Chateau Montague - Our Pavilion Project



I am known in the SCA as Philippa Montague, mundanely as Erika Hepler. I am a seamstress, both in the mundane world and in the SCA. I have a costuming business which used to be primarily Halloween costumes but has transitioned to being mostly Renaissance costuming. I have undertaken some projects which were faithful recreations of a single portrait, or interpretations based on several different ones. My work has been featured twice on the Realm of Venus showcase. My husband Gerard (mka Mark) is a fencer, and likes to look good when he's doing it, so we tend to feed off of each other. Until now, we had camped in a mundane tent, with completely mundane furniture, bedding and storage. We decided it was time to upgrade our living quarters and build a pavilion. This project has affectionately been dubbed "Chateau Montague" by friends in our local rapier group.

I attended two classes at Pennsic 37 on Building a Pavilion, hosted by Master Terafan Greydragon and Master Johann von Drachenfels. Master Johann has, literally, written the book on pavilions, and Master Terafan has a website that is a trove of information on pavilions, furniture, and many other interesting topics. They were both staunch supporters of the hub and spoke design for period-style pavilions. Master Terafan has collected a number of period paintings on his website, and has examined them closely to try to determine how they were constructed. Tent Design As a seamstress, I am more than happy to use modern materials and methods to make my garb, but I am generally striving for a look that follows those seen in period portraits. Taking the same approach with our pavilion meant: a hub and spoke pavilion it was.

General Design
Master Terafan was kind enough to let the class members examine his pavilion at Pennsic, and I noted a number of the details. His design used a 7 foot spoke, with a 2 foot flare on the walls. This made a large round which was more than comfortable for him and his lady. However, I had a family of five, and I decided that a very large round would quickly become unwieldy and difficult to partition adequately. So, I opted for an oval, which used two main vertical poles, two main hubs, and an extension between them. I drew out the design on graph paper, using scale drawings of our beds and other furniture to decide on the required sizing. I considered using a 7 foot spoke, with a 9 foot ridge pole and a 2 foot flare. The exterior dimensions of the floor would have been 18 feet wide by 27 feet long. I taped this design out on a tarp and decided it was oversized for our needs. I changed to a 6 foot spoke with only a 1 foot flare. This would make a more upright wall, which we liked. We decided to keep the 9 foot center section, as it divided nicely into a 3 foot door with 3 foot sections on either side. So, our final overall dimensions were 14 feet wide by 23 feet long. In looking at period paintings that showed various roof styles, we decided that we liked a taller roof rather than one that was less pitched. We wanted it slightly more pitched than a 45 degree angle, so we used a height of 7 feet from the hub to the ridge in comparison to the spoke length of 6 feet. We designed for a a hub height of 7 feet, although it ended up a little taller once the frame was made to fit the completed tent. The valance dropped 8 inches down from the eave line, so that an eave line that ended up at about 7 foot 4 inches with an 8 inch valance dropping from it made for a door that was 6 foot 8 inches tall. I made a scale model out of graph paper, to verify my design. This included hubs made of foam, poles made of wooden skewers and spokes made of toothpicks.


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Detailed Design

Poles: Our pavilion has a ridge pole to ensure the top of the roof maintains its shape and to support the weight of the roof. The ridge pole is a 2 x 4, with the top edges cut off, shaping it into half an octagon to minimize pressure on the roof. The ridge pole has holes so that it slips down onto rods that extend from the top of the main tent poles. The main tent poles are cut from 4 x 4 douglas fir, shaped into approximately a 3 x 3. We felt this would give significant strength and stability for this size tent without making the poles overly heavy. The tent poles are sectioned in half, with the two pieces meeting on an angle inside the hub support sleeve. The upper piece is smaller, fitting completely inside the 3 inch square sleeve, while the lower piece is larger and shaped so that the sleeve fits down and sits on a lip for support. The bottom portions of the main poles are somewhat short. This is partly by design and partly because of a minor miscalculation. We wanted the poles a little short so that if the pavilion was ever set up at the crest of a hill, the walls would still be able to extend down to the ground with the poles sitting on top of the hill. As with much of the sizing of the woodwork to the tent, we ended up with everything stretching a little more than expected to become nice and tight, so we generally use about 6 inches of spacers below the poles. We may redo the main poles at some point, but it is definitely usable and can be tweaked by varying which spacers are used.

Hubs and spokes: A hub sits on each hub support sleeve, providing placement for the spokes. These hubs are 12 inches wide, shaped into a dodecahedron (12-sided polygon), with round holes drilled into each of the 12 flat sides. A 3 inch square hole was cut through the face for it to slide down onto the support. There are 7 spokes on each end, making two half-circles to support the round sections of the tent. These spokes were cut in pairs from 2 x 4s making them each 1 1/2" by 1 1/2". They were then ripped lengthwise to take the four corners off, giving them an octagonal cross-section. The ends that go into the hubs were sanded into a smooth cylindrical shape, while the ends that go into the pockets simply were smoothed to minimize wear. There is a larger spoke connector between the two hubs, keeping the tent poles separated at the eave line and providing support for the center section. This shaped 2 x 4 has two mini-hubs sitting on it. These are similar in shape to the main hubs, but are only 8 inches wide and have holes only on the two opposing sides. These provide locations for four additional spokes which push out the edges of the center extension of the oval tent.

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Walls: Master Terafan's pavilion had walls that were attached to the roof. It made it easier to set up, since the base could be staked down and the center raised up into position. However, with our oval tent, we felt the extra weight added by the fabric of the center section would make it too unwieldy. So, we decided upon detachable walls. This was a good decision, since the roof and the two wall pieces are still quite heavy individually. The two walls are exactly the same, overlapping on each long side to make front and back doors. The walls have cording (clothesline) loops sewn into the top seam approximately every 6 inches with s-hooks attached. The roof has loops at the same intervals at the top of the eave line. A row of webbing covers the loose ends of the loops. This design decision is the only one I am still reconsidering, since we did have some water seepage in the rain through the webbing and loops. I need to do some additional testing to determine whether it was the cotton webbing, the stitching itself, etc that pulled the water through. We had no leakage on any of the vertical seams, so it was definitely this line of webbing and loops that caused the problem. The walls have a sod flap on the bottom edge. I chose to make it a separate piece that was sewed on, rather than an extension of the wall. I felt this allowed the flap to fold under more smoothly, and would also allow for replacement of the sod flaps in the future if they became overly soiled. I am considering putting a piece of off-white tarp on the bottom of each sod flap to protect them. This would not be seen, since it is on the part that contacts the ground, but would hopefully extend the life of the flap.

Ropes: Master Terafan's tent uses no ropes, since the walls act as tensioners to keep the tent attached to the ground. Since our walls are not permanently attached to the roof, we opted to add ropes from each corner. The ropes attach to the same stakes as the walls, so they do not add to the footprint, but simply stabilize the structure without depending on the attached walls to do so. We also have high wind ropes from the peak on each side. These four ropes are vital in setup, since they allow the roof to be stabilized while the spokes are inserted and the sides are attached.

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Doors: The doors are formed by the overlapping of the two wall sections on the front and back of the tent. The two overlapping sections are each 3 feet wide, and they overlap fully. Toggles and loops located every 12 inches along both of the loose edges allow the sections to be buttoned tight inside and out when desired. I can leave the tops attached and pull the doors back to make a loose triangular opening, or can detach the top edges and fold both sections back to make a completely open door. Doing this on the front and back of the tent allows for quite a bit of air flow for ventilation during the day.

Rainfly: We decided to make a rainfly to provide a cover over the front door and a space for an outdoor rug. This rainfly extends across the entire width of the center section of the oval, since that was the most logical width. It extends only 6 feet from the pavilion because that's how much canvas I had left. It hooks with s-hooks and loops to the front edge of the pavilion. To make it shed water, there is a second faux valance over this section, which lifts up onto the rainfly so that water doesn't run from the roof through the gap. The two front corners of the rainfly are supported on poles, which are the only perimeter poles in the whole pavilion. We found that the front edge sagged considerably without additional support, so we added a ridge pole along the front edge rather than additional perimeter poles. The rainfly still has a tendency to sag back from this ridge pole, so we plan to add some additional support points along the front edge.

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I decided on Sunforger canvas for the tent. It is a natural white, making a nice light interior. I purchased boatshrunk canvas, so that it would be as true to size as possible, and it was also flame retardant, which is not required (unless you live in California) but still a good idea. I purchased 100 yards, and ended up using pretty much all of it. I used a plain duck cloth for the floor cloth, since I felt it would be more comfortable underfoot. The poles were made from douglas fir, and the hub from multiple layers of plywood. A friend, Dycon Gestour, helped us weld a hub support from 3 inch square tubing and some angle iron. There were various other supplies, including rope, webbing, O-rings, S-hooks, etc. The detailed supplies are contained in a separate Costs Worksheet, which also notes where each supply item was purchased. We wanted to compare the cost of making it ourselves against the cost to purchase a similar tent from Panther Primitives. An oval hub and spoke pavilion of a similar size, with a rainfly and heavy-duty floor, costs about $3200. The supplies for making the pavilion itself came to a total of $1685, or about half of the cost of a premade pavilion. The advantage is that we were able to make it to exactly our own specifications. We spent a couple hundred dollars more for decorative items such as flags, interior walls, stain, paint, hooks and lamps. Our grand total was $2000.

We turned much of our house into a pavilion workshop. Although what used to be my dining room is now my sewing room, that wasn't big enough for this project. I had purchased a heavy-duty machine for this project, a Juki with a walking foot, and I needed a lot of room for managing the large amounts of fabric. So, the basement became my tent sewing room. I cut out my pieces on my family room floor, using a chalk line to snap my straight lines, and then sewed them together. The roof and walls went together quite smoothly, and I had the main pieces put together in about 25 hours of work. There was still considerable detail work to do, including adding hooks and loops for hanging the walls, adding spoke pockets, making the rain fly, and painting the seams. Overall, I spent about 100 hours on cutting, sewing and painting projects.

Gerard was my carpenter, making all of the wooden parts for the pavilion. Our garage became his workshop, producing a huge pile of sawdust before he was done. He also worked with Dycon to weld the hub support. The spokes were cut in pairs from 2 x 4s, the hubs were built up from multiple layers of plywood, the tent poles were shaped from 2 x 4s, and rope tensioners were cut from an oak 1 x 2. All of the pieces were sanded, stained and coated with polyeurathane. We had two additional friends, Anton du Marais and Sara Bayley, who provided assistance with the sanding and staining, which was incredibly helpful. Gerard spent about 100 hours on his part of the project as well. Our time spent on various tasks is detailed in an Hours Worksheet.

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We sized the frame to the pavilion once the sewing was basically completed. We set up the roof in the front yard, using a base that held the top half of the upright tent poles in place. We began sizing the spokes by pulling the roof edges out and to the desired height, then measuring the resulting spoke length needed. After we'd finished one end, we found that we weren't getting the tension we desired. The panels were drooping in between the spokes. So, we decided to put some tension on the seams, using short ropes and tensioners. This pulled the roof sections out to their desired placement. We found that lifting the hub and lengthening the spokes gave us the shape that we were looking for. We had to remake a few spokes at this point, since our first ones had been cut too short, but the result was worth the extra effort.

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The final modification I made at this point was to change the shape of the spoke pockets. I had made them with a 45 degree angle, rounding the corner where the spoke sat. When this was pinned to the roof, the edge where the spoke should sit was sagging considerably. I reshaped the pockets so that the diagonal edge was at a shallower angle and repinned them to the roof. Now, the spoke sat evenly along the bottom edge of the pocket.

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We decided that we wanted to do some decorative painting on the pavilion. We looked at a number of period paintings to choose which details struck us as particularly appealing. We decided that we liked the look of a decorative design along the valance and peak, and some fairly simple vertical details. Our joint badge includes fretwork, and we saw fretwork on a number of pavilions in paintings, so we chose that for our valance decoration. Our badge uses gold fretwork on a green background, but we decided that that was too saturated and too specific to us (in case we ever decided to make a different pavilion and sell this one). We liked gold, but felt it wouldn't be visible enough against the ivory background. So, we noticed another pavilion in a painting that used black and gold, which was quite striking. I took an image of a similar tent and modified it to add the decorative design to verify that we liked it. Our final design was gold painted lines with narrow black lines edging them. I did a number of tests on spare pieces of canvas, using various widths of lines and techniques. I could not get a nice straight line using black paint along the edges, so I used rulers and Sharpie markers to get the straight lines I was looking for for the edging, then painted in between with an exterior latex paint thinned 1:1 with water. The Sharpie was never used on the seam itself, since it doesn't provide any waterproofing as it doesn't soak into the fabric. As of Pennsic, all the vertical and horizontal lines were completed, but the fretwork along the valance and ridge were not done. The decoration ended up rather more understated than we expected, since the thickness of our lines were fairly narrow compared to the overall size of the tent. However, it was so time consuming that I don't know that I'll go back to modify the vertical lines. I will complete the fretwork as time permits.

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Walls: To provide privacy for five family members, we hung sheet walls from some of the spokes inside the tent. One full half-circle serves as a room for Gerard and I, while the two quadrants at the other end serve as bedrooms for our young twins. The back half of the center section is our older son's bedroom and also contains some storage. The front half of the center is common area and our entry way. When it is empty or has a few pieces in it, it seems quite large, but it fills up quickly! We were quite comfortable with our beds, bins for clothing, rack for hanging clothing, large raper case, and so forth.

Furniture: At this point we have mostly mundane furnishing, but we plan on slow replacing those. Our first addition was a rope bed that Gerard made just before we left for Pennsic. It was quite comfortable, and allowed for additional storage underneath. We will add similar beds for the kids before next year. We had a single trunk at the foot of our bed, while all other storage was bins draped with fabric.

Floor: The floor was a tarp, cut roughly to the shape of the pavilion, covered by a canvas floor cloth, also cut roughly to shape and folded. These two layers sat on top of the sod flaps at the bottoms of the walls. We had a plain rug for the front area, but plan on adding more decorative rugs in the future. With the outdoor rug under the rainfly and a doormat for cleaning your shoes prior to entering the pavilion, it stayed fairly clean inside, despite the fact that it was quite muddy for the first few days.

Light: For light, we used restaurant-style smokeless candle lamps. We screwed small cat food cans onto the tops of the hubs - 6 for each main hub and 4 for each mini hub. The candle lamps fit perfectly inside, making it impossible for them to tip over. A long lighter and a stool made it easy to light them, and they gave the whole tent a beautiful warm glow.

Hooks: Ridge hooks over the spoke connector provided places to hang our quivers of arrows, and the spacing between the spokes in the center section was just right for bows. We also used some dowel pieces as hooks on the main tent poles. We drilled a hole on each side of the pole at an angle, and pushed the dowels down in. These hooks were good for hanging cloaks and flashlights so they could be easily found.

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Overall, we are extremely pleased with our pavilion. It came together quite smoothly, with only a few setbacks, particularly in sizing poles to the completed canvas. There are some flaws, such as a twist in the cone shape of one end that makes it uneven. There are some remaining challenges, such as determining why there is water seepage through the eave line at the webbing, which must be fixed. There is additional decoration to be done, including the fretwork around the ridge and eaves. There is more furniture to be made, purchased or bartered, including beds and chests for everyone. But on the whole, it was a satifying project with a very pleasing result. If I had to do it again, I would definitely start earlier. Although we had decided after Pennsic last year that we wanted to do this, other projects kept intervening and I never really sat down to start it until June. I did the final design and ordered materials in early June, started sewing and woodworking in mid-June, and pushed through to finish it for the end of July. Cost-wise, we saved a lot over buying a pre-made tent, and were able to customize it to our exact needs. The fact that we had sewing and woodworking skills meant that our time was our own to do the work. Paying someone to do this would get expensive fast. I don't know that I would be willing to make one for someone else. Ask me in a year!

Thank you to Dycon Gestour, Anton du Marais and Sara Bayley for their help on this project. Dycon helped early on with welding, which was the one part of this project that we didn't have the skills for. And Anton and Sara rescued Gerard on the last weekend, providing invaluable assistance on sanding and staining.