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p-tent-const-art - 9/23/98


"Building a Period Tent" by Geoffrey Maynard.


NOTE: See also these files: pavilions-msg, tent-alt-msg, tent-care-msg, tent-making-msg, tent-fabrics-msg, tent-painting-msg, tent-sources-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set

of files, called Stefan’s Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at:



Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be

reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first

or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


                              Thank you,

                                   Mark S. Harris

                                   AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                        stefan at florilegium.org



Constructing a period tent

by Geoffrey Maynard


Making a medieval event look better is very simple, one method is to make a period tent.  Tents for period camping can be constructed from many materials and methods.  This article will outline and suggest some of the steps of the tent making process.  The article was written with non-Viking tents in mind, but many of the same principles will work on Viking tents.


Pre planning


The first step in the construction of a tent is the planing of the tent.  This is best accomplished by playing “2-D” doll house.  Begin with two pieces of graph paper, assume one square equals one square foot.  Cut one of the pieces into the size and shape of the items that will be going into the tent ( bed, table, chairs, armour pile, cooler, etc...).  Next arrange the cut-outs on the other piece of graph paper to determine the best size and shape for you, remember leave room for movement.  Decide on the height of the walls, 6 to 7 feet is common.  Also decide on the height of the center of the tent or decide on the roof slope, a slope of 45 degrees works well.  A slope of less then 30 degrees will lead to puddling at the sides and a slope of over 60 degrees wastes fabric.


Some items that need to be thought about are floors, windows, and doors.  Another thing to consider is what type of vehicle the tent will be transported in i.e. a school bus or a VW.


Also think as to how the tent will be set up.  Most tents should be able to be set up in the dark, with rain coming down, in less than 30 minutes by one person.  


Fabric choice


The next step is fabric choice.  Most of this choice is based on availability of the fabrics.


The price on most of these is between $3 to $6 per yard.  A number 69 nylon thread is recommended.

*(not used by author, yet)


fabric                  Advantages                   Disadvantages


Canvas                    period                     Mildew and rot

6 to 16 oz./sq yd       easy to work                 Needs treatment

                                                (water resistance, etc..)

                                                     Heavy when wet.


Nylon             Treated (urethane coating)            Not Period

400 denier (pack cloth) Does not absorb water      damaged by prolonged

to 1000 denier (cadere) mildew resistant           exposure to sunlight (3+yrs)


Silk*                     Period                       Expensive


Vinyl                  Water PROOF                     NOT period

                     Mildew resistant                   heavy


Misc. Fabrics         less than $2/yd                  wild cards.


bargain bins,



Some sources are local fabric/ upholstery stores.  A few wholesale sources are:


Trident              305 726 0270         1st’s and 2nd’s  Canvas and nylon

Astrup               216 696 2800         1st’s Canvas and nylons

National Dye Works   800 321 3931         nylons and canvas

Claredon Textiles    800 752 1332         Canvas


Seam choice


There are two methods of sewing tents.  The first is to hand sew it, good luck it is not quick.  The second and easier method is to use a machine.  It has been found that the best choice is to use a industrial walking foot machine, next choice is an old heavy straight stitch machine.  Many of the newer plastic machines can not handle the thread let alone the fabric.  The quicker the machine the less time that you will spend sewing.


When deciding of the seams to use think about finished edges, strength, and water tightness.  The best two seam are either the French seam or the flat fled seam. Both of these have advantages and disadvantages, listed below.


Seam               Disadvantage                     Advantage


French             not as pretty                    33 to 50% savings in time

                  slightly less strong *           1 set of stitches to leak


Flat fled          Almost  twice as much work       looks nice

                  Two rows of stitches to leak     slightly stronger


*(author’s first tent has lasted over 10 years with this style seam)


Calculating yardage


One of the next steps in planning is to figure the yardage needed.  First decide on the width of the fabric, the wider the better, 60” is common.  



To figure the roof length use the Pythagorean theorem (a*a)+(b*b)=(c*c),  a is the horizontal distance from the center pole to the wall and b is the vertical distance from the walls to the peak, hence c= the distance along the roof from the peak to the top of the walls. (if doing a circle tent use attached chart.) Remember that seams use up about 2”.{an example is a 10’ round tent with 60” material and a 45 degree slope (5x5=25, 25+25=50,   Square root of 50=7.1’ , this plus 2” is the length of the radius of the pie shaped pieces. Next the number of pieces is 10 x 3.14(pi)=31’, 31’/5’= 6 pieces. }



To figure the walls, compute the circumference of the tent and then divide by the width of the fabric, allowing a few inches per seam.  Then multiply this number by the height in yards.  Remember to use the same units, {an example is.  a 10’ round tent with 7’ walls ( circumference = 31.4’.  using 45” material (43/12=3.58’)  (31.4/3.58=8.77 Panels at 7’) so 9 panels at 7’=(9x7/3)=21yds}



If you wish to have a floor it can be figured by taking the width of the tent and dividing it by the fabric width minus a few inches for seams, this will give the number of panels.  The length of the panels is the length of the tent plus a few inches for the seams.  Multiply the number of panels by the length and compute the number of yards.  Also add for doors, windows etc...



Daggs (valance) are computed by  taking the fabric width and dividing it by the width of the dagg plus seam allowance and then dividing the circumference of the tent by that number.  



Porches are a very nice addition on a tent, they can be figured the same way a floor was.


Some things to do to cover mistakes.  Always round up.  Check your math again and have a friend check it also.  Order approximately 10% extra.



Below are calculated yardage for common size and shape tents.

The assumptions are: 60” wide fabric, 45 degree slope, 6’ walls and 12” daggs.


            Roof       Walls       Floor      Daggs        Total

10’ Round   10 yds      14yds       7 yds       2yds        33 yds

10’ Square  10 yds      16 yds      7 yds       3 yds       36 yds

15’ x10’    15 yds      20 yds     10 yds       4 yds       49 yds


Remember always order more, bags and flags can be made from scraps and extra material.




Cutting the fabric is the next step.  It is recommended to have a long space to do this, but it can be done in a small space also.   The tools needed are a tape measure, a chalk line, and a pair of scissors.  Using two people to cut the fabric is recommended.  

When the yardage was calculated the piece size should have been calculated.  For cutting long straight cuts a chalk line is very useful.  For doing large (long) pieces in a small space mark the fabric using chalk to the length of the area and then repeat until the complete piece is measured.




After the fabric is cut, it is time to sew it.  You will be doing many very long seams moving large amounts of fabric through the machine.  It is very handy to have a second person to help move or “help” the fabric through the machine. (Some of the fabrics are coated, normally the coating goes in the inside, be aware of this when sewing this type of fabric.)  


Use the type of seam that was decided upon and try to begin by sewing the smaller pieces first and then move to the larger ones, this will give you practice using the machine and moving the material.  Many people will pin the seams to assure that they will not slip, it is your choice based on your sewing experience.  Some will iron in between passes of stitches, this allows for easier sewing and crisper seams ( this should not be tried of fabrics that will melt ), but it is also very difficult on larger tents.


Don’t worry if your edges don’t line up after a seam is done, sewing a tent has larger tolerances that sewing garb.  Think about the upscale in size.

When sewing think about were the poles and ropes will be, a grommet will probable be used here.  It is best if these are attached at points that have been reinforced with at least 4 layers of the base material.  This reinforcement should be sewn in place when you can still get to the location with the machine.


Water “proofing”


Very few tents are water proof, most are water resistant.  There are many ways to keep the rain out of a tent.


If nylon fabric is used then it normally comes with a polyurethane coating on one side, this side is normally on the inside of the tent, so all you have to do is the seal the seams.  A good product for this is “ seam sealer” by K-kote, it can be purchased at many camping and sporting goods stores.  After a few years of use the nylon will need to be recoated K-kote also makes a recoating product, this can also double as a seam sealer.  


If canvas has been used the best water “proofer” is Thomson’s or an equivalent brand (less expensive).  The best way to use this is to place the tent parts in a large clean container ( a new 30 gallon trash can is a good suggestion) and pour the water “proofer” over the tent until it saturates the fabric.  Then take the tent our and either set it up or hang it our to dry (be aware of the fumes).  Spraying a tent roof with a garden sprayer has many problems, some of them are: it will kill the grass under the area sprayed, very difficult to reach high ceilings, wasted water “proofer” on grass, persons doing spraying the water”proofer” etc.., uneven coating.


For those interested in a period method canvas and beeswax will work, but this is VERY FLAMMABLE.  It also would not fold well for transport.


Poles, ropes and stakes



Poles can be any thing that will support the tent.  A max. length should be decided on based on the transport vehicle.  If your poles are  longer that this some suggestions for braking them into smaller pieces are EMT (metal conduit, very inexpensive) or chain link fence top rails ( they are great, one end is “necked” and they are inexpensive).  If you can use wood ones, closet rods and 2x2 work well and look better.


For round tents that are true circles or marques that have true semi-circle ends a hoop constructed from dome tent poles or fiberglass chain link tension rods works well.  PVC piping does not work as well.



Any type of rope will work, a good diameter is 3/16” to 5/16”, material choice is same as fabric choice (see above chart).



The best all around stake is a 12” spike.  These are very inexpensive, durable, and easy to drive.  Tire irons, dog stakes (giant corkscrews), re-bar, etc...have been used as stakes.


Research and documentation


Some good sources for ideas are contemporary pictures found in most books.   A good topic to look at are Armouring books, many times tents will be shown on the Lyst field or on the battle field.  


Two very good books are listed below.


“King Rene’s Book of Love”  ISBN 0-8076-0989-7.  The cover of the book shows a tent with a window in the side wall and a floor.  There are also other tents inside.


“Henry VIII and the invasion of France” by Cruickshank ISBN 0-86299-768-2.  This is the best book describing tents and camping.  There are no pictures, but it is good reading.  It has a whole chapter on camping.



The author of this is Geoffrey Maynard of York, this was wriitten to save time in explaining the first steps in building a tent.  Geoffrey Maynard resides in Trimaris, shire of Starhaven (Melbourne FL) and has constructed quite a few tents for himself and friends.


Copyright Geoffrey Maynard, 1997. This article may be copied by anyone desiring to use it for educational purposes as long as you mention my name and send me a copy of the newsletter.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org