Category Archives: Tents

Designing a new tent

I’ve been asked to make a new tent – the biggest one yet.  I have the size and shape sorted out, now I just need to work out the colour scheme/decoration.

The tent will be based on the Fogliani fresco;


Here’s what we have planned;
10m x 15m tent

It’s 10m x 15m and 5.5m tall.  It’s a lot of tent.

Most of my tents are made with a “natural” finish, so they’re cream coloured and I’ve painted mine. In our early discussions I had intended to use alternating red and white canvas but after a discussion on the Medieval Tentmakers Facebook page I’m concerned that the red will fade.

Now I’m thinking that we could paint stripes on the tent, and could perhaps add the Household badge, similar to this tent;

I’ve also collected a bunch of similar decorated tents, for comparison and more ideas.



Like so many things in the SCA, we seem to have made something that works, that people like and that we can’t quite document as an item used in period.

These are the sunshades used by the Barony of Stormhold for our monthly tournaments.  They’re easy to put up, dry, store and transport.  They were pretty easy to make and have lasted for nearly nine years so far.  We even made a pair for our neighboring barony, Krae Glas.

Photo by Faye Sutton Photo by Faye Sutton

I think the original inspiration came from this article by Charles Oakley.  Unfortunately, our first efforts didn’t include the front part, which seem to be pretty universal in the manuscript pictures showing tournaments.  The collection of links for merchant stalls and fairs include some more promising documentation however.

  Tournaments of the Castle of the Maidens (fol. 265v), 1463

Here’s our design
As the canvas we buy is typically 2m wide, it’s easy to make stripes approximately half a canvas width.  Each piece is flat fell seamed together and then the whole piece is hemmed.  The leather hole reinforcement is the same as we use on all of our tents.sunshade layout

To put up the sunshade you also need 4 poles, each 2.1m high, 12 tent pegs and  8 ropes.  You won’t always need 2 ropes on each pole, but it’s helpful on blustery, windy days.

Other uses
These sunshades/rectangles of canvas can also be used as an enclosed tent, or a larger, wall-less sunshade, or as a tent like one of these;

The Capitulation of Colle di Val d'Elsa
The Capitulation of Colle di Val d’Elsa by Pietro di Francesco Orioli c.1479



The nice sized bell becomes a double bell


In almost all of the tent pictures where you can see the guy ropes, the guys have what we call crow’s feet.  Crow’s feet are the three (less often two) ropes coming off the eave of the tent that are knotted (it seems) into just one rope that is pegged to the ground.  Like this:

We’ve always struggled with the crow’s feet.  They’re difficult to adjust, we’re not sure of how to do the knot and mostly we’ve just put them in the too hard basket and gotten quite a good shape to our eaves anyway;

A few days ago, I discovered this picture.  It’s out of period, but it’s suggesting an alternative construction technique for the guys:

Maybe the guys go up to the centre pole and are sewn to the roof canvas, maybe the crow’s feet are then tied on to the main guy to hold out the eave?

What do you think?

European tent in cross section showing arrangement of supporting ropes and hanging walls. c. 1641.

Tent canvas width

Just doing some quick searching online for what width of fabric would be likely for tent canvas.  Here’s what I’ve got so far;

Google book result about the Greenland dress.  Medieval Clothing and Textiles 4,  edited by Robin Netherton, Gale R. Owen-Crocker p.168
Robin Netherton says that dress was made from fabric 40-41cm.

Silk Damask 68cm in width. Satin Damasks of Renaissance Europeby Krystal Morgan
Medieval textiles Issue 37 September 2003,

this needs further investigation: On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics

There is an extant pattern book out there that has a couple of tent pattern layouts – I need to find it again!  In the meantime, CuriousFrau has taken a look at typical fabric widths in Juan de Alcega’s Tailor’s Pattern book of 1589.  She says that typical fabric widths in this book are “2/3 bara, 1 1/3 bara, 1 1/2 bara, 1 2/3 bara, 1 3/4 bara and 2 bara ” and 1 bara is 33″.  this translates to

Canvas width – inches Canvas width – mm
2/3 bara 22 550
1 1/3 bara 44 1100
1 1/2 bara 49.5 1237.5
1 2/3 bara 55 1375
1 3/4 bara 57.75 1443.75
2 bara 66 1650


A different way to cut out.

We’ve been making round tents for a while now.  When I look at the eave lines of the tents in manuscripts I can see that they’re very round.

leopold alterpiece 1492 detailfoglian5a

I’ve always cut the wall pieces with an arc at the top and bottom and get a very round looking tent.

cutting detail from the family double bell showing the wall and roof pieces
cutting detail from the family double bell showing the wall and roof pieces
single bell
single bell

Note the wavy shape at the eaves?  I think that’s because when we peg out the eave guys of these tents we don’t follow the line of the roof and put the pegs too far away from the base.  It’s counter intuitive, but something I’m going to keep an eye on.

You can see that the base is very round.

But many pictures don’t show a round base.

Hausbuch_Wolfegg_53r_53r1_Heerlager round tent detail

So I’m not going to cut the arc at the base of my next tent.It will give me more ventilation too.

I’d also like to use wooden pegs, as described in this great pattern/instructions for a Saxon Geteld.  They have a picture which is what inspired me this morning;

See the shape of the base?  Beautiful!

Aaargh!    I’ve written about this before