Manataka American Indian Council

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLAINS INDIAN TIPI

 

The tipi [also spelled tepee, teepee, tepe] of the Plains Indians is a fine dwelling, where poles are available and a permanent camp is in order. It is a roomy structure in which a fire may be built, and is comfortable in extremes of heat or cold. The pattern of the tipi (Plate A) is cut in the shape of a half-circle (A), twice as long as it is wide, with 2 smoke flaps (B) near the center of the pattern. Fifteen by 30 feet is a good size. If the tipi is smaller, it is difficult to keep it free of smoke. Eight-ounce canvas is satisfactory for the cover.

When the tipi is erected, it forms a cone shape; and the straight edges, where the smoke flaps are sewed, overlap and are held together with wooden pins. It is here that this detail should be noted. If you follow the drawing closely, you will see that one side of the straight edge has an extra strip of canvas sewed to it for this overlap (C). A double row of holes is punched along the straight edge at (C) and (D). The edge at (D) will be under the overlapping (C) edge, and the row of holes will be a trifle wider apart than (C). These holes should be reinforced with a buttonhole stitch or metal grommets inserted.

A half-circle door opening (E) is cut at both ends so that when the edges are brought together a complete circular door opening will result. The door itself is. made of a round piece of canvas with additions to be turned in and hemmed (F). When the hem is completed, a flexible willow stick is inserted, making a firm door (G). A rope-loop is tied to the top of the willow stick, and is hung upon the pin just above the door and forms the hinge (H).

Little pockets are made of three-cornered pieces of canvas and sewed to the tips of the smoke flaps (B). Reinforcing pieces of canvas (X) should be sewed to parts where extra strain is expected, especially around the smoke flaps and the center of the cover, which is lashed to the top of the poles (l).

A rope is hemmed around the circular base, and rope loops for pegging down the tipi are equally spaced around it (J). A rope is attached at (I) which lashes the cover to the poles.

 

Erecting the TIPI

Twelve or more poles are needed for the tipi framework (Plate B). These should be straight and smooth, and at least 3 feet longer than the width of the cover. If the tipi is 15 feet wide, the poles should be at least 18 feet long.

Three of the strongest poles are made into a tripod (K), tied together a little higher than the height of the cover. The rest of the poles are then placed against the tripod, forming the cone-shaped frame for the canvas cover. These are lashed together at the top with rope (L) . The last pole to be placed has the tipi cover fastened” to it, it is called the "Lift Pole" and should be placed opposite to where the door is to be (M).

 

Pole Placement

The placement of the poles is very important.  If poles are not placed correctly into the three crotches or "V's" formed by the tripod, the poles will stick out too far and make the overall crotch too large where the cover will not fit properly on the frame - requiring all the poles to be removed and reset. Save yourself some time and place them correctly to start. 

 

The chart below show the order in which poles can be placed to provide the best arrangement to create the smallest finished crotch possible.  However, even using this method placement does not always work out right.  Therefore, after the first four poles are set into the tripod, constantly survey the pole placement and arrangement and take advantage of any small opening possible to slide a pole into.  

After the tripod is setup, set number 1 to 4 poles into the crotch between the East Door Pole and the North Tripod Pole. Number 1 pole becomes a door pole.  Then, set pole numbers 5 to 8 between the East Door Pole and the South Tripod Pole.  Lastly, set Pole numbers 9 through 12 (or more as need) between the North and South Tripod poles while leaving an equal space between to later set the Lift Pole.

Securely tie the cover to the Lift Pole.  The Lift Pole needs to be one of the strongest poles you have. With assistance, set the Lift Pole into place. 

The cover is then pulled around the pole framework and fastened together at the overlap with wooden pins about a foot long, tapering at both ends (N) (Plate A). The bottom is pegged down, and the poles inside are spread to stretch the cover (0). Two additional light poles are needed for the smoke flaps, and these are inserted into the pockets of the flaps (P). The poles can be moved about to change the position of the smoke flaps so the smoke can be drawn from the tipi. The drawing (Q) shows how the air comes in at the base of the tipi and is drawn out at the smoke hole. The flaps act as a sort of chimney, creating a draught.

 

Tipi Fire

Only a small fire is needed to warm a tipi. Usually a small fireplace is made a bit back from the center of the lodge, a shallow hole about 15 inches in diameter lined with stones (Plate B). The walls reflect the heat, and it is surprising how quickly a small stick fire heats the interior. Use only good dry wood that burns with a clear flame. Any smoke within will serve as an incense and keep the mosquitoes away.

 

Hints for a Rainy Day

One of the annoyances of a tipi type of dwelling is that water may run down inside on the poles during a heavy rain. One way of preventing this is to use a “bull boat,” a circular piece of canvas placed on top of the poles (Plate B).

Another method...  fasten a long cord on each pole just under the top of the cover, tied so that the cord leads from the underside of the pole. About halfway down, these cords are gathered together with one leading to a tin can. Rain coming down the poles is stopped by the cords and led down into the can instead of continuing down the poles and eventually onto your bed.

 

Tipi Decoration

In the old days the Indians decorated their lodges with strange gods and magical animals. Plate C and Plate D show a few painted lodges I saw among the Blackfeet and other Canadian tribes of the West.

When decorating a tipi, spread it out flat, sketch in your design, and wet the canvas. This is to prevent the canvas from absorbing too much paint. Ordinary house or oil paints may be used.


Credits:

Artist Peter Whyte (Canadian, 1905-1966) entitled this work:
"Inside the Tipi", (1955, oil on masonite). (Glenbow)

Artist Peter Whyte (Canadian, 1905-1966) entitled this painting:
"Pitching Tipis, Stoney Indian Village" (1955, oil on masonite). (Glenbow)

The illustration and information above is from the book Wildwood Wisdom, by Ellsworth Jaeger, © 1945, The Macmillan Company, Reprinted 1992 by Shelter Publications, Inc. 

This is an excellent book on camping, outdoor craft and technique. 

Instructions for making a tipi can be found in the book. The Indian Tipi: Its History, Construction, and Use, by Reginald and Gladys Laubin.


 

Tipis can be found all over the world in dozens of cultures. These fascinating dwellings are experiencing a resurgence in popularity because of their unique qualities: they are easy to transport, comfortable to live in for long periods of time, and weather resistant. Linda Holley explores the many different methods of tipi construction and includes dozens of drawings, photographs, illustrations, and diagrams that show how to construct, decorate, and transport a tipi. 248 pp, paperback.  ISBN: 158655115  March 2007 

 

"Ms. Holley breaks new ground with her extensive diagrams for for canvas tipis..." -- Peter Durkin, TipiCorner Editor, Whispering Wind magazine

 

Subjects include:
--History of the tipi             --Living in a tipi
--Construction                    --Decoration
--Poles                                --Materials
--Pitching a tipi                   --Transportation

SKU: 511-6         $18.95 + s/h    

 


 

 

NativeVoices - THE TIPI: Traditional Native American Shelter

By Adolf Hungrywolf

A collection of vintage photographs and historical texts presents an overall view of tipi life among various Native peoples.  ISBN 13: 9781570671746 $21.95 + s/h.

 

 


 

THE INDIAN TIPI: Its History, Construction, and Use...
by Reginald and Gladys Laubin

Reginald and Gladys Laubin are recognized as the world's foremost authorities on the subject of American Indian tipis.  Their excellent book offers great information about tipi etiquette, making a tipi lodge, assembly, storage, painting, maintenance, care and more!   University of Oklahoma Press, 1990 2nd edition Soft Cover, Paper reprint of the 1977 second edition.  Book News, Inc. Portland, OR   Price:  ISBN: 0806122366 $ 24.50 + s/h  

 


READ ABOUT PAINTING A TIPI

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