DIY Nomadic Shelter: tents and yurts

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(Dennis Lanigan) #1

This is a new thread about sewing and creating Tents! I’ll be working on mine over the next few months and I’ll likely share what I’m up to. I’ll be living in a Montana Canvas wall tent in the mean time (though we’ll see if my friends get the tent here in NM from Maine). I thought I would separate this from the long gear thread where we had been talking tents already.

The tent I’m working on is the Conover Tent that’s an eight sided bell tent. The pattern is from A Winter Walker’s Companion by the Conovers. The “Arctic” Tent from ATUK is the exact tent I’m talking about. I’m getting 10.10 oz army duck canvas from Canvas Etc, which has army duck right now for $3/yard.

Going to Alaska? Gear list, please

From Atuk pictures it looks like they used narrow canvas with two widths for every side, if you used the wider canvas you could likely use one width per side and save money and sew time. Which method does the Conover pattern use? I’ve read the book but it’s been awhile.

I’m assuming the Atuk uses one run of canvas from the bottom of the wall to the peak, probably the two pieces of the side are sewn together and then the “eves” is folded around a piece of rope and sewn to create the lip between wall and roof. Using narrow canvas means pretty much zero waste as each half of one side will nest perfectly on the yardage, but depending on the amount of stretch in the canvas this means each joint between sides is a Bias/bias seam, meaning it will stretch much more then the straight of grain seams in the center of each side.

If you use a normal width canvas you would likely have to separate the wall and roof, and tip the roof triangle onto one side so as to tessellate two triangles. If alternated properly this gives you each corner seam with one edge being bias and one edge being straight of grain. The wall could be sewn on as one piece all the way around, or two joined together if you simply wanted to split one normal width of canvas.

What kind of seam do you plan to use and with what thread?

What are you using for stake out loops and upper guyout points?

(Dennis Lanigan) #3

That’s a good point on the regular width fabric. I became focused on 36" width because the price is half the cost of full width stuff. But if I need twice as much, along with a lot more thread, it negates the savings…The Conover pattern doesn’t have any instructions nor does it imply using fabric like Atuk does. However, the widest width is 5’ so to me that means getting 72" material I assume.

I plan on doing double felled seams with bias tape to help me out. For tie-down loops I’m going to use webbing. I have a grommet setter, but also have a lot of webbing too. I’ll probably use t69 nylon bonded thread.


5ft is 60" which is the standard fabric width for most things (more or less, lots ends up being 58" in real life).

This is where the tessellation and Bias/Straight thing comes in, if you did every side and roof section as one piece you would have to place the triangles point to point and waste a ton of fabric.

They must be sourcing extra wide fabric for their rain fly with the measurements they list.

I would recommend polyester or even cotton/poly thread if you haven’t already bought it. Poly will hold up to UV better, and if you get cotton/poly it might even swell a bit when wet and help seal the stitch holes.

I’ll try to post a pattern marker showing best fabric use tomorrow.


crappy doodle, represents 3 runs of fabric, going from left to right.
top is what I meant by tessellating the triangles.

  1. represents the “standard” way of doing the side walls, 8 3ft x fabric width panels.
  2. is an alternate way that means more fabric, but less sewing and fewer seams. One continuous strip 3 ft tall matching the circumference of the tent, simply put the zipper or opening on the edges. Good/bad you now have a long 2ft strip of fabric to turn into mukluks, anoraks, bags or what have you.

Alternately you could find a narrow width of canvas in a height you could live with and have practically zero cutting for the continuous wall, don’t be afraid to mix fabric types or colors, 2-tone tents look rad.

top view demonstrates what I was saying about alternating bias and straight of grain seams, If you don’t you will get some seams (bias to bias) that are pretty stretchy and some (straight to straight) that aren’t stretchy at all and it will give you hell every time you pitch it. Zipper is better if set into two straight seams (hard enough to get zippers to line up) but you can either fight the stretch, have one seam somewhere else on the tent be bias/bias to balance it out, or change to an odd number of panels.

blown up tent 1) shows continuous wall, build roof then sew on wall.

option 2) shows standard way, sew every wall panel to every roof panel and then sew each together.

(Dennis Lanigan) #6

That’s really helpful to see visually. Having built a yurt from scratch I can get my head around having just one piece of fabric for the wall, until I get to the doors of course. There’s a yurt math site that I wish I had for this project.

I’m avoiding zippers as they seem to fail too often. I haven’t really figured out what I’m going to use yet. Buckskin? Webbing? Some type of simple ties that I could repair easily.

My tent might get some interesting colors because I have friends dumpstering canvas and leather for me from Duluth pack. I ran out of Filson canvas recently making a knapsack. I’m definitely going to make a ridiculous multicolor dream knapsack out of all the scraps as I continue to learn to sew.

The pyramid tent I’m borrowing has an interesting way of combining all the top material which I’m glad to see up close because I had no clue on how to finish that. I’ll post a picture of that soon.

(Dennis Lanigan) #7

Here’s the knapsack I made from dumpstered Filson canvas.


Non-zipper doors are tricky, I’ve seen a few different ones but very few can easily be operated from both sides of the tent AND seal well. #10 plastic tooth zip with a big stiff storm flap is my first choice, but there are lots of options. I wouldn’t go with ties personally, but big toggles with loops can be a decent option, and there are some metal clasps you could use as well.

I guess the main question is will your door be extending up and over the roof, or will it just be on the side wall?

(Mandy Szostek) #9

that is so cool! i checked out the stoves on that site as well- the sheep herder stoves…are you going to use a stove, and stay outside during the winter? it’s really awesome . i never even thought of doing that, and it just made me feel so free and happy to even have the idea presented to me./// i bet those stoves can provide real heat---- i grew up w/ a wood burning stove in a log cabin, and it was incredible!

(Dennis Lanigan) #10

I just moved into a 10x14 Montana canvas tent, so my diy tent isn’t so urgent. I like it so far. It’s very used though. Full of mildew on the walls and the front zipper is falling off. The huge rainfly, which reminds me of a used billboard tarp, has been perfect as we had 2" of rain last couple days. So glad I wasn’t out in that.

The tent is not well stitched together. The material is just overlapped instead of flat felled seams. I don’t think dropping a $1000 on one is a good idea.

I have to figure out how to turn the 8" chimney hole into a 5" for my kni-co packer stove that is coming. Anyone have ideas? I need to figure out how to get chimney hole material for my tent as well of course.

(Dennis Lanigan) #11

I’m tempted to just do a sidewall door. The design with the door into the roof doesn’t make sense to me.

Seeing a zipper in person on my current wall tent, I think I just need to figure out how to keep the thread from ripping out under tension.

I have a really dumb question too. Is it even possible to see this on my singer 4423? I have access to a singer 30-15 if I really need it (but it’s clutch and can skip stitches…). When I think about sewing on the rain fly I can’t even imagine how that would work. (For those who don’t know: A singer 31-15 is an industrial sewing machine used for sewing parachutes by the Navy.)


Hard to say on the machines, you’ll just have to get some sample fabric and try. The main seams might not be a problem, usually I run into problems on lighter machines when I’m trying to put webbing into seams. Just design everything as thin as possible and go for it. If there are spots that are too thick you can always reinforce them by hand.

Side wall only door will save quite a bit of trouble, you could even put a door on two seams so you could roll a whole flap up when you wanted too.
Sidewall door will probably not be under much tension either, shouldn’t be a stressed zipper like some designs as long as the wall is allowed to just hang from the roof.

You can buy ready made stove jacks from some tent places, either the big metal ones or small fabric ones. Seek Outside sells smaller ones for light weight tents but 5" would probably be pushing it.

What are you planning on making the rainfly out of? will you just use the same pattern as the roof and suspend it above?

(Dennis Lanigan) #13

I’m thinking of getting this jack. I’m hoping I can sew it in temporarily or Velcro it in as I want to keep it for my tent later.

I’m not sure on the rain fly material. A friend had a lead on breathable medical fabric for cheap, but never got back to me on what it was called. She made her whole tent out of it. I’ll probably use sil-nylon ripstop or something similar.

I’m also thinking I could just make the walls whatever width I get rather than the 3’ specified so I can get in and out easier. Maybe figure out a covered door/vestibule situation.

(Dennis Lanigan) #14

I know I can sew thick canvas. I’m just thinking of what do I do when I’m sewing all the panels of the roof. How do I pass all that through a small opening of a home seeing machine?

(Mandy Szostek) #15

Dennis, I was wondering, how is the tent doing?? I have been interested in these cotton tents with wood burning stoves since first seeing yur post. How is the heat, and the drafts, if any, for the winter?? :slight_smile:

(Andrew) #16

We sewed an entire tent with 10oz. treated (so more like 13oz.) Sunforger. This was done on an inexpensive machine from Wal-Mart or some such big store. It was a pain sometimes, but there was always a way to get through it.

To be fair, we did have a “Project Runway” special edition, so…

(Dennis Lanigan) #17

The tent is going ok. It’s pretty easy when the overnight temps only get into the twenties and it’s sunny everyday. I get cold sometimes but I have no body fat so it’s my own fault. I have two sleeping bags and two down comforters. I need to eat more and get some Merino long underwear.

I have had to learn a lot about: keeping water from freezing, keeping out mice and dogs, optimal firewood, lights (I can’t find lights that work for me and need to make more candles), doing dishes without running water…lots to learn.

As far as making a tent that’s on hold for now as I think I need to build a structure with thermal mass rather than hope to stay warm thru the long AK winter in a tent. I might just make/buy a small hot tent so I have options/can winter camp.

(Mandy Szostek) #18

Oh wow… keeping out dogs? I would like to camp with dogs, but I hadn’t
thought of that. / I was in a little cabin this spring, and a pesky dog
began following me, and then tried to get into the cabin as well. Hmmmm!
Wild animals are so much nicer… I was camping with my dog, and wild
boars came by, and I made a noise, and they respectfully left!

How warm do you think it is inside the tent, like on a 20 degree day??? /
thanks for answering… I’m so curious.

(Mandy Szostek) #19

Well, happy New year! I’m guessing that the tent would be too cold for me
:D… I mean, I get cold under 50 degrees. Some people sleep and feel hot,
but I am a freeze sort of body chemistry at night. Those hot tents look
interesting… There’s one from Ireland called the cocoon which is
supposed to go inside your tent! It’s like 350 bucks… then, there’s many
cotton tents, ranging from 600 to… like 1200 dollars. Then… There’s
the synthetic material, a more traditional tent kind of material, from the
Alaskan company…and these use a double layer with air between the
layers, which is insulating. These also have floors! But are very
expensive… like 2400 dollars, plus need to buy t he wood stove. The only
way I could get one of these tents would be using credit card… the wood
stove is prob good when burning, but not when off… like you said, the
drinking water freezing.

(Andrew) #20

Arctic Oven?