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Thread: sewing my own wall tent

  1. #1

    Default sewing my own wall tent

    How difficult would it be to sew, waterproof and grommet my own wall tent? Where would i find a pattern or directions? If i do decide to buy a canvas tent how hard would it be to make my own poles?

  2. #2
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    Tent makers who sell you a tent will give you plans for poles. Basic ones can be made from stock lumber, a drill and a hand saw. Nice ones require a table saw.

    If you wish to sew your own wall tent you will need access to a sewing machine capable of sewing canvas. An upholstery machine or other heavy duty industrial machine is best. Now, I've forced a common household machine to sew canvas, but this will ruin the timing of the machine and produce a poor sewing product.

    Hand sewn tentage of this size is more of an 18th century thing. It requires a good deal of hand strength. You'll have better luck finding patterns in that time period.
    Mrs. Lawson
    Weaver, Spinster, Strong Fast Dyes
    Knitted Goods and yarns available thlawson@bellsouth.net



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  3. #3
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    Actually for the first half of the war, most canvas tents were still handsewn, whether miltiary or civilian. This is due in part to the cost of heavier machines and particularly the military distrust of machines for thick material. It wasn't til about 1863 that the Federal government began looking into machine sewing tentage as a wholesale practice. The Schuylkil Arsenal, St. Louis, Cincinnatti, and various other depots continued to handsew larger tentage right to the end of the war. Confederate tentage was largely handsewn. Thats largely the good news. The bad news is, it is a bear to handsew a wall tent (or even a common tent - wedge tent). I've made several wedges through the years and its not fun on the hands for handsewing and even on a proper machine its hard. Couple that with the cost of canvas these days, and it is actually cheaper to purchase one ready made. Not wanting to dampen your enthusiasm, but with the lack of available patterns, the cost of canvas, and the time it will consume, you are better served to buy one.
    Ross L. Lamoreaux
    Tampa Bay History Center
    www.tampabayhistorycenter.org
    On Facebook at: Tampa Bay History Center Living History Programs

    "The simplest things, done well, can carry a huge impact" - Karin Timour, 2012

  4. #4
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    http://www.sailrite.com/Ultrafeed-LS...FcZM4AodrT-YHA

    Unless you have endless hours available for hand sewing, and a few skin-saving tools like a thick, stiff leather palm and thumb and maybe an awl or two, you're looking at a machine like the one above to handle the canvas. If you try to run it through a regular home sewing machine, you stand a good chance of overstraining the machine and throwing it out of whack, as Mrs. Lawson said. Even old treadle machines, while tougher than the electric ones, are really hard put to handle canvas. I learned this not making tents, but years ago while trying to run up a small canvas sail for a boat: I switched to Dacron. Anyway, you could buy several tents for the cost of that machine.
    Bill Watson
    I write about history for people who regret not being there when it happened.

    Books
    Brother William's War, Illustrated, about a Southerner's war
    The Ludlam Legacy, Illustrated, about a young Yankee orphan's war.
    Seize the Day! A best-practices guide to wringing more satisfaction from your Civil War weekend
    The Little Book of Civil War Reenacting: An introduction for those who want to try it out

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    To elaborate on what Ross said. At the beginning of the War, most of the tentage was produced by existing sail making companies located along the coast. Since, in the middle of the 19th. Century, most ships were still powered by sail, there were many small sail makers who supplied the market. Same goes for the mills that produced cotton duck fabric. Millions of yards of cotton duck were produced for the sail making market in 1860.

    For more information than you want on tent making and tent makers during the Civil War, I would recommend "The Extensive Side of Nineteenth-Century Military Economy: The Tent Industry in the Northern United States during the Civil War", written by Mark R. Wilson and published in June 2001, by the Business History Conference.

    The tent industry, like most of the industries of the time, were dominated by small producers, who sold their production to middlemen, who actually had the government contracts for goods and services. It accounts for the wide variety, in both quality and details, of surviving artifacts from the period.
    Bill Rodman, If you need a really bad example.
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    wrodman1@aol.com

  6. #6
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    Learn something new every day.

    I knew the Confederates were hand sewing flys, yet another job I leave to a professional, but thought the Federals had some machine seen tentage from the get-go.
    Mrs. Lawson
    Weaver, Spinster, Strong Fast Dyes
    Knitted Goods and yarns available thlawson@bellsouth.net



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  7. #7
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    Speaking in broad strokes: Just prior to the war, sewing machines were not most often in the hands of professionals but in the homes of women tired of tedious hand sewing. Tailors initially rejected machines as a threat to their livelihood. Manufacturers went to "Plan B," direct marketing to another group of sewers. The sewing machine was apparently one of the first devices ("appliances") to be sold door to door AND on time installments for payment. Lots of stuff was sold door to door before sewing machines, but not "$3 a month for x months." It was a marketing/sales tipping point of some sort.
    As a result, and especially because of the cultural expectation on where clothing for servants was supposed to be coming from on many plantations, there were sewing machines everywhere, including the South. My wife collected accounts of sewing circles in Georgia and South Carolina where women got together, had packets of pre-cut cloth, and assembled uniforms from them; in several cases there were references to a machine being used where suitable, with the rest (the bulk of it) done by hand.
    Last edited by billwatson2; 11-15-2011 at 11:41 AM. Reason: clarity
    Bill Watson
    I write about history for people who regret not being there when it happened.

    Books
    Brother William's War, Illustrated, about a Southerner's war
    The Ludlam Legacy, Illustrated, about a young Yankee orphan's war.
    Seize the Day! A best-practices guide to wringing more satisfaction from your Civil War weekend
    The Little Book of Civil War Reenacting: An introduction for those who want to try it out

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by billwatson2 View Post
    My wife collected accounts of sewing circles in Georgia and South Carolina where women got together, had packets of pre-cut cloth, and assembled uniforms from them; in several cases there were references to a machine being used where suitable, with the rest (the bulk of it) done by hand.
    Bill W.

    You are correct about the sewing machines in the South prior to the War. Problem was, most of them couldn't be used during the War. Domestically produced thread wasn't uniform enough to function in the machines of the period. Thread did come through the blockade, but not nearly enough.
    Bill Rodman, If you need a really bad example.
    King of Prussia, PA
    wrodman1@aol.com

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    I designed my own medieval round pavilion, utilizing a "hoop" structure. I created the plans and had a professional make it (Tentsmiths). They now use my tent as the picture on their web site:

    http://www.tentsmiths.com/period-tents-pavilion.html

    I outsourced the actual work because I figured all it would take is one screw-up with the fabric and any cost savings would be gone. Plus the fact that I would have to borrow the machine capable of sewing the canvas.

    Steve
    Steve Sheldon

  10. #10
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    "Domestically produced thread wasn't uniform enough to function in the machines of the period. Thread did come through the blockade, but not nearly enough."

    As I recall, most of the references to the machines were indeed early war.
    Bill Watson
    I write about history for people who regret not being there when it happened.

    Books
    Brother William's War, Illustrated, about a Southerner's war
    The Ludlam Legacy, Illustrated, about a young Yankee orphan's war.
    Seize the Day! A best-practices guide to wringing more satisfaction from your Civil War weekend
    The Little Book of Civil War Reenacting: An introduction for those who want to try it out

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