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Object Timeline

1950

  • Work on this object began.

2000

  • Work on this object ended.

2012

  • We acquired this object.

2013

2019

  • You found it!

Baby Carrier (mei Tai) (China), 1950–2000

This is a Baby carrier (mei tai). It is dated 1950–2000 and we acquired it in 2012. Its medium is cotton embroidery on cotton foundation, rattan? and its technique is appliquéd and embroidered in cross stitch on plain weave. It is a part of the Textiles department.

Most southwest Chinese ethnic groups, especially the Miao, are best known for their embroidery. Traditionally women’s work, embroidery was a Miao girl’s first attempt at needlework starting as early as four or five years old. Watching their mothers and other women in the community weave and embroider, they would later pass on this knowledge to the next generation. As one Miao woman explains, “A woman’s life is a dance with needle and thread. The book or painting of a woman’s life is created using the needle as a pen or brush and thread as ink.” Exquisitely woven and embroidered clothing and accessories, like this baby carrier (mei tai), were an important part of a girl’s dowry and distinguished her by the skill and richness of decoration of the needlework.
This carrier, densely embroidered in cross stitch, contains what appears to be an ox horn motif, symbolizing the strength and endurance of the male reproductive organ. Some Miao cultures hang ox horns over the entrance to their homes to signify a growing family. To protect a child, parents will do as much as they can, including using clothing to achieve a mystical effect upon the baby. Baby carriers serve a very important function for the mother as they allow her to continue working without leaving her baby alone. There are many types of baby carriers, most of which hold the baby on the mother’s back. This T-shaped carrier is probably the most typical; the baby rests between the top panel and the wearer’s back with the belts wrapping around both of them to hold the baby in place. In this particular carrier, there is a flexible insert in the top panel, probably a reed mat, which would have given the baby additional support. The straps are wound over the wearer’s shoulders, cross over the chest, and then wrap back around the baby’s bottom to the front of the wearer, where it is tied at her waist.
Distinctive about this carrier is the decoration of the straps themselves, which reflect the same motifs as the panels. Because the straps received the heaviest wear-and-tear, they would often be replaced. In this piece, however, the original straps are intact, likely indicating that this carrier would have only been used for special occasions.

It is credited Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund.

Its dimensions are

H x W (without straps): 69.5 x 51.4 cm (27 3/8 x 20 1/4 in.) H x W (with straps): 69.5 x 332.7 cm (27 3/8 in. x 10 ft. 11 in.)

Cite this object as

Baby Carrier (mei Tai) (China), 1950–2000; cotton embroidery on cotton foundation, rattan?; H x W (without straps): 69.5 x 51.4 cm (27 3/8 x 20 1/4 in.) H x W (with straps): 69.5 x 332.7 cm (27 3/8 in. x 10 ft. 11 in.); Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund; 2012-6-1

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url=https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18797501/ |title=Baby Carrier (mei Tai) (China), 1950–2000 |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=19 June 2019 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>