MIDDLE EASTERN MEDIEVAL TENT

By Steven and Amanda Baker (Australia)

If you have questions on this article, please contact the authors directly at bakerswood@msn.com.au

Our Middle Eastern medieval tent won the Open Craft Section at the last Conference. The competition had a good range, from pottery, furniture, jewellery and other tents so we were proud to win and slightly puzzled because the other. entries were so good. We found out later that one of the reasons was that we had supplied references and were completely inexperienced tent maker's. We have also had a few inquiries from within the Medieval movement and surprisingly from the public so we thought we had better get an article published.

The first thing we should get straight is that we wanted a tent that was going to fit in with our area of interest and be completely functional, portable and looked good. Therefore we choose a Middle Eastern Tent. This idea had been floating around for sometime, as we had bought material with an engagement present gift voucher to Home Yardage, who were coincidently closing down one of their stores so we were able to take advantage of the sales.

The next idea was that we would do a reference search of all available material and find the style of tent we needed. Once that was decided we then had to go about finding the construction methods that were used or appeared to be used. We found plenty of pretty pictures but none showed enough detail, so we had to settle for a composite.

This is what we came up with:

These criteria were based on tents found in Figures 1, 2 and 3.

1. From our research we found that tent poles were invariably two or three piece. The joins were apparent and seemed to be poles slipped into sleeves. There is no indication of what these were made, so we assumed wooden poles and metal sleeves. The bottom pole was shaved to take a square metal pipe and hammered on to stay. The second part of the pole was also shaved but a little smaller than the first to facilitate easy joining but without losing stability. The disc was attached to the top with a piece of dowel. Figs 2 & 3

The disc caused another problem, as nowhere could we find a picture of the disc. All the tents however showed a flat round shape supporting the apex of the tent (see figures 1, 2, 3 etc. ) So we made an educated guess on the shape and when the tent went up we were vindicated. We made the disc out of wood for no other reason than it was what we had to hand and seemed the most likely substance.

2. In Fig 10 we decided that there were eight roof panels on one side so there should have been another eight on the other. In all the Figs we found that the ropes were always connected to the tent at seam lines of the roof. This made sense as this would be the strongest part of the roof to take the stress.

The roof flaps, or what we called weather flaps, were usually highly decorated, and varied in width (as shown in all Figs except 7) .There were two flaps, one external for overlapping the wall loin and an internal for covering the wall join from the inside. It puzzled us for a while but became clear when we were trying to figure out how they joined the walls - Figs 12 & 13 show this to the best advantage.

3. The walls were shown to be detachable, and were sometimes only partially hung - Fig 1, 2.3 and others. They were free hanging, ie no poles and did in no way seem to support the roof. The only clue we had was in Fig 2.In the bottom tent the wall has been rolled back, at the top of the roll are toggles. Enter deductive reasoning. If there was a rope that went around the circumference of the bottom of the roof, the toggles could be easily be inserted or removed. In Fig 9 we also saw a wall rolled back and at the base of the roll found what appeared to be a slat but decided that it was a seam such as the one on the internal wall. The outer usually wasn't patterned but the inner always was - most Figs. The outer wall was pitched at a slope and the inner hung straight so it is reasonable to assume that the resulting space between them gave weather protection and insulation. The pegs used were small and wedgy with the ropes tied to them - Fig 11,tent at bottom.

4. Pole, roof and ropes provided the structural basis of the tent. using the idea that if there was a circumference rope it would support the walls evenly. This rope would be concealed under the flaps. The guy ropes seemed to be tied inside the flaps as well, so we extended the toggle idea. The reason for this was that the roof seemed to be pulled on the seam line but billowed a little between. This can be seen very clearly in the internal photos Fig 12 & 13.The pull did not appear to be a knot as it would put too much pressure on the hole and indeed we noticed that the holes were reinforced - Fig 5, 6, 7,& 8. The reinforcing would have to be strong so we used leather half circles on the outside and inside. The end of the rope was spliced to the toggle and threaded through the hole from the inside out. See Diagram 1.

That is how we came up with our plan of attack. Next was to work out the proportions. In Middle Eastern manuscripts it is very difficult to find content that is proportional. In one picture the tent is small compared with huge looking people and then castles look like toys when shown next to the tents. The only thing that could be said was that the tents seemed to be in proportion to themselves. So after some nifty maths we came up with the proportions that suited us.

The tent would be 12' (sorry we don't figure in metric) in diameter, to support this the pole would have to be 9' and the walls 4' 6". The roof slope therefore would be 7' 6" and the ropes another 7' 6". Taking the total diameter to 24'. See Diagram 2. In Diagram 3 we worked out the shape and size of the roof and wall panels. Our material, all cotton, was sky blue with pin stripes of black and white for the external walls. (hey it was what was on sale, when you need 34m at $l/m you don't quibble).Then we were able to get 15m of white at $8/m.(better quality and they didn't have 100 rolls to get rid of) .The purple for the inner wall ( .50c/m). The poles were made of 2" by 2" wood painted sky blue, and the metal sleeve was 6"' long with internal diameter of 2". The rope was contemporary hemp clothesline. Leather. scrap was used for the hole reinforcing. Toggles were wooden, about 2" 1ong and bow shaped. This prevented the rope from slipping off. The wall toggles were sewn on with upholstery tape and attached to the wall. And we have to admit we used commercial tent pegs, grommets and weather sealer. This had to fit in with practicability. Tent pegs because they were available and easier to use, grommets to save wear and tear on the holes and commercial weather sealer because it doesn't smell, was easy to apply and we had a later benefit, we accidentally water proofed the front verandah. We machined sewed the lot. After the roof panels were joined up, the top 4" was cut off and an 8" circle inserted. This was to enable the roof to sit flat on the disc. The disc was also 8" The decoration on the inner wall and roof flap were screen and hand printed. The designs from Mohammed I's tomb. The outer roof flap was purple, the inner. white with red and blue stylised plant vines and the main wall panels were white, yellow and red. Fig 12 & 13 shows photos of internal decorations, which were quite elaborate. We added cream fringing to the inner flap based on these figures.

Well there you have it. the tent went up, we sighed with relief. We took it camping, it was light and extremely easy to erect. It was very comfortable with beds and a few oriental rugs strewn around. When it cam time to pack up, the tent came down easily and packed into a small space considering its size when erected.

There are still improvements to be made but on the whole it has proved to be an excellent tent. We have used it for shows where it adds a great deal of colour and atmosphere.

References.

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