Colonial Williamsburg tailors are re-creating a second replica of the tent used by Gen. George Washington as an office and bedroom during the Revolution.

The first time Colonial Williamsburg tailor Mark Hutter was asked to re-create the tent used by George Washington during the Revolutionary War, he said no.

"I was afraid it would be all-consuming," he recalls.

Several years later, however, he and a team of Historic Area tailors have not only recently finished their first reproduction of the priceless 22-foot-long artifact but also started on another, still more finely tuned version.

Hutter's original vision of being swept up by the scale and demands of the task has proved to be prophetic.

Day after day beginning this May, the tailors, seamsters and seamstresses have gathered for work at the Secretary's Office on Duke of Gloucester Street, where they began each replica by pressing, stretching and cutting some 160 yards of linen canvas in preparation for the thread and needle.

Then they started stitching dozens of panels together in an epic, 7-hours-a-day demonstration of pre-Machine Age sewing that has tested their eyes and brains as well as their increasingly robust hand, shoulder and back muscles.

Now well into the execution of a second, more closely detailed and more expertly sewn reproduction, they're carrying out their mission with a speed that was unthinkable before — despite having to temper their newly honed sewing skills with a historian's precision.

But even as some 80 pounds of hand-loomed cloth takes shape before their eyes — challenging them to an increasingly weighty wrestling match each day — they're still as completely absorbed as when they started.

"We measured every seam, every edge of the original. We counted the stitches in samples. We looked for every change and every misstep," Hutter says, describing the close examination on which the reproductions have been based.

"Now we're trying to imitate it stitch by stitch, inch by inch, mistake by mistake — just as it was produced by its original makers. Some days I think it's the tent that never ends."

A long history

Made in early 1778, Washington's original sleeping and office tent was one of two large portable fabric structures — known as marquees — that he used as his field headquarters during the war.

Brought back to Mount Vernon at the conflict's end, they were later acquired by his grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, who often displayed them on the grounds of his landmark house Arlington until his death in 1857.

Custis' descendants broke up the set and sold the pieces in the early 1900s, after which various parts ended up in the collections of Mount Vernon, the Smithsonian National Museum of History and the National Park Service at Yorktown.

The sleeping and office tent where Washington lived for much of the war went to what is now known as the Museum of the American Revolution, which is scheduled to open near Philadelphia's Independence Hall in 2017.

Now too fragile to be set up in the way that Washington knew it, the priceless marquee is being reconstructed by Colonial Williamsburg in partnership with the Museum of the American Revolution, which wants its visitors to experience the portable headquarters just as the general used it during the war.

"Unlike most military commanders, George Washington stayed in the field with his army throughout the entire War of Independence," says R. Scott Stephenson, director of collections and interpretation at the museum.

"For much of that time, he lived under canvas."

Rebel tailors

Washington wasn't the only Revolutionary War soldier who found himself sleeping in a portable fabric dwelling.