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December 18, 2014 / silvernswan

Tipi Sewing! (& canvas flat felled seam)

2014-07-05_12-17-36_956One of my projects this year has been to sew a tipi. No, not a play one, a big one for our family to camp in. I initially bought 10m of canvas for $1 per metre at the Fabric Warehouse pop-up shop in October ’13. Once the idea of a tipi came up I went back to them in January ’14 to see if they had any more of it. They did! And they were happy to sell me the rest of the roll at the same price and I ended up with just over 40m in total.

A tipi cover is basically a ginormous semicircle made of pieced together lengths of fabric. I used the tipi calculator (listed below in resources) it calculate the largest tipi I could make with my fabric, and came up with 4.65m which is both the radius of the cover and approximate diameter of the base of the tipi. Plenty big enough for a family of 4. And with a height of 4m in the middle, more than enough room for my other half to be able to stand up in (due to his height, not really do-able even in a standard family tent).

I decided to use the beautiful Singer 201K that I had been gifted by another sewing blogger. She wasn’t sure if it worked when she gave it to me, so I was really happy to find it worked perfectly when I finally got up the courage to give it a go. I preferred to use the singer as it is much more heavy duty than my little modern machine (I want to say something about how it is gear driven, but I don’t really know what I’m talking about, so I won’t). Four layers of canvas were no problem for it. I did need a bit of a run up when I got up to eight or twelve layers, but as long as I could get the needle into the fabric, it stitched beautifully.

Also, do you like my improvised cone stand? Industrial thread needs to come straight up off the cone, like overlocker thread, so you need some kind of stand when using it on a domestic machine. The teapot is one the children use for play.

Flat felling canvas without pin holes for the rain to come through. . .

So one of the things I had to think about for a while was how to sew a flat felled seam without putting pin holes in the canvas. I also wanted to sew it in such a way that each seam went through several layers of fabric. I was worried that the more usual method of flat felling (sewing two layers together then opening the layers & folding the seam allowance over itself and sewing down) would cause leaking at the point where the seam only went through two layers. I’m sure there are industrial machines that just do this for you, but I don’t have one of those. Here is the technique I came up with:

  • Lap top piece over under piece by x (I lined up the two blue stripes on my fabric)


  • Sew basting seam down the middle of this join. (I also pinned down the sewing line as I went as the fabric wanted to slip)


  • Trim each edge to x (I aimed for 5mm, but cut by eye rather than measuring so it was a bit wonky in places)


  • Fold each side over the trimmed edge to create flat fell

DSC03908 DSC03911 DSC03909

  • Sew a double row of stitching, one from each side close to the folded over edge.

DSC03913 DSC03914


Here is the breakdown of what it cost so far (bearing in mind I got the canvas ridiculously cheap)

  • Canvas (40m at $1/m)                                             $40
  • Nylbond industrial thread (4500m reel)                   $30
  • Heavy duty machine needle                                      $7
  • Manilla rope (14m of 12mm rope & 10m of 6mm)  $45
  • A roll of cotton tape                                                  $14
  • Parka nylon for lining (15m at $6/m)                        $90
  • Total                                                                        $226


The Tipi page at SimplyDifferently

It has basic information on putting together a tipi and has a handy tipi calculator (you need to scroll down from the top); plug in how wide your fabric is and how big you want your tipi and it will calculate the total length required plus the length of each strip to sew together as well as the number of poles you would need at that size (all in metric, too).

The “How to make a Tipi” article from Mother Earth News (originally published 1970).

I printed out and used this article extensively while sewing my tipi together, it has detailed instructions on all flaps, tabs and ties required. Sadly for me it is all in imperial measurements.

Instruction for setting up a tipi from Nomadics Tipi Makers

This has excellent photos and instructions on raising your tipi as well as making it liveable once erected. I’ve got this printed out in a folder ready for when we put the tipi up. I also used their method of making a door covering.

The tipi takes over the dining room

This is a pic of great swathes of fabric I was dealing with by the time I got to sewing the last lane on.


I sewed the tipi cover over August, September & October. On labour weekend (late October) we took it up to my sister’s to try it out. Unfortunately the weather didn’t co-operate that weekend, so we haven’t actually erected it yet. We will be camping there over the Christmas break though, so I’ll get lots of photos and let you know how we got on in our tipi early next year.



Leave a Comment
  1. 66stitches / Dec 18 2014 4:59 pm

    A tipi!!! This is the coolest thing I’ve seen for ages. I can’t wait to see photos of it in action.

    I also love that now every time anyone searches for “tipi”, they’ll be redirected to your blog.

    • silvernswan / Dec 20 2014 11:23 am

      Oh, thank you. I really hope it works well. . . We have packed our little tent in case we run into problems.

  2. Sandra (Sewist-Stitch) / Dec 22 2014 12:27 am

    Wow a tipi is a major undertaking, that is impressive – I can’t wait to see photos of it in action. I love that you sewed it up with your Singer 201. I’ve just got one of these machines and am yet to have a decent play. I gave it a quick test drive the weekend I picked it up and it was missing every few stitches, so I haven’t had time to trouble shoot. Maybe over the holidays I’ll find some time.

    • silvernswan / Dec 22 2014 9:30 am

      One of the things I like about the Singer is that you can reasonably easily clean & maintain it yourself. Hope you have fun trouble shooting when you get time.

  3. thecuriouskiwi / Jan 4 2015 10:29 pm

    Yeah 201 power! 😉 they’re tough old girls and your tipi is all kinds of awesome


  1. Camping in a home made Tipi | Piccolo presents

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