Category Archives: design choices


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.


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

Tent class notes

These are the notes for my class on medieval pavilions held at Rowany Festival 2013.

Tour tents;

Start in dining pavilion – frequency of shapes, construction, pole size and timber choice, decoration, storm guys,

Barn tent – framing, guys, wind performance

Elayne’s tent – design principles (height of beds, space for storage, ease of erection, storage/transport space), frequency of shape

Rowan’s tent – framing, decoration, lining

Elspeth’s tent/Sara’s tent – design principles, internal volume vs space for storage, canvas choice, decoration

Types of tents, when, where and frequency.

  • round/bell
  • double bell
  • rectangular
  • wedge
  • geteld

How to hold them up

  • Poles
  • cartwheels
  • ridgepoles
  • frames

Design principles



Nice pic!

This suggests that the base of the tent is not circular, but cut straight.  It makes sense – there would be less fabric wastage.  I also like the gap between the canvas and the ground – we’ve had trouble lately with the base of the tent taking longer than the rest to dry.  The increased airflow from this setup would reduce that problem.

We also need more wickerwork in our camp setup.

The Larsdatter Link pages list it as a detail from  Leopold der Milde section of an altarpiece, c. 1489-1492

This scene supports the thesis that double bells aren’t used as commonly as single rounds. Of the 14 tents shown, 2 are double bells.  The one on the right has a lot of shields shown, suggesting that it’s a tent for important people (6 of them!) and the other has a large open door – used during the day for meetings?

And, now I find that the bigger picture is, in turn, a detail from this;

It’s an altarpiece commissioned by the Abbey where the Saint Leopold III was buried and shows the lives of the other members of his family. It would be great to see some closeups of the other sections.

Here are all of the other sections.

Not hub and spoke

I just found this lovely article on tents.  The author has some tent illustrations I haven’t seen before and she goes into the sort of detail I haven’t yet on choice of tent shape, and decoration.  Although I have commented before on the choice of round vs bell or rectangular.

There’s also some good pictures of random shelters, and wedges.

The Capitulation of Colle di Val d'Elsa by Pietro di Francesco Orioli, 1479

  • The Capitulation of Colle di Val d’Elsa by Pietro di Francesco Orioli, 1479
  • Detail from The camp of Charles V at Lauingen in the year 1546 by Matthias Gerung, 1551.

And then she spoils it all by choosing to make a spoked hub support structure for her tent.  I don’t understand why people want or need them.

  • They’re time consuming to erect.
  • They’re heavy and bulky to transport
  • They’re fiddly to make
  • There’s no clear evidence for them, other than conjecture based on a couple of pictures where the cone shape of the roof is maintained as the tent is taken down. (next time I’ll try to remember to take pictures of the way the canvas moves as one of our tents come down)
  • I will graciously admit that they take less land footprint than a pole tent with storm guys and eave ropes.

If you had seen my tent in the early morning this last Festival, you might think that there was a support structure holding the roof so perfectly round.  But it was just the tent ropes, tight from the dew, holding the eave to it’s designed circular shape.

I can’t find an early morning version of any of the tents I’ve designed or made. So have a couple of others.  These tents are all supported by centre poles and ropes from the eave.  The roofs were cut as a circular cone, so when the roof is held tight you see the circular shape we see in the pictures.