When things turn hot-hot-hot in the great outdoors, it's "bring-your-own-shade" kind of weather. Our fun portable shade tent fits the bill. It's perfect as a children's outdoor playhouse as well as a comfy lounge cabana for "big kids" to relax, read, and doze. We show you how to create the easy-to-assemble PVC frame as well as the slip-on fabric covering. This project was created a few seasons back, but quickly rose to the tip-top of our Most Popular lists across several social media outlets, and continues to maintain its position there. In Pinterest alone, our cabana has appeared nearly 22,000 times! We can see why: it's easy to make, fast to set-up, and rolls-up for travel or to store after the sun sets.
This project is a great excuse for using fabrics with big, bold motifs! We selected a tough Terrasol indoor/outdoor fabric in a rich coral with Ikat style designs. It has the ideal weight: heavy enough to form the structure of the tent, but still light enough to gently billow in the summer breeze. This is just one pick from the huge selection of indoor/outdoor fabrics traditionally available this time of year.
Many of the DIY tent projects we reviewed for this tutorial were the classic teepee shape, which is indeed a fun option but also results in a cramped space that is really only usable by younger children. We wanted something more universal and easier to build.
Our PVC frame is smartly designed from readily available plumbing parts. It's both easy to put together and take apart. So when the summer sun gives way to fall's cooler days, the tent disassembles in just a few quick steps and rolls up for storage.
There are also supplies and instructions listed for a pretty tassel rope you can make to decorate the openings... just right to achieve a true "boho cabana" atmosphere.
The tent finishes at 51" wide x 62⅛" deep x 51" high at the apex.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
Fabric and Other Supplies
- 4½ yards of 54"+ wide medium to heavy-weight indoor/outdoor fabric for the tent's outer panels and PVC casings; we used 54" Aztec in Coral from the Tempo Outdoor collection by Terrasol
- 2½ yards of 54"+ wide medium to heavy-weight indoor/outdoor fabric for the tent's inner panel; we used 54" Pamilla Ikat in Coral from the Tempo Outdoor collection by Terrasol
NOTE: As mentioned above, a bold motif with proper fussy cutting is important to the design of the tent. Extra yardage is included in the quantities above to accommodate this.
- All purpose thread to match fabrics
- An extra long metal ruler and/or yardstick to create accurate panel cuts
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Straight pins
FOR THE OPTIONAL TASSELS
- THREE skeins of colorful yarn; we used the super cute Dippity Dots Yarn by Bernat in Teal, Green, and Peach
- Small piece of cardboard to make tassels, apx. 9" x 5"
- 5 yards of ¼" soft cording; we used a twisted cotton cording purchased locally, but many other options exist - you want something sturdy enough to hold the tassels but that will still easily wrap and drape nicely from the PVC frame
All the following cuts (A-E) are ¾" Schedule 40 Pipe - a common PVC pipe you can find at just about any home center. The joining parts are also common plastic plumbing parts. We give you the SKU numbers for all the elements we purchased at Home Depot. You can cut the PVC pipe yourself with a special cutting tool or you can ask the home center staff to cut it for you into the specified lengths. This was a free service at Home Depot. They also mentioned you could call in the cuts (with SKU numbers) and then come in to pick up the finished order.
All the plastic parts (A-J) were purchased (and cut) for less than $30 from Home Depot.
¾" Pipe (Home Depot SKU 0000-193-712)
- A: THREE @ 57⅝"
- B: TWO @ 60"
- C: TWO @ 48"
- D: FOUR @ 25¼"
- E: FOUR @ 31½"
- F: ¾" PVC PIPE, cut FOUR at 1½"
- G: FOUR ¾" 45º Connector (Home Depot SKU 0000-188-026)
- H: FOUR ¾" Tee (Home Depot SKU 0000-187-917)
- I: SIX ¾" x ¾" x ½" 90º with riser (Home Depot SKU 0000-613-525)
- J: SIX ¾" x ½" Reducing Male Adapter (Home Depot SKU 0000-294-020)
Other recommended tent assembly parts:
- We spray painted our frame, which we highly recommend for a much nicer looking finish; we used about two and a half cans of Rust-Oleum Painters Touch 2X in Aluminum, which is recommended for bonding to plastic
- Cleaning wipes to clean PVC after assembly and prior to painting
- Vaseline or lip balm to help keep some of the frame's joints easier to pull apart
- Garden staples for staking the tent into the ground; RainBird ½" Drip Tube Stakes are a good option and available at Home Depot in a 10 Pack (SKU 525-556) so you could pick them up with all the other parts
- Cardboard or paper to cover the ground when spray painting
- From the fabric for the tent's outer panels and PVC casings (Coral Aztec in our sample), cut the following:
ONE panel WOF (width of fabric or 54") x 136". Sub-cut this panel in half into TWO 27" x 136" panels.
THREE WOF x 4" strips for the casings
NOTE: We have a good tutorial on how to cut large panels using a rotary cutter.
- From the fabric for the tent's inner panel (Coral Pamilla Ikat in our sample), fussy cut TWO panels 15½" wide x 68½" long, centering the motif.
NOTE: Start each panel in the solid color space between motifs. These two panels will be sewn together into one strip with the motifs facing toward the center, so the motif runs right side up on either either side of the tent.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Create the main three-piece panel
- Find the two inner panels. Place them right sides together aligning the two 15½" edges that were cut from the solid color space between the motifs. Make sure the motifs are both facing the same direction against one another so that when the seam is made and the two are pulled apart, the motifs are running right side up on BOTH sides. In other words, right side up from the bottom raw edge toward the center seam on either side. Pin the panels together.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch the panels together.
- The tent is not lined, so we wanted a clean finish to all our seams. We finished this seam with an inside flat felled seam.
- We have a full tutorial on flat felled seams, but to summarize: first press open the seam.
- Trim back one side of the seam allowance to ¼".
- Fold in the uncut seam allowance edge to meet the cut seam allowance edge. Press in place, then fold the entire allowance to one side, concealing both raw edges. Press and pin in place.
- Edgestitch along the fold. We lengthened our stitch.
- You will end up with one visible seam on the right side and a nicely finished seam on the inside.
- Find the two outer panels. Place one outer panel right sides together with one long raw edge of the inner panel. Pin in place.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch in place. Finish with an interior flat felled seam as above.
- Repeat to pin and stitch the remaining outer panel to the remaining long raw edge of the inner panel.
- Hem all the edges of the completed three-piece panel. First, along the shorter sides, create a 1½" double fold hem. To do this, fold in the raw edge ½" and press. Then fold an additional 1", press again, and pin in place. Stitch the hem in place, staying close to the inner fold.
- Then, along the longer sides, create a 3½" double fold hem. To do this, fold in the raw edge ½" and press. Then fold an additional 3", press again, and pin in place. Stitch the hem in place, staying close to the inner fold.
Create and attach the casings
- Find the three 4" x WOF casing strips.
- Create a ½" double fold hem along each 4" end. To do this, fold in the raw edge ¼" and press. Then fold an additional ¼", press again, and pin in place. Stitch the hem in place, staying close to the inner fold. We chain stitched our strips for faster hemming.
- Fold back both WOF raw edges of each strip ½" .
- Your strips are now 3" wide x apx. 53" long.
- Lay the main tent panel wrong side up and flat on a large surface (probably the floor as this thing is quite big).
- Along both shorter sides, draw a line 2" up from the top of the hem (the 1½" hem). This parallel line should run the length of both sides, but should not cross over the wider hems.
- On one side, place a casing strip parallel with the hem and drawn line. The bottom folded edge of the casing should butt right against the top of the hem.
- Center the casing side to side within the wider hems.
- Pin in place and then stitch in place through all the layers, keeping your seam line as close as possible to the folded edge of the casing.
- Push the top folded edge of the casing down until it aligns with the drawn line. The main tent panel remains flat, but the casing will bow up to form a channel for the PVC pipe.
- Pin in place all along the drawn line, then stitch in place through all the layers, keeping your seam line as close as possible to the folded edge of the casing.
- Repeat to attach another casing strip along the opposite shorter side.
- Fold the panel in half to find the center top. You are aligning the shorter sides so this center fold will be perpendicular to the panel's seams. Press lightly to set a center crease line. This crease line should be parallel to the two lines you drew to attach the bottom casings.
- Open the main panel back out flat and wrong side up so the center crease line is visible.
- Draw a parallel line 1" to the left of the center crease and 1" to the right of the center crease.
- Find the remaining casing strip.
- Place one folded edge of the casing strip along one drawn line and edgestitch in place through all the layers, staying close to the casing's folded edge.
- As above, push up the casing so it forms a tunnel and align its opposite folded edge against the remaining drawn line. Edgestitch in place, staying close to the casing's folded edge.
- Set the tent covering aside.
- The assembly of the PVC parts for the tent is very simple. Remember, you are not gluing anything, so anytime you want to retry a fitting, just pull the pieces apart and go again.
NOTE: PVC parts are designed to fit tightly in normal use. Since we need our frame to come apart in three places to slip on the fabric, and to dissasemble completely for storage, we want it to come apart easily. We found it helpful to slightly lubricate the ends of the pipe with a lip balm or vaseline. No need to overdo it, just a light rubbing will make it easier to disassemble.
- First assemble the angle fittings (which join pipes D and E). These parts will remain joined, so there is no need to lube them or to plan to take them apart.
- You will make FOUR angles. Find parts F, G and H. There are four of each part.
- Place the 45º fitting (Part G) onto the 1½" pipe segment (Part F). The pipe should insert about halfway into the fitting. Tap on a hard surface to make sure the pipe is in place.
- Place one of the top ends of the tee (Part H) onto the other end of the pipe and tap it on a hard surface. There should be very little or no space between the fittings. The pipe segment is now buried within the two fittings. Twist the tee (Part H) so the outlet side of it is facing away from the assembled angle.
NOTE: This "twist" can be further adjusted for an exact angle when the long pipe is inserted into place. If you need to take any of these angle fittings apart for any reason, you may need help pulling the pipe segment out from the fittings. Pliers will do the job.
- Next, you will make SIX 90˚ corners: four for the bottom of the tent and two for the tent's front and back apex.
- Find parts I and J. There are six of each part.
- Screw a threaded reducer (Part J) into each 90º with riser (Part I). Just finger tighten. There will be threads showing; don’t worry about that.
- Find all the longer pipe pieces (A-E).
- You'll start by putting together the two ends of the frame.
- Find two 90" corners and one Part C pipe.
- Set the corners on the ground so they form a 90˚ angle with one opening facing up. Slip a corner onto each end of the Part C pipe as shown below.
- Find TWO Part D pipes.
- Place one Part D pipe into the top opening of each 90˚ corner.
- Find TWO angle fittings.
- Place one angle fitting on the end of each Part D pipe.
- The "tee" of the fitting must face the rear. Twist the tee to correctly position it if needed.
- Find TWO Part E pipes.
- Place one Part E pipe into the top of each angle fitting.
- Find ONE 90˚ corner.
- Rotate it to a triangle position so both remaining ends of the Part E pipes fit into it.
- This leaves the remaining opening of the 90˚ corner facing to the rear.
- Repeat to create a mirror image of the end frame. These two ends form the front and back of the tent frame. All the open ends of the fittings should be facing one another.
- Once both ends are complete, join them at the bottom with two Part A pipes. These side pipes complete the bottom of the frame.
- Find the remaining Part A pipe. Insert it across the top to form the frame's apex.
- The two remaining pieces are the Part B pipes. These are inserted across the center sides of the frame and insert into the remaining openings of each angle fitting.
- We spray-painted our frame, which gave it a look amazingly close to aluminum.
- The frame should be painted when assembled.
- First wipe down all the pipes and fittings to clean the surfaces.
- Make sure you are working in a well-ventilated area and set the frame on paper or cardboard to protect the working surface. Outside is best because the paint will really fly since you are spraying a round surface.
- Spray all sides of all the pipes and fittings, using slow even strokes.
- As mentioned above, we went through about two and half cans of spray to get an nice, even finish.
Attach the fabric covering
- Find your pretty tent panel. The three casings of the panel are designed to fit over the three Part A pipes.
- To slip the pipe into the casing, simply pull each pipe out of one 90˚ corner, slide the casing over the pipe, then re-fit the pipe back into the corner.
- We slipped the top casing into place first.
- Then slipped each bottom pipe into its casing.
- The tent fabric then simply lays across the two Part B pipes.
Optional tassel rope
- We created 18 tassels to decorate the front and back openings of our "lounge cabana" version of this tent.
- We followed our own step-by-step How To Make Your Own Tassels tutorial.
- Our tassels finished at 4½" and are made up of strands of three different colors of yarn.
- Fold a 9" x 5" cardboard in half so it is 4½" high. If you want shorter or longer tassels, adjust your cardboard so it folds to the finished tassel length you desire.
- Cut EIGHTEEN 12" lengths of yarn for the hanging ties and EIGHTEEN 36" lengths of yarn to wrap the tassels.
- We used SIX 135" lengths of each color of yarn for a total of EIGHTEEN 135" lengths of yarn. Each length is wrapped around the cardboard form about 15 times. The colors were wrapped at random so they mixed nicely. One length was knotted to the next to form a continuous wrap. Again, you can adjust the how fluffy the tassels add by adding or removing yarn.
- Tie the hanger to secure, cut the tassel away from the cardboard form, and wrap the top to finish.
- Again, you can follow our tutorial for specific steps. The only difference is that we did not need to use a needle for the hanger or the wrap. The yarn is thick enough to simply manipulate by hand.
- Find the soft cording and cut it into two equal lengths of about 2½ yards.
- We looped the cording around the pipe first and then tied the tassels in place to get the best spacing.
- Start by securing the middle of the cording at the apex of the tent. You can tie, tape or ziplock the rope to the frame. We used dental floss to tie it in place!
- Then, gently loop the cording around the pipe down each side. You want to cording to be a bit loose so it will droop slightly when the tassels are attached. That way, they can gently swing in the breeze. Use the hanger to tie each tassel in place. A random spacing works well. We used nine along the front opening and nine along the back opening.
Optional garden stakes
- As you can see in the photos above, we spread out a blanket and set our tent on top of it. This worked great, even in a gentle wind. However, the tent is lightweight, and if you are worried about it, you can stake the bottom frame into the ground with 1" garden staples. If using a blanket, which is totally optional, you would just need to fold it out of the way to push the staple over the PVC pipes and into the ground.
- One of the great things about this design is how easy it is to store when Outdoor Living season is over.
- Take the frame completely apart into pipes and fittings. Bag up the fittings. You can also bag up the optional tassel rope.
- Fold up the tent into quarters and lay the pipes on top of the folded fabric.
- Roll up the pipes inside the fabric and store for the next sunny day.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Tent Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild
Frame Design and Instructional Outline: Bob Johnson