Wednesday, February 20, 2013

3-in-1 Photography Backdrop Stand Tutorial

An Adjustable Newborn, Child & Adult Backdrop Stand

Wow! I am still in shock at how many hits our last few posts have received from Pinterest. In response to the many requests for my backdrop stand design, I put together this step-by-step tutorial to share with you! Each image is sized at 4x6 so you are welcome to right-click save the images from this post and print them out for your own personal use. You are also welcome to pin or post a link to this tutorial, (just don't republish the tutorial, please!)

I've been using a PVC backdrop stand for over two years now and I've gone through many different configurations and designs. If you haven't played with PVC before, it's just like large-scale k'nex. The possibilities are endless! This past year or so I've seen so many PVC tutorials popping up, but all of them that I've seen have a major issue with the base. The only connection from the vertical pieces to the base support is at the floor level. That's not a huge issue when you're only a foot or two off the ground, but take it up five feet and add a backdrop and you're not going to be terribly stable. Add some supports, even just a foot or two off the ground and your stability will be multiplied. Safety is such a huge concern, especially when you are working with babies and children. Mom & Dad aren't going to be too happy if a backdrop collapses on Jr. during his cake smash session! That being said, this has been the design that has worked the best for me and my business, please use all equipment responsibly and make sure all pieces are secure before using in a session!

This is our (mine and my dad's... he's a genius builder) unique design that can be easily changed from a Newborn seamless blanket stand, to a child-sized stand, and then to an adult-sized stand. It works perfectly with our backdrops listed in our Etsy shop (here) with both bottom and top pole pocket casings to keep them as wrinkle-free and easy to manage as possible. If you like our tutorial, be sure to check out our shop for more photography goodies like chalkboard props, newborn wraps, newborn baskets, and unique client gift packaging.

Now, for the tutorial...


You will need:
*6 lengths of 3/4" PVC (they come in 10' lengths- buy extra if you have multiple backdrops to store and space to store them rolled up)
*The fittings listed below (regular slip style, not threaded. Also be sure you are grabbing the correct, 3/4" size. Sometimes the bins get mixed up. It might be cheaper to buy them in a bag, even if there are more in there than you need!)
*PVC cutters or a hack saw (I honestly prefer the hack saw- I had to get the hubs to cut with the PVC cutters, but I could work the hack saw just fine!)

The first step is to purchase your materials and cut the listed PVC lengths. You may be able to have the store cut your PVC to fit into your car if you don't have a truck. Have them cut each piece in half (5' lenghths) or do some of your handy-work in the parking lot and then you can make the rest of the cuts at home. Use a measuring tape and sharpie to mark before cutting.

*Update 2/26/13*
I adjusted the width to be 5 feet instead of 6 feet, like originally published. It is more sturdy and economical to use 5 foot lengths. Some of our backdrops are exactly 5 feet wide, so they won't fit on a 5 foot pole with fittings on the end, but if you use the "cheating" technique I explain after step #6, then it isn't an issue. :)

Now when I'm doing a newborn shoot, I will start with the seamless backdrop/blanket poses, then move to the baskets where I want an actual floor showing, then finish with the shots of mom & dad holding their new bundle of joy. I just find that to be the most efficient workflow. Obviously, if you were just doing a child session, you'd modify these first few steps.





 

You probably noticed that there is only one side support in the design. I've found that that is all I really need. I pose the baby (on my bean bag topped with a Boppy) to be almost parallel to the long, 6-foot crossbar with her head to the left and feet to the right. I'll get the back & side-lying poses that way, then when they're really sleepy, go for the folded arms/chin in hands poses. I rarely need the other side of the blanket held up because I do not find the "up the nose" angle flattering, but occasionally I do get the feet. If that is the case I have mom hold up the left side of the blanket for a few seconds while I get the shot.

The side support could easily be flipped and used on the left side of the stand.


As shown above, any time you are removing a 6-foot cross bar, I suggest pulling upwards, keeping the elbow joint and cross bar in tact. This will keep your base pieces more stable than pulling sideways on the cross bar and possibly loosening the joints below. Also when you're disassembling and storing your stand, I find it quicker and more convenient to leave some of the fittings attached. This serves multiple purposes: less time taken to remove each piece, helps to not loose joint pieces, and speeds up the process when you do set it back up again.



 

The cross bar in #5 is important and adds stability to your structure. Once again, attach the joints first before placing it on your stand.


I have over two dozen fabric backdrops and I store them rolled up, each on a piece of PVC. Most of the time I even "cheat" when attaching my backdrops. If I plan on changing backdrops during a session (which I almost always do) I don't ever insert the fabric into the cross bar. Instead, I simply use the PVC pole that the backdrop is stored on, and toss it over the crossbar. The weight of it holds the drop up just fine, but I usually use clamps to secure it to be sure.




Our fabric backdrops come with two pole pockets, on the bottom and the top. I use a piece of PVC in the bottom of my drops for a few reasons: It provides weight and tension on the fabric, it makes for a quicker transition when I roll up my backdrop from the bottom instead of the top by keeping a little tension as I roll, and that same tension helps keep the backdrop straight when rolling, resisting wrinkles.

You should be able to find spring clamps in any hardware store, but I've found the best value is at Harbor Freight. I use them ALL THE TIME so pick up 8-10 of the little guys. Sometimes the print won't be exactly straight, or it just needs a little more tension on one side... Use the spring clamps to roll it up a bit and get it just right. I also angle them backwards so that the fabric is hanging on the front side of the bar, and that way you don't get a little dimple where the support cross bar is either. 



I clamp on either end of the baseboard and fabric to keep the board upright and to create more tension. You can find baseboards at any home improvement store. Some already have a white base coat and you can have them cut it for you (I'd suggest 5' for use with our backdrops.)





With both children and newborn sessions I include at least one shot with the parents (I don't think moms especially are in enough pictures with their kids!) so lastly I will raise up my stand for the group shots. Now, I don't have a large studio space. It's actually just a spare bedroom in my house. When you're working in client's homes you probably won't have a ton of available space either. So I only plan on getting back far enough for a upper torso/ head shot, which is what this last configuration is designed for. This would also work great for a wedding or party photo booth stand! 




Like I mentioned, I keep a piece of PVC in the bottom pole pocket. I do not attach it to anything, but just let it hang and keep the background taught with the weight of it. I also "cheat"with this one too. It doesn't look quite as nice, but to save on time I will  use additional T-joint fittings instead of the straight fittings and leave the child-sized crossbar in tact, then just add the two-foot pieces and top crossbar. Once again, I don't insert the crossbar into the fabric, I just use the pole it's stored on and drape it over the back. You may need to stand on a chair to set up this last one. Be careful!

In the next few posts I'll talk about affordable flooring solutions, as well as my awesome backdrop storage system!


I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial. If you use it, I would love to hear your feedback and find out what you think! And to see more of our backdrops (and this stand) in use, check out my photography site: www.fotografiabyalea.com

Con cariƱo,
Alea

81 comments:

  1. This is absolutely amazing! I can't wait to build my own! Thank you!

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  2. Wow! Thank you! I have been looking all day, and this is by far the best tutorial AND the best idea! I love that it is 3 in 1. Absolutely perfect!

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  3. How much do you think all the pvc pipes together cost? (if you said it somewhere... I totally missed it)

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    1. For the PVC pipe & fittings you could make the stand for about $25. The 10' lenghts are about $2, and the fittings vary. I buy the clamps at harbor freight and they are just under a dollar each, and that is also where I got a hack saw (I think) for about $10. I think baseboard is about one or two dollars a foot, but don't quote me on that! :) While you're at the hardware store check out their snap together laminate flooring. You can buy a case (which will give you about a 4' by 5' area) for around $20.

      Thanks for asking! Best of luck. I'd love to see what you come up with!

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    2. Pricing it all out on Lowes.com all my PVC was 28.14. add in a few extra 10 ft pieces for backdrops, some laminate flooring, and a piece of moulding and my total for setting up my first indoor studio (minus backgrounds) is 77.85! That means I still have about $60 of my budget left for a trip to the fabric store and a few cute props and I'll be all set. I'm lucky to have a husband who has done a lot of work with PVC for his aquaponic system so he has all the tools and experience I need to do the cutting and such. He may even have a few spare fittings around so that I don't have to buy them. Thank you so much for this tutorial. I am excited to be able to get started for a much lower investment than I thought.

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    3. With my 10% discount at Home Depot everything and 3 clamps were 24 and some change. It was 27 and some change without the discount. That's also getting an extra 2 5' pipes for my backdrops.

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    4. Also, Home Depot doesn't have a 3/4 inch corner piece that is 3/4 of an inch on all three sockets. So I had to buy 3 adapters for the 1/2 inch fitting. Which altered the height a bit. I just didn't fit certain corner pieces all the way into the fitting to make it work, but you can shave 1/4 - 1/2 of an inch to make up the difference for the adjustment.

      Also the guy at Home depot cut all my pieces for me. :)

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  4. Thank you for posting this. I'm thinking of making it tomorrow!

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  5. Do you have any trouble taking your stand apart to adjust it to a different height? My pvc fittings are extremely tight fitting & are sometimes impossible to pull apart... but that's been my only challenge & I love the backdrop stand!

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    1. That's why I like using the hack saw vs. the PVC cutters. They had the tendency to leave ridges on the pipe and made them difficult to put together and take it apart. It's a simple fix- just use a medium-sized file to take the ridges off, but be careful to not take off too much otherwise your joints will be too loose!

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  6. I made my own PVC backdrop stand several years ago out of frustration at the cost of professional ones. It is the same concept as this, however, I made it to where it was a "pipe within a pipe" setup. As in, the inside pipe had holes in it so it could be raised up and down and set with a ring and pin for height adjustment. It has served its purpose very well and I have been able to sew my own backdrops to slide onto the top cross bar. Very similar to your own! I am still excited to run across your tutorial, though, because of how you added a second PVC bar to the bottom of your backdrop! Genius! I thank you for that :)

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  7. Not fair! In Canada the cheapest I can find for a 10' length of 3/4" PVC is $9.77 at Home Depot. I can see online that Lowes.com sells it for less than $2! I called Lowes in Canada and it's $9.89.

    Maybe it's the pipe standards being different or something? Either way, sucks. Went from being a $20 stand to a $100 stand :(

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    1. That is a serious bummer. After some research I do think it's due to government regulations. There have been movements to ban/tax PVC products here in the US because of environmental factors. I'm so sorry!

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    2. Good to know! I thought this would be a good idea to try, but if it's going to cost $100, I might as well buy a professional stand

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  8. Hi there. I was curious how wide your fabric is, and how big of a piece of linoleum you have for the floor? Did you put it on a piece of wood? It's such a great idea!

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    1. Our backdrops are either exactly 5 feet or just under 5 feet wide. I have two types of snap-together laminate flooring (I can find here for $25ish on up per case depending on the style) and I also bought a canvas floor drop for a weathered white barnwood style. It was expensive, but I think I'm getting good use out of it. I put both on top of a thin 5'x5' piece of plywood because otherwise you have wrinkles in the vinyl or your floorboards will pop apart when you walk on them. It's not necessary if you have them on a hard floor, just carpet. :) I bought a 5' piece of baseboard and just clamp it to my fabric to pull it taught. Hope that helps! I've had plans for a more detailed post about flooring, but there it is in a nutshell.

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  9. Do you have any pictures of the baby backdrop stand set up?

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    1. That is a great question... I will work on that!

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    2. Brilliant, look forward to seeing!

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    3. DOn't suppose you have had a chance to get these photos sorted have you? I can't quite picture how it would work, especially the right hand side-wall.

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  10. I am making mine out of 40mm diameter waste pipe. I cannot find an equivalent connector (which you label corner). Any ideas what it is actually called?

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    1. Here is a link to the Lowe's site. At the store I don't believe they have any names on their bins, just the diameter and price so it's a bit tricky. On their website they call them "side outlet elbows"... Best of luck! I was able to find them in my store, but I guess not everywhere carries them. Maybe search online??? If not, you could do a work around by using a t-joint, a small piece of pipe, and an elbow. Best of luck! Let me know how it goes.

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    2. Oops... the link. :)

      http://www.lowes.com/Search=pvc+fittings?storeId=10151&langId=-1&catalogId=10051&N=0&newSearch=true&Ntt=pvc+fittings#!

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    3. Still trying to find a way to work around this problem. I think I will get there soon.

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    4. I am sorry! The PVC regulations of other countries are frustrating!

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    6. If you cannot find the right Corner piece... try looking for a corner piece and an adapter that will make the corner piece the size you need. I had to do this with my corner pieces. 1/2 adapter screwed into the 1 part of the corner piece not 3/4 of an inch.

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  11. This is amazing thanks so much! ! I'll be making my husband drive me to get the supplies to make this soon!!

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  12. So have you had a chance to take some pictures of the baby stand (particularly the right wall) whilst it is set up completely?

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    1. I had a newborn shoot today, and I will try and snap a few pictures of my setup tomorrow. I will comment when I do. I have four sessions to edit, one being a wedding, plus a few other callings to take care of. I'm crazy swamped!

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  13. This is perfect thank you !!!,one question,do you have the floor for sale? cause I've been looking for that floor but I can't find it.Thank you in advance.

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    1. The floor is from the website "Lemon Drop Stop," and the print is named "skinny worn white" in the 5'x5' size. :) Hope that helps!

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  14. Really great.

    http://riverroadrustics.blogspot.com/2011/08/workshop.html?showComment=1369718805188#c3701119960602519558

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  15. I (my husband) made this over the weekend!!
    We changed a few things though, like making the the width 8 ft instead of 5, running a support pipe verticle down the center, and another support pipe horizontal across the bottom.
    I can't wait to use it! Thanks for posting this!

    I can't wait to hear about your "affordable flooring solutions!"

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    1. ocean state job lot has flooring 10 cents a square foot the wood snap stuff that works nice cant get any cheaper

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  17. Don't suppose you have had a chance to get these photos sorted have you? I can't quite picture how it would work, especially the right hand side-wall.

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  18. I would also love to see pullback shots of the stand in action, with newborns especially!!! Please and thanks! :)

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    1. I have such good intentions for this site, but life just doesn't slow down enough to do everything I want to do! I will try so hard to remember to take some set-up shots with my newborn shoot this week. No promises on when anything will actually get posted though. :( Sorry!!!

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  19. what kind of lighting system do you use?

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    1. I have two speedlights and a set of radio transmitters... Both are off brand, cheap versions that have worked quite well for me these past few years! I set them up on light stands and reflective or shoot through umbrellas.

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  20. I love this! I'm going to Home Depot today! Gracias, Alea!

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  21. Hi there
    This is a great idea and think I will try and give it a go, for your backdrops do you just buy your own material ? Can I ask we're you bought the flooring from ? Hopefully I can find all the write size etc I'm rubbish at this kind of stuff. Would you ever consider putting newborn studio kits together to sell ? I would Definitly but one

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    1. Hi Danielle!

      The backdrops can be found here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/SerendipitousSisters?section_id=11338088#
      We are constantly restocking and getting new ones in so be sure to check back. Most of the ones I use come from there so you can request a certain one if you see one on my site you like (www.fotografiabyalea.com)

      We have considered selling backdrop/newborn kits, but we just can't figure out an economical way to ship them at the moment. :(

      Here is a reply to a previous, similar question about flooring: I have two types of snap-together laminate flooring (I can find here for $25ish on up per case depending on the style) and I also bought a canvas floor drop for a weathered white barnwood style. It was expensive, but I think I'm getting good use out of it. I put both on top of a thin 5'x5' piece of plywood because otherwise you have wrinkles in the vinyl or your floorboards will pop apart when you walk on them. It's not necessary if you have them on a hard floor, just carpet. :) I bought a 5' piece of baseboard and just clamp it to my fabric to pull it taught. Hope that helps!

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  22. Hi,
    Roll up Stojala
    It was a great blog with nice topic regarding roll up stojala with providing great information. Keep writing.
    Thank you!

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  23. Wow!! Thanks so much for this! I ran across this post by accident while searching for backdrops, and I can't wait to get to building my own stand! I couldn't afford a 'nice' one, so I opted for a cheap back drop stand, and it is just that.. cheap.. it won't even stay standing! This looks like it will work wonderfully! :) Yay!

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    1. me too it keeps falling over and making a mess of the whole shoot know my papa just made me one from those pipes I found at a yard sale for 50cents and a dollar the whole thing was 4.00 go me

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  24. Hey! This is such a fantastic idea. Im just starting out photographing kids and wanted something I could take to peoples houses and set up easily and obviously Im on a tight budget. Im going to have a go at buying and assembling the studio backdrop set up. Please could you tell me how big the flooring should be and if you use something under it if you are putting vinyl on top of carpet? Also I was wondering what you use for taking newborn photos? Ive been looking at DIY bean bags or ottomans but they are massive and I have no where to store them.

    thanks
    Phae

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  25. What type of fabric do you use for your backdrops? Heavier type upholstery fabric, regular cotton? Just wondering. Also, how wide are your backdrops? Any special vendor where you purchase your fabric?

    Thanks for all the info!

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  27. i wish i could buy your backdrops but im all the way here at the Philippines... I don't know where to buy it here.. :(

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  28. Hi! So very awesome looking. I am curious if you take this anywhere with you and how long it takes to set-up/change? I need something DIY and portable...;-)

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  29. Hi! So very awesome looking. I am curious if you take this anywhere with you and how long it takes to set-up/change? I need something DIY and portable...;-)

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  30. Awesome and thanks for sharing. I'm new to photography. I have a Nikon D7100 and a Nikon SB 700. I have never used speedlights before. Any chance you could tell me what else I would need to pick up to start shooting with 3 or 4 lights?

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  31. I built this today and am so excited to get some use out of it. All the directions were easy to follow and I purchased all my materials and pipe cutter for about $40 at Lowes. Once I had all the parts cut I was able to put this together in a matter of minutes. As a budding photographer cost is always an issue and this has made things so much easier. Thanks for sharing!!!

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  32. Thank you so much for such a great tutorial. I put this together for under $20! I purchased the pvc at a plumbing shop and they cut it all for me at no additional cost. I'm not a photographer, but used it as a fun photo booth at a family party. It was a big hit! I can't wait to find a reason to use it again!

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  33. can we get away with 1/2 PVC pipes instead of 3/4?

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  34. This is just fantastic! I am soooooooo impressed with your creativity! It was like a dream come true finding this great tutorial. I have a photobooth business and you have opened up a whole new world for me!

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  35. This is brilliant. I'm so excited to make this! Thank you for the tutorial! Love your photography!

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  36. You have no idea of how much I appreciate this tutorial. I will follow your directions, no doubt!!!! Than you so much!!!!

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  37. This is absolutely brilliant! I can't wait to build my own! Thank you!

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  38. Many thanks.
    It's amazing for baby photography.

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  39. this looks great! just wondering though, is there any reason (apart from financially) why this would be preferable over 2 photography stands and a monopole with clamps etc? trying to weigh it all up!

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  40. For this size stand what size posing pillow do you use? Thanks and I love your tutorial!

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  41. Thank you for posting! Do you think it could be made wider with center support?

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  43. I bought the supplies about a month ago after reading and reading and READING this tutorial and I finally finished it today. I love it!! I don't have a space right now to keep it up completely but I am so excited to use it. I need to get some backdrops and get busy. Thank you very much for sharing this!!

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  44. wow! I wanna make this at home. Your article is very interesting. I've read so much about things you can do on pvc pipes.

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  45. thank you so much!!! I will use with my cakes... !!!

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  46. What a good way of puting the baseboard in the back so it doesnt come out in the picture?

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  47. Hi there! My husband bought everything but those 3 corner fittings you have shown in the Aqua blue color, Home Depot told him they are speciality fittings...where did you get them?!

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  48. what size do i cut the pvc pipe? i for some reason cant figure this out (sorry blonde moment lol)

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  49. Love this so awesome,what did you use for the bottom >

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  50. Wow now that is really wonderful sharing to help out others on a tight budget. I sincerely appreciate you sharing and have gotten some wonderful ideas to make things a little easier on myself. Love the rolls stored on the wall easy to just pop in the stand.

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  51. I just wanted to say thank you so much for sharing. I constructed the backdrop stand with one modification. I made a set of 1 foot poles for the top so I don't need a stool and have the 2 foot poles ready if I need to full height. Your post truly helped me with a long overdue better setup. I bought fabric and a sewing machine will be attempting the pockets soon. I can't thank you enough. I wish something in your etsy shop fit what I do. I'd purchase from you in a second if you branch out into long backdrops.

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