Making Shade Sails for Your Garden

Oh, summer is a fabulous time of year: Fun, sun … wait! Sun! If you are not too keen on baking out in your own backyard, this guide is for you. Learn how to make different types of shade sails for your garden with minimal skills required. 

What Are Shade Sails? 

As the name hints, shade sails resemble the sails of a ship. The sails are installed horizontally, providing shade to your garden and privacy if you live in a neighborhood with tall houses around you. 

Shade sails are fairly simple to make and install. You simply need a minimum of three anchor points, and you’re A-away. 

Shade Sails Fabric Guide

While you may have a dreamy vision of classic organza or voile forming a sail in your garden with loads of gorgeous folds and ruffles, you will have to think again. Shade sails are based on the principle of tensioning fabric, which means the fabric needs to be sturdy, densely woven, and sunproof. 

Since the fabric will be receiving a lot of UV rays, it is essential to get a fabric that has a high UV rating. Some great options for shade sails include:

Considerations for Your Shade Sails

Before you rush out and buy some cable, cloth, and a few anchors, you need to consider the following requirements and aspects of your shade sail. 

The Installation Area

Where your shade sail will be installed will greatly influence what fabric you can use, how you will install the fabric, and what the overall look (and shape) of the shade sail will be. 

Type of Shade Required

The type of shade you require will influence the fabric requirements. You should ask yourself whether you only want a bit of shade and great airflow, or do you want something that’s not only highly UV resistant but also waterproof? 

Of course, it’s rare that your bread is buttered on both sides and there is a tradeoff between high sun resistance and waterproof sails versus lower sun resistance and better airflow. 

Anchor Requirements

While you may want a shade sail that spans a massive 100-foot gap, the reality is that there are some limitations to the width and length your shade sail can span. Smaller shade sails will last longer and are more resilient in stormy weather, while bigger shade sails will require more support and better anchors to secure these against high winds and rain. 

The average-size shade sail that covers your pool area or a section in your garden will need at least three points for a triangle sail and four points for a square or rectangular sail. If the sail becomes longer than one and a half times the width of the sail, you will require secondary anchor points along the sides. 

Your anchor requirements may also depend on the area where the shade sail will be installed. If the sail is installed in your garden, you may have to depend on a few sturdy branches to help secure the sail. Should the sail be in your courtyard, you may need to use wall anchors, and a few steel poles bolted to the floor. 

Your Local Climate

Shade sails are usually permanent fixtures, but if you live in an area with extreme weather conditions, you may want to have the option of being able to remove your shade sail. If you can dismantle the sail, you can store it during a storm or prevent excessive fading when you are away for extended periods of time. 

Making Your Own Shade Sail

Finally, you’ve chosen the spot in your garden where you’d like to install your shade sail. I’ve decided to go for a weatherproof sail by using olefin. Here are the step-by-step instructions to make a beautiful and tough shade sail. 

Materials and Tools Required:

  • 13.5 yards of olefin for the length of the sail in two lengths of 13.5 yards olefin for the width (58 inches wide each)
  • Industrial-quality sewing thread 
  • A sewing machine 
  • A grommet tool 
  • 4-6 grommets 
  • Scissors 
  • Sewing pins
  • 15-20 feet heavy-duty aluminum cable 
  • 8 wire bolt clips or rope clamps
  • Pliers 


To make the sail is fairly easy. In this case, I opted for a rectangular sail that will finish at roughly 475 inches in length by 115 inches in width. The steps are fairly easy, but they require a large workspace where you can lay out the fabric, fold the seams, and pin it all together. 

1. Lay the two lengths of olefin out, one atop the other. If your olefin is patterned, you need to ensure the patterns face inward so you can have the same sides facing up and down. Use sewing pins to secure the inside seam. 

2. Sew the inside seam, removing the sewing pins as you work. For extra strength, you can fold one side over the other to make a flat pleat. However, with a good quality sewing thread, this isn’t required unless the shade sail will be in direct sunlight for most of the day. 

3. Fold the outer edges in one to two inches, pin them with the sewing pings, then sew them into place. Take care with the corners. Folding the corners neatly will help produce a professional look. 

A good way to fold the corners is folding the end of each side at 45-degree angles. Then place the two angles together from the sides that meet, forming a neat 90-degree angle. Pin, then sew it neatly. 

4. Use the grommet punch to add the ringlets on the corners. Punch the ringlets through the folded seams on the outer edges of the shade sail to provide extra strength to the grommet system. Remember, these eyelets will be under tension, weakening the fabric if the grommet doesn’t have enough fabric to hold it. 

5. Start with your first anchor point. Thread about 5 feet of the cable through the grommet, then loop it around a sturdy branch in your garden or attach it to an expanding bolt with an eyelet attachment. Use two bolt clips or rope clamps to secure the cable (one is enough, but it’s always some peace of mind to have extra). 

6. Once the first anchor point is secured, move to the diagonally opposite point. Thread the cable, loop it around a tree or add an expanding bolt to the wall (or you can also drill one into the tree trunk). Secure the cable with the clamps or clips. Ensure there is enough tension on the cable to tighten the shade sail and raise it to the desired height. 

7. Repeat the steps above for the other two points. The amount of cable required per grommet will depend on the tension and distance to a fixed point per grommet. When you secure the third grommet, ensure you pull it a little tighter than you did the first grommet. Tighten the last grommet to create a smoothly spread shade sail. 

Final Pointers: If you are working with olefin as your choice of shade sail cloth (as I was), you should mount the sail at an angle or slant to allow a sufficient slope for rainwater to run off. If you don’t (and install all four points at the same height), you will have a swimming pool overhead just waiting to splash down. 

Either way, it’s a good idea to mount any shade sail at a slight angle. 

The Final Sail

Having a few great shade sails throughout your garden or over your patio is an awesome idea. Play around with layering shade sails by installing different sails in an overlapping manner. Using different colored fabrics, you can create new color palettes and different degrees of UV protection. For the best outdoor fabrics for shade sails and other structures like awnings, work with the team at Kovi Fabrics for real value for money.

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