How to make a PVC Stage curtain and pulley display

stage curtain pulley setup

stage-curtains

The following parts are assuming a finished size of around 5 to 6 feet high and 5 to 6 ft. across. The fittings cost a couple of dollars each and the tubes come in 10 foot sections and cost around 3.00 each. You want to cut and fit everything together first, then if something keeps falling apart (it CAN fall apart) you’ll want to glue it. I don’t glue anything unless it becomes a nuisance (falling apart constantly) so I’ll be able to take it apart and store it once I’m done with the play. Kids, ask your mom or dad for help if you want to cement the fittings. There are two bottles of PVC cement you have to buy. They’ll cost around 3 or 4 dollars each. One is a purple cleaner and one is the gooey cement (Oatey is the most well known manufacturer). They’re not entirely safe for everyday use, so if your parents are not comfortable using those, you might be able to hot glue or just ‘white school glue’ the pieces together. I’ve never tried it. No guarantee how well it will hold or last. The PVC cement is for actual plumbing and is permanent and water tight!

See diagrams below for pipe fitting and layout!

1. Need 1.5″ and 1.25″ diameter PVC plumbing pipe (available in the plumbing section of any hardware store) and cut with a miter saw to lengths as needed. Use adapters to go from 1.5″ to 1.25″ pipe on top. I used the smaller pipe on top to keep it light weight.

2. Make curtains as shown in diagram. We used a soft velour-type purple fabric, but any kind will do. You’ll have to sew 4″ wide seams at top and bottom. Sewing machine recommended.

3. Slip curtains onto PVC rods and fasten PVC together as shown. Note the support structure in the bottom image. You will need some kind of supports like those shown.

4. The pulley system for the curtains is a bit tricky, but I finally figured out how to make it work with one loop of string or thin rope. Use Lego wheel rims for pulleys if you have them. Drill pilot holes into the PVC and fasten pulleys so they will turn easily with heavy duty deck screws.

5. Place the string or rope around the pulleys as shown and tie off or ‘burn-weld’ the ends together. (Click the pictures to enlarge)

If this was helpful to you, please leave a comment below. Thank you. 🙂

stage-pvc-setup

The PVC tubing is pretty cheap actually, so you’re in luck!

Here’s a shopping list:
(Prices are from our local Lowe’s
online as of January 2013)
PVC:
2 – 10 ft. 1.5″ PVC tubes: $6.00 (get the cheapest ones they have — there are two kinds of pipe)
1 – 10 ft. 1.25″ PVC tubes: $3.00
2 – 1.5″ to 1.25″ adapters: $4.00 (get the smooth kind, not the threaded ones)
2 – 1.5″ 90º elbows: $2.00
2 – 1.5″ Tee adapters: $4.00
4 – 1.5″ Wye adapters: $8.00 (might have to order these online as I wasn’t finding them in the store last time I checked)
2 – 1.5″ End caps $2.00
Cement: Cleaner and Glue: $8.00

Curtain: cost will vary according to material/length.
Rope: 2 to 3 dollars. Make sure you get nylon, not cotton so you can ‘burn-weld’ the ends together. It helps if the burned together part is smooth and without bumps, and make sure the string fits your pulley size.
Lego wheel rims: ?? Someone said they used simple brass rings instead of the wheel rims. That would probably work fine as well.

Rough Total: $40 to $50.00 + your assembly time.

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61 Comments

  1. hi – not sure if this thread is still active. Trying to use this as an inspiration for a play. So did you cut the screen in half so it opens on either side. I am also not sure how the rope is tied to the curtain. Is there a video ?

    1. Hello! Yes, still active. The curtains are cut in half. The pulley system will allow you to open and close the curtains from the back of the stage. The nice part is, they open from the center like a real stage, using the wind as I’ve illustrated it in the image. I have not put a video together, but would like to do that some day. Thanks for visiting!
      alan

      1. Which part of the rope do we pull for the curtain to open and close ? Will any kind of pulley work for this ? I also want to try like a double backdrop, in the sense when I open the curtain there is another backdrop to reveal. Any suggestions ? Thanks again.

        1. Since the rope is one continuous loop you can pull either way to open and close the curtain. Pull either rope that is hanging vertically on the side.

          Use Lego wheel rims for the pulleys or actual pulleys — someone even had success with metal rings (also readily available at your local Hardware store.) Sizes will depend on the overall finished size of your stage/curtain.

          You’d probably have to rig some kind of rear facing extension of the front curtain for a secondary backdrop or make a freestanding one. I did that for a puppet theater some time ago. I used 3 way pvc connectors on the top outer corners and ran short lengths of tubing back to the backdrop frame. That was a whole different setup however. I basically created a big box out of pvc and curtained it off, with the backdrop and scrim curtain hanging from another supporting pvc rod behind the main curtain. I’d have to draw it out but very little time to pursue these hobbies these days…
          Hope that helps.
          Alan

          1. Thanks a lot for the prompt responses Alan. I tried setting it up but I failed. Sorry to bother you again but I am in a time crunch for this and I am not technically savvy either. So I am just going with your picture. Lets say I am looking at the picture on my laptop. So my right hand side has the 2 pulleys. Where should I start tying the rope ?

          2. Hey! The secret is to tie the rope to itself in a loop. You can use nylon string and burn the ends together. Get it over the pulleys as shown –first, then burn the ends together. Fasten the rope to the curtains along that loop. Look carefully at the drawing…

      1. Hey there – I’m hoping to make a stage for my daughter for Christmas as that’s the only thing she’s asking Santa for…no pressure!

        I have looked through these instructions and I have a couple of questions:

        1) the diagram shows a 1″ PVC pipe along the top, but I don’t see 1″ PVC listed in the shopping list. Is the list based on larger measurements and thus complete or is it missing the 1″ piece?

        2) I have looked for measurements for the curtain material but I can’t seem to find it in this post. Am I just basing it off of the diagram of the structure, i.e. should I assume it is 5.5′ by 5.5′ and just add an allowance for seams?

        Thanks,

        MZB

        1. MZB,
          From another comment somewhere below:
          “I’m glad you asked the question. There’s actually a lot more to this than I remember!🙂 I realized the numbers in my 3d drawing don’t match reality: should be 1.5″ pipes and fittings, not 1.25″. The top pipe should be 1.25″. The reason is that it’s harder to find the fittings for the 1.25″ pipes.
          It was a blast to build, though. If you like making things, I’m sure you’ll have fun.”
          Yes, base the curtain materials on your final size — put the frame together then measure! That’s the safe route!
          Have a blessed Christmas – I’m sure your daughter will enjoy the final product!
          Thanks,
          Alan

  2. Thanks for the great designs. I scaled this up in size to roughly 7 foot high by 10 foot across. I went up to 2 inch for rigidity. Toying with adding bracing pieces at a 45 extending out the sides of the frame, acting as a rough tripod to sure it up and reduce side to side movement. Likely this wasn’t an issue for the size you made with the 1.5 inch PVC. Rigging up the pulleys with your diagram was a huge help. I don’t know how long I would have looked at it before figuring it out on my own. I owe you hours 🙂

    Again thank you for sharing the designs with us, much appreciated. I know the kids are going to love performing Christmas skits and dances for the family from behind the curtains!!

    1. Stephanie,
      That is awesome! It’s really great to hear how someone saved some time by using the idea for the pulleys. We have fond memories of many hours spent preparing for and putting on puppet shows for our family and church. Time well-spent I think!
      Regards,
      Alan

      1. I just thought I would add that I used 3 inch garage door pulleys (less than 5$ at Amazon). They worked wonderfully. I wasn’t able to find lego wheels but these were perfect. Just thought I would mention it on the off chance that others were having the same issue. Again, thank you so much for posting these instructions.

        1. That’s great! Thanks for posting that additional info. Cool to hear how you are making needed adjustments. Have fun and Merry Christmas!
          Alan

  3. Thanks. Your drawing was perfect for curtains on our screen porch, and my kids were able to participate in the trouble shooting aspects.

    1. actually I only used one pulley wheel in the corner and it seemed to work okay. nylon string will not stick to itself as it slides next to itself. You could probably use two pulleys next to each other on the same shaft.

  4. Hi thanks for sharing your stage idea. I’m going to try and make this today. I was wondering if you have the actual lengths of each piece so I can just follow those cuts? Not sure from the picture the lengths of the side and base pieces and support arm piece. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you Robert.

    1. Hi Robert,
      The lengths of the sides and top can vary to whatever you feel will work for your setting. I’ve seen someone with a 10 ft. crossbar and side pieces (really long) that seemed to hold together. I think they probably used some extra supports somewhere and screwed the whole thing down to the stage (a wooden platform). There was only one photo so I don’t know. For a young kid’s play, probably a 5-6 ft. length will be enough room for them to pass through OK. For the angled brace length, just make sure to cut and fit the side and horizontal base pieces and then measure based on the lengths and position of those fittings. Don’t try to figure it out mathematically ahead of time (unless you’re good with geometry!). Here’s a diagram I threw together to show what I mean…good luck with it!

      Side brace diagram

      Ok, after starting my brain (another cup of coffee) I realize that the lengths of two of the three pieces that form the ‘triangle’ will need to be the same length, whatever you decide that to be. (some theorem somewhere states this…) The third side will vary in length according to the length of the first two (the vertical and horizontal). Wow! Geometry applied! How rare is that? 🙂 Someone give a better explanation please!!

  5. Hi, um we kinda need this PVC stage curtain thing and can you like give a more thorough explanation, this play we’re doing for a school project is due in less that a month…and oh yeah aren’t those plumbing things rather costly…Our group (we’re just in gradeschool) need a simple pulley system for the curtain..i sure hope you can help making it simpler!:))

    1. Hi Stefanie!

      The PVC tubing is pretty cheap actually, so you’re in luck! The following parts are assuming a finished size of around 5 to 6 feet high and 5 to 6 ft. across. The fittings cost a couple of dollars each and the tubes come in 10 foot sections and cost around 3.00 each. You want to cut and fit everything together first, then if something keeps falling apart (it CAN fall apart) you’ll want to glue it. I don’t glue anything unless it becomes a nuisance (falling apart constantly) so I’ll be able to take it apart and store it once I’m done with the play. Ask your mom or dad for help if you want to cement the fittings. There are two bottles of PVC cement you have to buy. They’ll cost around 3 or 4 dollars each. One is a purple cleaner and one is the gooey cement (Oatey is the most well known manufacturer). They’re not entirely safe for everyday use, so if your parents are not comfortable using those, you might be able to hot glue or just ‘white school glue’ the pieces together. I’ve never tried it. No guarantee how well it will hold or last. The PVC cement is for actual plumbing and is permanent and water tight!

      Here’s a shopping list:
      (Prices are from our local Lowe’s
      online as of January 2013)
      PVC:
      2 – 10 ft. 1.5″ PVC tubes: $6.00 (get the cheapest ones they have — there are two kinds of pipe)
      1 – 10 ft. 1.25″ PVC tubes: $3.00
      2 – 1.5″ to 1.25″ adapters: $4.00 (get the smooth kind, not the threaded ones)
      2 – 1.5″ 90º elbows: $2.00
      2 – 1.5″ Tee adapters: $4.00
      4 – 1.5″ Wye adapters: $8.00 (might have to order these online as I wasn’t finding them in the store last time I checked)
      2 – 1.5″ End caps $2.00
      Cement: Cleaner and Glue: $8.00

      Curtain: cost will vary according to material/length.
      Rope: 2 to 3 dollars. Make sure you get nylon, not cotton so you can ‘burn-weld’ the ends together. And make sure it fits your pulley size.
      Lego wheel rims: ?? Someone said they used simple brass rings instead of the wheel rims. That would probably work fine as well.

      Rough Total: $40 to $50.00 + your assembly time.

      I’m glad you asked the question. There’s actually a lot more to this than I remember! 🙂 I realized the numbers in my 3d drawing don’t match reality: should be 1.5″ pipes and fittings, not 1.25″. The top pipe should be 1.25″. The reason is that it’s harder to find the fittings for the 1.25″ pipes.
      It was a blast to build, though. If you like making things, I’m sure you’ll have fun.

      Mr. Camerer

    1. Hi Shayan,
      Like I mentioned to someone else here, you might try reversing the uprights to suspend the curtain from the ceiling and use a support in the center to help bear the load of the weight of the curtain. Secure the bottom pulley to the floor or nearby wall. Definitely use actual heavy duty pulleys for a curtain that size, and a heavier rope! I don’t see why it wouldn’t work, but I haven’t tried it on that large a scale. Good luck! – alan

  6. I’ve been trying to work out the pulley system for exactly these types of curtain for ages. It’s a lot simpler than I thought. Thanks

  7. Hi folks,

    Willing to take any suggestions on how to approach making a pull system for my bedroom. I want to surround my bed from wall to wall with two bed sheets and a pulley system. Open to any input..

    Have a sensorial,
    Alfonso

    1. Alfonso,
      If you want to open/close the curtain theater-style from your bed, and if you’re allowed to drill holes into your ceiling (some students/apartment dwellers may not be able), flip the design shown so that there is only the top rail support suspended from the ceiling, with the control pulley located near the head of the bed for ease of access. You can also suspend a standard curtain rod and curtain from the ceiling, opened from one end by the long plastic control stick, which will work as well, but not as impressively! – alan

  8. hey 🙂 could you help me with how the backdrop system works on a stage.. i need it for a school project
    thanks a bunch! 🙂

    1. Hi Tamika,
      I’m not really familiar with the workings of an actual stage backdrop rigging, but have helped hang the actual ones for local productions. It is usually just a long metal pole suspended from the fly system to which is tied the (usually rented) backdrop, which is usually a painted piece of canvas. The backdrop can be very large! The ones I’ve helped hang are easily 40 feet or more in length. The bottom of the backdrop canvas is tied to another long pole on the bottom to weight it down as the whole canvas is lowered and raised into place according to the scene. Here’s a link to the Fly System description. There are a whole list of special terms for all the parts of the backdrop and rigging system on a real stage. You can read more about those in the article. Hope that helps! – alan

    1. Good question! No, don’t cut the rope. It should be one continuous loop. You can use some sort of inline knot (I like the Alpine butterfly) and cinch off a small portion of the back of the hemmed piece on each side. It needs to hold the curtain firmly somehow. You might try sewing the knot to the curtain, or hot glue. I think I just pulled the loop of the ‘butterfly’ tight around a small pinch of the curtain. Anyway, hope that helps somewhat. Sorry for the late reply. My father passed away and I’ve been out of internet range for over a week. — alan

  9. I am making a miniature puppet stand for my little boys and I wanted to add extra flare by adding a curtain, this is perfect. I just could not figure it out in my mind, and here it is so simply put! Thank you.

    1. Cool! It was pretty tricky for me as well…that’s why I posted this diagram. Glad to see its actually helping people.
      Alan

  10. Thank you! My Dad showed me how to do this many,many years ago — but I could not remember! My grandkids will be thrilled with their stage.

      1. Hello Alan, I know this thread was a couple of years ago – however, I teach and we are having our first low buget play. I need to use this idea to create a curtain. My question is what would you suggest to help stabalize the top PVC if we need a 16 foot opening. That would need 2 pieces of PVC for top bar. I am concerned that it could be to wide wihout some sort of middle beam. Thank you for any suggestions.

        1. Hi Randy,
          Good question…I think I would tie a support in the middle and fasten to something above if possible. It won’t interfere with the curtain opening. Another suggestion is to make a rope ‘beam’ across the center separate from the pulley system which would be taut and strong enough to support the curtain. The trick would be getting it tight enough to not sag. If you had two strong end supports, you could use a ‘come-along’ wench to tighten it, but those would have to be some strong support posts. I’m sure there’s a solution, but depends on the rest of your stage area. Let me know if you come up with something. I’d be interested to hear how it works out!
          Thanks,
          Alan

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