Sunday, February 16, 2014

Making a Wool Blanket Capote–Part 3

In Part 3 I add buttons, holes, a hang loop, and start on the pockets.

When sewing the body together I used black button and carpet thread. This is stronger than regular sewing thread. To sew the buttons on I used artificial sinew from Track of the Wolf (I actually have another spool of this stuff around here somewhere but I’ve misplaced it, so I ordered one along with the buttons).

The buttons are 1.5” in diameter, which is on the large size, but appropriate for this kind of coat. They should also be easier to use with gloves or mitts on than smaller buttons.

Yeah, they’re shiny. I’m either going to let them tarnish or use something to dull them to a patina.

Also shown in the pic above are the pockets I made from the legs of jeans I made into cut off shorts a couple years ago. While looking around for some suitable fabric I ran across these in my closet. Waste not, want not. The pockets will be sewn to the inside of the coat and accessed through slits cut in the outside. I’m also planning to add flaps cut from some leftover blanket material.

To wrap up this post, here’s the hang loop that I made from a short piece of gutted 550 cord. I like all of my coats to have hang loops.

One thing this exercise has done is made me appreciate the value of a sewing machine. I’m entirely hand stitching this capote together, mostly with a blanket stich. Not only is this time consuming but it’s hell on my left thumb (I’m a southpaw). But, it’s good practice.

In Part 4, I’ll get the pockets sewn in and flaps on.

Making a Wool Blanket Capote – Part 2

In Part 2 I’ll show how I cut the blanket and how the capote looked after my first round of sewing.

First, I cut/tore the blanket to make the body. I'm going to use buttons to fasten the front rather than a wrap, so I narrowed the blanket by a few inches. If doing this again I'd leave it full width for more overlap, but this will be OK. I made it with a 40" length, which brings the bottom hem to the back of my knees (I am 5'6" tall).

Note that one blanket came with the stripes while the other did not. IMO, the stripes add a nice detail to a coat.

Next, I folded the body in half and made the slits for the arms. The instructions say to make them ~7", to be lengthened later. IMO, you could make them 9" right from the get go.

Next, I cut out the sleeves. Here is one laid out on part of the blanket. I would normally use chalk to mark the lines but didn't have any handy, so I grabbed a bar of soap.

I then used this as a pattern to trace around for the second sleeve. I forgot to take a pic of the hood before cutting it out or sewing it onto the body.

And here's how the capote looked after a lot of hand stitching:

The instructions for the pattern aren't the greatest when it came to attaching the hood but I eventually figured it out. Also, I changed the sleeve design a bit to omit the fringe, but I now have holes in each armpit that I need to fill with a gusset.
To sew the pieces together I used black carpet and button thread. I'd planned to use artificial sinew but couldn't find my roll. The black thread is inconspicuous from more than a foot away so it's probably a better choice, anyway. I used a blanket stitch for all seams.

Here’s a detail shot of the hood after I sewed down the triangular flaps.

I went to the local Joann Fabrics to look for buttons but didn't see any I liked. So, I ordered some copper capote buttons from Track of the Wolf.

Work remaining includes:

  • Add a couple slash pockets,
  • Sew on the buttons and make button holes, and
  • I may add a storm flap to the right side from the front opening. The instructions I followed said to cut/tear the blanket to the width that I did, but I’m thinking I want more overlap. So, I can take some leftover material and sew it to the right side (as worn) going from the collar down to the bottom of the stripe. This should keep drafts out.

In Part 3, I’ll get the buttons sewn on, button holes made, and the pocket linings sewn.

Making a Wool Blanket Capote - Part 1

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 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.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Bulgarian Surplus Wool Blankets

Last week I ran across a link to Bulgarian military surplus wool blankets on for the low price of $14.95 each, plus S&H. Wanting to add a couple more wool blankets to my stash, I ordered two. They arrived Saturday while I was out on my last camping trip. packed them well in a big box. Upon opening the box I was met with a very strong mothball smell, which intensified when I pulled one out to look at it. Aside from the odor both appeared to be brand new. The description on their web page is accurate.

Tonight I washed one of the two that I got. I used cold water and Dreft in the washing machine, set it to delicate, and extended & second rinse. I then dried it in the dryer for 70 minutes on delicate with a dryer sheet. It came out fine and there is just the barest hint of a mothball smell remaining. I laid it out flat on the floor and measured it -- no noticeable shrinkage. It seems a little fluffier. I'll probably wash the other one tomorrow.

You can of course use Woolite instead of Dreft (which is what I had on hand). I've also read of guys using shampoo. Wool is hair, after all.

I'm seriously considering using one as the raw material for a bushcraft hoodie. One of these would be perfect for keeping in your car for emergencies, or for camping.

For ~$40 for two of them shipped, this was a great deal.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Winter Overnighter

Last night I did an overnighter with a friend and his daughter, outside of Pottstown, in SE PA.

We dragged our gear up to the camp using kid's sleds.

On the sled is my Ridge Rest foam mat, East German combat pack containing long johns, socks, and my PCU Level 5 soft shell pants, Swiss poncho, my USGI MSS, a folding camp chair, axe, H&R 20 gauge shotgun, and hunting vest. We wound up not doing any hunting, and I didn't need the extra clothes, but it was still better to have them just in case.

We built a long fire although we didn't use it to heat our shelters. It still made a nice fire to sit in front of and gave off a lot of warmth. You can see the pot and lid from my Swedish mess kit in the lower right. I used it to melt snow so we had warm water for cleaning dishes, etc.

Dinner was beans and franks cooked in a dutch oven my friend dragged up, and some hot dogs grilled on a Biolite stove belonging to another friend who couldn't sleep over. I didn't get any good pics of these.

Here's the hootch I slept in. It's a USMC field tarp over my MSS. Under the MSS I had a Big Agnes insulated air matress, Ridge Rest foam pad, a USGI casualty evacuation blanket, and snow. :) The air mattress, foam pad, and casevac blanket provided plenty of insulation from the cold ground. I used the sled to partially block off the side of the shelter near my head.

To hang the shelter I used 550 cord tied through the bungee loops that come with the USMC field tarp. This allows the tarp to give a bit if there is a gust, although I didn't have to worry about that last night. When prepping for the trip I cut a half dozen 3' pieces of 550 cord especially for this purpose. I used plastic tent stakes through bungees to secure the back of the lean-to.

Since I'm in my 40s I had to get up in the middle of the night. ;) I noticed that the underside of the tarp had a lot of condensation on it. In the morning the top side had a good coating of frost, too. It got down to about 25*F but I was warm in this setup. We didn't have much wind and it mostly came from the direction in back of the tarp.

My friend and his kid slept in this 3 season Coleman tent. Even though it's extremely well ventilated it too had a lot of condensation in the morning.

I told my friend's daughter to look like she was enjoying the zombie apocalypse this morning.

Finally, I got to try out my Kovea Spider stove under field conditions. The temp was around freezing when I took this pic.

We also used the stove to boil water for oatmeal in my friend's Kelly Kettle. To do so we had to fold the legs slightly so that the KK would fit over it, but it worked great. We'd normally use twigs like the KK is designed for, but all the wood was wet, so this made it a lot easier.

It was a fun night out and a good gear test. The USMC field tarp isn't as light as some civilian tarps, but it is very rugged. It's a good size for sheltering one person and has snaps, so you can attach more than one if you need to make a larger shelter. This was my first time trying the MSS in an open shelter and it also worked great. I wouldn't want to carry it far due to its weight but if you don't need to hump it, it's probably one of the best deals available in rugged outdoor gear.