Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How can I make a pavilion for very little money?
A: There are several things you can do.
Since the main outlay is for fabric, start by being creative concerning
obtaining good fabric. Many pavilion-makers have bragged to me that their
tents have cost $1 per yard because they have found a great deal with discontinued
fabric that was on sale. Besides shopping the sales, you can try one or
more of these ideas:
Q: How do I sew this--my sewing machine will die!
If you need canvas, investigate buying a canvas tarp that truckers use
to tie down their loads. A yurt owner told me this saved her quite a bit
of money. Beware of color that rubs off, though!
Does your pavilion need the same fabric or can you make do with a couple
colors? End of bolts can be cheap, or some tent makers will use curtains/drapes
for the walls, with a more waterproof roof.
Does your Barony have a costume-makers guild? They may have connections
to help you buy at a discount.
Can you remake an existing tent?
It is often cheaper to buy less expensive fabric and waterproof it later
than to buy yardage with the waterproofing already on it.
Barter instead of buy. Do you know someone that would help you with the
frame or the fabric in trade for some skill you have?
Does your area have a tent-making company? Check with them about the possibility
of obtaining 'boo-boos' at cut prices.
Try calling tent rental places to see if they have tents whose fireproofing
has expired, or need repair. You may be able to pick up a bargain
on fabric that can be cut into another pattern, or on a pre-made frame.
A: It probably won't die, but you need to
be careful. Change needles often, and use heavier duty ones where
necessary. The fabric will be very heavy to move through the machine, so
give it a hand and pull it through at the same pace you sew. When there
are many layers of fabric, you can hear the motor's extra efforts as it
tries to punch through all that cloth, so hand turn the knob on the right
(I don't know what it's called--but it regulates the needle's movements)
to help it. If you are doing canvas and get really stuck because the fabric
is just too much, consider using a commercial tent maker just for the really
bad seams. On a recent canvas tent, I was able to do all the seams except
the peak of the conical roof, and the seam where the hoop casing, roof,
walls, and overhang all met. It cost me $15 to have a pro sew those seams
and $5 to set the big grommet on the peak of the roof for the center pole,
and it was worth it. My machine may not have died, but the coma wouldn't
have been very pretty.....
Q: HELP! I can't sew!
A: If you can sew a straight line, you can
sew a tent. It may look intimidating when you start cutting out all those
big pieces of fabric, but most tents are almost completely comprised of
straight seams. I can't sew garb worth beans--patterns stupify me,
tiny little finishing details make me crazy--but give me 50 yards of fabric
and I'm good to go. Come to think of it, sewing tents was how I learned
Q: Where do I start?
A: Before you head to the fabric store,
see if you have all these questions answered:
Q: What are the most common mistakes
when making a tent?
What time period of tent do I want?
How many people will be available to set this thing up?
How much can I afford to spend?
Do I have the space to transport the frame and fabric, or should I consider
having the frame poles break down?
What sort of weather am I most likely to encounter while using this tent?
Do I need air vents, windows, or mud flaps?
Do I know anyone locally who has made tents? (Local tent makers are often
proud to show off their creations, and very helpful when it comes to giving
shortcuts and advice)
Does the tent I designed have enough room? If you need lots of room to
struggle into a Tudor dress, you'll probably want a tent in which you can
stand up and stretch out your arms.
Is the tent I am designing as period as I will want it to be in two years?
Sounds like a weird question, until you realize that tents last several
years, and your tastes and approach to research may change during that
time. When in doubt, go with being more period.
A: They are:
Q: My spouse has a persona
from a different time period than I. How can we make a tent that will suit
both of us?
Not buying enough fabric. Little bits of extra yardage
for window coverings or mud flaps or stake loops add up.
Forgetting that fabric shrinks! Prewash your non-synthetic
yardage before you sew, or sew it bigger than you think you need. You'll
be amazed how much it shrinks.
Forgetting that colors often bleed. If you do a red
tent with white fabric stripes, be sure it's colorfast or be prepared for
a red and mottled pink striped tent. If you dye your own, test the result
on a small piece of fabric before you do the entire tent.
Worrying about being perfect. Everyone has to start
Not getting most of the bugs worked out before you
take it to the event. I am the INVENTOR of that. Also, not lashing down
your pavilion poles in the back of the truck, which makes them blow out
on the freeway and shatter into toothpicks. But that's another story.....:)
A: There are some style of tents that are nearly
universal through time and locations. For example, the walled tent (shaped
like the profile of a house, with a sloped roof and four walls) is documented
through Eastern Asian, Roman, and European civilizations. A wedge
tent, with triangular ends with a door and two sloping sides, is another
good choice. If you wish, you can decorate it with a generic pattern (spirals,
geometric, etc..) and hang your individual banners outside for a more finished
Q: Why should I bother making/buying a pavilion
when I have a perfectly good Coleman?
A: No one should look down their noses
at anyone just because they have different camping gear! Tents, like
good garb and Life, always seem to be Works in Progress. If you have the
means and time to make a period tent, consider these reasons for making
..and finally, a question that no one has asked, but that I still want
Because they are beautiful. Period tents come in all sort of colors and
can be lavishly decorated to suit the owner's taste.
Because they are pieces of artwork, as individual as the artist.
Because they are pieces of history. One understands one's ancestors better
when one lives like they did--even if it is for a weekend.
Because it feels great to have made something that you designed yourself.
I love the moment the tent is done and the poles go in for the first time.
It only existed in your head, and now it's become reality.
Because they make great landmarks! When I was at 3YC, it was easy to point
people toward the general direction of my camp and say, "Mine is the royal
blue round one with gold waves painted on the overhang and roof".
Many people in the area used the gilt ball at the peak as a landmark to
weave their way through the sea of tents.
Because it gives you an instant kinship with other tentmakers. I've never
met a tentmaker yet that wasn't proud enough of their tent to give me a
grand tour, and exchange ideas.
Because they add to the Dream. If you are in the SCA long enough, there'll
be times when night has fallen, the torches are lit, and the fog is rising
from the field. Just as the bardic circles start, you can see pavilions
begin to glow from inside light, like beautiful paper lanterns, and you
almost feel like you really are back in time. Whether it's because it gives
us a kinship to our ancestors or satisfies our basic human needs, it strikes
a deep chord.
Q: How do you reconcile maintaining something as
modern as a web site with the idea that pavilion-making is a historical
A: Sir Brand from An Tir explained it to
me perfectly. Throughout history there have been places to go for instruction
and information. It could have been a church or monastery, or a cathedral
or a college. The people there would have been teachers or scholars or
librarians. The closest equivalent that many of us have right now is the
Internet. I try to be fairly cautious about approaching people at tourneys
if they have an obviously period camp, because I know that introducing
myself as someone who has a web site can be a jarring reminder of the present
if the good gentle is trying to be true to their persona. Still, I have
never had anyone turn my questions away, and I appreciate that.
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