Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Sewing a Ray Jardine Style Backpacking Quilt

On Saturday morning, I pulled all my supplies out from Ripstop by the Roll and set to work putting together my backpacking quilt.  There are other sites carrying both ripstop, silnylon, and insulation.  Ripstop by the Roll was an arbitrary decision - I was most likely won over by the alliteration - and it seems to be a fine company to deal with.

Ray Jardine also sells his own kits on his website.  The new version of his book, (my edition is called Beyond Backpacking, and the new edition is called Trail Life), is available there too.  Curiously enough, Mr. Jardine inveighs against corporations and consumerism, yet his Ray Way brand seems to be quite extensive.  I intend that as a friendly jibe.  I know he is just one guy and not the Dupont corporation, but most of the big backpacking brands started out small, and maybe many of them still are small.  My Osprey Silhouette backpack has a label that says "Made in Dolores Colorado."  Are they still made there?  My Jansport Supersack was made in the U.S.A.  I'm certain the makers of backpacking gear should not be lumped in with the likes of Monsanto.

I have to say that I prefer building things from scratch without a kit.  If I mess up on a kit, I feel like I've really done something wrong.  When I'm starting from scratch, any result that holds together seems like it's a step up from the raw materials I started with.

I'm working on my living room floor most of the time.  The material picks up a lot of cat and dog hair, in spite of my attempts to sweep.  That's OK too.

I ended up pulling out my framing square to try to get an approximately straight cut across the bottom of the bag.  I don't think you can see my chalk marks in the photo, but I sketched in two or three until I arrived at a line that looked square to me.  Once again, I found that scissors were easier to work with than the rotary cutter, not to mention that I didn't want to score up our Pergo flooring.  I did end up, in making this particular cut, cutting only the upper sheet of fabric.  After that, I worked more carefully.  I had ordered three yards of fabric.  Ray recommends 80" for length.  I believe I measured to 81" to allow for half inch seams.

A finished solo backpacking quilt, according to Beyond Backpacking, should be 45" wide.  I found some other folks on listservs, (Backpacking Light seemed to come up the most on searches for questions I had, but there are also some hammock forums), who make their quilts wider, but I thought I would go by the book.

I was worried about what I would use for a pattern, but it turns out that a sheet of newspaper is 24" wide.  Originally, I made a pattern that was 23" wide to allow for a half inch seam, but then I thought, since I have the fabric, I might as well use the full width of the newspaper and end up with a wider quilt.  That ended up being a good idea, because after struggling with the insulation, I ended up far enough away from a half inch seam allowance as to end up with a 45" wide quilt.

I folded the two layers of fabric in half, traced the pattern, and cut it out.  Sewing the two layers together went fairly easily.

I next put the two layers of fabric on the insulation and cut off the excess.

5.0 oz Climashield is rated to 20 degrees fahrenheit.  I'm not sure I trust that.  It's not very thick.  I didn't measure it, but I think it's around an inch, inch and a half.  I wanted to build a quilt because my old 20 degree down bag, which is around 30 years old, is becoming a little chilly on below freezing nights.  I hope the Climashield lives up to its rating, but if I had known how thin it was, I would have ordered enought to add two layers.

One layer is probably fine to start with though because sewing the Climashield to the fabric was one of the most difficult things I've attempted so far.  You are supposed to use the line of stitching on the bag as a guide to sew the Climashield on.  I found that the Climashield wanted to push itself down while it was compressed under the sewing foot, so when I started, I ended up with a loop of insulation underneath the fabric between one place where I had pinned it on and the next.  I took it off and added more pins, but it didn't seem to help, so I just sewed on in the blind faith that it would pretty much work.  It pretty much did.  I sewed any gaps flat, and it didn't look like I had a mess when I was done.

Because I was using the original line of sewing as a guide, I couldn't sew down one side, bartack the stitching, turn it over and sew down the other.  I tried that, only to find, obviously, that suddenly the insulation was on top instead of the fabric.   I had to try to bunch all the quilt in between the foot and the body of the sewing machine.  I had my doubts that I was sewing things correctly, but when I finished sewing, everything was OK.  Is there some other way to do this people?  It was very awkward.

Remember to separate the fabric at the head and sew the insulation to only one layer so you can turn the whole thing rightside out.

I sewed an extra line of stitching across the head because it didn't seem to me that the insulation was held very firmly by the first.  After sewing the head of the bag together, I sewed a robe zipper to the foot section.  That did not go easily, but it worked.  See my previous post for the photograph.  I have no advice for making the sewing on of the zipper easier.  If I build another one, I might contemplate sewing the zipper on before adding the insulation, but that might cause unforeseen trouble during the insulation phase.  I also have seen references to a drawstring foot box.  I'm also not clear why I should not have sewn the foot box together rather than adding a zipper.  It's just a little pocket at the bottom of the sleeping bag.  If my feet get too hot, I can just slip them out of the pocket.  I really don't foresee unzipping it, unless the bag is soaking wet, and I want to flatten it out for better drying.

Here is the length of the quilt photographed from my napping perspective.  It's light blue on top, theoretically to reflect heat back, and forest green on bottom, for faster drying in the sun.

The makers of Climashield claim you do not have to quilt the material to keep it from shifting, so I didn't.  My backpacking quilt has not quilting.

I did sleep on the back porch one night.  It seemed to offer adequate coverage, but I think I'll use it with my old bivy sack to help hold the sides down in the wind, since I will be using it with a tarp.  I was a little too warm, which seemed a good sign for colder nights, but I've also been battling a flu/cold, and I think I was running a fever.  I'm going to sleep out again this week, now that I'm feeling better.

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