One of the reasons I love working with BABs is because y’all are like, I GOT THIS. You’re clever, resourceful, fearless, ambitious, creative superwomen with impeccable senses of style. #GirlCrush on all of ya! <3
Case in point:
I’m trying to plan late fall wedding for 45 people and I realize that we’re probably going to need a tent. But I dislike tents, especially the white generic ones. I do like “bedouin” style tents, but the ones I seem to find on the internet for rent or purchase are out of South Africa. Our wedding is in a much less exotic place, Idaho. SO, my question is, is it possible to DIY a tent structure for the wedding dinner? Obviously I do not want to spend mucho $$ on this. Would something like canvas sailboat sails be something I could work with? Thanks!!
You’re in good company because the BAB ranks are full of badasses who make their own dresses or even cater their own receptions — both of which I consider to be enormous feats of will, skill and awesomeness. Make no mistake — DIYing your own wedding tent ranks right up there in the BAB Badassery Hall of Fame! I don’t know of anyone who has made their own tent, nor have I attempted it, so Disclaimer: I have no experience or expertise in tent-making, and my building skills are limited to blanket forts, but I’m offering some suggestions below to help you brainstorm.
First, let’s get the terminology out of the way: I had to look up bedouin tents, and yes, they are indeed A-MAZING. They’re characterized by multiple peaks and sometimes patchwork construction in colorful fabrics. Party tents with similar styling are also referred to as pole tents, century pole tents, canopies, festival tents, stretch tents, circus tents, freeform tents or sailcloth tents. (It seems no one can agree on what to call them.)
Stuff You’ll Need to DIY a Wedding Tent
DIYing anything at all requires a bit of crafty skill, patience, time and typically also lots of extra helping hands. If you have at least two of those going for you already, then it’s full steam ahead! On the other hand, if you’re short on most or all of those things, a big DIY project might add to your stress levels. Let’s take a look at the logistics.
Here are some of the basic things I imagine you’ll need:
- A design or pattern – if you’re not a natural engineer-type, get some help creating a blueprint for your tent shape and size, down to the dimensions you’ll need for each panel and pole. Don’t go shopping without dimensions! Here are some cool shapes to consider.
- Sewing machine and sewing skills – to attach the fabric pieces to one another to get the right size and shape. Make sure you have the right needle and thread strengths for the job.
- Strong poles – wood, metal, or something else to hold up the tent fabric. Honestly I’m not sure what will work best for this, so consult your local DIY hardware store for recommendations.
- Power Tools – to cut and shape said strong poles.
- Rope, weights, stakes – any supplies you’ll need to keep the tent firmly planted to the ground.
- Tools for tent setup – self-explanatory, but any tools you’ll need to get the tent vertical. Usually this means a rubber mallet and maybe a hammer, at least.
- Backup supplies – extra poles, panels, rope, fabric to patch holes, etc. in case you need to replace or repair anything unexpectedly on the wedding day.
- Ground Space – The recommendation is to add 10 feet to your tent size dimensions; so if you need a 20′ x 20′ tent, you’ll need a 30′ x 30′ space on the ground to account for the stakes, etc.
- Time – However much time you think setup will take, double that. Tents should go up the morning before an evening wedding, or possibly the night before a morning or early afternoon wedding – unless your setup crew (and maybe you) want to be up before the sun.
- Setup Helpers – Like with time, you could easily use double the number of people you think you’ll need for setup. My suggestion is to increase the setup crew number by half (in other words 1.5x the number you think you need) so you have additional people available as safety “spotters”. (For an estimated 8 people for setup, that would mean you ask 12 people to help.) It sounds like overkill, but it almost never is.
- Practice – This is not one of those things you can leave to chance. Practice setting up the tent in a sufficiently-sized space at least once before the wedding. That will give you an idea of how quickly it can go up, how many people you’ll need, and what supplies you might need – as well as to confirm that your design works out the way you intended. Seriously, don’t skip this unless you have a backup tent and crew.
Estimate Your Tent Size
For 45 guests you’ll need at the very least a 20′ x 20′ – 20′ x 50′ tent, depending on the types (and number) of guest tables, chairs, dance floor, bars, bartenders, buffet and/or cake tables, etc., that you have planned for the layout of the tent space. You can run your own calculations here or here — or get out some graph paper and run them old-school style. Do this before you take any steps toward purchasing supplies or making the tent. Then call your venue and make sure the tent size (including the space for staking, as above) will fit in the designated space — and that they’re cool with it.
If you’re making the tent from scratch, you’ll need to source the raw materials. You mentioned the possibility of used sails — which, BTW, is BRILLIANT! –– so I’ve rounded up some sources for used sailboat sails (again, disclaimer: I’ve never purchased sails in my life):
I quickly realized that I needed a tutorial in the different sail terms, just to be able to search by size. Maybe you know more about sailing than I do, but if not, there ya go. 😉
Some Things To Consider
- Weather – If the ground is likely to freeze, staking a tent into the ground might be more work than you bargained for. Also, if you need a tent, you might want and need tent sidewalls. Wind and rain do often blow in sideways, making guests, cakes, and band instruments or DJ equipment very soggy and sad. And if the rain is making things under the tent soggy, you might also want flooring for the tent, which can be anything from rugs to a full dance-floor-type wooden floor or even AstroTurf. Everything is optional, of course, but it’s worth considering.
- Venue Restrictions – Does the venue permit a tent? Are there any restrictions on height, size, type, or staking? (If so, you may need to consider a framed tent.)
- Temperature – Will you need heating or cooling inside the tent to keep your guests comfortable?
- Lighting – Most likely you’ll need some type of lighting, and therefore also electricity, electrical tape, extension cords, and something to cover the cords on the ground (which can be tripping hazards). You may also need a generator depending on the availability of electricity to the tent area.
On the other hand, BONUS: If you do make your own tent, you might be able to resell it after the wedding on Ebay or Etsy, or rent it out to other local BABs!
It’s OK Not to DIY
There are a ton of variables that will determine whether or not DIY-ing a kickass bedouin tent is for you. It sounds like a ton of fun, and I’m rooting for ya! — but you have my permission (not that you needed it!) to bail on DIYing this large wedding detail.
By my rough calculations, you’ll need a bare minimum of two to three sails, which look to me to be running pricier than most rentals or even outright purchases of a brand new tent. You’ll also need to calculate delivery for sails (which can be very heavy), may need to wash or repair them before reusing them in your tent, and then you’ll be responsible for the storage, transport, setup and cleanup of the tent. That isn’t to discourage you from making the most epic tent ever (seriously, if you do, I want to see pics!), but to offer you options. If you’re starting to second-guess the DIY tent project, I’ve got some other ideas.
Rent a Local Tent — And Deck It Out!
Try one of these rental companies located in Idaho — and ask about delivery and setup costs to get a fair comparison of price:
- Idaho Tents and Lighting
- Tates Tents & Events
- Root Rents
- Event Rent
- Rent from a non-party-rental location — check schools, city civic centers, local non-profit organizations to see if they’ll offer a low-cost rental
Use the extra time to DIY a colorful pennant bunting to hang at the opening to the tent, drape colored fabric on the interior walls or “roof” of the tent, or talk to the rental companies about uplighting or string lights to add color and some drama.
Buy a Tent (And Resell It Later)
- Ebay – $41+ waterproof woven shade sails
- Jet – $115 for 10′ x 30′
- Sears – $200 for 15′ x 12′
- The Gazebo Store – $250 for 10′ x 30′
- New Egg – $343 for 22′ x 16.5′
- The Gazebo Store – $800 for 20′ x 20′ octagon
As you can see, there are many non-generic tent options for the fearless BAB! Let us know what you decide!
Planning a wedding in Northeast Ohio? Here’s where you can find me for wedding planning assistance.