Winter Camping: A Cold Case DIY

Mark Carter is not your typical Sailrite® customer. He doesn’t sew for his boat or RV, and he doesn’t do any home sewing or upholstery work. Instead, his hobby is a bit more … cold. He enjoys winter tent camping with his family in the upper Midwest United States. Winter camping might sound bitterly unpleasant, but Mark has found a way — with a little ingenuity and a can-do DIY spirit — to turn this frigid hobby into a pleasant activity for him and his family.

Mark and his family began winter camping around 10 years ago. They connected with other winter campers from online camping forums, including HammockForums, Bushcraft USA and WinterTrekking.com — plus camping groups on Facebook — and found a community of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts. They soon began winter camping together as one big group. There’s a camp going on almost every week throughout the year among the woodsy friends in these online groups. Mark and his family join in as often as they can.

“Most camps last three to five days, but I’ve done up to two weeks in Canada,” he recounted.

IMG_1675
Mark with one of his custom-made hammock hot tents.

“People from all over the United States and Canada meet up in places like the Huron-Manistee National Forests [extending across the northern lower peninsula of Michigan],” said Mark. “The camps can last for three days up to a week with campers staying however long they can.”

The Carters camp year-round, mostly in the Midwest and Canada. Although his sons are grown now, they still enjoy spending quality time outdoors with their father and other family members. Winter camping is a bit of a tradition for the Carter Clan. “My son Carl and his wife, Jessica, my son Corey, my brother James and a few cousins camp with me,” Mark stated.

IMG_1698
Mark (on the left) and several family members including his youngest son (on the right) enjoying a winter camping reunion in 2014.

Through his winter camping hobby, Mark realized there was a void in the camping gear and equipment industry for hammock tents. So what does any self-reliant, determined hobbyist do? He made his own, of course! Mark first learned to sew practicing on his mom’s old Singer, repairing his camping gear. He later purchased a used Singer that he uses to sew his tents and hammocks.

Mark was inspired to sew his own hammock hot tent after watching a YouTube video his friend, and fellow winter camper, Tom Brown had posted. The video featured a tour of Tom’s handmade hammock hot tent as he explained how he’d constructed and sewn it. In the video, Tom mentioned using double-sided Seamstick Basting Tape on the tent’s seams, and that’s how Mark first learned about Sailrite.

Why sew a DIY hammock hot tent instead of buying one? “No one makes them commercially to the specifications I’m looking for,” Mark explained. “Sewing allows me to make the things I dream up a reality. I can make them the way I want them to look — a tent that weighs 4 lbs. that lets you sleep in a hammock and stays heated with a small wood stove. By sewing the tent myself, I can save money and build a tent with quality materials.”

Mark has sewn two tents so far, as well as hammocks. His first tent was based on a wall tent, also known as a safari tent, and sleeps three. With more experience under his sewing belt, he kicked his design skills up a notch for his next tent. “My second tent was based on a Dogger TZ Brown design. I modified it for additional height and simplified it for easier construction and faster set up.”

pjimage
The two photos on the left show Mark’s tent panels laid out and matched up with tape lines. The photo on the right is a 12-foot toboggan Mark uses to haul his supplies to the campsite.

When designing and constructing a tent, Mark always begins with a paper drawing. He scales it down and decides how he wants it to look and the features he needs. He then figures out the dimensions and measurements. Next he plots out a full-size pattern on the floor in his home using painter’s tape to map out the pieces. After that, he marks and cuts the fabric to match the taped pattern on the floor.

Next come the sewing and construction process. Mark uses Sailrite basting tape to sew the slippery silpoly tent panels together. “Silpoly is very slippery fabric to sew and you want to avoid using pins through the fabric as it can create work waterproofing all those extra holes. After I assemble the tent, I set it up to evaluate how I did and look for ways to make it better the next time.”

In addition to basting tape, Mark also orders the other materials for his tents and hammocks from Sailrite, basically everything but the fabric. “I started buying supplies from Sailrite after watching Tom Brown’s YouTube video. I order #10 Vislon zippers, 1-inch webbing, binding and vinyl window material. Hammock campers are DIY types, and Sailrite is well-known in the community.”

IMG_0534
The wood burning stove inside his tent keeps Mark warm and dry.

Altogether Mark’s tent weighs about 5 lbs. It’s heated with a small wood burning stove with an opening in the roof that fits the pipe for the smoke to escape. He can cook food protected from the elements and he can dry his clothes and gear in the comfort of his tent. Plus, sleeping in a hammock means he’s protected from the cold, hard ground.

Mark loves the tents and hammocks he’s custom made to fit his camping pastime. For him, it’s not just a way to be creative and experience the joy and pride that comes with making something with your hands. Camping is also his family’s way of coming together for good laughs, good fun and a little adventure. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what life’s all about?

“My hammock hot tent lets me travel to remote areas and sleep in comfort,” Mark said. “Winter camping is peaceful. Give it a try!”

IMG_0464
Mark kicks back in his hammock while enjoying the view outside.

Driven to Sew: A Lifelong Hobby

The DIY spirit can take any number of forms — there’s no end to what you can create with the right supplies, a good idea and a little extra time on your hands. That’s exactly the same mindset held by Sailrite® customer and long-time crafter Louis Cossey. Following his retirement in 2016, Louis realized he had more opportunities than ever to start exploring the things he was really passionate about: creating custom projects of all shapes and sizes.

Louis has always been a car guy. Since high school, he’s successfully rebuilt eight cars, taking charge of the metal fabrication, welding, fiberglass, bodywork and paint all by himself to create a one-of-a-kind labor of love. Upon retiring, he started work on his 1923 Ford T-Bucket, a hot rod based Model T. As a pillar of American history, the Model T was built by the Ford Motor Company between 1908 and 1927. The T-Bucket still retains many of its classic features but also has a more modern engine. Louis was determined to make this car just as immaculate as all his others, perhaps even more so given that he could now devote his full attention to it.

IMG_0882
Louis had his work cut out for him with the T-Bucket.

After getting past much of the bodywork, Louis began the process of sewing the interior upholstery but quickly ran into unforeseen problems. He had no real prior sewing experience before starting on this particular endeavor. Back in the ’70s, he’d taken a 15-hour auto upholstery class but explained that he’d never had the time or proper equipment to try any serious sewing projects on his own.

“The first mistake I made was to try and sew with an old sewing machine with no walking foot and use cheap interior material. It just didn’t work.” In search of a new sewing machine, he visited a local sewing supply store. There he was told to look into a company called Sailrite, as these would be the best kinds of sewing machines for the type of work he wanted to do.

“Of course I found Sailrite online and couldn’t stop watching the YouTube videos. I think I watched all of them several times and eventually bought the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LS-1 machine. It instantly made me think I could sew!”

While the Ultrafeed had made the interior car upholstery sewing easier, there were still a few roadblocks in the way. Louis originally tried using an off-brand of faux leather, but after sewing three separate assemblies, he still couldn’t get things to lay down properly. He realized this was due to the poor quality of the material, not his sewing skills, and instead opted to try some Naugahyde® All American Black fabric. Voilà! The high-quality, abrasion-resistant vinyl made for the perfect car upholstery.

“I learned the hard way that I couldn’t practice with less expensive materials because it doesn’t act or react the same way that higher quality fabric does. After getting the Naugahyde, the project totally came together.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With help from the Ultrafeed, Louis began to gain confidence in his sewing abilities and could finally visualize just how the T-Bucket would turn out. It also helped to have support from his wife, as she aided in lining up seams and helping pull the material so it could be stapled down with his Sailrite® Long Nose Upholstery Staple Gun. After weeks of toiling, Louis’s first big retirement project was finally in its full splendor! Both the seats and the top of the T-Bucket looked amazing and it was time to start thinking of potential projects to sew with the Ultrafeed.

So what’s next on the agenda? Louis plans to stay true to his car obsession, as he’s got his eye on reupholstering the interior of his 1971 El Camino. Plus with more time for fishing, he also plans to sew a completely new bimini and cover for his old fishing boat. “Although working with old cars is my passion, I really enjoy making things with the Ultrafeed. It’s both extremely satisfying and a little aggravating! I’m getting all kinds of people wanting me to sew little projects for them. And between the quality of the Ultrafeed, the fabric and the staple gun, Sailrite is the only place I will purchase products from here on out.”

LouisCossey8
The fully restored T-Bucket — ready to ride.

No matter where your DIY journey takes you, or at what point in your life, it’s never too late to start on that project you’ve been dreaming about. When you really love the type of work you’re doing, sewing becomes more of a hobby and less of a chore. Whether you’re young, or just young at heart, expressing your creativity can have impressive results.