Thursday, March 17, 2016

Militia Knapsack Construction: American War of Independence

Militia knapsack on a Virginia Militiaman in 1781. 
The extant pack is actually of Penna or New England origin...ah well.

This is my second attempt at this knapsack and I finally got the paint consistency correct.  The previous examples I constructed used pure modern oil paints, which are not the same consistency as 18th c oil paint and have enamel hardeners, apparently.  Out of the gate, my original packs were too stiff and eventually the paint cracked after a few years of use (which is a shame as they were made from vintage Irish linen canvas from Royal Navy hammock mattress covers).

Ready for assembly.  I used a heavy weight natural linen.
Acceptable for a pack, but too light for a tent.
For this run, I am mixing red and brown oil paint to get the ubiquitous "Spanish Brown" color. Linseed oil and turpentine were added to maintain flexibility an thin the paint.  I also added Japan drier and Tung Oil to speed the curing process (which took only two days).

Sewn inside out and turned.  As I begin making these for sale, I will use two
needles and a saddle stitch as it will make the seam stronger.

For the construction, I used hemp cord to sew the body (with a backstitch) and affix the straps (whipstitch).  I would recommend a saddle stitch in the future.

Close up of the backstitch.  I would finish off the corner by backing up the stitch for two inches.
I did the same at the opening of the bag as these two areas would see the most stress.

Placement of shoulder strap.  I used a whipstitch to close the seam as one would
when recreating the Uhl Knapsack.

The button holes and top stitching were completed with Burnley and Trowbridge's heaviest weight linen thread.  The pack was comfortable and I wore it for several hours during the reenactments of the Green Spring and Guilford Courthouse fights last week. One would think that the small straps (5/8 in) would cut into the shoulders, but as it is small, it doesn't hold so much that it is uncomfortable.  but the only addition I would make is tying a sternum strap across the front to keep the pack centered on the back.  If you carry a blanket, I would tie it with thongs to the straps at the top of the pack.

The completed knapsack
For more on period knapsack construction, I highly recommend the collections at Old Sturbridge Village, which are a bit after our time, but still relevant, files and notes on the Rev War Reenactors Facebook Page, and the article, "Cost of a Knapsack, Complete" by the incomparable John U. Rees.

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