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A Brief Guide to the Art of Fortistry

by Theo on September 15th, 2010
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I have written elsewhere about my love of forts and the benefits they provide. Spending time in a fort is good for you – someday science will back me up on this. (Probably when an overworked scientist snaps and builds a fort out of lab coats and filing cabinets in his office.)  I am by no means an expert in the field, and snow forts elude me almost entirely, but as a vocal fort hobbyist, I’m often called in when friends have fort-related questions and concerns. Recently, a friend asked for fort-building instruction. This is the break-down I gave her. For those of you who might want to try your hand at building a fort but have no idea where to start, I hope this will provide you with enough general knowledge to venture forward with confidence.

A Brief Lesson on the Art of Fortistry

1. Location. Consider what the purpose of your fort will be. If it will mainly be for hiding away from the world, you should put it in a secluded spot; if you want to watch TV in it, you’ll need to build it within ten feet of your TV set. Don’t pick a spot that’s too hot, because forts hold onto body heat and you want to be comfortable in your fort. You also need to pick a spot that isn’t in the middle of foot traffic, because building a pass-through tunnel in a fort is an unnecessary pain. If your chosen room is in the middle of the house, build the fort on just one side of it, and leave passers-by at least three feet of walking space so they won’t trip over your fort and bring it down. (Or, I suppose, hurt themselves. But whatever – knees can be replaced, but a truly great fort is one of a kind.)

2. Foundations. You need a comfortable base for your fort. Mattresses work well, because they provide a stable shape to the foundation, but piles of pillows will also do (note: if you use loose pillows, your supports will need to be extra stable in case a pillow slides over and knocks them). Or you could rough it and have a bare floor, if you go for that sort of thing.

3. Supports. Supports are the part of your fort that hold up your bedsheet ceiling. They can be an almost infinite variety of objects, but they fall into three general categories: solid, frame, and hybrid.

  • Solid supports are solid objects that form a complete wall on their own or stacked with others of their kind. This category includes items such as boxes, couch cushions, and free-standing bookcases. These objects range from very sturdy to needing some support but can generally be counted on to increase the sturdiness of the fort.
  • Frame supports are objects that support your bedsheet ceiling but require additional bedsheets to be draped over or between them to make a complete wall. This category includes items such as coat racks, folding screens, and broken Ikea lamps you only keep around for fort building (leave unplugged). Frame supports may require additional weight at the base or propping against sturdier objects to reliably stay upright, so don’t throw away those old phone books!
  • Hybrid supports are objects that function as both support and foundation. Furniture like couches and chairs make up the majority of this category and are highly recommended for living room forts.

A combination of the above three types of supports is recommended for beginning fortists, everyday fort building, and those with limited supports; however, purists and those up for a challenge may find it satisfying to build a fort using only a single category of supports.

4. Overhead anchors. Some rooms may have overhead features that can hold up bedsheets and produce a tall or circus tent-like fort. Common anchors include ceiling fans, unused hooks for hanging planters or coats, the tops of perpetually opened doors, and the doors of built-in cabinetry. Take inventory of your room before building to be sure you take full advantage of any anchors available. Note: anchors must be able to hold a reasonable amount of weight, so tacks are not advised. Anchors must also not begin moving rapidly with your bedsheets attached to them, so if you choose to use ceiling fan blades, be sure that access to the fan’s “On” switch is restricted to only those individuals who have the fort’s best interest in mind. Dust is also a concern.

5. Bedsheets. Bedsheets are a proud tradition in fort building – preferably retro bedsheets or cartoon bedsheets (retro cartoon bedsheets are best, of course). Any size bedsheet will work provided you have enough of them, but bottom sheets with the elastic still intact are not advised for the ceiling – they do, however, attach well to rectangular objects as part of a wall.

6. Methods of Sheet Attachment. To attach your bedsheets to your supports, anchors, and each other, you will need some additional materials.

  • Hair binders are useful for securing bedsheets to hooks and posts. These can commonly be found anywhere hair products are sold.
  • Household clips are highly useful for holding bedsheets to each other as well as to flat objects like the backs of couches and shelves. They range in size from several inches across (often used to hold bags of chips shut) to less than an inch wide (used to hold stacks of paper together or clothes to a line). These are sold at grocery stores, stores that sell kitchen supplies, and often the dollar section at Target. Get as many as you can. Clips will save your life.
  • Weight is a good method of securing the bottoms of bedsheet walls. Tuck them under books or furniture. Walls can also be tucked between cushions and backs of couches. The weight method is not advised for holding down ends of bedsheets above your head, because it has a tendency to result in concussions.
  • Small office supplies like paper clips and tacks are not advised but will do in a pinch. If you choose to use them, use a lot of them to evenly distribute pressure, and make sure to use brightly colored ones so you don’t end up with a surprise tack through your foot when it falls on the floor.

7. Fort Shape. Consider your needs before you begin building. Do you need to stand up in your fort? You’ll need a tall center. Do you want a cozy, enclosed space? Go for shorter supports. Do you want to watch TV from your fort? Make sure your tallest supports are on the end of the fort facing the TV, around the space where your fort opens toward it, so your fort doesn’t block the view. Do you want to protect yourself against potential fort raids? Make sure your walls are solid and your entrance is hidden from view.

8. Getting the Most Out of Your Fort. Most fort guides don’t go into detail regarding the use of the fort once it’s built, preferring to focus on the art of fortistry and ignore the practical use of the resulting structure. As a life-long fort enthusiast, I find this approach sadly lacking. Forts are live-in art, and fortists have many elements to consider as they look forward to a long weekend (or more) with their new hideaway:

  • Food and drink. I, for one, have always found snacks and forts to go hand-in-hand. You need to make a space within the fort for food and drinks to be stored – someplace sturdy, out of the way of inner-fort traffic flow, and out of reach of any pets who may be sharing the fort. A cup holder would not be a bad investment. Recommended snacks include any small crackers, fruit snacks and their roll-up cousins, pudding, juice boxes, cookies, and anything with “bite sized” on the side of the container. Advanced fortists may also gravitate toward ice cream sundaes and snacks in the float family.
  • Hobby storage. You may use your fort for reading, writing, drawing with crayons, playing with toy dinosaur armies, or other pursuits, and the objects of these pursuits need a space to be stored in the fort. If a bookcase or other cabinetry is among your supports, be sure it’s turned to face the inside of the fort. Ottomans with build-in storage are also useful. Failing that, make use of a part of the fort where the walls are too low to the ground to seat a person.
  • Electricity. If you want to make a high-tech fort, run in an extension cord or place the fort adjacent to an outlet. Be sure that any outlets and electronics in your fort are unobstructed by cloth or other flammable materials. Lamps are not advised; if you need an additional light source in your fort, you can buy a convertible LED flashlight-lamp for less than $15 at most stores that sell camping gear.
  • Sleeping. If you plan on sleeping in your fort, make sure that you have the necessities for it: enough space to stretch out comfortably, blankets, pillows, and a stuffed animal of some sort. A nightlight is recommended, because getting up for a bathroom trip in the middle of the night with a low ceiling is a tricky endeavor without a light source, and you don’t want to stumble the wrong direction and knock out a wall.
  • Timing. Always consider timing when building a fort. If you have a quiet three-day weekend ahead, consider building your fort the night before your first day off so you can enjoy it for the full three days. Consider other factors that might force you to take down your fort, and build as far before them as possible (or right after them). For instance, if you have a roommate who hates being in forts and that person wants to watch their favorite show on Wednesday night, don’t build your fort in front of the TV on Tuesday. You may also want to seriously consider getting a better roommate.

Armed with this information, I hope you are able to more fully enjoy fortistry and the benefits of it. Go forth, and build well.

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From → Inanity, Not-Projects

  1. You always have such wonderful nuggets of wisdom to share with us, Nicole. <3

    • Nicole permalink

      They say to write what you know, and I know forts. (Well, not snow forts. Though I’m thinking of taking up that hobby this winter.)

  2. You need to illustrate this. how-tos are better with pictures and diagrams.

    Also, it would be hilarious.


    • Nicole permalink

      I’m picturing old-timey woodcut style drawings for some reason. That would make a fun pamphlet to hand out at con, wouldn’t it? XD

  3. Rofl I love this Nicole. Awesome entry – had me casing my apartment for a good spot to build one. Anyway glad to see you’ve got your own site. It’s about time you did, you’ve got enough to fill 3 sites if you put your mind to it. Hope you’ve been doing well lately :p

    • Nicole permalink

      “It’s about time” is right – I’ve been meaning to for years! I hope you find a suitable fort-building space.

      • So you’re looking into the publishing thing more intently now? (was reading the last post over on blogger). Good for you. The Sixth (under whatever name it’s going/gone by) remains a novel I’d be thrilled to own/read again. Hope you’re having fun, though. And, Im’ refraining from stalking you on twitter. Mostly.

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