Introduction: Easy As ABC: Asian-style Baby Carrier or Mei Tai
Asian-style baby carriers (ABC) are remarkably easy to sew, though they are a bit labor-intensive. They also offer some marked benefits over Snugli- and Baby Bjorn-style carriers which are not ergonomic for either mom or baby. There is no crotch strap in an ABC like there is in Snuglis, Baby Bjorns and other commercially available baby carriers. Crotch straps are thought to contribute to spinal stress in babies. Newborns can be placed in a "frog" position within the carrier which will not contribute to spinal stress, and the bottom of the mei tai will provide a seat for older children who can wrap their legs around the wearer.
- 2 Yards of Cotton Canvas, Duck or Denim (You may need more if you have a large waist size)
- 1/2 Yard of Any Complementary Cotton Fabric
- 1 Spool of Matching Thread
- A Short Scrap of Complementary Ribbon or Trim (Optional for Pocket)
- Sewing Shears
- Sewing Machine
- Sewing Machine Needles
- Chalk Fabric Pencil
- 4 Large Rubber Bands
1. Lay up and cut out your pattern using the layout guide.
2. Draft and cut a well rounded curve on the top of the Mei Tai's body.
3. Construct straps.
4. Construct optional pocket and apply it to the complementary print fabric.
5. Sew the straps to the solid fabric.
6. Sew the front and back of the Mei Tai right sides together, but DO NOT sew over straps.
7. Notch the curve on the top of the Mei Tai.
8. Turn the piece out.
9. Straighten straps and topstitch, closing the bottom of the Mei Tai and the strap spaces.
10. Wear your baby!
Check out the mei tai on Etsy here.
Step 1: Laying It Up and Cutting It Out
Please cut out your prewashed fabric according to the layout in the picture. This makes a mei tai for an average sized person and is suitable for newborns through toddlers.
You may prefer a smaller size for the mei tai's body, but if you intend to wear your baby from the newborn stage into toddlerhood a larger body like this one will suit you well.
1. Piece #1: This piece is for the mei tai's body and it will be the back of the mei tai worn closest to the body. Also, it is where you will anchor your straps. It is approximately 16" x 20.5" when sewn, but the piece you cut out will be approximately 18" x 24". Only cut ONE piece of this size from the bottom weight solid colored fabric.
2. Piece #2: You will need to cut TWO of these pieces. They will be your shoulder straps. These directions call for shoulder straps to be cut 12" wide which may seem wide to you, but it makes 4"-wide straps once folded and sewn.
3. Piece #3: You will need to cut ONE of these pieces. Once it is cut into a long 12" wide strip, cut it along the fold-line so that you have two strips of fabric approximately one yard long each. These will be your waist straps.
4. Piece #4: These pieces are optional. Cut them if you want a patch pocket. A patch pocket is a nice feature to keep your cell phone, cash and keys handy and to eliminate the need for carrying a purse while wearing your baby. These should be cut approximately 10" by 8", and you need to cut TWO pieces.
5. Piece #5: This is the second piece that will comprise the body of the mei tai, you only need to cut ONE piece. It should be comparable in size to Piece #1.
Step 2: Get Curvy
Now that your pattern pieces have been correctly cut, it's time to add the curved headrest detail on the body of the mei tai. This headrest can be left up to provide head support or privacy for a sleeping baby; alternatively, it may be folded down for a toddler or older baby according to your child's preference.
1. Layer piece #1 (the mei tai body in the bottom-weight fabric) and piece #5 (the mei tai body in the complementary print) together, fold them at the midline.
2. Draw the desired curve with your chalk pencil and cut. The curve's peak should sit at the midline and the bottom of the curve should reach the outside edges of the mei tai approximately 7-8 inches down.
Step 3: The Straps
Now that the pieces have been cut out, and the curved head rest is ready it's time to construct the straps. You will use the bottom-weight fabric to construct the straps as it's important that they be very sturdy.
1. Fold pieces 2 and 3 (the shoulder and waist straps) in half long-ways and press them with your iron.
2. Next, open the straps up and fold the edges of the straps to the midline, press them with the iron again.
3. Now fold the straps in half the long way so that the strap's raw edges are contained within the folds, and press the straps again.
4. Now stitch 1/4" from the long edge on both sides and finish one of the short edges, while leaving one of the short edges raw. The raw edge will be contained within the body of the mei tai and will remain unseen, so it doesn't matter if it's aesthetically pleasing.
Complete the above steps for all four straps.
Step 4: Pick a Pocket
If you don't care to add the optional pocket, you can skip this step. Still, a pocket is a very nice and handy feature on a me tai.
1. Take the two pieces you cut for the optional pocket (pattern piece #4) and layer one on top of the other with right sides together.
2. Sew right sides together like a bag, and turn them out.
3. Now, roll the top raw edges over themselves and cover with the ribbon. Sew down so you have one patch with no open edges.
4. Topstitch this patch to the center of piece #5 (the mei tai body in the print fabric). The top of the patch should be placed along the same line as the where the curve of the mei tai meets the straight edges or approximately 8" down from the peak of the mei tai's curve.
NOTE: The pocket placement may appear to high on the mei tai's body, but remember that much of the mei tai will sit beneath your baby's bottom.
Step 5: Attach, Attach, Attached Momma
With the pocket complete, it's now time to focus your attention on attaching the straps to the carrier's body. It's very important to make sure the stitching on your straps is reinforced and secured with back stitching as these straps will distribute your baby's weight.
1. Position both the shoulder straps (pieces #2) and waist straps (pieces #3) approximately one-third of the way into the mei tai's body on piece #1 (the bottom-weight mei tai body).
2. The shoulder straps (pieces #2) should lie at a 45-degree to 60-degree angle along the straight side of the mei tai where the curve begins, but not encroaching into the curve. Your straps should not encroach into the curve at all, but rest nicely along where the curve meets the straight edge.
3. Position the waist straps (pieces #3) at a 90-degree angle to the sides of the mei tai and parallel to its bottom. They, like the shoulder straps, should be positioned approximately 1/3 of the way into the body. To allow for turning and seams, they should be approximately 1" to 1.5" from the bottom of piece #1 (the bottom-weight mei tai body)
4. Once the straps are positioned, it's time to stitch them into place. First stitch a rectangular box and then stitch an X within that box. Take care to reinforce your stitches as you do not want them to come undone when you're wearing your baby.
Step 6: Putting It All Together
The pieces are cut; the pocket's done; the straps are attached and it's now time to put the whole thing together. Keep in mind that the straps are rather unruly and heavy so that can add a touch of awkwardness to sewing the mei tai.
1. Make it easier on yourself and bind your straps with large rubber bands for the next few steps as it keeps these unwieldy and weighty straps under some sort of control, facilitating easier sewing.
2. With the straps out of the way, pin piece #5 with attached pocket (the mei tai body in the complementary print) and piece #1 with attached straps (the mei tai body in the bottom-weight fabric) right sides together with the straps sandwiched inside the package.
3. Now sew the mei tai together--you have room for ample seam allowances, but DO NOT sew over the straps. Your machine won't like it, and we have a better solution for finishing that area. Instead, when you meet a strap, back stitch to anchor your seam, cut the thread and start again on the other side of the strap.
Step 7: Notch It
So, you're almost there! The mei tai is nearly finished and ready for your baby. There's just a few more steps left, and they're easy ones! Now it's time to turn the mei tai right-side out and finish things up.
1. Notch the curve of the mei tai close to the seam with your sewing shears, taking care not to snip too closely lest you actually cut the thread. Notching this section will facilitate your ability to turn the mei tai right-side out more easily.
Step 8: As the Sewer Turns
Now it's time to turn the mei tai right side out. Take care to turn it smoothly and pay attention to the straps and bottom which have not been sewn closed yet.
1. Turn the body out through the bottom of the mei tai, and press it with a hot iron to set the seams. Notice how the entire bottom is left open and also notice the gaps in stitching at the straps.
Step 9: Finish It Up
This is the last step before the real fun begins. It's now time to close your strap gaps, finish the bottom and add other final touches.
1. Topstitch the entire mei tai, taking care to make sure the raw edges along the strap gaps are enclosed and sewn into the body.
2. Fold the bottom seam allowance toward the waist straps and sew shut.
Step 10: Wear Your Baby
Now you're done and it's time to wear your baby! Fortunately, mei tais (AKA Asian-style Baby Carriers) can be worn multiple ways and from the newborn age into toddlerhood. They can be worn on the back and on the front, with the headrest up or with the head rest down.
If you're wearing a newborn or young baby, fold the baby's legs into the fetal position so that the baby's entirely encased in the mei tai. This carry position keeps your newborn feeling warm, snug and secure.
If you're wearing an older baby or a toddler, let the bottom of the mei tai cup your baby's bum and allow their legs to wrap around your body for optimal comfort.
You're all done now, so enjoy!