by Vesta Hartman Garcia
What is a rebozo?
To many Westerners, one of the most familiar traditional baby carriers is the Mexican baby sling, or rebozo (reh-boh'-soh). The word rebozo means shawl in Spanish, which indicates the everyday function of this traditional cloth. Like so many traditional baby slings around the world, the rebozo is "whatever you need it to be at the time": cool-weather wrap, knapsack, sash, elegant shawl, or, yes, baby carrier. Also like so many other traditional cloths, rebozos are an expression of Mexican art, history, and culture. There was a time when a woman's status in society could be guessed by the quality of her rebozo. While still prevalent in indigenous populations, daily rebozo use has fallen out of favor with the growing Mexican middle class.
Rebozos are generally about 30 inches (75 cm) wide, varying in length from about 80 to 110 inches (200 to 275 cm). They are traditionally hand-woven of cotton or silk, and finished on the ends with fringe, which can be knotted simply or braided elaborately. Modern technology and materials have affected rebozo-making, like everything else. Today the most commonly available rebozos are machine-woven, often of acrylic or rayon, sometimes with hand-tied fringe. This makes them affordable for the people who use them most, but the quality and durability often leave something to be desired. Weaving rebozos by hand is quickly becoming an art form, rather than a viable career choice.
Tying methods and Positions
There are several ways to employ a rebozo to help carry a baby (or other heavy load):
The fastest and easiest method is a favorite of Mexican grandmothers. The rebozo is wrapped around both shoulders, baby is held in front, and the ends of the rebozo are crossed one over the other and tucked under baby's bottom. This takes much of baby's weight off of the arms and can be shifted and adjusted very easily. It's a great solution when minding baby is your only task at the moment, as you must keep your arms around your cozy bundle.
Again fast and easy, this method is often used by busy Indian mothers who need the use of their hands. The rebozo is brought over one shoulder, and the ends are twisted together and tucked under that same arm, creating a pouch similar to modern baby slings. While this may seem terribly insecure to our untrained eye, it is second nature for these women. Baby-minding is a skill that is practiced from an early age, and the rebozo is employed from the very beginning.
This is by far the most common method, both in Mexico and Western countries. Rather than twisting the ends of the rebozo, they are tied into a knot. The positioning is the same as the Twist, with the knot placed either in front of the shoulder (corsage area) or pushed around to the small of the back. With this single tying method, baby can be worn in all of the common baby sling positions (cradle, hip, tummy-to-tummy, back, kangaroo).
In my experience, rebozos are one of the most sophisticated of the traditional baby slings, in terms of fabric dynamics and elegance of "design". Quality rebozos are lightweight, compact, and versatile. The fabric "gives" just enough to be comfortable for wearer and baby, and they are often gorgeous, to boot. How much of your baby gear can you use pre- and post-baby? Money spent on high-quality rebozos is an investment in Mexican folk art.