Apparently kids teepees have been all the rage for a while, although Alvin only discovered them in the Land of Nod catalog a few weeks ago, and of course he immediately fell in love. Naturally there was no way I was going to pay $199 (on sale from $218!) + tax and $20 shipping, particularly when 9′ x 12′ canvas drop cloths can be had for $20 on Amazon, so I set to work on a plan.
As seems to be the custom these days I started searching for teepees I liked on Pinterest, and found that there are so many kids’ teepee-themed boards that I couldn’t even scroll through them all. I ended up basing my design on this tutorial, although I split my front all the way up to the top – partly to make it easier for me to get into and out of(!) but partly because two skinny halves made for a more economical fabric layout, leaving enough behind to make the cushion.
We have a bit of a theme of ‘bringing the outdoors in’ in both Carys’ play room and playthings, so I decided to do the same with the teepee. I searched for tree applique patterns, and decided to use this image as my inspiration:
With a lot of my DIY projects (including our bathroom remodel!), when I begin I don’t have a solid plan for how things will turn out, and just see what inspiration strikes as I go along. I got some interesting fabrics from New Pieces – I was actually quite shocked to find that there was a fabric store in Berkeley that I hadn’t been to before! Since quilting is their ‘thing’ they had a great selection of cottons, and one of the staff helpfully steered me toward some prints that vary in color along the width of the bolt, allowing me to get multiple different-colored trees from a single quarter-yard cut.
I had planned to use the fabric with the green and brown streaks in a single strip across the bottom of each panel, but in true Jen style I hadn’t fully figured out the size of the teepee before I went shopping for the applique cottons, so the piece of fabric I bought was about 4″ too short. “What a wally,” I thought, and then I turned it into an opportunity, deciding instead to cut ‘hills’ from several different fabrics and layer them together, placing the trees on top. I set the bottom of the hills an inch or so up from the (hemmed) bottom of the teepee, going for an ‘artistic’ rather than ‘realistic’ look.
There’s no real ‘tutorial’ here because as I said, I just made it up as I went along. I laid out the first panel on the dining room table, found an old chunk of tailor’s chalk and drew out a tree shape I thought might work (on the right side, so I could get the full effect of the colors – some of which are quite deep), adjusted as necessary, and then cut out the shape, tested for whether it seemed like the right size and then adjusted again if needed. I cut all the components for each panel, laid them out to test how they fit together, and pinned them. I sewed across the bottom to start and then worked my way up to the top of the design, sewing down the hills that were ‘behind’ others first, and the ‘in front’ ones next, and so on up to the top of the design.
I’d planned to do all four panels essentially the same, but half way though the first one I thought “how about a river?” So the second panel incorporates a river. It took me a while to decide what shape might work well and I’m still not 100% happy with it (I’m not sure you can really tell what it is unless I tell you), but it’s OK.
For the third panel I decided to incorporate some snow-capped mountains (I also realized I could layer multiple hills behind each other for a more nuanced look), and it was then that the whole concept came together in my head – I went back to the store and picked out a Japanese flowery print, still mostly green, that says ‘flowers’ without screaming “FLOWERS!”, and used that for the door panels. So the overall concept is the idea of sitting in your tent in a flower-filled meadow at the edge of the woods, with a river in the middle-ground and the mountains behind. A bit esoteric for a kids teepee? Maybe, but I had fun making it.
We have some bamboo screening our house from our neighbors, and there are quite a few dead canes in it – I’d been meaning to thin them out for ages but I realized I could use some of them for the teepee poles. I found four that were just about the right diameter, and were relatively straight, and cut them to length with the Sawzall. I guess it tends to split down the length when it dries out but that didn’t seem to affect the structural integrity.
When I was back at New Pieces for the flower fabric I also found they have a good selection of minky fabric (although Joann does have it for half the price). Carys’ Aunty Irene bought her a small blanket in that fabric wrapped in a sheep toy also in the same fabric for Christmas, and it’s her absolute favorite thing at the moment. I found some minky with a green leafy trellis design (that Joann doesn’t seem to carry:-)) and knew that would be a winner for the cushion top. I used this tutorial as a basis for my cushion, although I made my cushion out of plain white cotton and the canvas/minky is a cover with a velcro closure, as I know it’s going to need washing at some point. Carys likes the teepee, but she really loves to launch her whole body at the “piwwow.”
In case you fancy making something similar, here are a few things I learned along the way:
- Wash the drop cloth. Most teepee tutorials don’t seem to do this, and one did mention that the canvas is hard to handle with the sewing machine – I could imagine the sizing in the fabric being the reason. I had initially considered dyeing the cushion fabric and when I found this tutorial on that topic I also saw the pictures of the nasty chemicals that wash out of a drop cloth – I suppose most people want it to be a bit water-resistant if they are using it for its intended purpose. The tutorial does the washing in the bath and I was about to do the same when I realized that our industrial-sized washing machine could likely do the job. Carys enjoyed watching, and I, too, felt a bit sick watching all those chemicals disappear down the drain – but at least they’re not in our home (or all over my hands – and the bath) any more. Maytag for the win!
- My applique would have been easier if I’d pressed some interfacing on the back of the cotton. Don’t be as lazy as me.
- You can get away with just a couple of colors of thread even though you have a lot of different colors of hills and trees – I had a dark green for the darks and a light green with a lot of yellow in it for the lights. I already had white, brown, blue, and taupe on-hand.
- When figuring out the placement of your design, factor in the width of the pole sleeve so your trees don’t disappear into the seam (like one of mine did).
- The teepee tutorial suggests that hemming the top might not be necessary (after first offering a caution about how much canvas frays). Hemming the top is necessary, although I didn’t zig zag the sides as the diagonal cuts prevent fraying.
- Make sure you sew your pole sleeves wide enough. I guess after doing all that zero-seam allowance applique I was a bit freaked out by sewing with a two-inch ‘seam allowance’ and I had to unpick when the first sleeve was too narrow for the bamboo to fit.
- Some tutorials advise drilling holes in the poles near the top to thread rope/ribbon through and some don’t. I initially didn’t but I couldn’t stop the fabric from sliding down the poles (and we know my pole sleeves weren’t too wide!) so I drilled holes and also placed an eyelet at the top of each panel. I ran a double length of ribbon through each pole and eyelet and then tied a tight knot in front, which seems to be holding everything up just fine.
- Eyelet kits really suck. I think I placed 17 of them and I probably got three just right – the rest didn’t open up properly like they are supposed to; I guess I wasn’t hitting the anvil 100% straight down. Not a huge problem because the eyelets are small and filled with ribbon so you can’t really see, but slightly annoying nonetheless. Also, the instructions say to use two layers of moderately thick fabric plus interfacing, but multiple trials and errors showed that just the single layer of canvas (plus a 1″ square of interfacing ironed onto the back to stabilize the cut edges) worked best.
- Wait until your teepee is finished before measuring/cutting fabric for the cushion. You know why, and no I didn’t learn this the hard way. Also, zig zag the edges of your canvas cushion pieces.
I hope you’re inspired to try something similar, or invent your own design…