How to Make a Skylight Shade

Before You Begin

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

Measurement A

Measurement A between outside edges of both cafe rods
Measurement A between outside edges of both cafe rods

Measurement C & D

Measuring for your shade

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 “C”) 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. If you want the shade a little looser add 1/4" to 1/2" to this final calculated length. 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 C is 1 ¾” then you’ll want to cut at least one length 51” (long 44” plus 4 x 1.75”). 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”. See diagram. 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.

Skylight shade hanging from one rod with the second rod in and the shirring even between the 2 rods
Skylight shade hanging from one rod with the second rod in and the shirring even between the 2 rods
You're done - you can tell that a lot of light still comes in but the direct heat is gone
You're done - you can tell that a lot of light still comes in but the direct heat is gone

Hanging the shade

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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Comments 23 comments

Donna 6 years ago

Hi Peggy, Nice job on the skylight shade. I did this same treatment in my last home but my new house style seemed to call for a more tailored look so in this house, I measured a piece of linen that fit the opening exactly so it has a flat un-gathered appearance. This approach works well for modern spaces. Thanks for sharing your photos and tips.


Muse Peggy profile image

Muse Peggy 6 years ago Author

I agree that the basic concept can be modified to fit the décor of the room. That was a great addition - Thanks.

emtdmm 6 years ago

After researching the shocking price of manufactured skylight shades, this is a great idea. I will also be making my own. Thanks for posting your brilliant idea.

Muse Peggy profile image

Muse Peggy 6 years ago Author

That was exactly why I did it too. I can think of many other things I'd rather do with $500-$1000 than put it up in the skylight well. Good luck.

Gretchen 6 years ago

Thank you! So easy I dont' know why I didn't think of this BEFORE my $550 electric bill this month!!

Beatrice 5 years ago

How do you get them open and closed easily? Our skylights are quite high up, and even with a step stool the upper portion of the skylight is difficult to reach.

Thanks for a great article!

Muse Peggy profile image

Muse Peggy 5 years ago Author

Hi Beatrice - I don't 'open and close' the shade, merely put it up in the spring and take it down in the fall. It filters the strong summer sun and the kitchen is still very bright, I don't need to put the lights on during the daylight hours. I imagine you could come up with some kind of system with traverse rods and wands if you wanted to make something less expensive with opening ability. I just don't need that feature. Good luck.

June 5 years ago

Thank you for posting this. I had a similar 'make do' system for years just using old sheets over expandable rods (the ones that you screw and unscrew to get the right length...spring loaded). I didn't think about using 2 I just placed it so I could still reach the opening mechanism. I was just looking for ideas to make new ones...and I think your ideas are great. I like the cafe rod reinforced and if I make 2 panels, I can still get my opening rod into the mechanism to open or close the skylight. Mine are in a cathedral ceiling (2) and 1 in a kitchen nook I can reach by standing on a chair. God Bless you for helping us all save money!

Becky Puetz profile image

Becky Puetz 5 years ago from Oklahoma

Thank you for writing about how to make an inexpensive skylight shade. I have been pricing the ready made ones and they are very costly. Even though I do sew, it didn't occur to me to make my own. I'm definitely going to use your guide and make one. I like the dowel inside the rod idea too, I think it will work much better for me and the look I want to achieve. You have saved me a great deal of money by writing this Hub and I truly appreciate your help. Thanks for a well written, AWESOME Hub.

alwc1020 5 years ago

thanks for the tip on creating your own skylite cover; my problem is that my skylites are one story high with one being over a stairwell; I can only think of getting an in-house painter to come in to place a shade over my skylite specificially the one over the stair well; any other ideas on this?

Muse Peggy profile image

Muse Peggy 5 years ago Author

Hi alwc1020 - you'll need a very tall ladder at the least and possibly scaffolding. I don't know if a handyman would be worth it twice a year to get up there and hang it then to take it down and put it back up. I take mine down for the winter as the sun is low in the sky and then put it back up in the spring. If you want to make it before you call the handyman, you can make it longer than necessary and it'll just have a bit of a belly to the shade. I did that this year when my original one (in the photos from this site) wore out due to sun exposure. Good luck, let us know what you did, it'll help the entire community of skylight owners :)

ryanmicosa 4 years ago from Irvine

hanks for the tip on creating your own skylight. I do prefer self-services to have the maximum exposure to quality and accuracy in installation. A very well read.

MIcah Grande 4 years ago

I like your creativity and the whole concept of this project. Ive been looking for a cheap skylight window curtain but its way too much to spend for only one window but after studying this project carefully it gave me an idea on doin the exact same thing you did and plus i can put a different color fabric to match my curtain on my kitchen. Brilliant and smart idea! JOB WELL DONE!

Muse Peggy profile image

Muse Peggy 4 years ago Author

Keep in mind that if you use a 'color' its going to color your light that color as well. After a few years depending on how much sun you get you'll find you need to make a new one so keep your measurements. I already made the replacement for this one and made it looser and like that 'look' as well.

Gena 4 years ago

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Just what I was looking for. The idea was lightly in my head (Hummm, I am a little light headed!) But you spelled it out for me. I just read your instructions and am looking forward to trying it. I live in a rented mobile home (55+ community) with 3, yes 3! skylights. Hot as the dickens here in Texas in the summer. Thanks again.

Muse Peggy profile image

Muse Peggy 4 years ago Author

Gena - you may want to use black out fabric even or put a tin foil based product over the skylight from above. I lived in Texas and know how HOT it can be there. We're in Seattle area and so don't have to totally keep the sun out but you might want to. Good luck.

Becky 4 years ago

Great idea! I look forward to doing something similar with my kitchen skylight. I think I'll try using a painter's canvas drop cloth (a 5' x 9' cloth is available at Lowes's for about $11 here in Arizona). Thanks again for the idea!

Muse Peggy profile image

Muse Peggy 4 years ago Author

Becky - that sounds like a great idea. I don't know if you can post a photo of how it looks but if you can please do. Is your kitchen skylight that large? I've actually found the polyester sheers in various textures etc. in the clearance or with a coupon to be very reasonable to make - $10 or less generally and my skylight is 4' x 4' so generally make it with whatever width of fabric I can get that is greater than 4' wide so there is some gathering. I had to remake the one in the photo here - they don't last long so hold on to your measurements as the sun will ruin them in a couple years and you'll need to make a new one. I made my second one much looser so it has a belly and I like that look as well.

akapc 4 years ago

Hi - great idea!

Rather than use a sheer, which ouold not block much light, I used 80% shade cloth (available online) - I got the knitted variety rather than woven and I got black which is easietr to see through. A piece of shade cloth that's 10 by 12 cost me about $25, shipping about $8.

Our skylights them selves are 2' by 4' but while the width of all skylights and wells is two feet, the length of the lower (ceiling) end of the well varies from 4' to 8'.

I used cafe-style tension rods that expand from 18 to 28 inches (list $4.99 at Bed Bath and Beyond, less with the coupons), so I didn't have to do any installation of hardware. I stitched two rod pockets in each end, one on the end to make a sort of flap to close any gap between the rod and the side wall of the well, and one farther from the end to put the rod in. I measured the length of each well at the ceiling. The flap on the end gives a little leeway. I hemmed the sides of five of the eight and was disappointed that the side hems sort of curled in, which allowed enough sunlight to creep in and heat he room up.

Just to get the other three up fast (it's really hot here right now!), I left them wider than necessary by about 3-4 inches on each side and just threw them up. I could accommodate any mismeasurement (in haste) of the length by deliberately making them a bit short and then pushing the tensino rods up into the well (which has slanted sides) until the length was right.

These three turned out better than the hemmed ones, because they don't curl up and there is no gap.

The shade cloth allows me to see the trees and clouds and sky, but cuts the heat gain quite a lot. In fact, before, the sunny spot on the floor was quite hot and now it's not hot at all.

I was thinking I would want these shades all the way up, which would be hard for some of the skylights because they are higher on the roof, by the ridge, so it would take a tall ladder and someone to steady it. So I just put them a little bit above the ceiling level, where I could reach them with a short ladder or even a chair. They look fine - saving money looks even better!

In the winter, when I will want the heat gain, I can just pull them down.

Total cost for 8 skylights was about $100. I expect that I will save that on my air conditioning bill in a couple of months.

Thanks for the idea! If I can figure out how to post a photo, I will.


Muse Peggy profile image

Muse Peggy 4 years ago Author

Hi Anne - great ideas for our readers. I live in a more moderate area and didn't want to block the light that much. I don't need to turn on lights in my kitchen during the day but in places where the heat is greater I think using a 'black out' fabric might be worth it. It costs a lot more to A/C than to light. I wasn't going to use tension rods because I've had them lose their tension and fall and didn't want to have the shade fall on my head. I hope yours hold up. Thanks for sharing, it's really a concept that can be adapted to suit the situation, I did my part just getting people thinking.

akapc 4 years ago

You sure got me thinking! And it's working well and yes, saving some $$ in air conditioning. We are in Maryland - not the tropics or desert but it has been really hot lately.

BTW, this is not actually "black-out" fabric, which would let no light at all through. The shade cloth lets plenty of light in - I don't have to light the place during the day - and I can still see the clouds! :-) I will let you know how long the tension rods last... For $3.99 each, basically, or $7.98 per skylight, I am thinking I would rather replace them than go to the hassle of permanently installing the hardware. We'll see, though! And thanks again for the great idea. I can post photos but I can't see how on this site...

Julie Riley 4 years ago

Hi Ladies,

Good work but if you don't block the sun on the exterior your window will still transfer heat into your home. I make skylight shades and they do not cost anywhere near the prices you imagine. A 4' X 4' shade is $110.00 and much more efficient then a curtain.


Muse Peggy profile image

Muse Peggy 4 years ago Author

Julie - thanks for posting another option for people. I think for some of the people who have looked at my post your option would be a better alternative but they would lose the light as well. Where I live cutting the direct light on my head did keep the heat off my head which was my objective. We aren't burning up like most of the country and I love the light in the room so no need to turn on lights which saves some money and since we don't need A/C I think it's fine for a milder climate. Thanks for sharing another option for people.

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