Introduction: Living Room Teepee

About: I love writing, DIYing, Crossfit, and playing board games. My fantasy novels are available on Amazon and my short stories have been appeared in Spark, Abyss and Apex, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Stupefying Stor…

With fabric, dowels, and paints, you can make a fold-up teepee that Crazy Horse would be proud of. This design came from a 1978 "Homemaking Booklet" that my mom has in her book-trove. She made a larger version that I remember playing in as a kid. This is the toddler-sized edition. 

Total Cost: (canvas, dowels, paints, brushes) = $50

Time to Make: ~ 8 hours (less if you're not taking pictures and you have some sewing experience)

Tools Required: scissors, drill, saw, sewing machine

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

Here are the supplies you need:
  • Heavy Fabric: 3.5 yards x 45 inches (~$16 for 3 yards x 60 inches of canvas at Fabrics R Us)
  • Dowels: 5x 5 feet long  (~$2.50 each at Home Depot -> $14 total) NOTE: you can also use 1" PVC pipe
  • Fabric Paints: (~$6 each at Michael's, only used two -> $12)
  • Paint Brushes: (~$5 for a 25-brush variety pack at Michael's)
  • Shoelace or Leather Boot Lace (not shown: ~$3)
TOTAL: $50

Step 2: Mark the First Cut

Mark a half circle with a 45 inch radius.

The easiest way to do this is:
  1. Cut your fabric to be 3 yards long (you'll use the other half yard later)
  2. Fold it in half (hamburger style)
  3. Tape a pencil to the end of a string (or measuring tape)
  4. Hold one end of the string at a folded corner
  5. Draw an arc starting at the other folded corner 

Step 3: Cut the Semi-Circle

Cut through both layers of fabric along the line you just drew.

Then unfold, and you have a semi-circle with 45 inch radius.

Step 4: Cut Two Flaps From the Scrap

Use the scrap from your 3 yards of fabric (the fabric you cut the semi-circle out of) to make two triangular flaps.

Use the same string-and-pen technique to draw a radius, and a straightedge to make the flap as large as possible (make the edge tangent to the curve of the scrap).

Step 5: Cut a 6-Inch Hole for the Top

Use a plate for a template.
Cut a hole with ~ 6-inch diameter through all three pieces.

Step 6: Pin on the Flaps

Pin the edges of the flaps to the matching edges of the semicircle (in preparation for sewing. 

The seam will be on the inside of the teepee.

Step 7: Sew on the Flaps

Sew a straight seam down the line you pinned (1/2 inch to 1 inch from the edge).

If you're rusty on sewing,
  • start the seam on one end,
  • sew forward for about an inch,
  • then sew backwards over your seam for about an inch (to "knot" the beginning of the seam)
  • sew forward for the rest of the seam
  • sew backward and forward for about an inch at the end (to "knot" the end of the seam)

Step 8: Mark Lines for Casings

The next few steps cover the most difficult part of this process: adding casings to hold the dowels (casings are tubes of fabric). The first part of this process is marking where the casings will go.

Two casings will go right next to the flap seams.
Draw another directly between these two (along the fold line from the semi-circle cutting step).
Use a tape measure to mark a point directly between the middle line and the seam lines, then draw lines in those locations.

These five lines are the five locations of your casings. 

MAKE SURE you draw the lines and sew the casings on the INSIDE of the teepee (the same side as the flap seams)

Step 9: Cut and Pin the Casings

Each casing is a 3-inch x 45-inch strip of fabric.  They can be from the same fabric as the teepee (as shown), or they could be from some scrap you have laying around.  They won't show on the outside of the finished teepee. 

Cut each strip 3 inches wide (or wider if you have bigger dowels) and pin it so that it is centered along the lines you marked in the previous step. 

It may make the sewing easier to pin only one casing at a time. 

Step 10: Sew on the Casings

This is hands-down the most difficult step, because you are maneuvering a lot of material through your sewing machine. 

The concept, though, is simple: sew along both long edges and one short edge so that a dowel will slide into the top.

Step 11: Sew the Top of the Flaps Closed


Pin and sew about 6 inches of the top of the teepee. This closes the circle at the top.

Line up the outer edge of one flap with the seam of the other flap.

It wouldn't hurt to double-sew this seam, since it will see a lot of pressure. 

Step 12: Cut Dowels to 5-ft Length

Now that the sewing is finished, you just have a little bit of woodwork and some painting to go:

Mark all the dowels at 60 inches (5 feet) and cut them off with a saw.  Smooth the corners with a file and/or sandpaper.

Step 13: Drill a Hole in Each Dowel at 44 Inches

Mark each dowel at 44 inches from the end and drill a hole big enough for your lacing (in my case, 1/8").

44 inches is an arbitrary distance that worked well for us.  You can adjust the height of the hole as needed to make the teepee stand up how you want it to.

Step 14: Insert the Dowels and Lace the Top

If you don't want to paint your teepee, this is your final step.  If you want to paint it and you don't want to check how everything fits first, you can skip this until you're finished painting.

Insert the dowels into the casings (hole side up).

Run your lacing through all the holes and tie a knot.

Step 15: Paint the Teepee With Fabric Paint

There are lots of designs to choose from.  Do a google image search for "teepee designs" or "tipi designs".  You can also tell a story on the teepee by searching for "native american pictograph dictionary" and painting symbols on the teepee. 

We chose to do simple black and red triangles.

Step 16: Finish and Enjoy

The teepee folds out easily in the living room, or folds up small to be stored into the closet.  Have fun!

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