PVC Children's Teepee




Introduction: PVC Children's Teepee

About: Designer, Photographer, Tinkerer, Builder, Musician, Father.

For some time now, I have been looking at purchasing a Teepee for my daughter. They seem to be the latest must-have thing for kids, and seem to be loved by the kids, who love to sit in them, play with toys or even read books (gasp!). Unfortunately, the price attached to these Teepees in the shops range from ~$120-$250 depending on brand and store. This seems ridiculous!!

So, like any good tinkerer, I decided to have a swing at making one!

Step 1: Materials

The first step (after working out the size, how many poles you wish to use, and other variables like that!) is to locate and purchase the materials required.

Reading several different sources, I decided to lean away from the timber pole option (cost to high, weight too heavy). I went for the PVC option! PVC is light, cheap and can be painted, sanded or even bent if required (not for this project!) I needed 5 poles of 2 metres (6' for you Americans!). My local hardware store had 2 metre lengths in orange, but only the 20mm. I wanted a bit more sturdiness, so went with the 25mm. Totally up to you though! Because of this, I had to purchase 3x 4 metre (12' for the Americans) lengths. They even loaned me a hacksaw to help fit them into the hatchback!

Rather than going to a fabric store and paying >$50-60 for the required fabric, I looked around and found that a Painter's Canvas Drop Sheet was possible, and could be used for 4 of the 5 panels, for a grand total cost of $20.

so, so far the materials are as follows.

1 x 1.5m x 3.6m (5' x 12' for the Americans) canvas drop sheet - this allows for 4 panels, this is a 5 panel teepee
1 x Extra piece of fabric in contrasting/complimentary colour or design
3 x 4m lengths of PVC Electrical Conduit (or 5 x 2m lengths, if you can find them)
1 x Hacksaw (if you have to trim down the 4 metre lengths!)

Step 2: Cut the PVC!

Okay so as stated, we need 5 PVC Conduit lengths that measure 2 metres (6')

Measure 3 times, cut once! Measure from the non-flanged end, as the flange is ADDED to the overall length, and these need to be trimmed as well, as we want nice, straight poles for this project.

Using a hacksaw (and wearing any safety gear you deem appropriate), slowly and carefully cut on your marked line. A few millimetres (fractions of fractions of an inch, for you Americans!) will not be a huge issue, as all poles touch the ground, and the remainder will poke through the top, so its not super-critical to get this perfect.
Do not push too hard! I have had a few blades on a previous project EXPLODE on me, with at least one fragment hitting me in the face. If you choose not to wear goggles, then follow THIS advice extra carefully!

Once all PVC cuts are made, you should have a spare piece. Put it aside, as this will be useful if you discover you have botched another piece! Spare parts are never unwanted parts. They are simply parts you don't need... yet!

Gently buff the ends with sandpaper or a file, removing any burrs, and if you have floorboards in your house, rounding the edges a bit, to reduce the risk of scratching said floorboards!

Step 3: Measure and Cut Fabric!

Remove the drop sheet from the packaging. This is vital, as unless you do this, the teepee will look rather silly.

Unfold it and lay it out on the floor. I tend to work better when I can see it all, but due to the length of this sheet, I folded it in half to work on easier.

Each panel should measure as follows. These measurements DO NOT include allowances for hemming, so add these! Add as much or as little as you prefer to work with, as they are hems. Some people prefer small, tidy hems, others allow an inch or more (I have allowed 1-2 inches on all sides) These seams will not be visible from either side, so don't stress too much!

820mm for bottom edge (32")
90mm for top edge (3.75")
1345mm for centre - bottom edge to top edge (53")
1395mm for outer edges - angled edges (55")


Once all of these measurements are marked onto the fabric and you are happy with them, cut the fabric. Keep the offcuts, as there may be use for them in later steps!

Step 4: Where's the Door??

The drop sheet allows for 4 of the 5 panels required, so by now you have probably found an amazing piece of fabric (or an old doona cover or bedsheet that needs a new life!) Using the same measurements as above, measure and cut this as well. There is also the option of using a scrap of the canvas on the small section above the door opening. This is by choice. If you do this, add this section, pin it and include this in the above measurements.

Remember to cut the door hole! A tent becomes a child fortress without a door (This step can be overlooked if a Child Fortress is your overall goal!)

Hem the door opening to avoid fraying, and to give it some weight. Remember to make allowances for the door hems in the overall width of THIS panel only.

Step 5: Joining the Panels

Once all of the panels are cut and hemmed, its time to join them together!

This may sound strange and completely wrong, but we are going to sew the seams on the OUTSIDE, making them visible. For the first join, put two panels back to back. The canvas panels don't matter as much, but the door panel will be obviously different on both sides.

With two panels back to back, sew them up along one long side. Repeat this process for the remaining panels, then put the last long edge against the first panel's remaining edge and stitch it together, making a teepee shape!

Once all panels are joined where they are supposed to be joined, hem the top and bottom "holes" of the teepee. You could do this before joining the panels, but doing it after ensures a nice crisp, even edge.

Step 6: Making the Pole Pockets

THIS is where the magic happens! This step will turn your pile of fabric and the lengths of PVC Conduit into something that can potentially resemble a teepee!

First, turn that pile of fabric inside out so that the seams are now on the inside (and the door panel is face-in). Using one of the poles as a guide, place it inside the fabric (as in, under one side of the fabric - inside the teepee-shaped pile of fabric!), aligning it with one of the seams that should now be on the inside (trust me, this will hopefully make sense in a minute!). Now, pin the fabric on the lower edge of the pipe, creating a pocket that runs along the long edge of the panel join (where the pole should go!)

Repeat this step for all five poles. Remove the guide pole. The fabric is ready!! We are soooo close to getting inside your amazing creation!

Step 7: Setting Things Up!


So there is one more thing to do before the poles are inserted.
Take each pole and measure 250mm (10") Down from the top. Drill one hole all the way through each pipe length with a 10mm (1/3"? Seriously, Americans need to learn the metric system! Its so much simpler for this stuff, without going into large fractions like 14/64, or something equally silly...!) drill bit.

At this point, if you were wanting to paint the conduit, this is when you should probably do it. As fabric will be covering most of it, you would only need to paint the top 600mm (24") of each pipe, and perhaps the bottom 100mm (4") just in case you wanted to be sure that the plastic colour is not visible...

Once the painting is dried, take each length of conduit and feed it into each of the pockets, ensuring that the end that you drilled a hole through is at the smaller "peak" end of the teepee (top). Once all pieces are in their pockets, and only sticking out a little, hold the entire structure 'closed', like an umbrella in Summer sunshine.

Using either a bootlace or a length of ribbon etc, thread it through each hole. Do not tie anything yet, as you will want to adjust a few things before making the knot 'final'.

Still holding all of the poles neatly together, twist the top sections of the conduit as someone helps you fan out the section!!, creating an even visual spread

now the all of the dewing is done, its

Step 8: Embellishments

Now that your teepee is fully functional (hopefully!) and utilised, you might think that this tutorial is over, yeah?

Well, you would be wrong!

Personalising your teepee is a very important step. This could mean that you paint the poles in alternating colours, or perhaps painting or stamping a pattern onto the canvas sections of the teepee?

Perhaps use it as a joint project, with yourself and child both painting onto the panels (outside, of course!!) or perhaps you prefer to leave it blank?

Maybe you choose to lace the door slit at the top? or perhaps use velcro to hold the door closed?

I plan to add either fairy lights when my daughter is a little older, or perhaps a small USB LED reading light, suspended through the hole in the roof, allowing for pre-bedtime reading in the evening. I will also add a lambskin or other plush, furry flooring, perhaps some small cushions etc and make it into a daytime retreat for her.

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    4 years ago

    Well, of course you dont have to change the cover photo. Just a suggestion. Big time tipi fan here, wigwams, longhouse, igloo, yurt, cardboard house, etc. Would like to see finished product as I'm sure others would too.


    Reply 4 years ago

    I am in the process of doing the final photos (setting it up with a small person around = Christmas ruined!!) so there WILL be photos soon, I promise! Then the cover photo will be updated. :D


    Reply 1 year ago

    So about those finished pictures?


    4 years ago

    Wow! That's a lot of hard work. The apparatus you describe will be shaped like a tipi and will fool 95% of people, but the American Indians did not go to the trouble you did. They sewed skins together into a half circle, cut 10-20 poles about 22 feet tall, tied a tripod of poles together near the top, and tied a rope to the skin to raise the skin up the poles. Interestingly this was 100% women's work, so if you ask a Crow or Sioux man how to make a tipi, he won't know. Once the tipi was constructed it could be raised or disassembled in minutes.

    PVC is a great idea for poles. If you have bamboo growing nearby, you can use those, too. The poles need to be about 1-2 feet longer than the skin radius. For canvas I would want at least 3/4-inch PVC pipe. 1-inch would be preferred. Instead of cutting PVC with a saw, which takes forever, use a ratcheting PVC cutter tool ($8.00). You can clip off pieces of PVC in a second with no dust.

    Instead of drilling holes, a good Boy Scout can tell you how to lash three poles together with rope to make a tripod. Then just lean the other poles up against the tripod. Wrap the skin around the poles and kick the poles outward at the base until the skin is tight.


    Reply 4 years ago

    This was never meant to fool the native Americans or any traditional owner of said technology. This is for a 2yo girl in Australia. The store-bought ones were simply too expensive and lacked personality.
    Traditionally, sewing was "Women's work" in western culture, too. As a male feminist, I am doing my best to not set gender-roles with our daughter. She plays with fire trucks, cars, dolls, and a full range of toys (none of which require operation by a person's genitals, which tells me they are already gender neutral). I tend to make her presents rather than buy them, as I feel it gives her something special and unique, but also shows her that fathers can do creative things and even 'girl things'.
    my goal was lightweight (in case it was knocked over or fell!), cheap (in case she destroys it or just doesn't like it) and safe. (see above)
    PVC is light, easy to cut (with a hacksaw, its about 5-10 seconds per cut, so not worth buying the PVC cutting tool - $35!) The tie at the top is not really necessary, as the poles are held in place with the fabric, but having them tied adds to safety, and doing so through drilled holes ensures they will never slip. I was a Scout, so could probably wrangle something foolproof, but the microscopic potential for it to go awry would niggle at my mind. :)

    I like your idea of Bamboo! It hadn't crossed my mind, as the only place I would be able to locate it would be someone's private property (purchasing it is rather expensive). It would make an interesting alternative, and would be an interesting cultural juxtaposition!


    Reply 4 years ago

    Well stone the crows! I thought you were a Brit. Sorry, very sorry, for that confusion.

    Sewing was not universally women's work in the 1800s; however, in the native cultures, everything about the tipi was. This includes the skinning the bison, tanning, sewing, cutting and shaping poles, setup, take down, and all the customization and decoration was done by the women. Europeans who wanted to make a tipi thought it was some mystical secret, because the native men they asked would not tell them. Turns out they should have been talking to the women. So I wasn't trying to comment on political correctness - only state a historical point of interest. My ultimate point there was that a more authentic tipi is much simpler to build than yours. Once the semicircle is cut, it's ready to assemble. Having said that the original tipis had another layer of complexity for cold weather survival, but we don't need to get into that. An inner layer was invented in the Americas and has not been seen in other tipi structures around the world.

    Shop around for a PVC cutter. I can get one for less than a good hacksaw.

    Most people with bamboo would love for you to remove their entire forest of it. Bamboo is already tapered, too. The American natives would not have used it because the nodes would allow water penetration.

    As others have said, pictures of the tipi would be a benefit to the Instructable.



    4 years ago

    You gotta put a picture of the completed tipi. Have that be the cover image.

    How did you do the pop up text boxes on the photos? That is cool.


    Reply 4 years ago

    oh, and the pop-up boxes are simply tags i the images! when creating, click and drag the box, then type! :D


    Reply 4 years ago

    I promise that once I can safely erect it without my little one seeing it, I will update the final photos!! Its getting harder and harder to hide it!! :D