25 Jan

The Best of TBW: Asian Style Carriers

In 2006, a Babyhawk mei tai was my very first carrier purchase after joining TBW. Mei tais have remained one of my favorites carrier types because they are comfortable and easy to use. In this third installment of The Best of TBW series, I will discuss the influence that Asian Style Carriers have had on the babywearing community and share some classic threads from TBW about the Mei Tai and two of its popular cousins, the podaegi and the onbuhimu.

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my first mei tai in 2006

The mei tai (China) is just one of many carriers that make up the Asian Style Carriers (ASC) category. Other carriers in this category are the Hmong (used by the Hmong people who live in the mountains of China, Laos, Vietnam and Tailand), the Onbuhimu (Japan), the Podaegi and the Chunei (both from Korea).

ASC’s all share a similar structure – a rectangle of fabric that makes up the body of the carrier and straps to tie the carrier around the caregiver’s body. What makes them different from each other is their unique strap configurations which allow caregivers to meet different wearing needs, each style filling its own special niche. You can learn more about each of these carriers on this thread from June 2007: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/mt-onbu-hmong-pod-whats-the-difference.141796/

Mei Tais

O&A mei tai

back carry in a mei tai

The modern mei tai descends from the traditional chinese mei tai. This americanized mei tai has a taller and wider body and longer,  wider and sometimes padded straps. The most common method used to tie it is different than it’s traditional counterpart.

Mei tais quickly rose in popularity due to their ease of use and beautiful designs. Many mei tais are literally works of art. Mei tais are made in fashionable prints and luxurious fabrics. If you have an hour or two, fall down the rabbit hole and check out the many mei tai photo threads on TBW: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/asian-inspired-and-soft-structured-carriers-photo-thread-index.19882/

I am often asked about the name, mei tai, what does it mean and how do you pronounce it? Mei tai is Cantonese and we pronounce it ‘may tye’, though in the correct pronunciation the M sounds more like a B and the T sounds more like a D. There are variations on meaning, but many agree that it means to wear on the back with a strap or tie:
http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/meaning-of-mei-tai-name.261839/#post-2656109

When bringing the mei tai to the US, many vendors wanted to be sure that they were using the right terminology and names for the asian style carriers that they were producing. This thread from June 2004 is a little slice of history – bringing community pioneers, Vesta (EllaRoo, Peppermint.com, founding member of the BCIA), Kelley (Kozy), Carole (Sakura Bloom), Kaire (Freehand), Nelly (Angelpack), Grace (mangobaby) and others to discuss the development of the name and some of the history behind it’s modern application: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/anyone-speak-chinese.1703/

Over the years, the mei tai has evolved. A cottage industry was born with the opening of online shops that were designing, sewing and selling mei tais with each vendor putting their own distinct twist on the design of the mei tai. This developed the many features we see on mei tais today.

It’s hard to pick just one or two threads because there are so many, but this thread is one of my favorites all about what exactly is the magic that makes up the babyhawk headrest. The headrest has always been a highly guarded secret, that has no doubt been influential in the design of mei tais since it was introduced:
http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/bh-headrest-padding.93609/#37;20bh

Another great thread that I think has been influential is that of the cutting diagram of Octi Mei Tai. Shannon/babyraecreations the designer of the OMT, was at the forefront of the evolution of wrap conversion mei tais. When she closed her shop she graciously shared her cutting diagram and answered questions for those who would like to make their own version – it’s now an interesting piece of history in the context of how popular wrap conversion mei tais have become in the past few years: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/mts-cut-from-wraps.224860/

Before video tutorials, photo threads and tutorials were very popular on TBW. Two threads that have long been great community resources are the apron/non-apron thread: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/how-to-tie-apron-and-non-apron-pics.392923/

And the shoulder strap tying variation threads: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/photo-tutorials-how-to-tie-mei-tai-shoulder-straps-tibetan-and-other-variants.494403/

Another fun geeky subject is about construction. How can different methods of construction and materials affect comfort and longevity of mei tais?: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/physics-and-structure-of-mts-and-sscs-and-other-abcs-what-can-you-tell-me.461330/

Beyond the geekery, TBW has always loved a good stash shot thread and one of the most epic mei tai stash shots belongs to our beloved Alison/mom2twinsplus2 and her very literal mountains of mei tais stash thread: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/ever-wonder-what-100-ring-slings-look-like-spread-on-a-living-room-floor.431616/#post-4844940

Podaegis (pods) and Onbuhimus (onbus)

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a wrap conversion pod with wrap straps

Pods and Onbus have both ridden waves of popularity over the years. While they are highly specialized carriers that fill a niche, they are both great for high back carries because they don’t have waistbands. While they sound similar to each other, they are very different from one another!

The Pod is an elongated rectangle of fabric – called the blanket – and the blanket can either be wide (which is the the traditional style) or narrow. They only have shoulder straps that can either be angled or straight. The Podagei tips and tweaks thread is a great place to start learning about pods: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/podaegi-tips-and-tweaks.76522/

This fun photo thread from 2007 is an interesting array of the popular fabric prints and styles of pods at that time:
http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/share-your-podaegi-pics-please.112094/

The Onbu is currently a rising star in the community. Hybrids – the buckle bu and the reverse onbu are fairly new evolutions and have helped launch them back into popularity. But let’s talk about their predecessor, the classic ring onbu. There are a couple of great threads about onbus. This one has a lot of chatter and information about onbus: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/onbuhimo-tips.73152/

And this photo thread from 2006 shows how much the the onbu has evolved in recent years: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/onbuhimo-onbu-various.31430/

An interesting twist in the story of the Onbu is Mrs. Peterson and her baby toter. In 2008, a video was found in the CBC archives about babywearing. The interview from 1963, features Mrs. Peterson and a carrier that she made – this carrier was basically a non-adjustable onbu: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/babywearing-circa-1963.286164/

The DIY community quickly took up the cause and started experimenting and making their own versions of the baby toter: http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/i-made-myself-a-mrs-peterson.286930/

But one of the main drawbacks was that the baby toter had to fit the wearer just right. But a remedy to that would be developed shortly in the form of buckle bu’s:
http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/those-interested-in-the-mrs-peterson-buckle-onbu-mrs-peterson-pics-added.357557/

The history is really fascinating and looking back, we can see see how our community has been shaped by the rich traditions and cultures from which ASC’s originated. For centuries, caregivers have used ASC’s and we wouldn’t have the variety of carriers available today without the influence and inspirations that have come from this amazing style of carriers.

Next Up on The Best of TBW: Soft Structured Carriers

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  1. Pingback: Ah-MAY-zing Mei Tais | Babywearing International of Greater Austin

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