Thursday, March 14, 2013

The trug to end all trugs

Our baby's trug, or cradle
Ever wondered how to solve the problem of a tiny living space, a growing baby, and limited storage?

Here's our solution: a traditional Sussex Trug.

In addition to finishing a few of my Libya projects (latest editorial here) in the last few days before baby boy Toler arrives, we have been putting together final touches on the few (very few) baby essentials, like a place for him to sleep.

The problem with accumulating anything is that we live in 550 square feet (plus an attic and a rooftop terrace, but still).  To complicate matters, a baby will need different arrangements at different times, and we didn't want to get a cradle for the newborn stage only to have to figure out after a few months how to get rid of/store it.  Finally, we dislike how most baby things look.

So...Lance came up with the brilliant idea to get a basket that could be usable after the newborn phase for other things--like a toy or a blanket receptacle.  (Not a "moses basket," which are essentially soft cradles and unusable/unattractive for much else.)  The issue with this, however, is that baskets that are big enough for a baby and suitable for other things are fairly difficult to find.  We know--we've looked (Camden Markets, local second-hand stores, kitchen stores, flower shops, and Covent Garden Markets in Vauxhall).

Enter The Truggery.  We found pictures of Sussex trugs online, the traditional willow plank and chestnut garden baskets--tough, durable, lightweight, with a strong English heritage (turns out Queen Victoria purchased Sussex Trugs after the Great Exhibition in 1851).

So I started doing my research and found The Truggery.  Their largest trug (#8 on their site) wasn't quite long enough, so I called.  Sarah, the mother of the 100-year-old family business (she's not 100 years old), was at first skeptical.

"A baby in a trug?" she said, puzzled.  Trugs are usually used for garden tools, vegetables--dirty things.  She thought, however, for a moment about whether it would work, reached out her toe to their big family bushel trug (pictured below), and gave a push.  She discovered that, because it didn't have the traditional feet most trugs do, it actually rocked.  She was now into the idea.

It turns out that The Truggery only makes the larger trugs (3/4 and full bushel trugs, #9 and #10s, respectively) only about once every 5 years.  But I was in luck - they had just cut enough willow and birch to make a bushel-sized trug as a special order, and may have enough wood to make two.

I waited in anticipation.  Sarah rang the next day.  Yes, they had enough wood for our trug.  I was elated.  This was at two weeks +3  out from my due date, so we were in a race against the clock to see if all could be ready before labor began...

We both set to work in what became our combined mission - she in speeding up her boys to get the thing made (it requires two drying periods), figuring out measurements, and finding a newborn in the neighborhood to see if the size of a bushel trug would really work, and me in figuring out the tricky issue of making overlapping hard-wood planking comfortable and safe enough for a baby.

After getting the measurements from Sarah, I found it easy to find a baby moses mattress and sheets to fit, but what to do for a lining?  I would not have the trug long enough before the baby came to have a custom-made lining fitted, nor did I want that, as the whole point was to use the trug for other things after our baby grew out of it.

Finally, I landed on the idea of sheepskin.  It was soft, thick, and could be used as a rug afterward.  Stick a baby moses mattress underneath or on top, and call it good.

Then I learned the specifics of SIDS, or what they call crib death here, in my pre-natal class.  Long sheep hair would not do.  So I did more research and thinking - what would look appropriate for a beautiful trug that would be feasible to make in a day or so after its arrival?

I finally spotted this in my baby bedding research, and had my idea: a blue/cream toile lining.

In the meantime, our trug arrived, and I was thrilled.

In my haste to shoot of an email thanking Sarah (whom I hadn't paid yet - who does that?), I almost missed her kind note explaining how to use the detached feet to steady the trug and this miniature trug included as a baby gift.  How sweet is this?

It looked great with the sheepskin in it - almost like something Tarzan or Genghis Khan would have slept in, no?

Finding the toile and figuring out how to make a simple lining was more of a challenge than I thought. After searching in several Oxford street shops (the English don't seem to know what toile is, and I had to explain several times to the uninitiated that it wasn't twill, but a pattern on a fabric that wasn't necessarily but often cotton), I finally found what I was looking for in a tapestry shop.  A few days later (yesterday), I was able to use a friend's sewing machine who also helped me figure out the measurements of a simple pattern for a lining, below.

Then the moment arrived - would it all fit and work?  Tell me what you think, but I must say that I'm a bit pleased with the whole thing.  The amount of effort, stress, and teamwork it took to put together our baby's first bed was more than we had anticipated.  However, I think, generally, it will all pay off, and we may have created a family heirloom in the process.

Thanks to Lance for the idea, the Truggery for their patience, help, and amazing customer service, and Charlotte for the use of her sewing machine!


  1. I will repeat, OF COURSE it's a trug. Of course. You guys blow my mind.

  2. wow. that's amazing. you are ready now. I look forward to seeing pic of him. Will you get a crib though when it is time? You can almost carry that to church. They grow so quickly. Enjoy his bitsy setup while you can.