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Tent Design - Construction Hints - and what about Fire Codes?

Here are Ideas for creating a tent in your Sunday school room, to enhance your Sunday school lessons!

Share what you have found helpful and your pictures!

Here's a question from Jeremy that kicked off this topic....

I never thought building a tent in our story telling workshop would be so hard. We are looking to build a Bedoin style tent in our workshop, roughly 10'x10' with a peaked top and flowing sides. The tent is going to be part of the room not the actual room. Something like First Presbyterian has done in Napa CA.

Photo by Jan Napa of a tent in their storyelling workshop
© All Rights Reserved, by Jan Napa. Used with permission.

Thanks guys for the idea.
Oh yeah, can anyone help?

Your brother in Christ

Exchange Volunteer removed non-functioning link and added the actual photo.


Last edited by CreativeCarol
Original Post

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Do you have a dropped ceiling? If yes, then just clip light weight fabric to the drop ceiling with binder clips. Or there are special magnetic clips you can buy to hang things from drop ceilings.
You could also use fish line to give it an invisible drape-y look at the top.

Other photos of tents can be found in the "Temple, Synagogue, Tent..." Photos Forum.

Does anyone have any ideas for tents when faced with no dropped ceiling? Post your ideas.

See below for info about creating tents with fire safety in mind. (To avoid problems with fire marshalls.)

-- Carol

Last edited by CreativeCarol

Our tent was a “God thing" … we had no idea how to make it, just a vague idea ... and it turned out pretty good! (See photo above)

The details, to the best of my explaining ability, are:

It is 8 ft. wide, 12 ft. deep and 7 ft. high. What we did is buy a "lot" of fabric for the sides. (I honestly don't remember how much.) The width of the fabric was 54" and we cut them into 7-foot lengths. Each 7 foot length panel we hemmed the bottom about an inch and the top 2 inches. We put grommets across the top (about 7 or 8 to a piece of fabric). Originally we were going to attach the panels together (side to side) as one solid piece but decided to leave them apart for a more “open” feel … and also realized by not attaching them there would be some ventilation. And the kids like to peek out between the panels!

As we were making the panels, we suddenly realized that there would not be enough to make the tent as big as we wanted it to be! We actually had enough for the sides but not the back wall! Another “God moment” occurred when a woman asked me if I could use a huge set of draperies from her daughter’s office. I said sure and it turned out that we ripped the liner out and used that for the back wall of our tent! So that’s a solid piece. (We also used the loose weaved front part of the drapes for our window coverings – you can see them in the photo!) So now we had side walls, a back wall and almost enough for the front. We decided to put a different color on the entrance (to show it was the entrance!) and not have a “door” but an opening.

We wanted it to have a 3D effect as you walk in the room, and hide a strange shaped wall and corner with a closet, so we put it in the corner on an angle. You can see the left side and the front when you come in. The back wall and right side are almost up against the 2 walls.

The roof is a large piece of painters’ canvas we got at Home Depot. I’m not sure of the size, but it’s larger than our tent so it could “billow” in the middle. We grommeted the edges of this piece. We also grommeted a 3 foot wide circle in the center and fed a rope through it.

We put heavy-duty eyehooks into the ceiling, the kind that have the pop up anchor thingy. (Can you tell I’m not mechanical?!) We strung rope through the grommets on the panels, overlapping each piece, including the roof piece, then hung the rope on the hooks, including the center rope.

The tent hangs down on the ropes about a foot from the ceiling. There was a light fixture above the tent that we capped off so it doesn’t go on when we turn the lights on.

Jan (formerly at First Pres. Napa CA)


Last edited by CreativeCarol

I think our tent is pretty neat. It actually is a throw cover for a sofa that someone gave us - it looks like a Persia rug! The poles are two bamboo poles. The back wall is a sheet that my husband painted.

Last edited by CreativeCarol

Here are replies to this query from long-time members.

Yes indeed! What you share today will be here to help someone else in the future, even after you've retired from Sunday school!

Share.    Encourage.    Support

From CindyB
We used a backyard canopy/tent/awning (those square pieces of tent like material on 4 poles) then 'built' the sides of the tent with king sized flat bed sheets. It gives us an 8x8 tent.

From Lois Petersen
We purchased a tent at Walmart. I believe it was 10' X 10' for approximately $35.00. Works well.

From Ms Melaine
We use sheets threaded onto an embroidery hoop that is hung from our drop ceiling frame. Then the sheets 'flow' over some PVC. (I'm beginning to believe that PVC, panneled walls and drop ceilings are God's gift to educators in that you can reassemble, poke holes in and hang most stuff from them with out getting the property committee too upset!)Good Luck with your tent!

From NancyDir
I had to build my tent in a room with a drop ceiling. If this is what you have.... This might help.
I purchased 2 very long and wide pieces of material from Walmart in White. When I installed it into the ceiling - I pushed up the tiles and draped the material over the bars that held the tiles until they were even (I spaced it so that there were 2 tiles included under the material). I then put the tiles back down over the material and draped the material down and spread them out. It worked very well.



Last edited by CreativeCarol

PastorBarb originally posted this question about...

Fire codes for tent structures in church class rooms.

My Trustees wouldn't let me build a tent in our Storytelling/Bible Knowledge workshop. They said it would be a fire hazard. Has anyone else encountered this obstacle? How did you get around it? One of the Trustees is a firefighter, so I guess he knows what he's talking about...


A reply by another longtime member, Jean (aka "jcarey") replied...

Is there flame retardant material that you could use. Check the internet for some theatre material companies. I know a few years ago I found a site that had all sorts of flame retardant materials used in theater.

This discussion continues below.

How have you dealt with this issue? Share your reply.


Last edited by CreativeCarol

A drama source for fire-retardant fabric...

This is the theater source we used. They have more varieties of muslin than you can shake a stick at and all come either FR (fire resistant) or, regular with the option of treating the fabric yourself (look at the menu in the far left corner.)

Rose Brand


CreativeCarol also notes... We used Rose Brand to purchase drapery fabric for our small stage. They will send samples so that you can pick the correct color. We bought a fire retardant fabric that was a velour. Too heavy for a tent. But they are a great source.

Be sure to ask for the certificate when you order and save this to show the Fire Marshall! Here is a photo of our stage curtains: stage curtains



Images (1)
  • stage curtains
Last edited by CreativeCarol

More replies about tent construction to add to this discussion...

From Cindy Merten
We bought one of those graduation party type tents that had a white netting. It was an octagonal shape, and we bought it at Costco. We then draped fabrics around it and tied them with rope ties. We have to take our tent down a couple times a year, so this works well for us.

From LeAnne
We also have concrete walls and dropped ceiling but we have wood trim that we were able to attach cup hooks to. We used unbleached muslin and sewed 3 plastic rings onto one end of each panel. The panels were hung from the ceiling by slipping the rings over cup hooks. Four 8 ft panels were used on the north wall.
Then we sewed plastic rings to both ends of four, 10 ft panels. In the center of the 10 foot panel we sewed a pocket to feed a clothesline through. The end of the panels were attached to the cup hooks on the north and south wall trim. The clothes line was fed through the center pocket and attached to the east and west wall trim. The south wall has a desert mural on it complete with camel. The muslin was bought on sale for 99 cents a yard and was done for about $50.

From JCarey
We created a tent room awhile back out of sandy, peachy colored plastic table cloth rolls that were tucked into the drop ceiling panels and hung with banker clips. We had them billow out from the center of the ceiling to the walls. Near the walls they were hung with clamps at the ceiling that had a mono-filament line attached and then another clamp to clamp the plastic. This allowed the plastic near the walls to be lower than ceiling height to add realism and drama. We had the outside classroom door draped like an entrance to a tent as well. We added an Oriental rug and lots of visual props. The children sat on large throw pillows. When you were in the room you definetly felt as though you were in a tent. The cost is 15 to 30 dollars for 1 or 2 rolls of tablecloth plastic depending on the size of your space. There is no weight to deal with, no grommets, goes up quick and can be stored for future use. We have used this same method to create black rooms for drama. You will think of a zillion uses once you try it.

From NewYorker
When we did Marketplace for Bible School we needed a tent in every room. We put cup hooks in our window frames and bought flat king size sheets (solids and stripes). We tied string to two sides of the sheets and attached the string to the hooks. We collected empty #10 cans, put a one inch PVC pipe in the middle (length matched the can height) and filled around it with quick-drying cement.
We have 7 foot sections of 3/4 inch PVC which slide into the one inch. We take the other two corners of the sheets and drape them over the pipe, securing with a rubber band. Quick, easy and it flattens against the wall quickly if needed. Even though it is very simple, it adds a lot when we use them in workshops. (I will say we dedicated an entire closet to storing the cans (60 of them!), fabric and pipes! But since we do Marketplace every four years, it is worth it!)

Last edited by CreativeCarol

More regarding tent set up...

From Myrna
We set up our tent by painting the walls "sand" color and then dry brushing a few different shades of "sand" on the walls to give it some depth. We then hung white muslin across the ceiling and down the corners of the wall. Wooden posts were painted in the corners and pottery painted along the floor. There is an oriental rug on the floor. Good luck!

From Nora
We painted our room to look like a desert, ocean, and mountain environment. We set up a free standing dining fly with a plastic cover. The legs were anchored to large pieces of wood and the dining fly was draped with striped material. The "tent" is 10ft by 10ft, we placed oriental rugs inside (pillows are coming soon), placed a few large urns by the entrance, and made a few trees for in the room. We just began using Rotation 2 weeks ago and we can't keep the kids out of the tent! They love to be inside as they hear stories, play quiet games, and do their journaling!

From Ed Lally
For our tent room, we had a volunteer pick up lots of CHEAP fabric at Wal-Mart and cut it into floor-to-ceiling lengths. In the top of each piece we have a small pocket.

Our walls are cinder block, so to mount the curtains we drilled holes and inserted masonry anchors with eye-hooks. We then ran steel 3/8" cable around the perimeter of the room and threaded the cable through the pockets in the fabric. We used screw-down cable binding clips to secure the cable ends. Once we tightened everything down, we had fabric covering all four walls.

We had an old fluorescent fixture in the ceiling which looked bad. To cover it up, we ran additional pieces of fabric across the short length of the room and pinned them down. They were pinned to the fabric hanging against the walls and were pinned to each other as they traversed the room. We then picked up two Torchère lamps that go on either side of the storyteller.

This all worked out pretty well with two caveats. First, the fabric can be pretty heavy, so you definitely want more than one person doing this. Also, the cables will stretch over time, so you'll periodically need to re-tighten them. (And the moderator notes: Be careful of covering electrical fixtures.)

Hope this helps!
Ed Lally
St. Mary's Church
Haddon Heights, NJ

From crfowlkes
We went all out and created a tent that we could also use outdoors with added staking. The resource I used was They have a utility called Design-a-Canopy that provides you with a framing supply list.

They sell the joints, you provide the framing tubing. They suggest EMT (electrical conduit). We covered it with muslin that we found on sale at Joann's for 50% off. I think we used about 15 yards of 90 inch fabric to make a tent that is 8 ft wide by 10 feet deep by 6 1/2 feet tall. Muslin can come with a flame retardant finish, check the label.

The sides are pieced together so that we can have all sides open or closed. We added to the desert atmosphere by putting 6 ft and 4 ft fake palm trees around the outside of the tent. The tent is in our Bible Stories and Skills Room. We call it Magic Carpet Ride and are hoping to add a "Persian" rug to the floor of the tent for more ambience. We use decorative wine tubes (for gifts) to hold our scripture scrolls, kind of like the Torah scrolls in a synagogue.

Share your tent stories and photos!


Last edited by CreativeCarol

This post was in response to someone who had to take their tent down due to a fire inspection

Here's a product that I just heard about, to treat fabric to pass a fire inspection: FLAMEX PF

Search for it at National Fireproofing, Inc. We had taken our tent down after a similar fire inspection. Then I heard about this stuff from someone in our networking group. I know that they used it on cardboard, fabric, Styrofoam, and curtains.

We haven't put the tent back up yet (it needs a new design). But will buy this stuff when we get around to putting it back up. (So little time...)


Last edited by CreativeCarol
I've been through this in one church.

There is no national definition of "Flame Retardant" and codes vary from location to location. Ask the Fire Inspector for a copy of the local code specifying the standard they are using. Ask them for the specific remedy they will accept -and make sure it matches the code, and isn't simply the product of an overly zealous inspector "winging it". They can't just say "you can't have that hanging there" (unless of course it's hanging by a sprinkler, heat source, or emergency feature). Also ask them for advice on acceptable fabrics and treatments.

Re: Flame retardants...

You can buy spray on retardant, or you can mix powder and soak your fabric. It's not hard to do. Just remember to save the can/mix to show the inspector the next time they roll through.

Some fabrics at the fabric store come with a rating. Ask.

Following up on Fire Marshals and flame retardant fabric in Sunday School classrooms...

Two experiences that suggest the Fire Marshall is our friend...

(1) Several years ago, my church's Bldg Committee asked me to spray a cardboard display in a hallway with flame retardant ($10 online).

A few months later, the Fire Marshall was inspecting the building and remarked how nice the display looked.

When the Marshal left, he gave the Bldg Committee a list of all the things THEY were in violation of, or needed to be cautious about, including coffee pots left plugged-in in the adult classrooms. Not a single thing in our kids' classrooms was listed. 

(2) In another church, we tacked paper to the walls of a small classroom for a drama. The ceiling had sprinklers, but a trustee complained. When the trustees came to inspect the classroom, they were distracted by the fact that the emergency exit door near the classroom had rusted shut. Embarrassed by their lack of oversight, they didn't bother us about the paper anymore. 

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