COLLECTORS OF PHONECARDS, TRAIN, TRAM AND BUS TICKETS, and other ephemera of daily life have seen types of ephemera replaced with a plastic or electronic formats. The ephemeral babies’ nappy, because it is disposable, was probably only added to museum collections about childhood or to indicate the commodification of everyday life.
ESA members David Harris and Wendi Bradshaw address different aspects of a reusable nappy.
Banyule Banner is published six times a year and distributed free to residents of Banyule City Council. The cover of September 2021 features an attractive design of repeat pattern vignettes of a number of “familiar landmarks and colourful flora and fauna to celebrate the beauty of the local area”. Notably arched trees at Warringal Park, a palette, brush and paintings reference the Heidelberg School of Artists, ringtail possum and colourful birds indigenous to the area; not least the Welcome Swallow, stylised outline of which informs the council logo. The council’s name is included in script within the overall design and the design is enclosed in a brown border which on close inspection is an uppercase B.
The “custom-illustrated piece of artwork” is attributed to locally based business Designer Bums and was commissioned by the Council for a modern cloth reusable nappy. The product is part of a program to address the problem of disposable nappies, in conjunction with in-person and virtual training on various cloth options.
Waste disposal, landfill and related consumer issues are a perennial problem and this novel approach to one aspect is laudable. It is hoped that watercolour (or gouache?) artwork will appeal to the target customer but one could imagine it used more widely; as curtain or furnishing fabric, even as a greeting card or wrapping paper. (DGH)
Disposable nappy: Brief history by Wendi Bradshaw
The precursor to today’s disposable nappy was invented by Scot Valerie Hunter Gordon in 1948 – giving the saying “necessity is the mother of invention” one of its best examples. After having her third child, Hunter Gordon confessed that the thought of the endurance of washing, bleaching, mangling, ironing and folding the square cloth things yet again was too much to bear. Realising that there was no alternative available anywhere, with her competent sewing skills she first made a nappy set contrived of elastic-legged, outer plastic pants – made from old nylon parachutes – which were easily wipeable and reusable. Within this she inserted cellulose wadding with a cotton wool lining, which was the disposable part. Even this basic prototype soon gained popularity amongst her friends and over time the product was further modified and patented to become the convenient, must-have item we know today.
The Banuyle City Council’s program has been met with enthusiasm by many locals and their reusable nappy is, by all appearances, a happy hybrid between the original square cloth nappy and the custom-shaped disposable version, but more attractive.
In partnership with Elena from Cloth Nappy Workshops Melbourne and Designer Bums’ owner Carla Schwef, the Council began nappy education courses in 2017, which have proved extremely popular. If the trends continue there may eventually be a dwindling of the disposable nappy market, with resultant relief to landfill, and environmental benefit. That something disposable with a negative environmental impact has been recreated into something with improved utility, is a wonderful initiative in itself. And to do it beautifully and with local reference is a bonus. (WB)
If you happen to have early samples of disposable nappies, we’d love to have a look! (unused).
This article was first published in the Ephemera News December 2021.
A number of museums collect nappies as an integral part of babyhood and early childhood.
Read about and see some of an exhibition ‘Bringing up baby’ at the Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh.
A conservator from the Victoria & Albert Museum, National Museum of Childhood wrote about a nappy collection in 1997– Nappies at the National Museum of Childhood.