Monday, May 30, 2016

How to Build a Backyard Tent with PVC & Bed Sheets

Summer's coming!
It's time for outdoor picnics, lemonade, lightning bugs, warm winds, and...

Last summer I made a tent from a few PVC pipes and some bed sheets.
I enjoyed the process and continue to enjoy the finished product.

As I wrap up yet another school year, I wanted to create one last memorable experience for my students as they headed into the summer. So, I made 3 more tents with a very simple design so there would be room enough for all. 
Though the days were rainy, we set the tents up in the school library, crawled inside with baskets full of books, and read...and talked, and giggled!
And it was good.

Below are directions to build your own bed sheet tent.

What you'll need:
4 - 10' lengths of 3/4" PVC pipe cut in half yielding 8 - 5' lengths
8 - 3/4" right angle couplings
2 twin-size flat bed sheets
sewing machine
rotary blade & rotary cutting mat or scissors
tape measure


Measure and cut your 10' PVC pipes to 5' lengths.

Next, connect pipes together using 90 degree couplings at each corner...

creating two large square frames.

Attach the two square frames together using a zip tie on each end of the top pipes.

Your tent frame is complete.

Twin-size flat bed sheets work great for the tent sides because they are already 5' wide and many have a casing at the top through which you can thread your PVC pipe.  First, look to see if the top of your sheet has an open casing (top wide hem is open on each side.)  If not, create a casing large enough for the PVC pipe to slide through.

My sheets did not have an open casing at the top so I created one by simply folding over the existing hem about 2 inches along the entire top and sewing it closed.

Because twin sheets are already 5 feet wide, there is no need to do anything to the sides.
If you are using larger sized sheets, you will have to trim the width of one side and sew it closed with a simple rolled hem.

To create the bottom casing, thread your top PVC bar through the top casing of your sheet.  

Lay the frame down to determine how much length you can trim off the bottom of your bed sheet. Save whatever you cut off!  This you will use to make your tent back and/or front flaps.

 Remember to leave enough fabric to create a bottom casing. Mark your fabric length at least 2 1/2 inches longer than the frame.  Remove the panel from the tent frame.  Cut off the excess fabric and set it aside for use later in this project.

To create the bottom casing, fold over the bottom edge 1/2" and press. Next, fold over 2" and press; then stitch.
Your tent's first side panel is now finished.  

Repeat this process with a second bed sheet to create the other side of your tent.


Thread a 5' foot length PVC pipe through both top and bottom casings of each tent side.
Connect corner couplings and side poles.

You now have your tent sides complete.

Connect the two tent side squares together by wrapping them together using zip ties.

Your tent should now be able to stand.

To create the tent back, remove a side pole from each side of your A-frame tent.
The whole thing will collapse. Just let it fall!

Lay your fabric out and place the side poles where you want them for your back and front openings.
(In this photo the back has already been cut out and side casings sewn.)
I simply figured out the triangle pattern by determining the width of the bottom and the angle of the sides. 
I then folded my fabric in half at the line of symmetry and cut the angled sides so both would be even and symmetrical. If you don't do this, the side angles would likely be wonky. I also planned a seam allowance of 2 1/2" to allow for side casings.
Again, save any and all fabric scraps!

Note also that I did not have enough of any one fabric to create the back of the tent. I simply sewed scraps together until I had a piece large enough to cover the tent back. Always look to see where you can use existing seams. The bottom piece of fabric used here was the part cut off when I made the tent side in step one.

I then created the side casings just like the ones I made for the tent sides. Fold over 1/2" along angled edge and press. Then fold over 2", press, and sew.

Thread the side poles through the tent back casings and reattach to the A-frame tent.
You now have two sides and the back complete!
Notice that with each step your tent becomes more stable.
As you work on this project, the tent is going to fall down...a lot!
Have a good sense of humor and know that this is just a part of the process.
I promise the tent will be more stable when it's complete!

To create the front flaps, I just used the back triangle panel folded in half at its line of symmetry as a guide. I cut two right-angle tent flaps: one with the angled casing on the right, and one with the angled casing on the left.


Create a casing along the angled side of the flap for the tent pole and simple rolled hems on the bottom and straight sides of each flap.

Before attaching these flaps to the tent, add a tie. To create the ties, cut about a two foot long strip of fabric 2 1/2" wide.  Fold over in half, wrong sides together. Press. Stitch along one end and the length on the strip. Turn right side out, press, and attach it to the top of the tent flap.
Create ties for each side panel as well. Attach one to each tent side near the top.
(You should have 4 ties in total - one on each tent side front and one on each tent front flap.)


Patiently thread all tent panels back on the frame.
It helps to have two people initially as you will have to twist corner couplings, shift fabric in place, and tweak things as you go.
You're almost done!

Now, just tie the right tent flap tie to the left side panel tie and the left panel tie to the right flap tie!
Hahahahaha, sounds much more complicated than it is.

Your tent is now DONE!
Note that it has much more stability than before.

Crawl inside!

Peek out the front!

Check out the roof ridge vent!

I made 4 of these tents in total.
Because we were rained out the week I used them at school, we just set them up in the library.
The PVC poles in front kept sliding out of place on the school's carpeted floors so I added the stiff part of Velcro to the bottoms of my corners.  It helped significantly to keep the opening in place and prevented the tent from drooping.

Assembling Your Tent:

Construct the tent sides.


Add the front flaps to the tent side panels where the ties are attached at the top.

Attach the back to one of the tent side panels.

Lay everything flat.

Zip tie the two side panels together on each end.

Begin to pull the frame up by the top poles. I lift the front...

then go around and lift up the back.

then position the front. 

 Next, I go around to the back and detach the back poles from the top...

 and thread the remaining back side through the side pole...

and reattach it to the corner coupling.

Spread the back poles apart until the tent back is taught.

Go back around to the front and tie the front flaps in place.
The tent is completely set up and ready to use!

Disassembling the Tent:

The best way to disassemble the tent is to untie the front flap ties.

Take the side poles out of the top corner couplings. Allow the tent to fall.

Remove the side pole from the bottom corner coupling.

Repeat with the other front flap side.

Taking just these two sides, roll them up along the side pole.

Set the bundle aside.

Detach the back side poles from the top corner couplings.

Hold this in place if necessary, but allow the tent sides to collapse.

Detach the back side poles from the bottom corner coupling.

Place the two back side poles together and roll it all up.

Now lift up the two center roof top poles. 

Keeping the two poles together, begin to roll up the tent sides.

Stop about a foot or two from the bottom.

and add the two previously rolled up front and back to the bundle.

Continue to roll everything up together.

until you have one long bundle.

Now the tent can be neatly stored away and will be ready for setting up the next time you want to take a backyard adventure!

All photographs taken by Paulette Rodriguez.

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