Tuesday, October 22, 2013

2nd DIY Karo Top Quilt

Making my own gear continues to be a process that I find very fulfilling.  With the arrival of cooler weather, it was time to sew a new top quilt.  It can be a challenge designing gear without a pattern, which is why making prototypes helps the process.  My DIY summer quilt (detailed here) served as a prototype for this new winter quilt project, though it's also a completely functional piece of gear.  It was an interesting process to improve upon the earlier design and though I've only taken it out on the trail for one night, so far I love the 3-4 inches of cozy down softness.

***Update 7/16- This quilt has kept me warm in my hammock for over 2000 miles and counting. A favorite! ***
The new DIY winter top quilt
Reflections on the first design:
First I'll digress a bit about the prototype/ summer quilt.  This was my first time using a top quilt rather than a sleeping bag, and I was delighted with how much faster it was get settled into my hammock since I didn't have to mess with a zipper or all that bulk.  I'm definitely a fan of quilts!

I also initially had my doubts about the karo quilt design.  But as it turned out, the karo baffle design did a great job holding the down in place while also allowing me to shift down during use (usually to the feet, sometimes to the sides when it got too hot).  Because I started with a summer weight quilt, it required less down, so the first design only cost me $51.  Fortunately, I ended up liking the design, but I'm glad I started with more inexpensive materials.  Since it was for summer, I erred on the side of making it too small since I figured the risks were low.  I found the size of this quilt fit like a glove, saving me weight and bulk.  

While using my first karo top quilt, I brainstormed ways to improve the design for a second quilt for winter.  I knew I wanted a sewn footbox, a slightly roomier cut, and, after our season of record rainfall, moisture-resistant materials.
Strips of masking tape stabilize the baffles while sewing them.
I was reluctant to spend a ton of money on materials, but then my folks sent me a check for my birthday.  So I immediately put in the order for my first choice of all the materials. (Thanks Mom and Dad!)

    Fabric: 5 yards of 0.67 oz/yard2 Argon fabric from Dutchware, $50 + $2 S&H
    Down:  15 oz of ARD+ DWR 850 fp from Underground Quilts, $150 +$10 S&H
    Baffles: white tulle, leftovers from previous projects.

    Total cost of materials: $200 + $12 shipping.

First the fabric.  To be honest, I got really frustrated since I couldn't just go out to a local fabric store to compare all the lightweight fabric choices that I read about (here and here).  I ended up using a new fabric called Argon that got favorable reviews on Hammock Forums (here and here).  They said it is more breathable compared to M50, but it still has a DWR coating, and is incredibly light.  Argon turned out to be nice and soft, and easy to sew.  It was more slippery than the 1.1 ripstop I used for my first quilt, but it was way more manageable than silk or satin.  Using a new (sharp) smaller needle was important, as was sewing at a slow speed and using a wide stitch.  I wouldn't hesitate to use Argon fabric again.   

I'm also trying out the new DWR treated, 850 fp down from Underground Quilts.  I made more of a mess stuffing the down since it came sewn into ripstop fabric, compared to the super-easy static free bags I got from Wilderness Logics.  Not a big deal if I'd been using the vacuum method of stuffing down instead of doing it by hand, but at least the bathtub contained everything.  Still, I was very happy to get hold of the DWR down and I'm looking forward to seeing how it performs.

My first quilt is a narrow 40 inches wide- sufficient in summer but for winter I wanted something that will cover me even if I'm sprawled out so I went with 45 inches at the top.  I know some people use draft stoppers, but I omitted them since didn't have trouble tucking the quilt around me because of the way my hammock hugs my body.

Another decision was the baffle height.  I aimed for a quilt that would be slightly lighter than my current 35-degree sleeping bag (23oz total with 8 oz of down).  So I started with a target weight of 20 oz, and from there I calculated the loft and baffle height given my dimensions.  The big advantage of a quilt in a hammock is it uses less shell material, saves the weight of the zipper, and concentrates the down up above, rather than compressing it on the sides and below.  So for a similar weight, I should get more warmth compared to the sleeping bag.  At least in theory.  Assuming I'm wearing a hat.

Finished specs:
                                 Summer quilt (shown for comparison)                New winter quilt    
    Weight:                 11.4 oz (5 oz 850 fill down)                                       19 oz (14 oz 850 fill down)                    
    Quilt size:             75" x 36" x 40" (draw cord footbox)                           70" x 36" x 45" (sewn footbox)              
    Baffle height:        1" (but ended up being about 1.5")                           2.5 to 3" (for 3-4 inches of loft)               

Summer quilt (left) and new winter quilt (right)
To make the sewn footbox, I used the same overall karo design as my summer quilt, expect I sewed the sides together at the bottom and added a circle of fabric at the bottom.  I cut the outer fabric longer than the inner shell to give a differential.  Then I added a circle of baffle to hold the down in place inside the footbox. I pretty much made it up as I went along and had to add a few pleates in the fabric to get everything to fit together, but overall it turned out great.

Final thoughts:
Making prototypes and revising designs is an integral part of the DIY process.  Thinking through the features to incorporate requires reflection on techniques and provides a deeper understanding of one's own hiking priorities.  It's especially rewarding seeing progress through all the different design versions.  If you're thinking of making your own gear- I really encourage you to give it a try- it's easy when you start with a prototype. 

For more information and inspiration for your own DIY projects:

     Check out the DIY section of Hammock Forums and the MYGO forum at Backpacking Light.

    Go on a Hammock Forums Hang- this is the place to meet a bunch of DIY'ers and creative folks.

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