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Australian Teepee Project

My Australian Tipi project, which had always been a childhood dream of mine lasted three months and was completed in December 2007! I built an authentic Sioux Tipi using plans from the Laubin’s famous book ‘The Indian Tipi’. The whole project took approximately seventy hours to complete and involved a considerable amount of sewing (cover) and planing (poles). I have had to take down the tipi during the wet season as the fabric is very prone to mildew when constantly exposed to the humidity and rain.

The Cover

Using the Sioux design in the classic book by Reginald and Gladys Laubin I set about sewing the canvas cover.  I purchased a 25 metre roll of ten ounce canvas from Australian Wholesale Canvas ($320). After failing to utilise an old broken sewing machine, I purchased a sewing machine which was capable of sewing the canvas. I used the Toyota Jeans machine ($299 from Spotlight) which performed the job very well (most of the sales assistants told me I would need to splash out on industrial style machines). Firstly, I set about drawing a scale plan which I would use to determine the strip lengths which would then be cut and sewn together using a flat seam. I ended up working using the metric system which meant converting all the measurements from the imperial system which they still use in America.

After sewing the strips together I then proceeded to measure out the circumference of 1/2 circle on to the cloth. This was then cut out and the edges hemmed. Along the circumference of the semi circle I added 24 peg loops which were constructed from black webbing.

The next stage was to measure out the smoke flaps and the lifting triangle. These were carefully cut, hemmed and reinforced as per the Laubin’s instructions.

The door hole was then added. Next, pairs of buttonholes were sewn up what would become the front of the tipi. This job was made much easier by utilising the sewing machines buttonhole function.

The Poles

Sourcing appropriate poles in the Mackay area proved difficult. None of the local trees grew straight. In the end I opted to buy six metre lengths of seasoned pine two by four (from Porters a local hardware store), which were then ripped to produce two by two poles. I purchased seven lengths which made fourteen poles for the tipi frame.

I then sourced two poles from the bush which were used as the smoke flap poles.

These polls then had to be rounded and tapered. This was hard work using a hand plain – eventually I got hold of an electric plane which speeded up the process considerably.

Tipi Resources

I managed to find a number of really useful resources to help me in designing, making and setting up my tipi. My first resource was the classic book by Reginald and Gladys Laubin “The Indian Tipi – Its History, Construction and Use” (2nd Ed – available on Amazon). This book gives detailed instructions on constructing of the Tipi and also describes their history and use.

Online, various tipi manufacturer websites provide useful information on looking after your Tipi, painting the Tipi, sourcing poles, as well as erecting and taking down the tipi.

Project Photographs

Jonathan Tolhurst

About Jonathan Tolhurst

Based in London, my interests include photography, kayaking, paddle boarding, electric unicycling, teepees, robotics, programming, databases, informatics and pharmacy.

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Jonathan Tolhurst