Short of converting a woven wrap into a sling, I have never had an easy time finding good fabric to use to make my own ring sling. The cute stuff always seems to have an ugly wrong side, is made of synthetic fabric, is not strong/soft/smooth/thin/thick enough, etc., or sometimes all of the above. The good news is, slings can be “dressed up” with just a little extra effort and materials. And in my opinion, that extra just makes it more fun!
Keep it safe
This post will not go into detail about exactly how to sew a ring sling. Jan Andrea of Sleeping Baby Productions has a great website with patterns, instructions, and material recommendations here . In a nutshell, cotton fabrics like bottomweight, duck, canvas, denim, and twill; also 100% linen (not the polyester linen look-alike) are going to be your best choices when shopping at JoAnn’s or similar. Slingrings.com is the best place to get rings–do NOT use craft rings from Hobby Lobby.
Using dye to personalize
Procion dyes are the best choice to use for baby products, because the molecules actually bond to the fabric, rather than union dyes like RIT, which deposits onto the fabric, but washes out over time (in the washing machine water and in baby’s mouth, body, etc.). Dharmatrading.com or Dylon at craft stores are good choices (Dharma seems to be better quality and produce more vibrant colors). Cellulose (plant) fibers like cotton, linen, and hemp will take procion dyes well. Be sure to read the instructions carefully and add the extras as noted, such as salt and soda ash. Keep in mind that white fabric will produce the truest colors, and any other color fabric you dye will end up fabric color+dye color–meaning get white or a very light color fabric to start with.
- Tub dye–This is the simplest method to use for dyeing. You can use this method on an already assembled sling (homemade or purchased) or on fabric you are going to use to make one. Since fabric is often 45 inches wide and slings are more like 30 inches wide, you can even dye the whole cut of fabric and then make matching accessories with the scraps! Tub or washing machine dyeing instructions are usually included with dye.
- Gradient dye–Also called ombre, this makes a beautiful effect that has the added benefit of keeping the rails (top v. bottom) from getting confused. For different colored rails, dye before sewing on the rings. Alternatively, a vertical gradient, where the tail is a different color than the rings, would also work. This is more involved than tub dyeing, and I personally have had the best luck with the dip method , but you could also add water if you have a narrow enough container (the gradient will be too sudden if you use a wide bucket and a t shirt, as I’ve found). Gradient dyeing can look extra cool if you overdye a colored fabric. For example, if you use yellow fabric, and gradient dye it blue, you will have a green and yellow sling. You can also do a gradient dye on each side of the sling, making 3 colors–either overlap them to make a new color or leave the middle portion undyed.
- Tie Dye–a tie dye kit makes this super easy. You can get fancy and make fun designs , or just rubber band it in a couple places and squirt on dye. Jacquard makes a quality tie dye kit. Ideally, use it on fabric before sewing rings, but it would work with an assembled sling as well.
- Ice or Snow Dye — This method produces an effect somewhat similar to tie dye, but involves some extra equipment (a rack to set the fabric, a tub to collect dye water, a mask and gloves because you’re working with pure dye powder). It is also a good choice for dyeing an assembled ring sling if that is what you have.
- Low Water Immersion, Shibori, DNA…take a look at the facebook group for inspiration (click on “files” > “tutorials”)!
Adding fabric to one rail
I have seen a lot of really cute quilting fabric that I would love to use for a sling, but do not feel comfortable with the strength. They also tend to have an obvious wrong side that shows in the tail. My favorite way to combine a strong but plain fabric, like a thin denim, with a cute quilting fabric is to fold it over one of the edges. So you start with a rectangle of your basic fabric (denim or what have you): Then you sew on a few inches wide of the patterned fabric (please excuse the Paint job) so that right and wrong side look like this:
Finally, sew the rings to the mostly charcoal part, leaving the colorful end the tail. This, like a gradient dye, has the added benefit of helping you tell the top rail from the bottom rail and avoid twisting.
Add a pocket to the tail
Pretty simple–just hem a square or even a heart of just about any fabric and size (depending on what you will use it for) and sew on 3 sides. You may want to try the sling on and position the pocket that way to make sure you do not sew it on the wrong side or upside down. Add this to any homemade or store bought sling before or after assembly.
Ribbon can go over the stitching by the rings (especially useful for sloppy but effective sewing jobs or when the thread color does not match–just match the thread to the ribbon now). Or, try sewing one or more rows to the edge of the tail (at any time in the sling making process). You could even sew ribbon to either top rail or bottom rail before sewing the rings one, like Adding Fabric to One Rail above.
Craft stores sell iron-on and sew-on appliques in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and styles. Personally, I have never had an iron-on stay put, especially through a machine washing. And I do not keep things around that I can’t machine wash, especially things that routinely get spit up, poop, etc. on it like a baby sling. I prefer a careful zigzag stitch around the edge of a sew-on, but sewing on an iron-on applique works too. You could even make your own with scrap fabric ! The edge of the tail works best for added texture, not where the fabric is going to be run through the rings regularly. And keep orientation in mind–switching shoulders with a ring sling is best for posture and will help preserve your spine, and an upside-down cupcake might look a little funny.
Comment below and let us know what other ideas you have, or post photos of your completed projects!
-Rachel George, VBE BWI of KC
A couple of my completed slings: