How to Make a Skylight Shade
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-feet 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!