The word 'podaegi' in English is usually used to mean a long rectangle of fabric with two long shoulder straps that tie around the carrier and the caregivers body. The narrow blanket podaegi seen in western countries is quite different in form and function than a traditional Korean podaegi. Narrow blankets podaegi's are a fairly recent introduction to western babywearing. The were first seen in the western world from the early 2000's. So where did this versatile carrier originate?
According to wikipedia 'Western interest in the podaegi style has led to new wrapping methods which do go over the shoulders, and to narrower "blankets". Variants of this shape include the Iu-Mienh/Hmong carrier and the Chinese bei bei. Iu-Mienh/Hmong carriers and bei beis are both customarily used with over-the-shoulder wrapping and often have stiff sections which help provide head support or block wind'.
Below is the information I have been able to find. I have looked at Chinese, Korean, and Hmong sources for the most accuracy when looking at how these carriers were used traditionally, where possible, and I have also looked at thebabywearer.com (and similar forums like Natural Mamas, Baby Centre, and Mothering) to see how these carriers were viewed by western babywearers. The Babywearer is a forum based in the United States (but has users from around the world). It was the most popular forum for babywearers before the advent of Facebook and was established in 2003.
If you know of any other resources or information about this topic I would love to hear from you!
A podaegi is a traditional carrier from Korea. It has two long straps and a blanket. The straps are sewn horizontally across the top (originally the belt would have been seperate). It is used as a torso carrier for back carrying.
Source: Google images
The Korean word 포대기 means 'baby carrier'. There are currently different ways of spelling the word since Korean words are transliterated into English. It is spelled podaegi, podegi, pod, podagi, etc. although Podaegi is the most common. An extensive article about the meaning and pronunciation of 'podaegi' can be found here https://www.uhboohbahbaby.com/2007/10/what-does-podae.html (Korean owned narrow blanket podaegi manufacturer) .
Other Styles of Korean Podaegi
In Korea other styles of podaegi have been developed although they are relatively modern. There is a wide blanket version made to go over the shoulders (which is a regular wide blanket podaegi but the straps are attached vertically rather than horizontally so made to go up over the shoulders, criss-cross at the chest and then the ends are wrapped around as normal)
Some regular wide blanket podaegis have the regular straight straps but also have extra detachable straps that go up over the shoulders. Chunei (buckle podaegi) are also found. There is a lot of innovation. I have even come across a podaegi with a waist belt. Today Korean manufacturers also sell narrow blanket podaegi. (These appeared later than the western version but this doesn't necessarily mean that was the source) Narrow blanket podaegi and similar carriers are called podaegi or 'modern podaegi' by Korean companies.
Chunei (buckle podaegi)
A korean made narrow blanket podaegi from ebay
Source: Google Images
How to Use a Podaegi:
traditional wide blanket:
(one shoulder variation)
Narrow Blanket Podaegi (straight straps)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ESMrsJRr-4 (one shoulder variation)
narrow blanket podaegi (angled straps)
The Hmong is a style of baby carrier traditional among the Hmong people of Southeast Asia. The Hmong are an ethnic group that resides mostly in Vietnam and Thailand. This style of carrier is also used by the lu-Mien people (also known as Iu-Mienh, Mienh, Mien, Lao Mien, Co, Yao, Dao, and Dzao) from Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and China. These carriers are usually known as a Hmong style carrier but they are actually called Nyia or Dai Nyia. The name Dai Nyia comes from the Hmong term for these baby carriers --Daim Nyiam ev Menyuam. (https://hmongbabycarriers.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/blog-post.html)
Typically heavily embroidered and decorated, Hmongs are often collected for their artistic value as well as for their function as baby carriers. They are truly works of art.
There is a lot of symbolism in the designs found on Hmong/Nyia carriers. The embroidered motifs and bright colours are to disguise the baby (as a flower) so evil spirits will not lure the weak spirit of the baby away. The geometric patterns or ‘paths’ on the central panel keep the child’s soul from leaving the body and the bad spirits from getting close to the child (https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/115678 - Hmong baby carriers in Minnesota: a material culture study. Chaney, Mary Alice (2011))
Traditional Hmong carriers are completely handmade right down to growing the cotton the carrier is made from as well as looming yarn, raising silkworms and looming the silk, dyeing, and embroidery . Being highly skilled in these handicrafts makes a girl attractive to suitors. Hmong mothers cut off the straps of their babies' carrier as a keepsake when they are done with it and then sell (often reluctantly) the carrier itself. Keeping the straps symbolizes the preservation of the ties that connect mother and child. So this is why a traditional Hmong carrier is sold without the straps. ( Bonding via Baby Carriers: The Art and Soul of the Miao and Dong written by Yu-Chiao; Lin, Christi Lan; Lin, Brenda Liu Lan)
The Hmong/Nyia style of carrier consist of two long top straps, usually straight across, and a long blanket. The blanket usually consits of a smaller square sewn on top of a larger one. A Hmong often has thin straps but some have shoulder straps that are very wide (about 15") and they are folded over each other a number of times (ending up about 3-4 inches wide) and then stitched to the body. Traditionally the Nyia is used as a back carrier only. The straps are brought across the shoulders before being crossed across baby's bum and tying off. Functionally it is very similar to an angled strap narrow-blanket podaegi.
Photo from https://theartofhmongembroidery.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/precious-babies/
Blue Hmong baby carrier. Applique on batik cotton cloth with ribbon and Thai silk border by Chia Chou Xiong, 26.25"x17" (Photo from https://www.lib.uci.edu/hmong-textiles-exhibit)
More pictures of Hmong/Nyia here - https://www.tribaltextiles.info/Galleries/Black_Thai/BTE36.htm
Some westernized versions:
A Nyia made by Dai Nyia Hmong Baby Carriers
There are other similar carriers found in this region too. Cambodia, Laos, etc. as well as Thailand; the specifics vary depending on the tribal group (Hmong, Mien, etc.) more than nationality, This beautiful example has a straight rectangular blanket rather than a shaped one. This carrier is from Laos. Carriers from this area are also known as a Paj Ntaubs or Pandaus 'flower cloth'.
Photo credit : https://nickihawj.blogspot.com.au/2009/08/beautiful-photos-baby-carriers-made-by.html
How to wear a Hmong/Nyia
How to wear a Lu Mien
Bei Bei (also spelled beibei) is narrower in width than the traditional wide blanket Korean podaegi and wraps over both shoulders. It can be crossed in front or not. It is wider and longer than the Hmong / Nyia and instead of placing the fabric over the baby, it is traditionally wrapped around like a blanket and the baby is carried with relatively straight legs. (Although it is often also used just like a narrow blanket podaegi when worn by western babywearers). There are 2 top straps that go over the shoulders only and around the baby and then tied in front. Traditionally the Bei Bei comes from Southern China and are used by the Yunnanese minority.
According to the owner of the 'My Bei Bei' brand 'bei bei' literally translates to 'back quilt'. It is a different carrier to the Hmong/Nyia carrier as well as to the traditional Korean Podeagi. 'A Bei Bei can be worn like a Hmong carrier but a Hmong carrier can not be used like a Bei Bei. A Bei Bei is a traditional carrier of it's own and is still widely used'
My Bei Bei, Jun 14, 2007 (https://www.thebabywearer.com/forum/)
Similar top strap only carriers can be found in other regions in China, although some of these carriers have variations in construction. Lots of examples of Chinese two strapped carriers are detailed in the book 'Bonding via Baby Carriers' (most of them from Guizhou province in southwest China with many of the carriers made by the Miao (Hmong ) or Dong (Kam) minorities. There are also some top strap only carriers made by the Rau-jia a subgroup of the Yao people, the Shui minority, and by the Ge-jia group)
How to Use A Bei Bei
Popularity and Use in the West
When the wide blanket podaegi was adopted into the west in addition to a torso carry it soon started to be used for the some of the same carriers that could be used in a long woven wrap (those that started in the centre and crossed over the torso first) - back wrap cross carry (BWCC) and front wrap cross carry (FWCC). Then a narrow blanket version soon appeared - it was still tied in the same way for a while but users quickly discovered it could easily be tied like a waist-less mei tai/meh dai i.e over the shoulders first. This led to an angled strap version that was no longer suited to torso carriers. Traditional narrow blanket carriers from Asia were known about but were far less popular than podaegi's so while it is certainly possible that they inspired the narrow blanket podaegi it is also possible that the narrow blanket was a natural development of the podaegi being used in a new way. It is probably impossible to know for sure and the narrow blanket podaegi seen in western countries may be inspired by both sources.
Wide blanket podaegi, Hmong/Nyia and Bei Bei were all known about and discussed on the popular babywearing fourms - such as The Babywearer (babywearer.com), and Natural Mamas.
Podaegi were well known and somewhat popular. In the first decade of the 2000's There were several US makers of podaegi. Ellaroo, Freehand, and Lovewrap were among the best known. There were also a few small WAHM (work at home Mum) companies and wrap converters who soon offered podaegi's too. Podegi makers were also found in Europe (eg Zidee, Kleinsmekker and others).
Ellaroo discontinued production by 2007. In 2008 only Freehand were making podaegi's in the US but were joined be UhBoohBahBaby in 2007/8. Wide blanket Korean podaegis were well known and the people who preferred this style often bought direct from Korea.
The Hmong/Nyia carrier was fairly well know by early users of thebabywearer.com but far less poular than podaegi. There are twice as many threads about podaegi than Hmong. Hmong were sometimes imported from Vietnam but there were two local makers of this style. Freehand was the most well known. They adapted their version directly from a carrier bough from ebay.
There was also Dai Nyia Hmong Baby Carriers (a company based in Thailand)
(https://hmongbabycarriers.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/blog-post.html) although that company started a few years after the other maker had closed and the popularity of this style had fallen (this company was not mentioned on thebabywearer). Occasionally there were posts from people who bought or were given their Hmong carriers directly from overseas or from local immigrant Hmong poeple (or bought through ebay).
The bei bei was known to the early users of thebabywearer.com and seemed to be a little less popular than the Hmong (but 'bei' is too short a term for the search engine at thebabywearer.com so I may have missed some threads). There was one company who imported bei bei from China as well as producing their own. Like with the other carrier types babywearers would sometimes import these carriers directly. Babywearers in the forum would often use these carriers in the same manner as a narrow blanket podaegi even though traditionally these carriers were used differently.
These three carriers were seen as distinct styles but there was a lot of overlap.
Development of the narrow blanket style
The first podaegi's made for the western market had the very wide blanket and straight top strap of the traditional podaegi but later some of the same companies came out with a narrow blanket version. They just shrank the width of the blanket - the rest of the carrier was constructed in the same way (eg straight stap only). Ellaroo is a good example of this. Ellaroo took over another company making wide blanket podaegi's called Onmamasback (which was one of the first companies making podaegi's to appear) and kept the same basic traditional design although they did add padding to the straps.
Earliest thread on The Babywearer about podaegi's is 2003 (although one poster mentions she has know about podaegi's for about a year. The posters seem to be referring to traditional wide blanket podaegi's only and the only local (US) maker mentioned is Onmamasback which had recently been bought out by Ellaroo.
The narrow blanket podaegi is first mentioned in 2004 (although it doesn't sound like it was a brand new idea so may have been around before this)
The original ellaroo podaegi instructions although they do have a narrow blanket pictured do not show the tying version where the straps go over the shoulder first (Hmong/Nyia/Bei Bei style). The tying options are more traditional (well except for the front facing out option!) Torso carry is shown plus a front and back carry that is tied in a similar way but after the straps are crossed under the arms instead of going back around and bypassing the shoulders the straps are placed over the shoulders. This creates a carry that puts little weight on the shoulders as it distributes the weight to the wearers torso (and it does feel much more like a torso carry than a shoulder only carry) (basically it's worn like a FWCC or a BWCC for those familiar with woven wrap carries). It's almost like it's in between the old and new way of wearing.
Photos of Ellaroo wide and narrow blanket podaegi's (tied in the same way.) The blanket in later versions of their narrow blanket podaegi's were made longer.
The angled strap version appeared not long after (not offered by Ellaroo but typical of the later narrow blanket podaegi). Freehand switched from straight to an angled strap version (they may have offered both styles for a while) and were the most popular maker (this company also made a Hmong style too).
I suspect this change may have been influenced by the fact that the straps of the narrow blanket can be tied similarly to the top straps of a mei tai and that's what people tended to do, as that was what users were more familiar with (from the more popular mei tai / meh dai). This use may also have been influenced by the narrow blanket Asian carriers which were used over the shoulder only and some members of the babywearer were also familiar with.
There are certainly instances in the forums of people buying the Ellaroo podaegi and tying it without reading the instructions - tying it more like a mei tai with the straps over the shoulder instead - and liking it enough to stick with that even when they realized the way they had tied it was 'wrong'.
... I just got an ellaroo podaegi - it's the small blanket version. I tried it today with my 11 month old. Great I thought, didn't take long to put on and seemed comfy.... then I looked at the instructions again and realized I had put it on wrong....Does anyone else have a podaegi and use it tied this way - can anyone see an obvious reason why it shouldn't be used this way? Please let me know how everyone else gets along with the small blanket podaegi (ellaroo) (from thebabywearer.com Josie, Jan 15, 2005)}
Quite a few forum members mentioned that they thought the narrow blanket podaegi was more like a Hmong than a traditional wide blanket podaegi (most of the later narrow podaegi's available had angled straps and were not designed to be used in a torso carry so in use they certainly were in fact more like Nyias/Hmongs). However Podaegi picture threads were comprised of wide and narrow blanket podaegi, hmong, and bei bei so I think they were all still seen as being in the same broad category which could also be broken down further if desired.
While Podaegi's, Bei Bei, and Hmong were mainly seen as distinct carriers and there are quite a few posts asking for clarification of the differences and if there there is an advantage of one over the other. With narrow blanket podaegi's though there was also certainly sometimes confusion about which carrier type they really belonged to.
One thread in 2007 was called 'Podaegis..confused over naming confusion. ;-)
n response to the thread -'help ease my confusion...trad pods verses other pods? The poster asked "Okay why r the carriers that look like Hmong carrier called a podaegi just like the traditional korean kind? Are these kinds of carriers also used in Korea? How did they come to be called podaegis"
Some interesting quotes from the forums:
" i still really wonder if calling the narrow blanket Podegi's "podegis" is correct or if really they are traditional MT's (which afaik from all the pictures I see typically have top straps only) just using in a non-traditional way if we take the straps under our arms first...Anyhow, I don't think it matter too much...top strap only with rectangles hanging down... "
mom2twinsplus2, Apr 6, 2005
"the differences .... appear to be artifacts of specific manufacturers, not of hmongs themselves, at least from the info i found.real korean podaegis, AFAIK, are always wide. some pod makers in the US thought it'd be cool to make a narrow, MT-ish one, so they did. kinda reinventing the wheel, IYKWIM.(from thebabywearer.com ellyzoe1, Mar 11, 2006)
" They have been westernized and generalized.
now a lot of pods are with slightly angeled straps, traditionally the straps (or strap) was straight.
Now it seems like any ABC that does not have bottom straps is getting called a podegi.
Traditionally and currently there are variations on the podegi, so you will see a lot of carriers that are called podegis"
Alohaparenting, Mar 17, 2007
"Many of the traditional carriers that look like narrow podaegis are actually hmongs or bei beis"
OregonMom, Mar 18, 2007
"Podaegis are not traditionally narrow, the narrow podaegis are a western adaptation. Podaegis also have a straight body, and the body is not really long. The straps are also straight across.
Hmongs are tarditionally 'narrow', meaning that they do not wrap around your body like traditional podaegis do. The body of a hmong is also longer, and curved by the 'seat' of the carrier (where the baby sits). Looking at a Hmong, there are also two sections, the seat and the headrest are often different designs/patterns. The straps are more at a diagonal in relation to the carrier than a podaegi.
Westernized 'narrow' podaegis are often a combination of the two. Some have straight straps, some are angled. Some are straight bodied, some have a curve in the body, or a difference in the pattern or material around the seat area."
OregonMom, Jan 16, 2007
From a discussion about bei bei's
"They wear quite differently from either the hmong or the pod--they are similar, but quite honestly I think that the bei bei "comes first" relative to narrow blanket pods... the narrow pods are newer. "
Jenrose, Jun 14, 2007
"I'm still trying to figure out what the difference between a hmong and a narrow blanket podegi is really. The only thing that I see different is the way that the baby is carried traditionally in a hmong (legs straight down) vs a podegi (legs straddled around mom). Since Korea shares a lot of its culture with China, Mongolia & Japan, being right smack in the middle of them, I see how the podegi can be very similar"
mibelleson, Feb 6, 2007
"Discussion about a traditional Chinese carrier found on ebay 'Funny that we westernized a Korean carrier to look like a traditional Chinese carrier. I'd like to get one just to compare it to one of my pods"
daemonwildcat, Mar 21, 2009
The narrow blanket podaegi seems to be seen as a western variation according to this Korean based podaegi vendor:
"Then later as time went by, Koreans came up with many other versions like:
mesh, modern podegi with buckles (also called chunei) and people from the west came up with funky ones called "narrow blanket" with straight or angled straps. The name "narrow blanket" is because it's just a narrow piece of fabric and it covers only baby's body and not right up to mama's body in the front. The ones we have here in Korea are everything except the narrow blanket." Jen - Traditional Korean podaegis and chuneis, Mothering forum 07-13-2008. https://www.mothering.com/forum/245-babywearing/930945-podaegi-confusion.html
Other two strap baby carriers
There are other traditional Chinese carriers which use only two top straps. Although apart from the Hmong and Bei Bei these were not as well known The photo shows some of the top strap only carriers found in southwest China, Almost all Chinese minorites have their own carriers. They live not only in China, but in Laos, Vietnam, and and Thailand too.
I have read speculation that this style of carrier is older than the four strapped mei tai/meh dai and the four strapped carrier evolved from them. I haven't found any good resources to support this but if anyone has any good sources I would love to know!
More photos of top strap only baby carriers can be found in this article
Two strap/top strap only carriers are also found invented independently in other parts of the world. The skinnbog or krippsack - a traditional carrier from Sweden where baby was usually carried both legs to the side like in a pouch (although this carrier has loops on the bottom to thread the straps through so in use is actually more like a meh dai/mei tai or onbuhimo.
A similar traditional top strap only carrier is also found in Bulgaria. I haven't been able to track down much information about this carrier. If you know anything about it (especially if you have a flat shot) I would love to see it. Update: I did find a flat shot and this carrier has two straps each in a continuous loop (almost like a non adjustable ombuhimo). This carrier is also found in Serbia.
This carrier type can also be seen in some parts of Africa. (the source of this photo doesn't mention which country but it is most likely Ethiopia. If you can narrow it down let me know and I'll edit it in)
My podaegi like most western designed podaegi is a hybrid of different styles. It has a straight strap design (like a hmong, bei bei, or wide blanket podaegi) a body shape that is wider at the bottom than the top (a bit like a Hmong but without the stacked squares), a fairly long and wide blanket (like a bei bei) but can be worn in a torso carry (torso was only traditionally used in the wide blanket podaegi).
The narrow blanket podaegi was most likely a natural development from introducing the wide blanket podaegi to users with a different wearing style but it was also quite possibly influenced by traditional carriers as well. I think it can be reasonably argued that the angled strap podaegi is very similar to a nyia/hmong/bei bei style since it can only be worn with the straps over the shoulders. However Hmong/Nyia and other similar styles of narrow blanket traditional carriers are not used for a torso carry. The narrow blanket straight strap podaegi seen in the west can be. My podaegi can be used comfortably as a torso carrier, (and some of my customers certainly use it this way) - so while my carrier is a mixture of different styles I consider it more of a podaegi style (albeit one with a much narrowed blanket and one with other carrying positions and strap tying possible).
Some of my past customs.
https://interactchina.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/chinese-mei-tai-baby-carrier/ (blog from China. Top strap only carriers are also described as 'mei tai'.)
https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/115678 - Hmong baby carriers in Minnesota: a material culture study. Chaney, Mary Alice (2011)
Beloved Burden: Baby-Wearing Around the World, 2015 by I. C. van Hout (Editor)
Bonding Via Baby Carriers: The Art and Soul of the Miao and Dong People 2001 by Yu-Chiao Lin, Christi Lan Lin, and Brenda Liu Lan
How cool is this! Vintage mei tai pattern from 1979 from an English children's clothes sewing book (I love old pattern books). Looks almost modern with the wide straps, even though they are attached differently and much shorter than than mei tai's made today. The straps are attached horizontally so this is almost like a podaegi with a waist belt.
Westernized mei tai's didn't become popular until at least the early 2000's and this is one of the earliest patterns I have seen. The Nursing Mothers Association (Australian Breastfeeding Association today) made mei tai's since the 60's but they were more traditionaly styled in construction and use. If anyone has a pattern earlier than this one I would love to see!
It's an interesting pattern and if I still had a child willing to be worn I'd try it out! I would add extra reinforcing at the straps though - an x box or bartack.
I love to sew. I have five curious and active kids who keep me busy!