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I’ve been chasing “Neverland” since I was a kid – there’s just something infinitely alluring about escaping the world of responsibility and embracing the imagination like it was your best friend. Everyone has their own brand of symbolic metaphors that encompass and even allow us access to those fleeting years of being a child. For me, tree houses and forts rank high at the top of the list. A special place that is completely yours. A retreat from the typical four walls that you merely sleep in – where you can truly dream. Wow, am I full of whimsy or what? I suppose most people feel reminiscent about those glory years of childhood. But some of us simply didn’t get to indulge as much as others. That’s why I think parenthood comes with certain perks – living vicariously through your child….anyone? I don’t mean running your child’s life, but hey, who says you can’t enjoy a tree house or fort that you actually built for your kid?

I will admit that I got a little over-the-top excited about our first house since having a child, purely for the sake of tapping into “Neverland”. I have had this picture of a fort floating around in my head for years -okay, decades (I never had a fort when I was a kid) – and I couldn’t wait to get the painting, cleaning, and unpacking over with, so I could start on my daughter’s fort.  It took months before I had the time to tackle it, but I finally finished and it’s definitely magical (in my opinion). Granted, my daughter is not even three, (she thinks it’s cool…oh wait, so is my new toy), but her appreciation will grow as she gets a little older – I’m sure of it. And if she wants to do something different when she gets older, I’m game! It’s got this whole Moroccan vibe, which I just love.

Once I decided on a theme, I measured the overall height I was considering and went fabric shopping. I ended up buying a total of 11 yards of fabric for the frame and 3 yards of a sheer midnight-blue fabric for the interior ceiling. I wanted it feel like you were staring up at a night sky when inside (hence the sheer midnight-blue). I also bought a giant box of medium sized safety pins. Then, I went to the home improvement mega-store and bought a string of LED Christmas lights. I only used a string of 50 lights (17ft strand), but there is no such thing as too many lights, so I may add another strand at some point (buy an extra strand just in case you want to add more). You do want LED though because they won’t burn up the joint when you forget to unplug them. Next stop…plumbing isle. I bought two 10ft pieces of ½in PVC pipe and four elbow pieces. Last thing you need is, five heavy-duty ceiling hooks and some mason string (50ft was what I got, but you wont need that much).I chose mason string because it’s strong and doesn’t have give to it.

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First, cut the PVC pipe (Thank you husband for refusing to do it for me and making me learn to use the chop saw. It really was empowering to acquaint myself with a new power-tool.) to desired measurements. I chose to make my fort 64in. X 44in with the elbows attached, so I cut one piece in half giving me two 5ft pieces, and then I cut two 3 1/2ft pieces out of the other 10ft piece of PVC. Then, drill holes in the very corner of the elbow pieces, as centered as possible, and all the way thru. Next, attach the pipe pieces to make the 64in. X 44in. rectangle frame. Then, cut 6 strands of mason string into about 41/2ft. lengths. I knew I would have some adjusting to do for height and sway once hung, and I wanted my peak to be about 6ft. off the ground. (The sway is in reference to the highest point and how it “sways” once the lights and fabric lay across it, after it is attached to the rectangle frame.). If you have high ceilings you may wish to cut longer pieces of string, so take a measurement of the desired height you want your frame to hang at before cutting your string. My four outside corners hang at about 3ft. The center strands are looped to hang at about 4ft. Thread the four shorter stands in each corner and tie them with secure knots. The other two strands, crisscross in the middle of the rectangular. Thread and secure thru the four pre-drilled holes on the frame.

Now, that you have the frame and string ready to go, secure the heavy-duty ceiling hooks in the desired location at the appropriate measurements of your frame dimensions. The fifth hook will be secured in the center of your rectangle. Then, take the crisscrossed string in the middle and tie a single loop knot to connect them. The excess, you can use to adjust the “sway”. Now, hang the center knot at desired peak height, on the center hook in the ceiling. Secure with a slip-knot. Next, secure the four outer corners on the hooks with slip-knots. I played with this a few times before I got the frame level and created the desired “sway” in the center.

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Next, take your lights and begin wrapping it from the top of the peak around the center strings until you reach the point at which you have enough slack to plug it into an outlet. Because the strands of lights come with a large female connection at the opposite ends, it hangs very securely if wrapped correctly around the center hook/strands.

Congrats, your frame is now done and all you have to do is secure the fabric! Begin with the interior ceiling fabric and find the center of the piece. Then, secure it with a safety pin to the center peak, where the strand meets the hook. Next, wrap and secure the fabric around the frame. I had to tuck the fabric around the frame several times to leave the right amount of sway under the lights. Believe me, you will be using a lot of safety pins, so I hope you bought a “large” box.

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Start draping the exterior fabric over the frame and secure along the top and sides with safety pins. My longest piece of fabric was 7yd. long (plum in picture). So, for me I began with this piece. Fold the fabric in half lengthwise. Drape it over the rectangle frame lengthwise, leaving about 4in of extra fabric hanging on the floor on one side.  Cut a small hole in the fabric where the center string can be threaded thru. Thread the center string thru and re-secure on the center hook. After, the fabric is stretched over the top of the frame reaching the opposite side, leave about 4in. of extra fabric. Trim off the extra fabric to use for the top. You should have a large rectangle of remaining fabric. Fold along the longest diagonal and then cut. Now, with two triangle pieces, tuck them under the initial exterior piece and begin securing them with safety pins. The roof is now entirely covered.

Now, your ready to create a front and back (4yd of tangerine in my case). Cut a 55 1/2in piece off. Choose one corner on the back to begin draping the fabric. Pin fabric along top and sides as needed. Take the new (shorter) piece of remaining fabric and cut it at about 56in, then fold in half lengthwise and cut the fabric lengthwise down the middle. This will be your front. Begin at the corner and secure with safety pins along the top and sides. Pin a piece of ribbon on either side of the opening, on the side walls (purple in my case). Use this ribbon to tie back the fabric for an inviting front entrance. Now, you should have an extra piece of fabric. In my case, I chose to cut it in half (because it had a pattern that I wanted to match up) and basically pieced it together with safety pins to finish covering the back.

On my fort, I really tried to hide the pins as much as possible. Although I went with a two-tone theme, you can use old sheets or any old scrap fabric you have laying around. I almost went that route for a more gypsy theme, but I simply didn’t have enough fabric laying around. You can always sew the fabric exterior too, but I figure at some point my child will outgrow this fort and I can easily use the fabric for something else, without tearing stitches. But by all means, if you are crafty, sew away! In short, don’t get too caught up on how I draped it or secured it. The frame is really the most crucial part. Once you have that looking the way you like, the rest is just trial and error. Just have fun with it and before you know it, you will be enjoying the fort as much as the kids.

Cover photo provided by www.bedouintravel.com

Published by JM Sayles