How I made my Red Tent

by Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost, PhD

In March 2012, I had a dream that I wanted every screening of “Things We Don’t Talk About” to be in a giant Red Tent that would travel around with me in a 2 suitcases and be big enough for up to 300 people. But how was this going to work logistically?

Red Tent at a screening

The filmmaker’s Red Tent at a screening of “Things We Don’t Talk About”

I have been a participant in the Red Tent movement since it began and I have helped set up many Red Tents and Red Tent Temples. But the set up always took a LONG time, with hours and hours of labor by numerous women. So how was I going to make it easy to create a huge Red Tent for a screening if it took so much time to create a small one for only 20 women? As I thought about it, one problem that always came up with building the Red Tent was the different size fabrics. The fabrics were often donated curtains, sheets, or yardage. Most yardage is 44 inches or 56 inches wide. While some of the pieces were very long, they were also very narrow and could not cover an entire wall.

How to create it?

I created large panels of fabric that were all the same size and could cover a wall very quickly and without much thought to the design (when it was being hung). So from March 2012 to May 2012, I had an opportunity to have a studio space at the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, a fabric museum, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while I was finishing my PhD and the film. It wasn’t really a studio space, it was more of an empty room with a large bulletin board so I could pin up the different fabrics and create the design for the panels. Almost all of the fabric that I used to create my panels where donated, found at the thrift store, or purchased cheaply on Ebay. The decorative materials that I purchased on Ebay were Indian Sari and Uzbek Suzani. Which were both large and inexpensive ways of adding beautiful fabrics to the plain yardage.

Having spent many summers with my grandmother, who was a talented quilter, I have some sewing and design skills. If this is not a talent you have, my suggestion is to reach out to your friends and family members. There must be someone in your community that can sew and that could help you. Basically the gist of it is to take all of the small pieces of fabric and sew them together in a pattern that you like so that it saves time when you put up your Red Tent. I have found that it takes about 5 minutes to put up one of my panels. For your space, wouldn’t it be nice if you had a beautiful Red Tent that could go up in about 20 minutes or less?

My panels are 15 feet wide by 13 feet tall. I chose 13 feet tall for myself because most ceilings at either 8 feet or 12 feet and I wanted to make sure that my panels would drape on the floor a little bit if I was in a 12 foot space. As for why I created my panels 15 feet wide, that was the size of my bulletin board, but you can chose any width. I would suggest maybe at least 10 feet wide.

Here are examples of some of my Red Tent panels.

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To see more example of what the panels look like in different screening venues click here.

How to Hang it?

The second problem that I found with setting up numerous Red Tents was how to hang the fabric. Most groups use thumbtacks or staples to hang the fabric on the wall. But this was a not a good solution for me because I want to do 400 screenings of “Things We Don’t Talk About.” If I put a thumbtack into my fabric that many times it would shred the fabric after just a few events. I also wanted to be gentle on the space and not put a million holes in the wall. So I put grommets along the top edge of all of my panels at intervals of 1 foot. So there are 15 grommets in each panel.

Grommets

Grommets

I hang my Red Tent using 1 of 2 methods:

  • My favorite is using a 3” binder ring, which I purchased from Office Depot. I put the binder ring through the grommet and then I clip or hang the ring onto things in the space like the grid for a drop ceiling, poles, wall sconces, crown molding, nails already in the space, window frames, etc.
  • My other solution is to put a thumbtack into the wall and then hang the grommet on the thumbtack. I don’t often use this method because I don’t like to leave holes in the wall, but when this is my only option I have found that a thumbtack every 3 feet is sufficient.

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Filed under "things we don't talk about", From the filmmaker, grandmother, how to create a Red Tent, Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost, place, red tent film, red tent movie, red tent temple, sacred space, space

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