Thursday, September 12, 2013

Basic Collapsible Play Tents

This post was recently shared on The Ribbon Retreat Blog as part of their awesome Oh Boy! Series and I thought I'd share here as well. If I do say so myself, the series was pretty perfect for me... (boys are kinda my specialty) ;) When you're surrounded by them, they pretty much hafta be, ya know? The project I chose to share is one I've been wanting to make for a long while. And Coop and Ry have been loving them! And I LOVE working as a contributor for The Ribbon Retreat- they really are wonderful!

Boys and forts just kinda go together, right? They're sure a popular form of boredom control around here :) I wanted something that we could take outside, or set up quicker than normal inside. Something that I wouldn't necessarily have to take apart when it wasn't being used, but could still store easily. I think these basic collapsible play tents hit the mark! They fold together to be stored at the side of a closet or (in our case) under the bed. They are big enough with just a few yards of fabric to give my little guys lots of room for fun inside. And super easy sewing and frame construction- anyone can manage these :)

So let's do it, eh?!

Measuring tape
Fabric Scissors and pinking shears
3 yards total of fabric from The Ribbon Retreat 
1/2 inch PVC rods
1/2 inch PVC 90 degree elbows (like above)
It may be helpful to complete the fabric portion first and then purchase your PVC- see why below :)

I used 2 yards of one print and one yard of another for my forts in this tutorial. The print pictured most is part of the Life in the Jungle Collection by Riley Blake- I love this Blue Hexagon print- so stinkin' fun! Same goes for the Orange Damask from the One for the Boys Collection by Riley Blake I used for the other tent :) I pretty much felt like I was creating with treasure sewing these fabrics! (I'm goofy like that...)

If you choose to use a solid three yards of one fabric, you won't need these next few steps where I combined my two coordinating fabrics. If not and you have two prints as well, then start by marking and cutting across the center of the fabric you'll have be the bottom portion of your fort. I have to mention here too that The Ribbon Retreat ladies do an amazing job of cutting your fabric- their lines really were straight to begin with and I didn't have to shore anything up at all- love that!

With that cut done, you now have two pieces of one fabric and one piece of the other. Put your width seams right sides together and sew across to create one solid three yard piece again, with your cut portions on the ends ( like below). Because these forts aren't lined I used pinking shears on all of my inside seams once sewn. Lining would be simple, just require double the fabric.

So here's what you have now- one big piece of fabric again :) Normally I'd iron my seams open to give it a really crisp look, but for purpose of this I actually ironed the seam down- this will make it easier to catch in your side hem and help it not stick out when you're all done. I'm kinda an iron fanatic, so I actually ironed over the whole thing at this point, just so it would be smoother to work with. But really, that's not necessary. (Yet again, I'm just goofy like that!)

In sewing my play tents, I actually utilized my selvage edges rather than trim them and have to double fold on the sides. If it bothers you that your kids will see the selvage (like above) inside their tent, then trim it off and fold over twice to create your hem. I just bought a little extra room by utilizing it is all :)

So, along both of your long sides, fold over your selvage (if your doing it like I did) and iron, then run a big long straight stitch up the whole side, repeating for the opposite side too. To give you an idea of what you'll be dealing with, here's the fabric in my lap as I sewed:

My trusty beginner sewing machine may or may not have been smelling a bit hot by the time these seams were done (reminded me of sewing a baby blanket)! With your sides hemmed in, now we'll finish up the bottom...

Fold up the bottom piece of your fabric about half an inch and iron, then fold again and measure at about 2 1/4". Then stitch along the upper portion of that hem. This is creating both a finished bottom edge and a pocket for the PVC of your fort :)

Your pretty well done! You'll be draping this fabric over essentially two large PVC squares, so to keep it snug, I did attach a simple strap to each side of the fort fabric (seen above). This will help it be a lot more sturdy. To make the straps:

Cut four identical strips of fabric (I got mine by cutting a big long strip off the end of my main tent fabric before sewing it originally). My strips pictured here ended up being way too long. A measurement of 4" x 5" for each strap is what you'll want instead. I doubled my work.. because, ya know, I thought it'd be fun... :P

Anyhow, iron the short ends of each strip, them fold in half lengthwise and iron. Stitch up the long end and turn your tube. Don't worry about stitching the short ends- you'll catch  those when you attach to the body of your fort.

Iron your turned fabric flat again and attach velcro to the shorts end to create a circle of your strap (pictured center above). Then fold the strap in half and iron. All of that four times over :)

(Pssst... some 1 1/2" wide ribbon from The Ribbon Retreat could make this part hecka faster!) 

Find where you'd like your strap to lie and stitch in place, one on each side of your main fort piece. If any of this is confusing in reading it, please just know that it's seriously simple in the actual execution- it will all make clear sense as you are doing it :)

With the fabric portion done, you're ready to get your PVC frame done. I let Stephen take over at this point in all honesty! But it was nothing I couldn't have done myself for sure. :) He used this PVC hand cutter tool. I know this isn't something many of you will have, so I'd recommend sewing your fabric portion first (what we just did above) and then heading to the store for your PVC, with the measurements of your fabric in hand. Fold your main body in half and that will tell you how tall you need four pieces cut. And your fabric width measurement will tell you how long you need another four pieces cut- the store will cut it for you on their machine for free and it's super fast!

The reason I chose to go with PVC for these forts is because it's really cheap and really easy to use- no nailing or sawing or worry of slivers involved. :)

If you do cut yours at home with a cutter tool, you can use one piece of each measurement as a pattern to clip all the rest, like above :) With both of your frame sides complete, you'll attach the two together. I used some basic cord and tied mine like below. I played with several ways to get them attached and this was both the easiest and the tightest for me.

Using a PVC elbow with two angled ends and one 90 degree would be a good option too, just that you wouldn't be able to adjust the pitch of your tent. For that reason, I chose to tie my rods together instead...

With all your pieces done and tied together, take apart one elbow of the bottom and slide a rod of PVC into the bottom hem pocket you sewed. Re-attach the elbow and drape your fabric across to the opposite bottom and do the same for the other end- getting so close to totally done now! Attach your straps to the sides and that's it! Such a good feeling, right?!

A few pics to clarify the fabric adding process :) And here they are all collapsed...

My boys were frothing at the bit as I was creating and we took ours outside immediately! A whole new little world opened up in that moment it seemed like :) Cooper is one that really appreciates his own little private corner sometimes and this was so wonderful for him!

They brought out their blankets and pillows to make it more comfy and shady :)

Along with popsicles, naturally :)

Hours of fun and happiness :) I love that these will serve us well all year round, inside and out. Our house is rather small and they take up less space and resources than our usual blanket forts, so I am happy about that! And they are nestled well under our bed whenever I just need them out of the way- perhaps the best feature! I hope your kiddos enjoy them too if you make one!

PS... I can't go without mentioning that #boysrule :)



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