DIYdiy projectskate pruitt

diy project: portable sun shade

by Grace Bonney

i’ve been thinking about public spaces a lot recently for numerous reasons, but mostly because the issue of public space always pops into mind in nicer weather. after months of abnormally cold temperatures, my neighborhood is finally getting warm sun and i want to enjoy it! i know a lot of urban dwellers have no backyard or outdoor space to call their own, so i’m hoping this project will allow them to carve out tiny nook anywhere they can find one: front stoops, balconies, roofs, empty sidewalks, small patches of grass, anything will do!

this project can vary in levels of permanence, budget, and size, so it’s completely customizable to your situation. i strayed a little from the ‘nautical theme’ this week, i know, but it’s only because i has this scrap fabric that was begging to be used for this. but this project could easily be made into a sea-lover’s dream with some crisp striped canvas and rope trim. have fun! – kate

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

1. fabric (any size, any type will do. old sheets would be great for this, or any cotton, linen, canvas, etc. the size is up to you. mine is 36″ x 60″)
2. grommet kit (you can get these at hardware stores, craft stores, or fabric stores. be sure to get the kit that has grommet tools as well.)
3. scissors
4. pom-pom trim (this should be available at fabric stores)
5. sewing machine and thread
6. pins
7. two 6’wooden dowels
8. two plastic buckets (these are from the hardware store and come with plastic lids. you could also use old coffee cans or pots if you prefer)
9. four cup hooks
10. quick-crete rapid set concrete mix (or sand for a cheaper, but less sturdy option)
11. spray paint
12. wooden mixing spoon, or any firm wooden stirring stick

(note: i used two support poles because i attached the sun shade to an outdoor wall. if you need a completely free-standing sun shade, you will need four dowels and buckets)

quick-crete: $10
buckets: $3
dowels: $6
pom-pom trim: $5

2-3 hours

1. measure 6″ on your dowel and draw a line all the way around to mark the height.

2. place the dowel end in the center of the bottom of your plastic bucket and trace around the dowel to mark where you will cut out the hole.

3. mix a single batch of quick-crete mix (enough for one bucket to be almost full) according to the instructions. mix it directly in the first bucket and fill to a little below the top. place the plastic lid on and flip the bucket over, tamping down on it with your hands to settle the concrete mix to the bottom.

4. use an exacto knife to cut out the circular hole at the top for the dowel to fit through. push the dowel into the concrete down to the 6″ mark line you created. put the bucket and dowel aside and adjust the dowel to ensure it’s perfectly straight. move on to the other bucket and repeat. set both aside for 30 minutes for the concrete to set.

(note: if you are using sand, follow steps 1 and 2. then fill your bucket with sand and put on the lid. flip the bucket over, cut out the circle you traced, and slide the dowel into the sand, down to the 6″ mark. these will be less sturdy than the concrete poles, but they will work fine and are easy to take apart for storage.)

5. while the poles are setting, cut your fabric into a rectangle of your desired dimensions, leaving 1/4″ extra for the hem all the way around. begin folding back the 1/4″ extra to the backside of the fabric, and pin the pom-pom trim on top of the hem, on the backside of the fabric as well. i chose to do three edges of pom-pom trim (the sides and front, but not the back), but you can do all four if you wish.

6. once everything is pinned, use your sewing machine to sew them hems and trim together. snip any loose threads. you should now have a rectangle of fabric with hemmed, trimmed sides.

7. cut a small slit in the left and right corner of what will be the back of your sun shade. the slit should be 1/2″ in from both edges on either side. lay your fabric down with the front side facing down and push your grommet base up through the slit. follow the grommet kit instructions to hammer the grommet shut. repeat with the other slit. you now have two grommets a the back corners of your sun shade.

8. measure 6″ up from the front of your sun shade, and make another small slit on the left and right side, 1/2″ from the edge. repeat the grommet process to secure grommets through these holes. the 6″ extra fabric creates a small flap at the front of your sun shade.

9. once the concrete is set, place your bucket/poles on a painting surface. take a piece of paper around the bottom of the wooden dowels where they meet the bucket so as not to paint the dowels. spray paint the buckets the color of your choice. let dry.

10. screw cup-hooks into the top of your wooden dowels. if you are making a free-standing sun shade, you are now done! you can place the four poles in a rectangular formation and hook the cup-hooks through the grommets to secure the shade to the poles.

11. if you are attaching to a wall, screw cup hooks into the wall – you can screw them in slightly higher than the pole height to create a slanting sun shade, or at the same height to create a level sun shade. now you can place your poles in front of the wall and hook the grommets on to the cup-hooks. move the pole bases around until the shade is lying as you desire.


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  • OMG I love this. I have a teeny little deck at my house that’s unusable due to 90+ degree days right now in Colorado. This will make it so usable. Thanks!

  • What a fabulous idea! I might have to do this in our backyard so I can sit out there and work on our (uncovered) patio. Cheaper and cuter than a pergola, this!

    You’ve also inspired me to consider, yet again, making some sort of shade for our front porch. The sun sets right in front of our house, which is gorgeous, but the porch gets so hot I could bake cookies on it in t he afternoons.

  • This is so adorable! The pom-poms make it so much fun. Thank you for the instructions and inspiration! Would be cute to make a miniature version with 4 legs as a baby gift.

  • Wow I absolutly love this! I could easily see this adapted to fit my (tiny) balcony / porch that is very sunny during the day!!!

  • So brilliant! Umbrellas can be costly and this is perfect for city spaces. Thank you!!

  • Thank you for this post! I’ve been trying to think of a cheap alternative to an umbrella for a picnic area in our fields. This will be perfect attached to our barn… :)

  • Ok, now these overprices sail shades I’ve been considering are popping up in the ad bar. I’m so happy this is a million times cuter and cheaper!

  • This tutorial is fantastic. I have a small, city, second-floor porch – which is fabulous to have, but pretty full-on sun all the time. This would be such a cute, impermanent way to create some shade!

  • I HAVE to make this! I’ve been looking at making an awning for one of my studio windows…I like this idea so much more! Thanks for sharing!

  • These are very cute, but when it says, “portable”, it truly means you cannot leave it out. One gust of wind and your support posts will snap. That’s what happened to one that we made.

  • kristin –
    it’s true, the late afternoon sun is getting quite low and there is less shade, but during the morning/mid-day, the shade is quite plentiful i promise.

    amanda – i’m surprised your poles snapped. did you use thick hardwood dowels? mine have seen some fairly sharp wind and they sway a bit, but no breaking or toppling. if you live in particularly windy area, you could use galvanized plumbing pipe for the posts instead of wood; the pipe is more expensive but significantly stronger. good luck!

  • I made this to be a temporary overhang for our backdoor, and while i love the way it looks any bit of wind will knock it right over. I used 2.5qt containers, the same size as shown above, filled to the brim with concrete, and 6′ poles. I would hate to put a larger container in place as anything larger would take up too much space in a heavy-traffic area. Cute idea. Too bad it doesn’t work outdoors.

  • I just tried making this project over the weekend.

    I did expand it – I used 6′ dowels at the front, but 8′ at the back – and the 2.5 liter buckets def didn’t cut it. I plan on trying the 5 quart buckets with more cement, at least on the 8′ dowels.

    Oh – and a note about finding the dowels – which increased my cost. I couldn’t find the right width dowel at the right size length, so I used closet poles. Pricier ($7.5-9.5 each), but definitely sturdier and already cut at the 6′ and 8′ mark.

    I think once I’ve made those changes it should work just fine. I’m also using a vinyl table cloth as my overhead cloth – slightly waterproof, so I can set it up for smokers if its just sprinkling.

    So the project has been a little more expensive than I originally thought. But will still be cheaper than buying a canopy – and will give me some shade on my 2nd floor apt balcony.

  • You rock!! I wish I’d seen this at the start of summer. Maybe I can work on one during the La Nina winter we’re going to have. It’ll remind me of brighter days to come. Thank you!!

  • I live in South Carolina and i’m a red head so any portable shade is right up my alley! I will have this for next summer!

  • this is a great solution but I may need some advice on how to tweak it to fit my needs. I want to shade a corner of my concrete parking pad so would prefer a triangular approach. I don’t mind removing the shade every evening. I need something to withstand the wind during the day as we are atop a big hill. Concerned that a dowel wouldn’t work.

  • Thanks so much for sharing this and keeping it posted!! I am using your idea but with a bit of variation. I’m going to use PVC piping with elbows to connect across the top, so it will be more like a canopy. I’m also going to use larger buckets. Then I will treat some canvas and put in some grommets and attach it across the top. Then I am going to get some bulk white fabric to make “curtains” that drape with some privacy and to cover the PVC piping. I’ve already got all my furniture (free!) and it’s all white. Trying to find a nice outdoor rug with white in it and maybe a nice blue. Can’t wait it’s going to look great and be my porch oasis!