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July 21, 2012 7:34 PM   Subscribe

Help me build the best modular indoor blanket fort EVER.

I have two young children (ages 2 & 4). They are now interested in building forts, castles, tents, and pirate ships. Most often I grab a bunch of bed sheets, a card table, the piano bench, couch cushions and all that stuff and we make some pretty fantastic forts.

But I want to do more.

I've seen a lot of stuff lately on places like Pinterest where people are doing things like making teepee frames out of PVC or using shower-curtain tension rods to make hallway dividers and stuff. All very cool to be sure, but I don't want to build those kinds of things, because they tend to be locked into a specific shape or theme.

What I really want to do is come up with some kind of modular tent-fort system that can be reconfigured over and over again, with lots of different combination possibilities. Something that doesn't necessarily resemble a formal structure but rather is more abstract and weird and thus can more readily become anything in my boys' imaginations.

I have this notion of buying a bunch of PVC and making wacky, mostly stackable shapes upon which sheets can be draped, but I'm not really sure where to begin or if what I'm thinking of is really feasible.

Have you ever done something similar? Are there set-building or general engineering principles that would be useful in such a project? I'm very open-minded about ideas, I just don't want to build a traditional teepee frame or something that looks like a house with a pitched roof.

Bonus: optimize for tunnels

Bonus-bonus: my four-year-old is obsessed with dark woods, caves, ancient doors, and friendly dinosaur-pirates who invite you to lunch
posted by Doleful Creature to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I think one option may be to just acquire some pvc pipe cut to various lengths, and several good handfuls of elbows, tees, and four-way connectors, then explore how they all can go together with your kids. You wouldn't have to glue anything together, and after taking stuff apart you'd be able to re-configure to your hearts' content. This might be a good way to learn some sort of engineering principles; it seems to me that eventually everyone would come to realize that a base for a tower starts like this, then you build on it from there. Or whatever the case may be. I recommend 3/4 inch sch40 pvc pipe and fittings.

And my wife says to invest in a bunch of binder clips to secure the blankets to the frames.
posted by Shohn at 7:42 PM on July 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

Rigging up some kind of tunnel and door setup would be really cool. Maybe a few lengths of PVC stretched between couch and wall, with blankets draped over to form a tunnel?

Grab some pristine large-ish cardboard boxes for doors -- you can decorate them to look like doors with sharpies or maybe some poster paints. You should be able to make hinges with duct tape unless they are exceptionally rowdy kids.

The ability to branch off into a network of tunnels (a tunnel maze?!) would be amazing. Again, PVC, furniture you have on hand (a bunch of dining room chairs would be useful there), and a crapton of blankets.

Huge binder clips or hardware store clamps would be useful for securing everything in place.

Cardboard in general is great for illustrating landscapes and characters. Or what about taping kraft paper to the walls so you guys can draw in windows and an exterior landscape full of dinosaurs? You can get a seemingly endless roll of kraft paper for like $5 at any hardware or office supply store (check the packing section).

What about some kind of tower or turret?
posted by Sara C. at 7:46 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also look into PVC/plastic flag mounts. I've build a few apertures for Halloween yard decorations (burden of living in Salem, MA), and using these has made multiple poses with the same frame possible. I see a central pillar with a few of these mounts attached to it that you can use as a central pole for attaching your PVC lengths to, with sheets hanging off said PVC.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:49 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by sarah_pdx at 8:06 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by misterbrandt at 8:09 PM on July 21, 2012

My daughters had the Cranium Super Fort. They absolutely loved it and it put away in a tidy fashion. I recommend it.
posted by Argyle at 8:15 PM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

heavy duty clips and cords that they can hang the sheets and so forth over; maybe the occasional cup hook to hold the end of the cords, and then they can use clothespins to hold the blankets and such on the lines. Dollar Tree (if you have one) has extra large plastic clothespins right now that would work nicely.
posted by lemniskate at 8:28 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Binder clips, largest available size, and bungee cords. Also, keep a box or closet full of suitable items (disused picture frames, huge lampshades, pop-up laundry holders) whose purpose will later on become clear.
posted by skbw at 8:42 PM on July 21, 2012

Could you use pool noodles instead of PVC pipe. Not sure how you would join it, but they are lighter than pipe. You could maybe make a hole in the end and use pipe fittings as joints, I'm just bouncing ideas and not sure it would work, but the noodles are cheap enough t dollar stores to experiment with.
posted by wwax at 8:52 PM on July 21, 2012

Best answer: What you really want are Giant Tinker Toys. Fortunately, there seems to be a modern version (Toobeez).
posted by amtho at 9:26 PM on July 21, 2012

You should just buy some play tunnels, then they can connect whatever other ad-hoc expansions you guys come up with. Two other systems that should inspire you to purchase or replicate: Fortamajig, a system of nylon panels with modular velcro loops to make nice, fast, sturdy blanket tents on some other frame. If cardboard is an acceptable medium, you just need a big bag of Mr. McGroovy's Box Rivets. The advantage of cardboard is how much time kids will sink into decorating it. I believe the proudest moment of my parenting life was when my 4yo asked how to spell Fort so he could write it on his box, and I told him "F-A-R-T". When he later realized he'd been had, he renamed it "THE FART FORT".
posted by ulotrichous at 10:55 PM on July 21, 2012

Cardboard! Pieces, boxes, whatever. You can get them for free from most department stores and the like (just say you're moving and could use a couple oven/refrigerator/whatever boxes; repeat at every store near you). They fold away easily, and you can use them in their current shape or cut them up, paint them (Cave paintings! Pirate treasure maps! Spaceship viewports!), add holes of whatever shape and size you choose (for spying on dinosaurs, piloting the spacecraft, keeping an eye on the ship from the captain's cabin, etc), etc. Cardboard is pretty much the best building material ever.

Pro tip for making tunnels: score the cardboard along the "grain." This will allow you to bend it into all sorts of different shapes, allowing for walls that aren't straight, arched roofs, bunkers for war games, whatever.
posted by Urban Winter at 1:40 AM on July 22, 2012

If you can find it somewhere to watch, the episode of Community "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" (S2/E9) features an enormous blanket fort. You may not get construction details out of it, but I definitely recommend it for cool ideas and inspiration.
posted by orme at 7:06 AM on July 22, 2012

Response by poster: Quick update: thanks for all the suggestions! Ended up getting some PVC and some Toobeez. My kids love it. Every day I come home from work and the FIRST question out of my four-year-old's mouth is "can we play tents today"?

Great stuff.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:11 PM on August 21, 2012

Binder clips seem a bit hard for small hands. We always used wood clothespins, though they have their weaknesses. But I like the hardware C clamp idea-- they will work well on the outside of larger PVC pipes, and it's fun to spin around the crank to close them.
posted by gusandrews at 7:57 PM on February 2, 2013

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