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How to make an outdoor canopy tent

Updated March 23, 2017

An outdoor canopy tent can save the day during a rainy camping trip, provide a welcome patch of shade for a summer picnic or simply add a bit of flair to a formal outdoor event. But buying or renting a canopy cost more than £65. With a few simple tools and less than half an hour of your time, you can build your own canopy tent. Depending on the material you select, your canopy tent can be stylish or purely functional.

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  1. Select your material. If necessary, cut or sew it to your desired size. Rectangles, squares or triangles work well. If you are using a tarpaulin or a dust sheet, buy one large enough to suit your purpose. If you are building a fabric tent, select a light-coloured fabric that will let some sunlight through. You also can sew together two full-size, lightweight cotton bedspreads if the canopy does not need to be water-resistant. When sewing together two pieces of fabric for your canopy, leave a 5 cm (2 inch), reinforced overlap in the centre.

  2. Punch holes in the corners of the material with your grommet tool. Insert grommets. The holes will keep your poles in place. Punch a hole in the centre if you want a five-pole tent with a conical shape. Punch two additional holes on opposite sides of the longest edge of a rectangular piece of fabric for a more traditional tentlike shape. This option will require six poles.

  3. Stand four corner poles on the ground where you want to put the corners of your tent. You will need one person to help you hold each pole. Use wooden or bamboo poles with dowels for decorative tents or aluminium tent poles for purely functional canopies. Alternately, use four screw eyes to attach the tent to a wall, a fence or a tree.

  4. Fit the grommets you inserted in the fabric over the tips of the poles. Loop a piece of rope around each tip. If you are attaching the canopy material to a wall, tree or fence, simply thread the rope through the grommet. Tie the rope to the screw eyes on your support structure, pulling the rope tightly to keep the canopy in place.

  5. Drive tent stakes into the ground about 90 cm (3 feet) from each of the poles, if applicable. Attach the rope you looped over the poles to the tent stakes. Pull tight, and tie in place. Using a plastic tent adjuster, found at camping supply shops, will make it easier to pull the rope taught.

  6. If you are building a five- or six-pole canopy, fit your poles in the centre grommets and adjust the height until the centre poles are taller than those on the edges. Conical and tent-shaped canopies are ideal for wet weather because the water will run off the sides instead of pooling in the centre. You can facilitate run-off from a four-corner tent by making two posts longer than the other two. Another option is to install the screw eyes higher on one side, and hang the canopy on a slant.

  7. Decorate your finished canopy any way you like. Wind silk flowers or cloth around the poles or attach them to the edges or centre of your tent. Hang paper lanterns or Christmas lights from the edges. You can even hang a larger lamp at the centre of a conical tent for added drama.

  8. Tip

    For additional support, fill four terra-cotta pots with sand and drive the ends of the poles into them. You can sew a decorative, hanging border around your tent with about four yards of additional fabric. Cut the fabric into 15 cm (6 inch) strips long enough to run along the edges of your canopy. Sew the border to the edge before you punch the grommet holes or iron it on using seam tape found at a sewing supply shop. Build a tarpaulin canopy over your tent during a rainy camping trip to help keep water from dripping into your tent. Another option is to erect a canopy tent near your campfire for a dry place to sit and watch the rain.

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Things You'll Need

  • Outdoor fabric, tarpaulin or dust sheet, at least 3 metres (3 yards)
  • Grommet tool
  • Brass grommets, 4 to 6
  • Laundry rope, clothesline or other type of strong rope, 30 to 60 m (100 to 200 feet)
  • 4 tent pegs
  • 4 to 6 poles, for free-standing tent
  • 4 screw eyes, for attached tent
  • 4 plastic tent rope adjusters, optional
  • Hanging decorations, flowers or lanterns

About the Author

Elaine Severs is an award-winning journalist who has been writing professionally since 2001. She has written about politics, health, education, travel and general interest topics for several newspapers and travel guides, including the "New York Times" and Insight Travel Guides. She has a Master of Science in journalism from Columbia University.

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