adventures in home-making: Building a teepee: Part 1.

So Max and I decided to build a teepee in the backyard, inspired by all the nice, slender tree trunks Patrick cut down last weekend. But when I tried to use the tree trunks, I discovered that their heft and differing weight made it difficult to strike a balance. Time for Plan B: the procurement of bamboo stalks.

I remembered that one of our neighbors had a lovely bamboo jungle in the back of his yard, so yesterday we the family walked over the neighbor’s home and asked if he had any bamboo to spare. He was so kind and generous with his affirmative response (plus he had a dog named “Max”)… so Patrick took a saw and we headed to the jungle.

Of all the teepees we could build, I found the neatest layout and instructions at the Shelter Online website, a great resource for those interested in different types of hand-made homes across the world. (Oddly enough, it is also a great resource for people interested in stretching.) The pattern for the Plains Indian Teepee is available to download for free, including decorations and a step-by-step design plan. Unfortunately, I did not read closely enough, so we only cut 8 bamboo stalks and the directions call for at least 12 sticks. It looks like we will have to return to the jungle for a few more stalks…

But in the meantime, I want to cut all the leaves from the bamboo and prepare them according to plan (which means cutting them to a height of about 18 feet for a 15-ft tall teepee.

Here are the instructions and corresponding diagrams from Wildwood Wisdom:

The tepee of the Plains Indians is a fine dwelling, where poles areavailable and a permanent camp is in order. It is a roomy structure inwhich a fire may be built, and is comfortable in extremes of heat orcold. The pattern of the tepee (Plate 67)is cut in the shape of a halfcircle (A), twice as long as it is wide,with 2 smoke flaps (B) near the center of the pattern. Fifteen by 30feet is a good size. If the tepee is smaller, it is difficult to keepit free of smoke. Eight-ounce canvas is satisfactory for the cover.

Whenthe tepee is erected, it forms a *cone shape; and the straight edges,where the smoke flaps are sewed, overlap and are held together withwooden pins. It is here that this detail should.be noted. If you followthe drawing closely, you will see that one side of the straight edgehas an extra strip of canvas sewed to it for this overlap (C). A doublerow of holes is punched along the straight edge at (C) and (D). Theedge at (D) will be under the overlapping (C) edge, and the row ofholes will be a trifle wider apart than (C). These holes should bereinforced with a buttonhole stitch or metal grommets inserted.

Ahalf-circle door opening (E) is cut at both ends so that when the edgesare brought together a complete circular door opening will result. Thedoor itself is. made of a round piece of canvas with additions to beturned in and hemmed (F). When the hem is completed, a flexible willowstick is inserted, making a firm door (G). A rope-loop is tied to thetop of the willow stick, and is hung upon the pin just above the doorand forms the hinge (H).

Little pockets are made ofthree-cornered pieces of canvas and sewed to the tips of the smokeflaps (B). Reinforcing pieces of canvas (X) should be sewed to partswhere extra strain is expected, especially around the smoke flaps andthe center of the cover, which is lashed to the top of the poles (l).

Arope is hemmed around the circular base, and rope loops for peggingdown the tepee are equally spaced around it (J). A rope is attached at(I) which lashes the cover to the poles.

Twelve or more poles are needed for the tepee framework (Plate 68).These should be straight and smooth, and at least 3 feet longer thanthe width of the cover. If the tepee is 15 feet wide, the poles shouldbe at least 18 feet long.

Three of the strongest poles are made into a tripod (K), tiedtogether a little higher than the height of the cover. The rest of thepoles are then placed against the tripod, forming the cone-sbaped framefor the canvas cover. These are lashed together at the top with rope(L) . The last pole to be placed has the tepee cover fastened”to it,and should be placed opposite to where the door is to be (M).

Thecover is then pulled around the pole framework and fastened together atthe overlap with wooden pins about a foot long, tapering at both ends(N) (Plate 67).The bottom is pegged down, and the poles inside are spread to stretchthe cover (0). Two additional light poles are needed for the smokeflaps, and these are inserted into the pockets of the flaps (P). Thepoles can be moved about to change the position of the smoke flaps sothe smoke can be drawn from the tepee. The drawing (Q) shows how theair comes in at the base of the tepee and is drawn out at the smokehole. The flaps act as a sort of chimney, creating a draught.

One of the annoyances of a tepee type of dwelling is that water mayrun down inside on the poles during a heavy rain. One way of preventingthis is to use a “bull boat,” a circular piece of canvas placed on topof the poles (Plate 68).

Anothermethod was shown me by Dr. L. B. Sharp of Life Camps. He fastens a longcord on each pole just under the top of the cover, tied so that thecord leads from the underside of the pole. About halfway down, thesecords are gathered together with one leading to a tin can. Rain comingdown the poles is stopped by the cords and led down into the tininstead of continuing down the poles and eventually onto your bed.

I’m not sure how my husband will feel about a fire-friendly teepee for a five-year-old, so we might have to make rules about the kinds of fires that can be set inside the teepee. For example, one good rule of thumb might be: The only way you are allowed to start a fire inside the teepee is by rubbing two sticks together. Knowing the Maxer, however, he might just rub long enough…

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