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I'd like to create my own outdoor canopy for my small deck. This canopy is going to be a large swathe of fabric that will attach to a wall and the deck fence, creating a sloped shade. What are good fabric options for this sort of purpose?

Things to note:

  • I don't care if the fabric is waterproof because I'm planning on only extending the shade when I'm underneath it, and I won't be going outside in the rain
  • I do want the fabric to be able to dry relatively quickly
  • I don't want the fabric to totally obscure the sunlight, I'd like partial shade
  • Ideally I would like to be able to sew additions to the fabric without special tools like an industrial sewing machine
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  • 1
    Just a side-comment: You should strengthen the seams all around the canopy to prevent it from tearing. If there's a weak spot at the side, a single gust of wind can tear your canopy in half.
    – Elmy
    May 6 at 11:31
  • Just a thought on the last bullet that you added (re: need for special tools). It isn't clear what you would consider a special tool. Some tough commercial canopies and tarps are sewn with very heavy thread and benefit from an industrial-grade sewing machine if this is an ongoing requirement (a factory producing them). But pretty much any sewing machine can be used on these fabrics, and won't be adversely affected by a one-time project. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    May 11 at 22:23
  • You can compensate if your machine can't handle heavy enough thread for the job by using multiple stitches. You are looking to create something and it needs to hold up in a demanding environment. If you select fabric based on it being easy to sew with the tools you have, you may end up with the disappointment of a wasted effort if the result is quickly damaged. An outdoor canopy is exposed to surprisingly harsh demands (intense UV that damages many materials, wind that carries a lot of force, etc.). (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    May 11 at 22:23
  • If the choice comes down to two fabrics, both suited to the task, and one is easier to work with, go with that. But start with fabric adequate for the task rather than a random fabric that's easy to work with. Any fabric will cost you something, and you will invest almost the same amount of your time regardless of the fabric chosen. It would be a shame for the result to be short-lived.
    – fixer1234
    May 11 at 22:23
  • @fixer1234 I did mean tools like an industrial strength sewing machine, I have a regular one. I'm not thinking of constructing the shade from pieces of fabric - ie it will be one large piece - but I am thinking of attaching trimming.
    – jackwise
    May 13 at 17:05
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There are fabrics of different materials and weaves designed specifically for that purpose. They hold up to UV and wind, dry quickly, are resistant to abrading through where they are secured or in contact with supports, and offer different levels of light filtering. They are sold as "outdoor canopy fabric" and "awning and shade fabric". Here are a couple of links to get you started (I'm not personally familiar with these specific products): Amazon Outdoor Canopy Fabric and Sailrite Awning & Shade Fabric.

I would expect that you could use a regular sewing machine to attach trimming to virtually any of these fabrics. The fabrics are often a bit thick and heavy-duty, but they are still cloth, and many upholstery fabrics are thicker. An industrial sewing machine isn't needed to perform the sewing for a one-time job. But it would be used in a factory setting making canopies, mainly because it would have a much longer service life under those operating conditions and workload.

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If you want a cheap option, second hand tents and tent-like tarps.

New tarps are available but those will be expensive if you only want to use them as fabric.

Sails of smaller boats or surfboards can also be used.

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  • For a simple rectangular canopy, a premade tarp would work as-is, no assembly required (although maybe not the most attractive material). Places like Harbor Freight have a big range of sizes that are inexpensive (often cheaper than buying fabric for DIY). Used parachutes are another outdoor fabric possibility; they're huge, strong, and light-weight material, but you'd have to hunt for a bargain since even used ones typically aren't cheap. They're often available from military surplus sellers.
    – fixer1234
    May 11 at 22:58
  • The tarps I indicate are of nice fabric. If the right size and shape they can be used as is. But so can sails.
    – Willeke
    May 12 at 3:44
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looking for quality materials?

When it comes to canopy top materials there are three main options; polyester, polyethylene, and vinyl...

Optional: You need to consider things like durability, water resistance, UV protection, and *fire resistance* in order to make sure that you are getting the right cover for what you need.

Polyester

is the most commonly used material in instant canopies because it is durable and water-resistant. Remember to check the denier of the fabric, the thicker the material the tougher it will be. This material will provide UV protection but it will be minimal.

Polyethylene

is going to be the most common material in carports and other semi-permanent structures. This is because the material is UV resistant...

Vinyl

Vinyl canopy tops are actually polyester fabric with a vinyl coating. The coating makes the top UV resistant, waterproof, and most are flame retardant. Vinyl tops can be very heavy, which is the true downfall of a vinyl canopy top.

color matters

Once you finish deciding the material selecting the color comes next. The lighter-colored tops are often the most favored because they will not absorb heat, keeping you cooler underneath. The light canopy tops however will get stains due to the dirtiness of the environment. [Source][1]

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