Finishing the raw edges
In order to keep things from unravelling, I like to finish my raw edge with a Serger or zigzag stitch. You may note I didn't do this when rehemming the chopped part of my wrap, however, in that part, all raw edges are hidden because there’s a hem running around all 4 sides of the wrap. In a ring sling, the very edges may peek out at either edge of where the rings are sewn in and I’d like to make it as neat as possible. I have a Serger, so I'm going to use that, but a zigzag stitch on a regular sewing machine works just as well. Note that you can just as easily do this step before you make your pleats, however, I chose to do it after because it helps keep the pleats in place and reduces some bulk. Please remember that a Serger cuts the fabric as it sews, so if you have pins keeping the pleats in place, be sure to remove them before they reach the Serger blade. Otherwise you will instantaneously dull that blade and it could end badly.

This part is simple – just sew or Serge over the unfinished edge of your wrap piece. I'm using white, because that’s what I have and it’s a reasonable match for one side of my wrap – Serger thread comes in more limited colours, and mine’s on loan from my mother in Winnipeg, so I don’t have access to her much larger thread selection.

Because my Serger thread is a mismatch, and because it looks nicer, I'm going to turn under the serged edge so it won’t be seen on the final product. If you used a zigzag stitch, I strong encourage you to fold over the edge. A zigzagged edge not turned doesn't look terribly nice after a year of wear.

Using your iron set at the appropriate temperature, press your serged edge over to the wrong side. A serged hem is generally ¼”, but a zigzag stitch may be wider, just fold over enough to the wrong side so that it all ends up hidden. If you used a zigzag stitch, clip the threads close to the ends of the wrap. If you have serged edges, leave the tails an inch or two long and tuck them under when you press the edge over – if you clip them close they have a tendency to unravel.

A note on what the wrong side is – some wraps, such as jacquard weave, have two very different looking sides. One is usually the “right” side and one the “wrong”. For this wrap, the dark blue side is the right side and the white-silver side is the wrong, so I'm pressing my hem over towards the white-silver side. Some wraps, such as Girasols, look the same on both sides, and the wrong side is usually the one that the hem on the rails is pressed toward. However, you may prefer to make this your right side when making a ring sling to avoid the hem pressing into your babies knees and neck. This is truly a personal decision and there is no right or wrong decision.

Where to put the rings
When you have your wrap laid out, it can look really simple as to where your rings should go and where you want  your stitching to end up. However, the second you shove that fabric through your rings, it will be much more confusing. I allowed 5” of extra fabric when I cut, so I want my rings to end up 5” from my unfinished edge, which means that I'm going to sew my seams 5” from there, or 10” from that edge. Place a pin on either rail 5” from your unfinished edge, and I strongly recommend drawing a line with a water or heat soluble marker or chalk 10” from your unfinished edge on the wrong side of your wrap. A couple of pins on either rail will not be enough. Learn from my mistakes and baste your pleats in about 9” from your edge. This will keep them in place until you've securely sewn in your rings.

Sewing in the rings
Now that your basting and line drawing are done, you can put your rings on. Line up the folded edge of your hem with the line you drew and pin in many places along the hem. Make sure your pleats are lining up on top and bottom, and that your pins catch the bit of hem you have pressed under and are holding them in place. Also make sure the edges of your hem along each rail line up nice and even on both front and back.

Pinned & ready to sew

In order for your ring sling to be secure, you’ll need at least three rows of stitching. I like to do the first row of stitching with the wrong side up, and stitch close to the edge of the hem. This will secure down the folded over edge. Starting my sewing on a piece of scrap fabric, my first row of stitching is about 1/8” away from the folded edge. This is why it’s important to use lots of pins to keep it in a straight line – it’ll look funny from the right side if the stitching isn't straight. I also like to pull my pins out as I approach them – this avoids my needle going over them, and my pins either bending or my machine needle becoming dull or breaking. After I finish my first row of stitching is done, I like to flip the ring sling over and look at. For me, because I didn't baste my pleats down, my middle box pleat opened up a bit. I ended up picking out my stitches and redoing. It was better the second time, but not perfect, so this is why I strongly recommend basting your pleats in place.

To do three rows of stitching, you can decide on how you’d like it to look. Three rows of straight stitches 1/4” or so apart is easiest and if you’re not very experienced, most likely to look well done. However, you can also do a second row of straight stitch about 1/2” away from the first, closer to the rings, with a third row of decorative stitch between the two rows of straight stitch. This looks pretty, but I find it difficult to get it straight and even between the two rows of straight stitch. Always make sure you backstitch at either end to secure the rows of stitches. At the beginning of a row of stitching, it can be hard to get going, so it may be easier to start just past the rail hem and then go back after, turn the sling around and sew from the middle out.

Once your three rows of stitching is finished, thread your tail through the rings and you’re done! You probably want to inspect it to make sure it’s secure before loading your baby in it, and be sure to inspect it after every couple of uses and after each washing to make sure your stitches are still secure and your fabric isn't fraying or coming apart. Once that's done, thread and enjoy your ring sling! 

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