DIY: Shade Structure Tarps

Increasing outdoor living space can be as easy as installing a simple shade structure frame and covering it with a DIY tarp or replacing the decorative fabric cover on last season's "pop-up." Whether building a shade structure from scratch or re-using an existing frame, the key to a successful do-it-yourself shade structure tarp is choosing the right all-weather fabric and using simple construction techniques borrowed from the military. Homemade shade structure tarps put the decorative touch in outdoor décor, transforming your outdoor space with a designer look without the designer cost.

Create your own outdoor living space with shade structure tarps.
  1. Cut the fabric to the length of the frame, adding three inches to each outside edge. Fabric lengths are sold by the yard; however, widths vary by manufacturer, with 60 inches being the widest standard width available. If the desired width of your shade structure is wider than five feet, you will need to join two or more lengths of fabric together in Step 2. If building a long, narrow shade structure, skip Step 2 and go to Step 3.
  2. Stitch two or more lengths of fabric together to achieve the desired width using a French seam technique for both extra strength and a clean, finished look. Stitch a narrow seam (1/4 inch) with wrong sides together. Trim the seam allowance to 1/8 inch before turning the fabric so that the right sides are now together. Press the stitched edge flat. Stitch a second seam ¼ inch from the edge of the pressed edge. Open the fabric and press the second seam to one side, creating a smooth, joined tarp panel.
  3. Fold under each raw edge 1 inch and press in place. Fold the pressed edge under 2 inches and stitch in place, creating a 2-inch "border" along each outer edge of the tarp. Press the two-inch "border" flat. This double thickness border will add durability and strength to the grommets used to attach the shade tarp to the frame.
  4. Install metal grommets along the outside edge of the tarp using a grommet kit. Space the grommets to match the shade structure frame, putting one grommet in each corner for a simple pole structure, or several grommets along each side when covering an arbor, pergola or lattice patio.
  5. Lace the rope through the grommets to attach to the shade structure frame.
  6. Lace the nylon rope through the grommets and tie to the shade structure frame. Use one piece of rope for each grommet for simple pole structures, adjusting the tension in the rope to achieve the desired tautness of the tarp. When covering an existing structure such as a lattice patio, use one long piece of rope for each side, weaving the rope through each grommet and around the structure for extra durability. Tie the ends of each side together, stretching the fabric and rope either tight or slack to achieve the desired look.

Things You Will Need

  • Outdoor fabric for solid tarps
  • Shade fabric for "light filtering" tarps
  • Grommet kit
  • Hammer
  • Nylon rope
  • Iron
  • Sewing machine and heavy duty thread


  • Use heavy-duty thread for extra outdoor durability, adjusting the tension on the sewing machine to accommodate the heavier fabric.
  • Outdoor fabrics provide a decorative look to patios, pool decks or camp sites and come in a variety of patterns or solid colors.
  • Shade fabrics are light-filtering fabrics that do not completely block out the sun, yet provide a cool space to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Look for them in the garden section of the hardware or home improvement store.

About the Author

Stephanie Tallman Smith is a lifestyles, business and real estate writer with over 20 years experience as a government analyst. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in management from Kaplan University and advanced certifications in public speaking, large group training and facilitation. Able to write about diverse subjects, Smith also writes extensively about family issues and home improvement.

Photo Credits

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