How to Make a Pergola Cover for Shade

Pergolas are attractive additions to outdoor living areas and do provide some shade, but they may not provide quite enough shade for you to be able to enjoy your patio on hotter days. If you have a pergola but wish your patio had more protection from the sun, this is easy to accomplish, particularly because you already have the framework necessary. Now you just have to find a way to adorn that framework to better meet your needs while maintaining its visual appeal.

There are several options available for adding more shade to patios and seating areas. One option is to plant vines, such as wisteria, grape, or jasmine, and train them to grow over the pergola. This option is natural and attractive, which makes it rather appealing. It will take a while for your vines to grow, so this is not an immediate solution. Your vines may also die or grow unevenly, so only part of your patio might be shaded. However, many people enjoy the beauty of a vine-covered pergola so much that they are okay with dealing with these downsides.

Other pergola ideas include adding a solid roof to your pergola. One example would be a wood roof, which will provide an attractive covering and also protect your patio from rain. You could also opt for corrugated metal for shade and protection from the rain. If you have an island or beach theme in your backyard, you could even go with thatch or bamboo. Keep in mind that these options will block some light, so if your patio is adjacent to windows or glass doors, these may block some of the natural light that would normally enter your home. Corrugated, clear plastic roof panels provide rain protection while letting in light, but they do not offer much additional protection from the sun. There are corrugated, gray, polycarbonate panels that offer a bit more shade and still let in light, so if you are looking for a solid roof, this might be an option.

You can also increase shade by hanging a shade sail above your pergola or, of course, by purchasing a pergola shade cover specifically made for this purpose. Aside from pergola covers, you can add shade to a seating area under a pergola by adding patio curtains around the sides or placing hanging planters to block the sun when it is lower in the sky.

Another option is to make your own cloth pergola cover. This is a relatively easy, do-it-yourself project that might take from a few hours to a weekend to complete, depending on the intricacy of your design. Here, we will cover two types of cloth pergola covers you can make: a basic, stationary cover and a retractable shade.

pergola covers

How to Make a Stationary, Cloth Pergola Cover

1. Measure

The first step is measuring the space you intend to cover. This may be just the top of your pergola, or it could be the top and one or two sides of the structure.

2. Determine Attachment Method

The next step is to determine how you will attach your cover to your pergola. This could be with construction staples, grommets, or fabric ties. Keep in mind that you may want to wash your pergola cover, which will be much more difficult if you install it with staples. If you plan on ever removing your cover, it is better to use grommets or fabric ties.

3. Gather Your Supplies

Purchase outdoor fabric or sturdy drop cloths in the yardage determined by your measurements. You may choose a solid fabric or mesh depending on the look and level of sun protection you are going for. If you do not want to sew, consider purchasing a pre-made shade sail with dimensions that match your pergola.

If you are going to sew your fabric, you will need scissors, thread, and a sewing machine. If you are going to use construction staples, you will need a staple gun and staples. If you are going to use grommets, you will need grommets, a grommet tool, and a hammer. If you are going to tie your cover to your pergola, you will need ribbons or additional fabric to make ties.

4. Measure and Cut Fabric

If you are making your own cloth pergola cover (rather than using a pre-made shade sail), measure and cut the fabric to fit the area you want to cover. The easiest way to keep pergola covers in place is to weave them in and out of the roof structure, so keep this in mind when determining how long the fabric should be. Also keep in mind that you will need additional length if you prefer the look of fabric drooping between each rafter.

5. Sew and Add Grommets or Ties

If you are using construction staples, you simply need to sew a seam around the edge of your fabric so that it will not fray and will have a more finished look. To do this, fold the fabric over at least one-half inch and sew around all unfinished edges. If you are using grommets or ties, you will do the seam around the edge of the fabric, and then either sew on ties or install grommets at each corner.

6. Install the Pergola Cover

Finally, place your shade cover on your pergola and secure it. To do this, weave the fabric over and under the rafters. Then simply tie the corners to the corners of your pergola. If you are using grommets, you can tie it or use zip ties. If you made your cover long enough to also cover one or two sides of the pergola, attach the ends at the bottom of the posts with your ties or grommets. If you are using construction staples, simply put your cover in place, and then staple every few feet to secure it.

Make a Pergola Cover for Shade

How to Make a Retractable Pergola Cover

If you prefer pergola covers that can be opened for stargazing or when you just do not need quite as much shade, a DIY retractable cover is a better option for you. It requires a bit more effort, skill, and time to make this option, but it is well worth it.

There are many ways to make retractable pergola covers; this is one of the easiest DIY options.

1. Measure

The first step is to measure the top of your pergola.

2. Gather Your Supplies

You will need solid or mesh outdoor fabric in the yardage indicated by your measurements. If you do not want to sew, look for a pre-made shade sail with the correct dimensions. If you will be sewing, you will need thread, scissors and a sewing machine. You also need wire rope, four screw eyes, one turnbuckle, a drill, wire clamps or wire clips, and drapery rings. If you do not want to sew, opt for drapery rings with clips.

3. Install the Screw Eyes

Measure and mark where you want to place the screw eyes on all four corners of your pergola before you begin to install them. This way, you can make sure they are all in the same spot. You will need to install one hook on the interior of a corner post in each corner of your pergola. This is what you will be running the wire rope through.

4. Run the Wire Rope

Next, string the wire rope through each of the four screw eyes. You will end up with wire on four sides of your pergola when you really only need wire on two sides for the shade cover. You can always run the wire just between the two screw eyes on each side (in which case you will need another turnbuckle), but if you run it all the way around the pergola, it gives you the option of also adding patio curtains on two sides for even more shade. Once you finish running the wire through the hooks, cut it to length, and then attach the two ends using your turnbuckle and either wire clamps or wire clips.

5. Measure and Cut Fabric

Measure the distance between the screw eyes on either side of where you will be hanging your pergola cover. This will determine how you will measure and cut your fabric and where you will place the drapery rings, so it is important to have an accurate measurement here. When determining the length of your fabric, keep in mind that you will need additional length if you want the fabric to drape down between each drapery ring for a softer look.

6. Sew Fabric and Attach Drapery Rings

In this step, you are first going to hem the edge of your fabric to avoid fraying and for a more finished look. To do this, fold the fabric over at least one-half inch and sew around the unfinished edge. Next, attach your drapery rings near the edges of your fabric in accordance with the measurement between the screw eyes. The distance between your drapery rings will depend on how much you want the fabric to drape between them. If you chose drapery rings without clips, you will need to sew them in place. For a no-sew option, use drapery rings with clips so that you can simply clip them onto the fabric.

7. String the Drapery Rings

Unhook your wire rope from the turnbuckle, string your drapery rings on each side, and reattach the wire to the turnbuckle. Use the turnbuckle to tighten your wire rope.

While there are several steps, this is a pretty simple, DIY project that requires only minimal sewing skills and handiness to accomplish. Now that you have installed your pergola cover, all you need to do is start enjoying your now-shaded outdoor living area.