Tuesday 7 July 2009

The Fabulous Wrecked Tent Project

On the last night of Glastonbury I fell asleep in Merrick's tent, with a trickle of rainwater falling on me right in the middle and a small pond growing at my feet. I was warm and tired enough to fall asleep/pass out quite quickly, but instead of counting sheep I drifted off dreaming about groundsheet patches and reinforced seams.

It's a lovely tent - a modern dome design which is easy to put up, flexes in the wind and is strong and sturdy, but made almost entirely of cotton rather than nylon so it breathes and shades like cotton bed sheets. It was bought for Glastonbury 1995 and has been well used since then, but it needs some serious repair work to keep it in service much longer.

As I recently ranted, I hate the way so many people throw things away and buy new replacements rather than repairing and maintaining what they already have, and this tent is such a nice object in itself that I just couldn't resist making a project of it. I thought I'd post my progress here in case it helps anyone else not have to buy a new tent, and in case anyone has any tips as I go along.

I took the tent home with me, but instead of drying it out the whole thing was so grubby that I threw it straight in the bath to wash it first. I started off by handwashing the fly sheet, which is about the thickness of good quality bedsheets and tough enough to scrub with a scrubbing brush. The water coming out of it was only a very pale shade of brown after about the sixth rinse, so I wrapped it in a sheet to keep the fittings safe and put it in the washing machine to spin it halfway dry before I hung it up.

The previously clean white sheet came out so dirty that I changed my mind and put it back in for a proper 40 degree wash with soap.

With the fly sheet drying outside on the line I started cautiously prodding the inner to see if I could get away with not washing that. The inner is awkward because it's stitched onto the groundsheet, but 14 years of mud, sweat, mildew, squashed insects and ...whatever that is... really did need to come out of it before I could do anything else.

Although it will look great (and breathe better) after a wash, cleaning it isn't just for aesthetic reasons. Tiny particles of grit stuck between fibres will eventually wear and break them - some of the smaller holes in the inner look as though they might have been caused this way - and patches of dirt will affect the tension and flexibility of the fabric, making it impossible to sew it straight or with a consistent tension. Wonky or badly tensioned sewing pulls in some places more than others which causes further rips, and the inner fabric is so fine that a little will make a lot of difference.

So into the bathtub it all went, the groundsheet bundled up out of the way making it look like I had a dead body in there, and out came blackish water and 14 years worth of Glastonbury mud. The fabric was too thin to withstand the scrubbing brush so there ensued much energetic squishing, and the rips meant I didn't dare lift any of it out of the water as the weight of it wet was likely to tear it even more.

After 11 or 12 changes of water I concluded that the really black bits were a permanent feature, they'd probably look better when it dried and they add character anyway, so I left it to drip in the bath for a while and then spread the groundsheet out in my bedroom, with a chair inside it to lift the inner up to dry as best I could.

I just love how doing things like this doesn't seem to strike cats as particularly unusual - Mizzy walked right past this enormous thing she'd never seen before which was taking up almost the entire room, and paused only for about half a second to determine that it was wet and therefore not interesting.

By morning it was dry enough to get it outside, and when I put the poles in to spread it out properly it dried out in ten minutes flat in the baking hot sun. The next job will involve either waterproofing it or taking revenge on it for soaking me at Glastonbury. I'll keep you posted.

1 comment:

James Higham said...

If I need to learn how to clean a tent, I'll come here for advice, Alice.