Why Should I Consider Installing a Skylight Shade?
In the summer, the sun beats down directly overhead and makes my kitchen too hot. I love the light my skylight brings in, and I wanted to install a shade to let it in and keep the heat out during those 5-6 months of the year.
The cost for a commercial shade is well over $300. I spent less than $50 to create this shade, and my skylight measures 4 ft. all around. Depending on the size of the skylight you want to cover, the cost of this shade will likely be a fraction of the cost of a commercial shade. This project turned out to be highly successful, so I'm sharing my method and experience doing this below.
What You'll Need:
- Measuring tape
- Café rods (for the two opposite walls in the skylight well)
- Dowel sticks long enough to fit inside the café rod (optional)
- Rotary cutter ruler and mat
- Sewing machine and sewing tools
How to Measure Your Shade
Take down the following measurements to make the shade correctly the first time around.
- Install the café rod hanging brackets on either end of the skylight well. Make sure to place them close to the edges and with enough room for the rod ends to fit on either side.
- Place the rods in the brackets and measure the distance between the outside edges of each rod. Call this measurement “A” and write it down. This is the distance you want for the shade length.
- Measure the width between the brackets (measurement "B"). This will be the width of your shade.
- Write down the distance between the wall and the inside edge of your café rod ("measurement C").
- Measure the distance between the wall and the outside edge of your café rod (measurement "D").
How to Choose the Right Fabric
Once you have the shade dimensions, you’ll need to get the fabric. My measurement "A" creates a taut shade between the café rods. If you want your shade looser to look like a tent ceiling, then add the distance you want to drape to measurement "A." See how to choose the best fabric below:
1. Try It Out: Choose a sheer fabric that cuts the heat but allows light to come through. You can get an idea of its opaqueness by unwinding some fabric off the bolt and holding it up to the lights in the store. You will probably gather it on the rod, so try doing so in your fist and see how much light you lose. A colored shade will tint the light in your room, so select a light neutral color unless you want colored light in your room.
- Know that it will get sun damage over time, so you shouldn't spend too much money here. If your skylight is smaller, check out your fabric store’s sale racks. Some stores such as Jo-Ann have coupons you can use to save some money.
2. Determine the Length: Deciding how much fabric you’ll need will depend on how much gathering you want on the café rods. You can ask the salespeople for recommendations based on the look and fabric you want. Different fabrics come standard in different widths, so remember to take that into account. For my shade, I made a 107" wide shade for a 42" rod. I've provided a reference to see how the gathering looks with this ratio.
- Thicker fabrics don't need as much as sheerer fabrics, which look better with more. Sometimes this can be easy depending on the width of the fabric, as you may only need one length of the fabric.
To determine the length you will want, add the following together:
- Measurement “A”
- 4 times measurement "C"
- An inch or two to allow for shrinkage or squaring up the fabric. If this fabric will shrink, make sure to pre-wash and dry it before moving onto the next step.
- (Optional) Add 1/4" to 1/2" to the sum of the measurements above if you want the shade to be a little looser.
The proper length of the shade width depends on the number of panels you need. If your skylight is wide (as mine is), then you’ll need 2 or more panels depending on the width the fabric comes in and the amount of gathering you need. It's better to get too much and have enough than have too little and make the shade turn out too small. My directions allow for generous hems, so if you follow the directions and it is still too short, you can pull some out of the hem and make the shade fit.
How to Make a Fabric Shade
Follow the instructions below to create your fabric shade.
- Cut the fabric with a rotary cutter and an Olfa ruler referencing the measurements you took earlier. If A is 44” and C is 1 ¾,” you’ll want to cut at least one length 51” (44” plus 4 x 1.75”). Cut off the selvage edge if needed, and sew the multiple panels together for the width (measurement “B” – remember to add for shirring or gathers)
- Hem the sides with ¼” hems. I didn't need to do this because I remove the selvage.
- Carefully iron your ends by folding over an amount equal to measurement “C” on both ends, and then fold it over again the same distance and iron once more. Hem the edge, and you can refer to the green line in diagram B to see how this should look.
- Hem a pocket for the café rod so the distance between the two orange hemlines in the diagram is equal to measurement “A”. You can test the drape to make sure it isn't too short by stitching the seams with a large running stitch and trying it out. If the drape is too tight, you can move both hems outward to provide more slack. The large running stitch is easier to pull out than a tight stitch and is a great way to see if you like how the shade will look.
The distance from the edge of the shade to the orange hemline should fill the distance between the walls of the skylight well to the outsides of the café rods so the entire area is blocked. The only area where the sun can come in without passing through the shade is at the edges. If you purchased café rods with small ends and put your brackets as close to the sides as possible, the direct light should be minimal. Remember you are spending about one-tenth the price of a perfect solution.
Hanging the Shade
Once your shade is sewn together, the installation you need to do is simple.
- Cut the dowels to go inside the café rods. These help keep the rods stiff and prevent flexing. This may not be necessary for your application, but it was for mine. If your width is narrow, they may not be necessary. Dowels are relatively inexpensive, so I suggest using them if the width is longer than a foot or the fabric is heavy.
- Slide the shade onto the café rod and snap the café rod in the brackets. Smooth the gathers on both ends until you balance the shade, and you're finished with your skylight shade.
You’ll notice that my shade is quite tight and pulls the café rods straight with the dowel sticks in place. It sure does keep the heat out and the light coming through, so I think this project was well worth it!
C-Squared on August 08, 2020:
Thanx for the solution to the heat issue in my new kitchen. I had some turquoise voile curtains I kept when I sold my house...so I thought why not re-purpose them? I also went to wally world and got two tension rods. Took no time at all and looks great!! Sure beat the heck out of forking out an arm and a leg for skylight blinds.
Sheila Addair on May 27, 2020:
Thank you for the great information. I went out today to buy sheer fabric and rods at Walmart. They had no sheer fabric so I headed to curtains for a hopeful cheap sheer pair. Got two packs as there was only one panel in each pack 59 W x 46 L. I decided to hang lower and let them droop a little and I also didn't want to go up so high. So I measured 12 " from bottom to put my brackets. I use sash rods that extended from 28" x 48". I did a trial run hanging them as they were using pocket on top of curtain and the bottom hem. That would probably have been all I would have had to do had I hung the brackets all the way up. However, I folded the bottom hem twice and sewed a pocket for rod starting 2 " from the bottom to 3 1/2 " from bottom. I just used a ruler to draw a straight line, put some pins and sewed it up. I love it and figure if I need to add another curtain it will be no big deal. So far I absolutely love it. Thank you thank you thank you!!!!! I feel so proud of myself. I took some pictures if there's a way to post them here, I'd be happy to share.
Muse Peggy (author) on July 08, 2012:
Julie - thanks for posting another option for people. I think for some of the people who have looked at my post your option would be a better alternative but they would lose the light as well. Where I live cutting the direct light on my head did keep the heat off my head which was my objective. We aren't burning up like most of the country and I love the light in the room so no need to turn on lights which saves some money and since we don't need A/C I think it's fine for a milder climate. Thanks for sharing another option for people.
Julie Riley on July 05, 2012:
Good work but if you don't block the sun on the exterior your window will still transfer heat into your home. I make skylight shades and they do not cost anywhere near the prices you imagine. A 4' X 4' shade is $110.00 and much more efficient then a curtain. www.coolviewshades.com
akapc on June 24, 2012:
You sure got me thinking! And it's working well and yes, saving some $$ in air conditioning. We are in Maryland - not the tropics or desert but it has been really hot lately.
BTW, this is not actually "black-out" fabric, which would let no light at all through. The shade cloth lets plenty of light in - I don't have to light the place during the day - and I can still see the clouds! :-) I will let you know how long the tension rods last... For $3.99 each, basically, or $7.98 per skylight, I am thinking I would rather replace them than go to the hassle of permanently installing the hardware. We'll see, though! And thanks again for the great idea. I can post photos but I can't see how on this site...
Muse Peggy (author) on June 23, 2012:
Hi Anne - great ideas for our readers. I live in a more moderate area and didn't want to block the light that much. I don't need to turn on lights in my kitchen during the day but in places where the heat is greater I think using a 'black out' fabric might be worth it. It costs a lot more to A/C than to light. I wasn't going to use tension rods because I've had them lose their tension and fall and didn't want to have the shade fall on my head. I hope yours hold up. Thanks for sharing, it's really a concept that can be adapted to suit the situation, I did my part just getting people thinking.
akapc on June 22, 2012:
Hi - great idea!
Rather than use a sheer, which ouold not block much light, I used 80% shade cloth (available online) - I got the knitted variety rather than woven and I got black which is easietr to see through. A piece of shade cloth that's 10 by 12 cost me about $25, shipping about $8.
Our skylights them selves are 2' by 4' but while the width of all skylights and wells is two feet, the length of the lower (ceiling) end of the well varies from 4' to 8'.
I used cafe-style tension rods that expand from 18 to 28 inches (list $4.99 at Bed Bath and Beyond, less with the coupons), so I didn't have to do any installation of hardware. I stitched two rod pockets in each end, one on the end to make a sort of flap to close any gap between the rod and the side wall of the well, and one farther from the end to put the rod in. I measured the length of each well at the ceiling. The flap on the end gives a little leeway. I hemmed the sides of five of the eight and was disappointed that the side hems sort of curled in, which allowed enough sunlight to creep in and heat he room up.
Just to get the other three up fast (it's really hot here right now!), I left them wider than necessary by about 3-4 inches on each side and just threw them up. I could accommodate any mismeasurement (in haste) of the length by deliberately making them a bit short and then pushing the tensino rods up into the well (which has slanted sides) until the length was right.
These three turned out better than the hemmed ones, because they don't curl up and there is no gap.
The shade cloth allows me to see the trees and clouds and sky, but cuts the heat gain quite a lot. In fact, before, the sunny spot on the floor was quite hot and now it's not hot at all.
I was thinking I would want these shades all the way up, which would be hard for some of the skylights because they are higher on the roof, by the ridge, so it would take a tall ladder and someone to steady it. So I just put them a little bit above the ceiling level, where I could reach them with a short ladder or even a chair. They look fine - saving money looks even better!
In the winter, when I will want the heat gain, I can just pull them down.
Total cost for 8 skylights was about $100. I expect that I will save that on my air conditioning bill in a couple of months.
Thanks for the idea! If I can figure out how to post a photo, I will.
Muse Peggy (author) on June 12, 2012:
Becky - that sounds like a great idea. I don't know if you can post a photo of how it looks but if you can please do. Is your kitchen skylight that large? I've actually found the polyester sheers in various textures etc. in the clearance or with a coupon to be very reasonable to make - $10 or less generally and my skylight is 4' x 4' so generally make it with whatever width of fabric I can get that is greater than 4' wide so there is some gathering. I had to remake the one in the photo here - they don't last long so hold on to your measurements as the sun will ruin them in a couple years and you'll need to make a new one. I made my second one much looser so it has a belly and I like that look as well.
Becky on June 12, 2012:
Great idea! I look forward to doing something similar with my kitchen skylight. I think I'll try using a painter's canvas drop cloth (a 5' x 9' cloth is available at Lowes's for about $11 here in Arizona). Thanks again for the idea!
Muse Peggy (author) on May 03, 2012:
Gena - you may want to use black out fabric even or put a tin foil based product over the skylight from above. I lived in Texas and know how HOT it can be there. We're in Seattle area and so don't have to totally keep the sun out but you might want to. Good luck.
Gena on May 03, 2012:
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Just what I was looking for. The idea was lightly in my head (Hummm, I am a little light headed!) But you spelled it out for me. I just read your instructions and am looking forward to trying it. I live in a rented mobile home (55+ community) with 3, yes 3! skylights. Hot as the dickens here in Texas in the summer. Thanks again.
Muse Peggy (author) on April 29, 2012:
Keep in mind that if you use a 'color' its going to color your light that color as well. After a few years depending on how much sun you get you'll find you need to make a new one so keep your measurements. I already made the replacement for this one and made it looser and like that 'look' as well.
MIcah Grande on April 25, 2012:
I like your creativity and the whole concept of this project. Ive been looking for a cheap skylight window curtain but its way too much to spend for only one window but after studying this project carefully it gave me an idea on doin the exact same thing you did and plus i can put a different color fabric to match my curtain on my kitchen. Brilliant and smart idea! JOB WELL DONE!
ryanmicosa from Irvine on April 08, 2012:
hanks for the tip on creating your own skylight. I do prefer self-services to have the maximum exposure to quality and accuracy in installation. A very well read.
Muse Peggy (author) on August 08, 2011:
Hi alwc1020 - you'll need a very tall ladder at the least and possibly scaffolding. I don't know if a handyman would be worth it twice a year to get up there and hang it then to take it down and put it back up. I take mine down for the winter as the sun is low in the sky and then put it back up in the spring. If you want to make it before you call the handyman, you can make it longer than necessary and it'll just have a bit of a belly to the shade. I did that this year when my original one (in the photos from this site) wore out due to sun exposure. Good luck, let us know what you did, it'll help the entire community of skylight owners :)
alwc1020 on August 08, 2011:
thanks for the tip on creating your own skylite cover; my problem is that my skylites are one story high with one being over a stairwell; I can only think of getting an in-house painter to come in to place a shade over my skylite specificially the one over the stair well; any other ideas on this?
B from Oklahoma on August 07, 2011:
Thank you for writing about how to make an inexpensive skylight shade. I have been pricing the ready made ones and they are very costly. Even though I do sew, it didn't occur to me to make my own. I'm definitely going to use your guide and make one. I like the dowel inside the rod idea too, I think it will work much better for me and the look I want to achieve. You have saved me a great deal of money by writing this Hub and I truly appreciate your help. Thanks for a well written, AWESOME Hub.
June on July 02, 2011:
Thank you for posting this. I had a similar 'make do' system for years just using old sheets over expandable rods (the ones that you screw and unscrew to get the right length...spring loaded). I didn't think about using 2 panels...so I just placed it so I could still reach the opening mechanism. I was just looking for ideas to make new ones...and I think your ideas are great. I like the cafe rod reinforced and if I make 2 panels, I can still get my opening rod into the mechanism to open or close the skylight. Mine are in a cathedral ceiling (2) and 1 in a kitchen nook I can reach by standing on a chair. God Bless you for helping us all save money!
Muse Peggy (author) on June 28, 2011:
Hi Beatrice - I don't 'open and close' the shade, merely put it up in the spring and take it down in the fall. It filters the strong summer sun and the kitchen is still very bright, I don't need to put the lights on during the daylight hours. I imagine you could come up with some kind of system with traverse rods and wands if you wanted to make something less expensive with opening ability. I just don't need that feature. Good luck.
Beatrice on June 28, 2011:
How do you get them open and closed easily? Our skylights are quite high up, and even with a step stool the upper portion of the skylight is difficult to reach.
Thanks for a great article!
Gretchen on August 19, 2010:
Thank you! So easy I dont' know why I didn't think of this BEFORE my $550 electric bill this month!!
Muse Peggy (author) on July 11, 2010:
That was exactly why I did it too. I can think of many other things I'd rather do with $500-$1000 than put it up in the skylight well. Good luck.
emtdmm on July 10, 2010:
After researching the shocking price of manufactured skylight shades, this is a great idea. I will also be making my own. Thanks for posting your brilliant idea.
Muse Peggy (author) on April 25, 2010:
I agree that the basic concept can be modified to fit the décor of the room. That was a great addition - Thanks.
Donna on April 23, 2010:
Hi Peggy, Nice job on the skylight shade. I did this same treatment in my last home but my new house style seemed to call for a more tailored look so in this house, I measured a piece of linen that fit the opening exactly so it has a flat un-gathered appearance. This approach works well for modern spaces. Thanks for sharing your photos and tips.