How to Make Shade Sails

Item # X-HT-300183

The latest trend in shade! Shade sails are beautiful, structural awnings that look like a work of art and provide excellent shade for your patio, pool area or other outdoor living space. Build your own DIY shade sail with the help of our video tutorial. Creating your own sail lets you customize the design to provide the most shade for your space. It also allows you to select the best quality materials so you know that your shade sail will last season after season.

Learn to make triangular shade sails in our how-to video

When building a shade sail, you’ll need to carefully plan out the project before you begin. Decide what shape of shade you’d like to make (rectangular or triangular) and how many panels you’ll use. Laying out lengths of rope in the exact size and shape of your desired shade can be very helpful so you can see exactly how the shades will fit in the space.

Next, think through where your shade will be hung. Will it attach to your home, posts installed for support, a tree, or a combination? It’s very important to be sure that all of your attachment points will be able to stand up to the stress of a tensioned shade and that they are all structurally sound. If you’re unsure, we recommend consulting a structural engineer. Additionally, don’t forget to check with local authorities for any relevant building codes or permits that might be required for your shade sail.

Installing support posts for a shade sail

Our 6 x 6 posts being installed

For our shade sail here at Sailrite, we decided to create two overlapping triangular panels that attach to 6 x 6-inch wooden posts that we had installed in the ground. Post installation is not covered in the video, but here are a few pointers if you will be installing posts for your shade’s support.

  • We recommend the use of 4-inch, schedule 40 steel pipes or 6 x 6-inch wood posts intended for outdoors use. Obtaining independent advice from a builder is recommended.
  • Posts should slope away from the center of the sail at an angle of about 5 to 10 degrees.
  • A conservative guide to burying the posts would be one third in the ground and two thirds above ground. This will vary depending on how many sails are attached to the post, soil conditions, size of the sails, etc. Posts are usually embedded in a concrete footing, 3 feet to 6 feet deep and 1 foot to 1.5 feet in diameter.
  • The use of a guy wire to help support posts where two or more sails are attached is recommended, especially for a 6 x 6-inch wood post. Guy wire installation is shown in the video.
  • Always call local authorities before you dig.
Adding the hollow to the shade sail

Bill traces shape for the hollow into the shade sail

For the shade material, we chose to use Polytex® fabric. This material is designed especially for shade sail applications, so it will stand up to tension. It’s also conveniently 150” wide, which means less seaming for larger sails. Phifertex®, Soltis®, Sunbrella® Shade and Parasol™ fabrics are all great options for shade sail projects as well. The Sailrite Fabric Calculator is a great tool to use to help you plan how much fabric you need. It will also calculate for you how to lay out your fabric panels and how much hollow you need to add to each side to create the shape of the sail.

Only one attachment method and shade sail design is outlined in the video, but the principles can be used to make a variety of shade sail styles. A variety of mounting hardware is available here at Sailrite to help you install your shade sail to several types of attachment points.

Watch our in-depth how-to video to learn step-by-step how to create your own custom shade sail.

Video Chapters:

  • Determining Shade Sail Positioning – 0:58 min.
  • Lofting Shade Fabric – 4:05 min.
  • Basting Panels Together – 12:04 min.
  • Sewing Seams – 14:43 min.
  • Creating Hollow on Sides – 16:19 min.
  • Cutting Corner Patches – 20:41 min.
  • Hemming Sides – 22:39 min.
  • Basting Patches – 24:47 min.
  • Basting & Sewing Webbing on Sides – 26:27 min.
  • Sewing Corner Rings – 32:06 min.
  • Planning Elevation for Attachment Points – 36:50 min.
  • Attaching Hardware to Posts – 39:12 min.
  • Installing Shade Sail – 41:15 min.
  • Tensioning Shade Sail – 48:24 min.
  • Installing a Guy Wire for Extra Strength – 50:30 min.
  • Materials List – 58:43 min.

Materials List:

  • Shade Sail Fabric (we used Polytex® 150" Shade Cloth Aquamarine #120467)
  • Seamstick 3/8" Basting Tape for Canvas #129
  • Polyester thread or Sailrite® PTFE Lifetime Thread (we used Clear #107128)
  • Polyfab™ Webbing Polyester 2" 4720 lb. (we used Blue #120262)
  • Polyfab Pro Triangle 5/16" (8mm) #120272
  • Polyfab Pro Eye Bolt With Nut & Washer 3/8" (10mm) #120271
  • Jaw & Jaw With Nut Turnbuckle 3/8" (10mm) #121206
  • Polyfab Pro Dee Shackle With Bolt 5/16" (8mm) #120269

Tools List:

  • Marking Chalk for Fabrics #102464
  • Gingher® 8" Scissors #19104 (right-handed)
  • Clear Acrylic Ruler 6" x 24" #102400
  • Sailrite® Canvas Patterning Ruler #107040
  • Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LS 1 PLUS Walking Foot Sewing Machine #300502
  • Sailrite® Edge Hotknife Package (110V) #103800
  • Deluxe 5-1/2" Magnetic Sewing Guide #103597
  • Rope
  • Stakes
  • Tape measures
  • Marking spray paint
  • String
  • Cement blocks
  • 1/2” PVC pipe & pipe connectors
  • Sharpie marker
  • Straight edge
  • Ladder
  • Pencil
  • Drill with extra long drill bit
  • Adjustable wrench
  • 5/16” Zinc plated coil chain
  • Bolt cutters
  • Anti-seize compound
  • Channel lock pliers

Note: Materials and tools for installing posts are not included in these lists, as there are many different installation methods and post types that can be used.

Additional Design & Installation Notes:

  • Do not install shade sails near an open flame source.
  • Sail shades of 25 feet or less per side may be supported with 2” polyester webbing sewn along the sides (as shown in the video). Larger sails should be supported with wire rope in sleeves, this method is not covered in the video.
  • A properly mounted and tensioned shade sail will have approximately 150-400 pounds of edge tension. Wind loads from 5-15 lbs. per square foot are typical. Loading is divisible by the number of corners.
  • Flat sails must be canted adequately, 1:4 slope is recommended.
  • Remove shade sail(s) in harsh weather. Shade sails are not intended to support snow loads.
  • If the shade sail is secured to fascia, the use of a fascia support is required.
  • Don’t attach a shade sail to trees less than 10 inches in diameter. Use lag screw eyebolts.
  • Use chain to span distances from shade sail corners to attachment points. We recommend 5/16” coil chain zinc plated (grade 30 proof).
  • Please ensure the working load limit (WLL) of hardware used will accommodate the shade sail. Use this equation for three-sided shade sail: (sq. footage of sail x 15) ÷ 3 = maximum load expected (excludes winds in excess of 75 mph) Use this equation for a four-sided shade sail: (sq. footage of sail x 15) ÷ 4 = maximum load expected (excludes winds in excess of 75 mph)