When the rain set in, the cat had finally shown its claws in protest at playing makeshift doll and we’d exhausted our tiny selection of VHS, there was one thing my brother and I could always rely on. It involved the dining table, a sheet, some cushions, maybe half-a-dozen squirreled hobnobs if we were feeling particularly crafty, a crudely scrawled ‘No Adults Allowed’ sign safety-pinned across the (tightly closed) front – and little else.
Even though much has changed in the intervening 30 or so years since I last found myself fashioning a den; chiefly the advent of CBeebies, streaming and other such dazzling gadgetry; the sheer fun of it hasn’t. Den-building has long been encouraged by the likes of the Forestry Commission for developing children’s explorative creative thinking, helping them to balance risk-taking and experimental skills through an activity that is pretty low-level when it comes to real danger. It does wonders for self-esteem and the imagination, too: no little one is immune to the novelty of a space to themselves, a kingdom for them to hang-out in and control when so much is in mummy and daddy’s hands.
My son may only be one and a half, but inspired partly by a rare trip to the cinema to see The Revenant (bear with me) – and the fact that pricey Tipis seem to have become the toy of the moment, I got to thinking: we can do this. Armed with a fairly basic grasp of DIY, some cheap hardware-store materials and household staples, this is how to build your own wigwam frame that you can wheel out any time the heavens open, for your kids to style-up and decorate any way they see fit…
You will need:
– 6 x 180cm lengths of dowel rod, 19mm in diameter should be fine (but if your kids are more boisterous, opt for 21mm to add strength)
– 1m length of string/rope
– 5 ½ m calico or any light fabric, plus 2m bias binding tape or string (both totally optional)
Step One: Drill holes 15cm from the top of each dowel rod, ensuring the drill goes all the way through. The wood may splinter off a little as dowel is usually made from ply, so give it a little rub down with sandpaper.
Step Two: Thread your rope or washing line through the drilled holes – do not tie the ends together yet, but set your poles up so that they interlace each other, splaying the poles so that they are roughly 80cm apart at the bottom – the widest part of the triangles.
Step Three: Wrap the string several times around the section where all of the poles meet, and tie to secure.
Step Four: If you want to make a traditional tipi, cut five triangles from your calico approx. 80cm at the base and 5cm at the top, and 150cm long (with all pieces, give yourself a 2cm seam allowance). Sew these together, tucking two lengths of bias binding at the top, middle and bottom of each joint panel to form the ties that will secure the tent to the rods. Roughly hem them to prevent fraying. For the doorway panel, cut a slightly larger triangle of approx. 85cm at the bottom, tapering to 5cm at the top. Cut a slit in the middle to roughly 2/3rds of the height of the triangle: this will form your doorway. Hem the edges, tucking two sets of bias binding into this hem so that the door to the tipi can be closed for more secretive play. You can then decorate the calico with fabric paint, beads, feathers or applique – better yet, give the kids free rein to personalise it themselves.
OR simply supply a pile of sheets, blankets, any large length of pretty fabric, old curtains or nets and let their engineering skills do the rest…
Words & photos by our Parenting contributor, Sophie McCorry Day. Follow her motherhood-meets-design blog Amotherstory.