Making a tipi is no joke. Why do I want to build a tipi anyway? Well, first off they’re beautiful. And remind me of my childhood, when all I did was build forts and tents. If built right, they can even last you years through out winters. I read that people have built tipis large enough and sturdy enough to live in for ten years. I’m not trying to live in my tipi, but it would be nice to have a lounge area in my backyard. After weeks or researching and reading up on the history of tipi making, I felt confident enough to began my tipi challenge. I hope this will inspire you to build a tipi of your very own!
Instructional photos from Fun in the Making
Making the tipi pattern is basically cutting a half circle. The height of your tipi will be the measurement from the middle of your half circle to the end of the fabric. I choose to use a thin muslin fabric for my first tipi. You can also use sheets purchased at thrifts stores. Traditionally, animal hide was used and now the more common material is a heavy duck canvas (which is great for more durable waterproof tipis). Tipis can last anywhere from a few months to 30+ years depending on the materials used and how well you care for your tipi.
After finally buying enough muslin fabric to sew together a 23ft by 15 ft rectangle, I was ready to cut my tipi pattern.
It’s much easier to lay out your fabric in an open space.
I used a stick and rope as a giant compass to draw my half circle
It also helps to fold your material in half. Less drawing and less cutting! I also had a cute little fabric weight to help me.
I used the above drawing as a simple guide to outline my fabric. I chose to not make traditional round doors and left my doors unfinished. After cutting my tipi patter and finishing the edges, I am now ready to erect the poles and add the covering.
Diagram by Nomadic Tipis
Choose 3 of your sturdiest tipi poles. These will be your the foundation of your tipi. When moving your poles around be sure to carry them straight up and down. It’s easier to balance and less dangerous. Now take two poles and lay them together on the ground. Take your third lift pole and lay it perpendicular so you make a 90 angle and cross. Measure the point at which the poles cross to the bottom of the pole. This should be the radius of your tipi cover. Adjust accordingly.
Using a 40ft piece of rope, tie a clove hitch knot around your 3 tipi poles as pictured above. Do not cut. You’ll use the rest of the rope to secure the remaining poles later.
It’s safer to have another person help you while erecting the poles. Lift the poles so you have an « A » frame. Stabilize the frame by extending the 2nd pole out so you have a free standing tripod. If you’ve tied the clove hitch properly, you should have some resistance while extending the pole and the knot should feel secure. Take the rope and secure the 3 poles by walking around and wrapping the rope around the poles a few times.
Start by laying 3 poles onto one side of the and laying another 3 along the other side. You should then have an opening in the back to lay 3 more pole. Only lay two of the three poles setting the third pole aside to use later.
Secure the 8 poles around the tripod by wrapping the rope around them. Make sure the rope is taught by whipping the rope up and pulling at the same time, but don’t pull hard as you may shift the poles. After circling the tipi four times let the rope hang freely to the ground.
Now take the third pole you set aside and lay it centered on the covering. Take one edge and roll the covering until it meets the middle. Repeat on the other side, so you have two rolls with the pole in the middle. Attach the top of the covering to the pole by using thumb tacks. Now place the pole along with the covering on the back center of the tipi (where you left the extra opening).
Make sure the pole is facing the inside of the tipi, so when you unroll the covering the pole is under the covering, and not on top. Spread the canvas around the poles as you would by billowing the cover so it floats. Be careful not to jerk the cover across the poles, as it might cause shifting or snags on the the covering.
Bring the covering ends together by overlapping one over the other and securing them with pins. From the outside lace the pins through the pinning straps. I made one inch slits and cut them large if the pins were too big. You want the pins to be snug and secure.
After lacing all 12 pins you may adjust your poles so the covering sits on your tipi properly. If the covering is too short and is more than 6 inches above the ground adjust your poles by lifting them up and bring them in a few inches. If your covering is very wrinkled you can push your poles out from the inside to have a shorter wider tipi. Be sure not to move the 3 tripod foundational poles.
I’m very excited to have my very own tipi! I can’t wait to start decorating the interior. I’m looking for Native American and southwest blankets and rugs. I have a few Mexican serapes that I can throw in there. Maybe add a little table and lace? What else can I put in there?