Backyard forts (Or: Let’s not overthink this)

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

I spent one evening this weekend searching Pinterest for the perfect backyard tent to make with my kids.

And I found some charming designs. Wooden frames, hemmed fabrics, grommets, twinkle lights – the works.

Every one was picture-perfect.

And as I closed my laptop I decided that we wouldn't make backyard tents this weekend after all.

Because I had no bamboo poles, dowels, or 1×2's. I only had two grommets, and no yard after yard of perfect fabric to cut and sew into a tent. And frankly, no ambition to take on a six hour craft project after weeding eighteen thousand thistle plants out of my strawberry bed.


Don't get me wrong. I adore Pinterest. I find great inspiration there. But sometimes what I see is all a bit beyond my reach.


And then as I looked out on my kids playing in the backyard I realized what was happening.

It was the perfection myth bubbling up again.

The false idea that if it isn't photogenic it isn't worth doing.

That if it isn't perfect it isn't enough.


What nonsense.

I wasn't going to play that game.

We were building forts, dang it.


So instead of going back to Pinterest I went to the linen closet. I pulled out some old bedsheets, blankets, and table cloths.

I went to the barn and gathered all the bailing twine we pulled off the hay bales last winter.

I grabbed my pocket knife and we set to work.

Not Pinterest-style, but old school. Like what I built when I was a kid with only my imagination to guide me.


And we did it. In one afternoon.

Two fabulous, simple – and yes – imperfect play forts.

Total cost: $0.

Total time: 5 minutes for Lupine's, all afternoon for Sage's as he tweaked and modified and tricked his out again and again.

And the play value? Fan-freaking-tastic.


Want to make one, too? It's easy. Really.

You can squeeze it between the sidewalk and your garage, tuck one in the corner of your patio, or set it up in the woods. Be where you are and use what you've got.

Heck, you could even make one without a yard if you screwed a couple of lag bolts into your living room walls and anchored the corners with bean bags or duct tape.

And, of course, it doesn't need to be perfect. (But you already knew that.)

So grab your kids, some old sheets, and get outside.

Here's what to do:

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean.


  • Large bedsheet, table cloth, or other sturdy fabric
  • Rope, twine, or clothesline
  • Knife or scissors for rope
  • Tent stakes or a few strong sticks
  • Four small rocks
  • Clothespins (optional)
  • Blanket and pillows for the ground (optional)



1. Find the biggest flat sheet you can spare for the day or the week or forever. (You can still use them for sheets as for this basic version there's not need to cut or sew it.)

2. Run a strongish rope, clothesline, or spliced lengths of bailing twine tightly between two trees, a tree and an eye bolt on your house, or your fence and playhouse. Whatever you've got that will hold the weight of a sheet. Be creative! Set the height based on the size of your sheet (smaller sheet = lower line). Ours is a full sheet and set set it at waist/chest height.

3. Suspend your sheet along this rope. The sheet above is centered but you could also hang it off-center for a more one-sided shelter. If needed use spring clothespins to secure your fabric.

4. Sage suggests tucking a small rock into each sheet corner and tie a rope or piece of twine tightly around the rock. (The rock will keep the corners from slipping out.)

5. Secure to a tent stake, root, tree trunk, or stick pushed into the earth. Angle the stake back toward the tent to keep it from pulling out.

6. Trick it out with doors, windows, walls, tree branch supports – whatever inspires you or your kids. (Optional)

7. Line with a blanket or pile of pillows if you wish, and get in there and play!


There. Now aren't you glad you didn't get disouraged by those pretty, fancy play tents?

Me, too.


Take that, perfection.


17 thoughts on “Backyard forts (Or: Let’s not overthink this)

  1. MamaAshGrove says:

    YES. we have many a child made shelter around here. These you have made are wonderful- and I think most definitely “picture perfect” in the very best way. 🙂

  2. Knitting Mole says:

    Perfect excuse to use all those vintage sheets I’ve been hoarding 🙂

    And this reminds me, I cancelled my Martha mag subscription for this very reason (you don’t actually need Austrian glitter at $30 a vile to make ornaments after all) but it didn’t occur to me until now that Pinterest is really the same thing. Who needs perfection later when you can have fun now!?!

  3. KC says:

    Love it! I wish I had sheets to do that with. In an effort to keep things simple we have only two sets of sheets one is on our bed!

    I kind of wish pinterest was full of rustic simple living. I like it too, but your tutorials are so much more accessible!

  4. Julia says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
    How liberating it is to read your words. Liberating because it releases me from the pressure to meet these false “picture-perfect” requirements…
    Great to know that we are not alone 🙂

  5. Kylie M-W says:

    I’m technically an adult and I would definitely spend an afternoon reading and drinking tea in a fort like Lupine’s!
    Lovely photos and words, Rachel, as always 🙂

  6. Suzy says:

    THe best kind of forts are the ones that are freely built on the spur of the moment, coming from the mind of a child. Absolutely love your fort!

  7. Holly Dean says:

    You know what? I had this exact moment a couple of days ago. Except, I ended up not doing anything.

    Sometimes I don’t have the right stuff on hand, or I don’t have money for it, and I just throw my hands up and we don’t do a thing.

    Thanks for another great post. I think we’ll make something, afterall.

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