I made my first soft-structured carrier this summer! My daughter outgrew her Ergo360 (the seat needs to reach from knee to knee, and it barely was reaching her upper thigh), and I wanted a new carrier. I used the Little Pick Me Up pattern from Sew Toot. This post has four sections after this intro: my review of the pattern, tips for making a soft structured carrier that I learned the hard way, some things I plan on changing next time, and photos of the details.
My daughter loves the carrier, and even though she’s super independent and likes to do everything herself (and therefore not be strapped on my back), she yells, “Sewtoot” with the first rumble of thunder or whenever I try to grab the vacuum and happily jumps on my back when we drive somewhere that requires a walk to our final destination.
Not only does Sewtoot provide the pattern, but they also have kits that contain all the supplies you’ll need except the fabric. I bought the kit for option B through Etsy. Next time, I might find my supplies a la carte to save a bit of money, but for my first attempt, this was a lifesaver knowing I was getting the right thing, since I’ve never worked with foam or buckles before and only had experience with one soft-structured carrier.
I apologize that my daughter’s hooded sweatshirt is bunched up and blocking your view of the top of the carrier in some of these pictures! I blame the photographer for not noticing… cough cough husband husband.
Perfect knee to knee seat
Overall, this pattern and the accompanying instructions are great. There are clear photographs that go along with each line of the instructions to minimize mistakes. There is also an exclusive support group via Facebook – you can only join by providing your order number. The members of this group are very helpful. Many of them have made 10s to 100s of carriers and are great for troubleshooting. I really appreciated the detail when it came to overlap, reinforcement, and seam allowance, since safety was my main concern in making a carrier.
The pattern comes with five different sizes – baby (smaller than standard), standard (comparable to a Tula standard or to an Ergo), tweeny tot (in between standard and toddler), toddler (comparable to a Tula toddler), and preschool (bigger than toddler). I made the tweeny tot size and removed 2″ from the waistband.
There are also several features to choose from. I chose all the features that went along with option B (detachable hood – a good thing because we never use the hood!, a dual adjust waist – you can adjust by pulling the webbing on both sides, buckles at the bottom of the shoulder straps – you can wear the straps crossed on your back for front carries, which I don’t really need at this age, so that feature doesn’t really matter to me, and a structured waist – this one is really important to me, as the support at the bottom helps distribute the weight over my small frame).
When babywearing, it’s important that the seat reaches from knee to knee but not so far that the baby can’t bend their knees. It’s also important that the butt is lower than the knees (the legs make an M shape, where the knees are the top points of the M, and the butt is the bottom point). This carrier fits my daughter perfectly in both the seat and panel height. When her arms are out, the panel gets shifted down a bit, but that is normal.
My main criticism of the instructions is that they didn’t include HOW to sew an x box (the reinforcement point that is shaped like an x), which is essential for this pattern. I understand not having it in the instructions, but there is also no file in the exclusive Facebook group. When I asked in the exclusive group, I was told that it was because this pattern is geared toward intermediate sewers who already know the basics. I totally get that and appreciate it, but I would not consider myself a beginner sewer. In fact, I wouldn’t even consider myself an intermediate sewer. That said, sewing weight-bearing attachment points, especially when that weight is in the form of a child, is a totally different arena than sewing clothing and the other items I have experience with. I think it would be reasonable to assume that many intermediate to advanced sewers do not have experience with this type of sewing and at least have a file in the group or a blog post on sewtoot. Several sets of instructions I found online for sewing an x box were WRONG and included starting and stopping multiple times, which results in reinforcement points that aren’t strong enough. I’ll put together a quick little x box tutorial in the next few weeks in case you’re thinking about making one and are confused!
In terms of the the fit on me, I do have a few complaints. The first one is the waistband length. The pattern says it fits size 2-20 or something like that. Well, I’m usually a size 4. However, I took out 2″ from the waistband, and it still was not enough. The second complaint likely has I am getting some gaping along the sides of the panel. It’s at its worst when my daughter has her arms out (squishing the panel down), but is still present when her arms are tucked in. I have some ideas to fix this, which I’ll describe in the “what I’ll change” section.
- Make sure your presser foot STAYS DOWN when sewing over the foam! I had the most trouble sewing the x boxes over the foam on the shoulder straps. They would start off fine and then all the sudden I would get a thread nest on the bottom. This happened regardless of whether I hand cranked or used the pedal. I was putting my presser foot down (tension would engage), but because the foam was so thick, It would push the presser foot up enough to disengage tension. Once I figured this out, I kinda kept one hand on the presser foot lever and kept pushing it down to prevent tension from disengaging, and then I had no problems.
- Cut the webbing shorter if you are small. The pattern includes elastic to attach to the end of each piece of webbing so you can wrap up the excess, but if you are going to wear everything fully tightened/almost fully tightened, then you just won’t need all that excess, AND the elastic will really struggle to stretch around it.
- When inserting the foam into the straps, don’t pull on it. AT ALL! The group has a technique called the “bread bag technique.” I used a variation that worked. However, on my first attempt, I tore a piece of foam in HALF. Since I had ordered my supplies as a kit, I was screwed. Luckily, the owner (Devan) has excellent customer service and sent me a scrap of foam large enough to cut a new piece from, free of charge.
- This one is a wearing tip – I find I get the best seat and panel height when my daughter is on my back if I loosen the shoulder straps several inches at the bottom, get her situated, and then tighten. When I had the shoulder straps pre-set, there wasn’t enough wiggle room to make sure the panel wasn’t bunching under her butt while also getting a deep seat.
What I will change next time
- I need to take out more from the waistband. I took out 2″ from the waistband. I even made a muslin of the waistband. I asked in the exclusive group how much room I needed between the two ends of the waistband, and someone recommended at least 2-3″ to allow for adjustment. Based on my muslin, I had 3.5″, so I figured I was ok. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account that with option B of the pattern (the dual adjust version, where you can tighten/loosen from both sides), the buckle goes between the two ends. The buckle itself is 3″! So, I basically have the waistband fully tightened at all times. Next time I’ll take out an additional 2″.
- Shorten the shoulder straps. I wear the shoulder straps almost fully tightened at the bottom. I didn’t shorten them originally because I’m average-above average height, but they’re still too long. When the toddler is on my front, I tighten the PFAs (the personal fit adjusters that allow you to tighten the point of attachment between the shoulder straps and panel) about halfway. When she’s on my back, I need them all the way tightened. This clearly means that I can shorten the shoulder straps to give myself a greater range of adjustment room.
- Place the shoulder strap webbing a little higher on the body. I’m very high-waisted and narrow-waisted, and I think this is causing some fit problems for me. I’m getting some gaping on the sides of the panel, especially when my daughter has her arms out, but even if she has them in. I think moving the strap webbing attachment point up a little bit will help.
- Curve the top of the panel, make the straps come off at an angle instead of straight up. I think this will also help with the gaping issue. I spent a lot of time comparing the top of the Ergo360 with the top of my carrier, and the main difference is the shape up top. I hated the waistband of the Ergo360, but I loved the fit up top. I think if I alter the LPMU to be shaped a bit more like the Ergo360 at the top, I might land on my perfect carrier.
- Ditch the hood. We can’t figure out the hood. The one time I tried it, my daughter reached her arms straight up so they stuck out from the hood, and then she was practically choking herself on the ties.
- Add a head rest. The other feature that the Ergo360 had that we used very often was a head rest, especially since the hood didn’t really work for us. I could put up the head rest if she fell asleep, especially on my back, to prevent her neck from falling back. We NEED this feature! However, the Ergo360 didn’t have PFAs, and since I love those, I think I’ll have to make the head rest more like the Lillebaby to allow for strap adjustment with headrest use.
- Use reverse PFAs. I didn’t understand what this term meant when I was making my carrier since my Ergo360 didn’t have PFAs. PFAs allow you to tighten or loosen the shoulder straps where they attach to the top of the panel. The “normal” way is to pull the webbing down toward the panel. The “reverse” way is to pull toward the straps. Well, I think this is stupid. It’s impossible to tighten them when baby is on your back the “normal” way. When baby is on your front, either way would work, but I still think the “reverse” way would be easier. All this would entail is threading the ladder lock on in the other direction, and it would make functionality much easier.
- Try the mesh panel! I purchased the mesh panel add on feature, which allows for breathable mesh to be used in the center of the carrier to allow for airflow when it’s hot.