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How to Make a Child's Teepee

Updated on January 1, 2013

Make Your Own Child's Play Teepee

I decided my nephews might enjoy a tee pee for Christmas this year. After checking with their dad to be sure it was a good idea, I started shopping around. There are some really creative and cute ones on the market, but the ones big enough for my two nephews were a bit over my budget. I started looking into how to build one, but the patterns and instructions I found were too complicated and time consuming for me, and cost nearly as much as the pre-built ones. What to do?

I'll explain my simple solution and the materials involved in my easy to make and inexpensive (under $50) tee pee instructions right here!

(All photos by me)

The Poles

Some instructions suggested 6 poles, which I initially purchased, from Lowes. These were 2" by 2" by 8 feet long and I had them cut down to 6 feet for me, which they did for no charge. These wooden poles were less than 2 bucks apiece. The Lowes' employee who pulled them down for me took great care to be sure they were straight. I suppose this is probably a good idea. It isn't exactly rocket science, but a straight pole will be easier to deal with, I'm sure! This wood is untreated, however, so if you want your tee pee to stay outside and withstand the elements, you'll need to paint or stain the poles, or buy pretreated wood, which will be more expensive. We did sand them a little, just to get the roughness off. This one is for the boys' playroom, so I did not worry too much about treating the wood. For a smaller teepee, you could probably go with smaller and narrower poles, but I wanted the oldest to be able to stand up in it, so I had to go with the longer ones. 6 poles for a tall tee pee with this thickness of wood were a bit cumbersome, so we only used 5. This worked fine: One for the back, one on each side, and one for each side of the doorway in the front.

Tying Poles Together

I bought quarter inch thick rope in a small spool at Lowe's for about 7 bucks. I tied the poles together about 6 inches from the top. We did not use any fancy knots, just simply wrapped the rope around each pole and then around all of them together, with a good ole' square knot to finish it off.

Cherokee Prayer Blessing

May the Warm Winds of Heaven

Blow softly upon your house.

May the Great Spirit

Bless all who enter there.

May your Mocassins

Make happy tracks

in many snows,

and may the Rainbow

Always touch your shoulder.

Now for the Outside Covering

The next issue was what to use for the outside. If I were making this for outdoor use, I would have gone with a heavy waterproof canvas. Since I'm not, I was able to opt for a simpler solution. Instead of having to buy the material and then sew it all together, I bought curtains. Now the difference here is that your basic teepee pattern calls for a sort of half circle, and obviously, curtains are rectangular. It still works, but the material does not pull as snugly around the poles as the ones made with the circular pattern. "To each his own", I say. I'm not worried about authenticity as much as functionality and fun-ability for the boys! So I took the two curtains and strung leftover rope through the part where the curtain rod is supposed to go, and luckily for me, they just fit. The only sewing I did on the whole project was sewing the two curtains together. These curtains are 58" by 36", and two panes were just about the right width. It's not wide enough for a door to close, but I don't think they want a closing door anyway - Too dark! (The curtains I bought were light-deflecting.) If you do want a door, and don't want to buy an extra or wider curtain, I have a solution for that too. Tie a cardboard paper towel holder or a wire hanger to the top of the curtains just above the door on the inside, and then hang a beach towel from that. Voila! Or get creative and make a flap out of faux bearskin or something. There are plenty of ways to cover a doorway.

My crude drawing of the Mound in the Serpent Disk
My crude drawing of the Mound in the Serpent Disk

The Fun Part!

Decorating!

The final touch was the fun part. I wanted to draw some symbols on the outside of their teepee to make it look a little bit more American Indian-ish. Our family has Cherokee blood, so I looked for something based on Cherokee heritage that was related to their names in some way. I had to stretch the meanings a bit, but I found one drawing for each of the boys' first name, and one more for our last name. I put their first name's symbol on each side and the "Kay" symbol (Our last name) on the back. I am not artistic and cannot draw well, so I had to be creative about how to get the symbols on the fabric. I found some fabric markers, but how to get the original design on there? Thankfully there is something for that! It's a fabric marking paper which works sort of like carbon paper, but wipes off. I used this to trace the designs onto the fabric, and then drew over that with the fabric paint pens. I did test the pens on the fabric a little bit first, but not well enough, and to my dismay, they did bleed some into the fabric. While that could be disastrous for some uses, I decided it was fine in this case (what choice did I have, right?). The drawings are large enough to handle the bleeding ink. However, had I known the ink would bleed, I might have tried to draw them even bigger. Turns out, that would have been a good idea anyway. The drawings seem kind of small in the overall scheme of things. However, it is good, too, in a way, that they are small, because that leaves plenty of room for the boys to put their own designs on their teepee. That was my intention all along: To get the outside designs started, then let them do the rest. I put the curtains and paint markers, along with the fabric marking paper and the information about their name symbols all together in a box for them to open for Christmas. I plan to explain the whole process and show them how to put the teepee up once they've opened it. (I could never wrap the whole thing, but 5 wooden poles don't look like much by themselves, so hopefully they'll be none the wiser! (If they don't happen to come across this lens before Christmas, that is!)

Update: The boys loved their gift, but the most exciting part, hands down, was the decorating. Both love to draw and the oldest is a pretty good artist!

Materials Used for the Drawings

Materials Used for the Drawings
Materials Used for the Drawings

Fun Tee Pee Video from One Direction - Live While We're Young

This awesome group of young guys from Ireland created a great celebration of the Tee Pee in the video for their hit "Live While We're Young"

These are some seriously awesome Teepees!

Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux 1863-1950

The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is

in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the

nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop,

a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.

Everything You'll Need - And some things that you might want

  • 5 Wooden poles: thickness and length according to size of tee pee desired
  • Curtains,(I used light deflecting) - enough to fit around poles, sewn together on one side

    (if using tee pee outdoors, make from water-resistant fabric)

  • Rope, ¼ inch thickness or greater,

    at least 20 feet or so

  • fabric paint or fabric paint markers
  • Fabric marking paper
  • Chosen designs, enlarged and printed
  • Tape to mark place to place design and hold paper in place when tracing
  • One more thing I purchased was some Velcro to attach the sides of the curtains to the doorway.

The whole picture - and a couple more

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The whole teepee. Same photo from intro, but that one was cropped to make it square (and to show my son's smiling mug!)This image came from an old Cherokee Legend called "Rabbit Goes Duck Hunting"My crude drawing of the "Mound in the Serpent", an old symbol from Mississippian Indians, an ancestor of the Cherokee.  This was cool to find, since we're now "Mississippians".The patterns I used to create the drawings
The whole teepee. Same photo from intro, but that one was cropped to make it square (and to show my son's smiling mug!)
The whole teepee. Same photo from intro, but that one was cropped to make it square (and to show my son's smiling mug!)
This image came from an old Cherokee Legend called "Rabbit Goes Duck Hunting"
This image came from an old Cherokee Legend called "Rabbit Goes Duck Hunting"
My crude drawing of the "Mound in the Serpent", an old symbol from Mississippian Indians, an ancestor of the Cherokee.  This was cool to find, since we're now "Mississippians".
My crude drawing of the "Mound in the Serpent", an old symbol from Mississippian Indians, an ancestor of the Cherokee. This was cool to find, since we're now "Mississippians".
The patterns I used to create the drawings
The patterns I used to create the drawings

What are Teepees all about, anyway? - Great teaching opportunity!

Share your memories and stories!

Do you have any tips?

Thanks for visiting!

Have you ever built a teepee? - Or a "fort" or playhouse?

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    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 

      4 years ago

      I ought to make one for my kids, they'd love it.

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 

      5 years ago from Ohio

      This is very helpful for an activity that is definitely worth the effort.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      5 years ago from Vermont

      I built a simple tipi for my granddaughter this past summer. I used bamboo garden poles and a piece of nonwoven row cover from my veggie patch. She really had fun. I love your detailed instructions for making a more authentic teepee for an older child - very creative!

    • safereview profile image

      Bob 

      5 years ago from Kansas City

      Loved this lens... my son used to love making teepees! Very well done!!

    • DreamingBoomer profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Kay 

      5 years ago from Jackson, MS

      @greenmind: Thanks Webkangaroo! Will fix asap!

    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind 

      5 years ago from USA

      GREAT lens, really good. I like it when people actually WRITE in their lenses. Minor quibble: "Dad" (in your intro) is only capitalized when it takes the place of a proper name, as in "last night Dad tripped over the dog again."

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