Thursday, October 2, 2014


***This post was written a long, long time ago and I never got around to publishing it.  But the facts remain the same.  And as far as I know, the teepee is still standing.***

Honestly, I can't remember the conversation I had with my daughter because it was months ago, but at some point she had mentioned that her son would love to have a teepee for his second birthday (or maybe she just said she would love for him to have one).  "I can make that!", I foolishly said.

The pressure was on.  When I realized I wouldn't be able to make the 400-mile trip for his party, I knew I had a little extra time (until my next visit) since there was no way I was paying to ship 6-foot poles and a big, heavy tarp.  If I was willing to pay for that, I might as well pay the $150+ going rate for a ready-made teepee.

And oh, how I now wish I had.

I had several months to figure out my plan of action.  I researched DIY tutorials (and by "researched" I mean occasionally I'd start an internet search, glance at a few, and get back to Facebook).

There are a myriad of methods for creating a teepee, and decision-making isn't my thing.  I simply couldn't choose one.  So to begin I just set about looking for 6-foot poles.

I couldn't find any.  At least not any that would keep my project from venturing into the $150 budget range.  Again, I might as well buy a teepee.  I settled on 4-foot bamboo poles thinking I could make that work.

I'm not a magician.  I couldn't.

My husband insisted we already had a brand-spanking-new giant canvas drop cloth, which is the fabric of choice for the budget-minded DIYer.  And budget-minded I am.  Eventually I asked him to prove it, and he dragged a canvas cloth out of the basement.  I washed and dried it and left it sitting around a while.  You know...for inspiration.

I researched some more on how to make a teepee.  I learned a lot about what my family and friends were doing on Facebook.

And finally, it was less than a week until I would be making the trip to visit my grandson, two months after his birthday.  I needed to find poles.  I needed a plan.  I needed a big glass of wine.

I pulled out my giant Mason Jar tumbler and filled it with a couple of bottles.

I knew I would never even get started until I sent my perfectionism on a much-needed vacation.  Once that was out of the way, I started to give this project a serious look...after I caught up with what everyone was doing, or said they were doing, according to Facebook.

Now, all the DIYers I found on the internet who made teepees seem to have magical places where they do their shopping.  They were all talking about the 8-foot poles they got for 37 cents each, and the cheapest wood I could find were some 8-foot pieces of lumber that were so warped I couldn't think of a use for them other than firewood, and they were nearly $1.50 each..  I ended up finding slightly better quality 6-foot 1x2s for around $2.50, but I could tell splinters were going to be a big problem.

My teepee style was pretty much dictated by the fact that my wood poles weren't smooth.  To protect my precious grandchildren, I would need to make triangular panels with channels to slip the poles into.  I also figured this would make the teepee a little more sturdy.

And I finally took a good look at my canvas drop cloth.  Not only wasn't it big enough, but it had been used.  But I was desperate enough not to care one bit about a few paint spatters.   I laid out the canvas to be sure it was large enough, which it was, but there was a seam down the middle and I needed the extra inch or so of fabric contained within that seam.  With no other choice, I started ripping out the seam.  It wasn't any old seam--it was a french seam with two rows of stitching down a 150" length of heavy, plastic-backed canvas.  But I kept at it until my fingers bled.  Suddenly, a few subtle paint splotches seemed like nothing compared to bright red blood stains.

I measured not once, not twice, but many, MANY times before I made the first cut.  Still, somewhere along the way my math was wrong.  My channels weren't quite wide enough.  Back to the drawing board sewing machine.  I knew this would affect my overall dimensions, but I soldiered on.

Finally, with my perfectionism still on a break, I got the canvas cover finished and ready to install.

It didn't quite fit.

I figured out a way to tweak it a little and maybe make it work and before I had time to agonize too much, I ran with it.  And once I got the cover in place, I couldn't get the poles to criss-cross in any way that would work.  Just before throwing the entire thing in the fireplace, I enlisted my husband to help.  He was able to get everything lined up just the way it needed to be.  By then my perfectionism was banging at the door, so I spent a few more hours trying to get everything perfect.  That never happened, but I did have a functional teepee.

Then my teenage granddaughter came into the room and asked if that wouldn't be a dangerous thing for a two-year-old to play with.  She had the nerve to suggest it might fall on him or his baby sister, and began to kick the poles to see if she could make it fall.  This is why I don't keep weapons in the house.

The whole process was a nightmare.

I briefly toyed with the idea of writing an actual tutorial, and took pictures along the way.  After making multiple changes over the course of a few days, it became evident that I neither had the talent to tell anyone else how to do something nor a finished product that anyone would want to re-create.

If you're still with me, here's a picture of the finished teepee:

As usual, the best I can offer in the form of advice is what not to do.

Don't use 1x2s for the poles.  Use something round, like a dowel or bamboo.  And if you must use some other type of lumber, go for a small, square shape.  Just be sure it is sturdy enough to support the cover material you choose.

If you are using a pieced cover rather than a circular one-piece, don't try to get the top edge of your cover all the way up to where the poles cross each other (if you don't know what I'm talking about, get off Facebook and do your research!)

Don't wait to get started until a few days before you need the finished product.  It will always take more time and money than you ever imagined.

And finally, find a well-written tutorial from someone who knows what they're talking about, not a blog post written by someone who clearly has no idea how to build a teepee because she wasted far too much time on social media and drinks too much.

Looking at the picture of my teepee, it looks like I did a pretty decent job.  But really, it's just a whole lot of smoke-and-mirrors.

Maybe I'm a magician after all.

1 comment:

  1. Looks great to me, and it's way fancier than the sheets we used to throw over two chairs when we were kids. I'm sure they love it! And you can hardly even see the blood stains. :-P