Making a jacket out of a vintage army tent

Reading Time: 6 minutes

There is something about the simplicity and honesty of an old army tent that really gets my creative juices flowing. It’s a 3-pack really, a diamond-shaped shelter fabric, two short tent-poles and some pegs. Not that I’ve found an actual use for the wood poles and metal pegs yet, though at some point they’ll no doubt find some use. The tents I come across are all surplus from the Norwegian army and used to varying degrees. They tend to be quite expensive, as hunters like them, but I only ever buy them when I get them really cheap!

The shelter fabric itself though is a material that feels a lot like Ventile, but a heavier and a little stiffer. From new, it was probably treated with water repellant, though I tell myself that over years of use this will likely have been reduced to a large degree. The fabric is densely woven, so doesn’t fray easily. It’s easy to cut, and with a jeans-grade needle in my sewing machine, I’m ok to sew about 6 layers at once. It also responds well to ironing, hence I actually made a tie from tent fabric as well.

What makes the vintage army tent really inspiring though are the details:

Assembly guide – This is a collection of graphics that show how the single shelters can be combined to create a larger tent. While a single tent piece is large enough for one person to find shelter under, if you have 11 friends you can button the diamond-shaped tent pieces together and make a tent with space for a full dozen. There are quite a few other options as well. Pretty clever thinking.

One of several combinations for combining single pieces of vintage army tent into a larger communal shelter.

One of several combinations for combining single pieces of vintage army tent into a larger communal shelter.

Poncho hole – A single shelter can also be worn as a poncho, just by poking your head through the hole in the middle and draping it over your body. Very multi-purpose, if not up to civilian fashion standards.

The combined poncho hole/air vent can be buttoned closed and is entirely symmetrical on both sides.

The combined poncho hole/air vent can be buttoned closed and is entirely symmetrical on both sides.

Buttons and buttonholes – Given that the shelters are to be buttoned together, there are lots and lots of buttons and buttonholes. The buttons are aluminium and on both sides of the fabric.

The aluminium buttons have a half on each side of the fabric, held together with a rivet.

The aluminium buttons have a half on each side of the fabric, held together with a rivet.

Brass eyelets and rope – To aid in fastening the shelter to the ground with the pegs, there are brass eyelets at intervals, with pieces of rope.

The brass eyelets and rope used to allow tent pegs to stretch the tent taut.

The brass eyelets and rope used to allow tent pegs to stretch the tent taut.

So, there are a few features of the vintage army tent that can be repurposed when making something new from shelters! The fun part comes in trying to reuse as many features as possible. And this gives a two-fold challenge: To use the features and use the right amount of them. It would be much easier to just use the blank parts of the fabric and not dive headfirst into trying to use all the buttons and buttonholes. Or go totally overboard and make a jacket that looked less like a jacket than a collection of bits. Monitaly made a version of their mountain parka using vintage US Army tents, so basically a quite similar task (you can read my review here).

I’ve previously made a waistcoat out of army tents, and another waistcoat from a pair of well-worn fatigue trousers. This time I wanted to make a jacket and decided to reuse a pattern that has worked well previously, the “Foreman jacket” by Merchant & Mills. A field jacket would have been more obvious, or a more military-style jacket, so making a more vintage workwear style fits the brief of doing something a little unexpected. There is also some comfort in going back to a pattern previously made and not having to work out all the niggles again.

Here the waistcoat has seen all the major work done. Just final assembly required at this point, i.e. sewing the sides together.

Here the waistcoat has seen all the major work done. Just final assembly required at this point, i.e. sewing the sides together.

There is a fair amount of fabric in a shelter, naturally, as it has to function as a tent of sorts for one person. A jacket requires a fair amount of fabric and quite specific pieces to be cut. When using regular fabric there is a cutting guide for how to lay the pieces of the pattern out in an efficient way. When going off the grid, so to speak, it becomes a matter of trying to find fabric for all the pieces while trying to include the features you want to have on the final garment.

I’m going to save a little for next weeks fully completed reveal, but I can tell you right now that I was very close to managing to cut all the pieces out of the tent fabric and only had to add small amounts of alternative fabric. I also used the head hole for the poncho feature as a rear vent. Now I just need to finish it up and show you.

 

The almost totally final result, before I top-stitched the front.

The almost totally final result, before I top-stitched the front.

So, you got this far and I’ve still not shown any photos of the work in progress. Pretty disappointing, I suspect, so I’ll reveal a little of my thinking and leave you with these two.

No Comments

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.