One of article of clothing which was developed in the 18th or 19th Century and which is still useful today is the wool blanket capote. It’s simply a coat made from a wool blanket or blanket material. Natural fabrics such as wool have some advantages over synthetics, specifically they are much safer around a fire and they are quieter when moving through the bush. Additionally, if you make your own capote from a surplus blanket, you can have a nice, warm winter coat for under $40.
If you do some searching you’ll come across several sites which sell completed capotes, capote kits, and sewing patterns. This thread on BCUSA has a good list of capote patterns and info. The Sportsman’s Guide sells a capote that’s received good reviews on BCUSA, and I considered buying one but really wanted to make my own. I decided to use the pattern found at The Inquiry Net for a Hudson Bay Capote, with some modifications.
For my raw material I’m using a Bulgarian military surplus 100% wool blanket that I got from keepshooting.com. They were on sale for $14.95 each plus shipping, so I got two for a total of about $40.
Like many milsurp wool blankets the Bulgarian blankets smelled strongly of mothballs. They reeked. The best way to deodorize them is to hang them in the sun for as much as a week to air them out. As I understand it, the UV light in sunlight helps to break down the napthalene. I haven’t tried it but I’ve also read that napthalene is soluble in alcohol, so you can use a spray of diluted vodka to help along the process. (Finally, a productive use for cheap booze.) If you have experience with this please post a comment.
Anyway, sunlight has been in short supply around here this winter so I decided to throw my blankets in the washer. The one which I’m making the capote from went through three times. Twice on cold and once on hot. I dried it in the gentle cycle after each of the two cold washes and then on hot after the hot wash. Make sure you clean out the lint trap!
Now, generally it’s advised to not put 100% wool into a washing machine, much less the drier, but I seriously doubt the Bulgarian Army had a dry cleaning service for their blankets. Also, I wanted to tighten the weave and preshrink it, to make the material more windproof and warmer. Shrinkage was minimal. This is how wool felt is made, by the way.
Note that if you run a mothball soaked blanket through the wash, it’s gonna stink really bad. My laundry room smelled like you stepped into a box of mothballs.
In Part 2, we’ll start cutting the blanket and sewing it up.