Saturday, May 9, 2009

How to Make a Skylight Shade

In the summer the sun is directly overhead and it makes my kitchen too hot. The sun also shines directly on my head when I am at my sink, so something had to be done. I love the skylight for its light so didn’t want to lose the light, just cut the heat during those 5 or 6 months of the year.

Depending on the size of the skylight you want to cover, the cost of this shade will be a fraction of the cost of a commercially created shade. My skylight is 4’ square and the cost for a commercial shade is well over $300. I spent less than $50 to create this shade. This project turned out to be highly successful so I will share my method here. You will need:

· measuring tape

· café rods for two opposite walls in the skylight well

· dowel sticks – optional – maximum size to fit inside the café rod

· Drill

· Screwdriver

· Rotary cutter ruler and mat – suggested but optional

· Sewing machine and sewing tools

· Fabric of your choice

If you don’t sew or own a sewing machine you might want to give these instructions to someone who does and pay them to make this for you. I decided to make my shade with a sheer fabric because I wanted the light but not the direct heat. I was not sure how much it would cut the heat but wanted to try this first before going to a complete black out shade. It works really well so now I put the shade up as soon as the sun gets high enough in the sky to bother me and I take it down in the fall, wash it and put it away until next spring. I like looking at the stars in the winter skies but you could leave it up year around if you want.

After you purchase the café rods for the skylight well, install the hanging brackets on either end close to the edge of the skylight well but with enough room for the café rod ends. Now put the rods in the brackets. See photo. Use a measuring tape to measure the distance between the outside edges of each rod. Call this measurement “A” and write it down. See photo. This is the distance that you will want for the length of the shade. Measure the width between the brackets and write this down as well as this is the width of your shade; call it measurement “B”. Measure the distance between the wall and the inside edge of your café rod and write this down as well, call it measurement “C”. See photo. Measure the distance between the wall and the outside edge of your café rod and write down this distance as measurement “D”. See photo.

Now that you have your dimensions you’ll need to get fabric. You’ll want to use the warp threads along the selvedge edge to be perpendicular to the café rods since the weft threads have a little give. These directions are for a tight shade between the café rods. If you want your shade looser to look like a tent ceiling then add an amount necessary to achieve that look to the distance “A” you measured earlier.

Remember too that this fabric will get a lot of sun so you don’t want to spend too much as sun tends to destroy fabric. Check out your fabric store’s sale racks and remnant locations if the skylight is smaller. Some stores such as Joann’s have coupons in the Sunday papers too. A sheer fabric will cut the heat but allow the light to come through. You can get an idea of the opaqueness of the fabric by unwinding some off the bolt and holding it up to the lights in the store but remember you will probably gather it so don’t be shy to gather some in your fist and see how much light you lose. A colored shade will color the light in your room as well so it’s probably best to stay with a light neutral color unless you want the effect of a colored light in your room.

To determine how much fabric you’ll need to buy will depend on how much gathering you want on the café rods. You can ask the sales people at the fabric shop what they recommend based on the look you are trying to achieve and the fabric you select. Different fabrics come standard in different widths so be aware of that. For my shade I made a 107 inch wide shade for a 42 inch wide rod. See photo to see what the gathering looks like with that ratio. Thicker fabrics will need less and more sheer fabrics will look better with more. Sometimes this can be easy depending on the width of the fabric as you might only need to purchase one length of the fabric. To determine the length you will want to purchase, add measurement “A” to (4 times measurement “D” plus ¼ - ½” depending on the tightness you desire and the diameter of your café rod) then a few inches longer for shrinkage (or to square up the fabric). If this fabric will shrink then pre-wash and dry before going to the next step. The ¼ to ½“ addition is to accommodate the diameter of both rods. To get the proper amount for the width of the shade will depend on the number of panels you will need. So, if your skylight is wide (as mine was) then you’ll need 2 or more panels depending on the width the fabric comes in and the amount of gathering you need. It is better to get too much than to make the shade and have it be 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.

To cut the fabric I used a rotary cutter and an Olfa ruler generally sold for cutting fabric for quilting. It isn’t absolutely necessary but cutting square will give you an accurate shade which will fit the same on both sides assuming the skylight well is more or less straight. If you want to see how to use the Olfa rotary cutter and ruler for accurate cutting check out the tutorial at this site: Now cut your fabric squarely using the measurement calculated above. So, if A is 44” and D is ¾” then you’ll want to cut at least one length 47 ½” (long 44” plus 4 x .75” plus ½”). Cut off the selvedge edge if necessary and sew multiple panels together if necessary for the width (measurement “B” – remember to add for shirring or gathers) then hem the sides with ¼” hems. I did not need to do this as I just left the selvedge on since it was a sheer fabric. Carefully iron your ends by folding over an amount equal to Measurement “C” on both ends then fold it over again the same distance and iron it again. Hem the edge of this. This is the green hem line on diagram B. Then hem a pocket for the café rod so the distance between the two orange hem lines is equal to Measurement “A” plus ¼ - ½” or so. See diagram B. You may want to stitch these seams with a large running stitch on your machine and test the drape to make sure it isn’t too short. If the drape is too tight you can move both hems outward a bit to provide more slack. A large running stitch is certainly easier to pull out than a tight stitch. If you measured properly, cut squarely, ironed and added the ¼ - ½” it should be just fine. The amount from the edge of the shade to the orange hem line should fill the distance between the walls of the skylight well to the outsides of the café rods so you have that area blocked as well. The only area where the sun can come in without passing through the shade is at the edges but if you purchased café rods with small ends and put your brackets as close to the sides as possible it should be minimal and not worth fretting over. Remember you are spending about 1/10 the price of a perfect solution.

You are almost done. Cut the dowel sticks to go inside the café rods so the café rods after they go over the dowel sticks are the right size. The dowel sticks give the café rods more stiffness from flexing (this may or may not be necessary for your application but were for mine). If your width is narrow they may not be necessary. Dowel sticks are relatively inexpensive so I would suggest them if the width is greater than a foot or if the fabric is heavy.

Now slide the shade onto the café rod and snap the café rod in the brackets and smooth the gathers on both ends until you balance the shade and now you too will have saved a lot of money to use for something that you really want. You’ll notice in the photo that my shade is quite tight and pulls the café rods even with the dowel sticks in. The skylight is quite wide so this might look a little better with a little looser shade but I wanted it tight so you pick your poison. It sure does keep the heat out and the light coming through though so it’s well worth it.

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