Monday, March 17, 2008

The ground we fight on…

I have been asked how I made the ground sheet used in my latest battle report. The answer is that I stole ideas from other gamers!

Back in the days of The Courier magazine, there was an article by a gamer who made 6mm Franco-Prussian maps that were just gorgeous. I actually saw them at Cold Wars and they were even better in person. He used T-shirt material, dyed and airbrushed, stretched over Styrofoam--or expanded polystyrene if you prefer.

Now, for Big Battalions I needed a big map, which was portable, relatively small, and relatively cheap to make.

I grabbed one of my wife’s 40% discount coupons and trotted off to Jo-Ann Fabrics. I bought a piece of 100% cotton muslin, in a single piece that was 96 inches wide and 11 yards long. Cost was about $20 with the discount. I also picked up four bottles of green Rit Dye.

After washing the muslin to get rid of sizing, I poured very hot water into a 20 gallon rubber container, and mixed in the Rit with a wooden stick. Note the directions for Rit say to do it in your washing machine, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. Then I slowly layered in the fabric.

Two things here:
1. I used rubber gauntlets up to my elbows. Rit will dye ANYTHING it touches. You have been warned.
2. Do this outside, in the grass or somewhere that you don’t mind sloshing the dye on. Rit will dye ANYTHING it touches. You have been warned again.

I left the fabric in the container for 4 days, occasionally stirring it, unfolding the fabric, and mixing again. The washing machine would have been faster, but I did not want to risk staining it green (or having my wife kill me for doing so). After 4 days, I poured out the dye, and let the cloth dry for a week.

Then I bought a variety of cheap green spray paints, plus brown and blue. I laid out the cloth in my garage and taped out the patterns.

Two more lessons:
1. Put newspaper under the cloth, as the spray paint WILL bleed through since you have to apply a lot.
2. Use three times wider tape or paper than you think is necessary to prevent overspray. I thought 2-3 inches wide would be enough but as you can see in the final product there was more overspray than looks good.

I worked from a map for our Napoleonic battle at the Millennium Convention 2007. For the green fields, I just randomly picked areas to give that look you see from an airplane.

So, voila! One 7 foot by 33 foot reusable green ground cloth. You can even fold up unused portions underneath without a problem.

For hills, I place 3 inch Styrofoam underneath and use T- or U-pins to mold the cloth over the hill. For towns, I put my buildings down on gray felt, cut to the shape of the building, so that if necessary the buildings can be removed but the location is still there.

You could even do smaller pieces and then piece them together just like most gamers do with their 2-foot or 4-foot terrain boards.

Here is one last photo of the final product.


MiniWargamer said...


Two things:

1) I actually recognize most of those folks! Even the kids! Looks like a great game and map.

2) The previous comments was added by some smart a&& and leads to a virus scan site. Might want to edit

Gallia said...

Thank you.
Much appreciated.
I am currently rethinking what kind of ground cover for our BAR games at Historicon. This helps a lot. Der Alte will be hosting one with a snow cloth which is gorgeous.

Bluebear Jeff said...


This was a great little article about your ground cloth . . . I dare say that I am not the only one whose imagination is now awhirl with plans.

Thank you.

-- Jeff

tradgardmastare said...

Ed Super article and super battle report in previous blog entry!
Thanks for the inspiration!

Ed Youngstrom said...

Glad you all enjoyed it and hope you find it useful.

As to "awhirl with plans":

1. That is actually probably my favorite, or at least most common, wargaming activity; and
2. The game this past weekend has me ALL KINDS of fired up!

More to come soon,

Martin said...

Hi Ed,

The "Ground Cloth" idea was a stroke of genius; and like most strokes of genius is so devastatingly simple it has me asking the question, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Hope your recovery is proceeding at "full speed ahead".



Ed Youngstrom said...

Thanks Martin, but again this is a stolen idea, so no credit for genius on my side!

I actually over-did myself and was back on the meds for part of the week, but I think things are back on track now.

Ed v. H-F