Pondering the Cold

This winter’s chill factor reminds me that we have different strategies to combat the cold. I’m not a fan of heat, I probably handle cold a tad better, but not by much. My wife will come back to find that I haven’t turned on the furnace all day. I noticed it was cold, but it wasn’t so bad that I had to get up to turn up the thermostat. Buy me a blanket, and I will adjust.

Which brings me to this post. What is the most important thing that I have created? (Apart from children, which was a partnership). I have done many things, I’m not saying that I am the most creative person I know, a good friend creates two or three paintings a day, and has for years. Another throws pots and all sorts of clay creations, with astounding quality and quantity.

But there is one measure that is very hard to understand. How is the creation used and enjoyed? A painting on the wall sometimes disappears from conscious vision, then it comes back again. A good story is enjoyed, forgotten, then it comes back. A creator’s desire is that the creation will have value, but it is often forgotten.

Well, ha!, I say! Of all the things I’ve done, there is one moment of time that had me creating a cherished, and well-used item. I made a down- quilt sleeping bag. Actually, I sewed several of them.

I know, this is not earthshaking art, but using the measure appreciation, I have to say that it far exceeds anything I have ever done. Primarily, because my wife does not like a chill.

On any given outing to a restaurant, she generally will bring a coat, even during the summer, because the air-conditioning will always be directly behind her. It doesn’t take much to make her very uncomfortable. I’ve known this for years. When I introduced her to backpacking, I wanted her to be warm. I bought her down jackets, down vests, and all kinds of insulating materials. I made sure that the down sleeping bag had the most loft possible (height of the feathers). She was comfortable in the woods at night.

However, relaxing around the house, in winter, meant an $800 or $900 heating bill every month. I think we burned out at least one oven by leaving it on with the door slightly open. Now, this was years ago, so we no longer get notices that our bills are three times higher than our neighbors. What changed? I believe it was the sleeping bag quilt.

I encourage anyone with little time to investigate building a down quilt sleeping bag. I know that you can always purchase a thing, but it is expensive and you don’t have the pleasure of creation, just the pleasure of purchasing.

So here are my tips for making the best thing ever for a chilled companion. There are several websites that offer bulk fabric and good quality down feathers. The hardest items are the plans, or patterns, and the closure, or zipper.

If I were to do this today, I wouldn’t bother with either one. I love YKK large zippers for a good tight mummy bag fit, but even backpacking,, I use the bag as a quilt, so all my bags can be unzipped and laid flat. They taper at the bottom but not too much. If I had made them square it really would not have added much weight. A down quilt may shift a bit during the night but a few Velcro straps can keep it fastened in place.

So here is the deal, buy a tough but light weight cover of ripstop nylon of one color, buy another color soft liner ripstop for the inner part that is next to your skin. Both need to be down proof. The secret is to buy the baffle material to give the loft required. The higher the loft, the warmer the quilt. The worst thing you can do is to sew threw the two sheets creating tubes. You have all seen jackets and vests that make the wearer look like the Michelin Man. The sewn-threw method creates cold spots. Sleeping bags have tubes, by having baffles sewn to the top and the bottom liners. It is a lot of straight sewing with a good machine, but it can be done. It’s all in a straight line.

I laid out my material on a pool table to kept it organized while sewing. Once all the baffles are sewn, sew all the edges except the one opening for the tubes. I sear the edges with candle, then roll them for a clean sewn edge.

Now, this is a wonderful trick that I learned from the web. Get a large tent where you can set up a small table with chair. Put the sewing machine on the table. Put a shopvac or small hand vacuum in the tent. Place all the small bags of down and the baffled, empty sleeping quilt in the tent, zip up the enclosure with you wearing a breathing mask. Fill your tubes with down, and sew it shut. Then vacuum all the loose down. There will be loose down no matter how hard you try.

I did not do this with my first bag. There is still down feathers in the garage rafters above the pool table. Down simply escapes when ever it can.

Very simple to do, takes a few hours once you have all the material, takes a bit more if you want the option of a zippered mummy bag. In the end you will have a tremendously warm creation that will last for years.

The measure of appreciation? My wife uses it every night throughout the year for the last ten years. Another one is brought out for the TV every night on the couch. Animals have ripped it, chewed on it, and they have patched holes everywhere, but it is still warm and toasty, and a creation that is valued.