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Shade-making with canvas and other outdoor fabrics.

Shade-making with canvas and other outdoor fabrics

Dramatic shape, overhead texture, a rich palette of color, and shade protection make fabric-covered structures distinctive and practical elements outdoors. Unlike wall-mounted awnings that shade windows or patios, these inventive, almost sculptural forms stand away from the house, becoming focal points of courtyards, decks, or gardens.

Using outdoor fabrics--old-fashioned canvas and newer synthetic versions--lets the structures take many shapes. The pliable nature of the different materials allows them to be drawn taut into flat planes, to curve gracefully over vaulted skeletons, or to hang and gather like curtains. Their light weight means the supporting structures needn't look massive-- the steel-framed design shown at lower right on page 70 is mounted on wheels and can be easily rolled around by a child. But this doesn't that the structures can have undersized, flimsy framing. The surface area of a fabric shade can equal that of a large mainsail, and the force of wind puts a lot of strain on the fabric and supporting frame. For really large designs, you may be required by code to have a mechanical engineer calculate potential wind loads and spanning strengths of framing materials. (A good awning shop can refer you to experienced professionals.)

Because they're so visible in the landscape but must withstand the rigors of rain, wind, sun, and snow, most awning materials combine the attractiveness of a home furnishing fabric with the durability of an industrial one. Whether a natural or synthetic fiber, it should retain its color and last at least four years. Costs range from as low as $3 per square yard to more than $20. These specialty fabrics are generally found at awning and shade stores.

Four main choices

There are essentially four awning fabrics, listed here from least to most expensive:

Painted or dyed cotton duck (canvas). It comes in solid colors or stripes. The painted type has a cost of acrylic paint on its outer (weather-facing) surface. The paint has a dull finish and leaves the linen texture visible. From the underside, you see a pearl green (sometimes patterned) surface. Because of the layer of paint, the duck is opaque. With normal maintenance, it should last five to eight years.

Dyed duck has the color running throughout the fabric. It can be waterproofed to extend its life, but generally it won't last as long as the acrylic-painted duck.

Vinyl-coated cotton canvas. Its shiny outside vinyl surface shows little or no texture. Available in solid colors or striped (usually white with a primary color), it weathers and cleans well. The opaque, green-colored underside keeps the area beneath cool and shaded. Its life span is four to seven years.

Vinyl-laminated polyester. This sandwiches an open-weave polyester scrim between two layers of painted vinyl. The scrim allows light to pass through, making the area below brighter and warmer than a solid fabric. It's sold in a wide range of colors and stripes, and its underside may be either a color or sand white. The surface has a mat finish and an open-weave texture. Good in humid areas, the material should last five to eight years. Although the scrim is very strong, the vinyl can delaminate if repeatedly folded.

Acrylic fabric. This is the most popular because of its durability, color retention, and soft, woven look. The manmade fiber should last 5 to 10 years. It offers the widest range of colors and stripe patterns, and it's translucent (translucency varies with color). It requires a careful cleaning program to maintain its beauty. An expensive European version comes in 10-foot widths; the domestic product currently measures 31 inches wide but will change to 48 inches later this year.

Three alternatives

These other materials make good outside screens, although they are not quite as durable as the first four:

Ripstop nylon. Though it's often used for sails and backpacking tents, it's not as strong as the other outdoor fabrics and is prone to sun damage unless treated.

Greenhouse shadecloth. Depending on its weave, this blocks sunlight in varying degrees. The synthetic screening can be sewn, takes grommets, and holds up well when exposed to harsh weather and sun.

Urethane-coated nylon oxford cloth. Usually used for light day packs and stuff sacks, it's available in primary colors from sail, tent, and awning makers.

Maintenance is easy

Although the fabrics are designed for outdoor use, they still need a modest maintenance program to make them last as long as possible. Keeping them clean does the most good. Don't allow dirt, leaves, or twigs to accumulate on top--they can cause staining or lead to the growth of mildew. (On the synthetics, mildew grows on the dirt, not the material.)

Sweep them occasionally with a clean household broom and hose them down from time to time. When you need to do a more thorough cleaning, use a mild, natural soap (not a detergent) and thoroughly rinse off all traces.

If you have a collapsible structure, don't let water stand too long in the folds after rain, or else mildew can form. If the fabric fills or bows slightly with water after rain, introduce more tension to the perimeter tie-downs.

Be careful using insecticides and other sprays near the fabrics; they can cause permanent stains and affect the water repellency. And don't barbecue under a fabric shade--there's always a danger of fire and smoke damage.

Photo: Inverted J-shape of bent steel tubing supports a 15-foot-long acrylic-painted cotton duck cover. The graceful carport helps direct guests to an entry bridge leading to Joan Dalton's house in Portland. The 4-inch-diameter tubing ties into the deck's frame. Architect: Laura Migilori

Photo: Steel-framed "shade trees' shelter ferns, camellias, and azaleas from afternoon sun on west-facing side of house. Landscape architect J. Charles Hoffman of Pasadena, California, varied heights from 7 to 8 1/2 feet and top diameters from 5 to 8 feet. Tops have 80-percent shadecloth

Photo: Pleated pentagon of blue acrylic fabric laced to welded steel frame covers poolside ramada in Tucson. Five stuccoed columns support 25-foot-wide structure. Design: landscape architects Guy Greene and Stephen Acuna

Photo: Blue-topped gazebo of acrylic (also shown on cover) in corner of deck has simple wooden framework. The 4-by-4 posts rise 7 feet above deck; a horizontal band of lap-jointed 4-by-6s ties them together; and four 4-by-4s angle from the tops of posts, meeting to form the hip roof. The deck's solid outside walls serve as backrests on two sides; on third side, bench continues near a low platform used for a buffet or extra seating. Architect: James Oliver, Portland

Photo: Roll-around shade has lightweight frame of square steel tubing, cover of acrylic, and locking, heavy-duty casters. Owners Mary and Karrick Collins of Napa, California, designed the 8- by 12-foot structure

Photo: Giant deck umbrella opens on pressure-treated telephone pole by a winch-and-pulley system. Owners Marilyn and Frank Dorsa had to have the 22-foot-diameter acrylic umbrella engineered to withstand wind loads--it has double stainless steel spokes and fiberglass rod ribs. Frame: Frank Santos; top: Stan Cotton; deck: Rick Guidice

Photo: Undulating bands to blue-and-white cotton duck can be drawn over swimming pool courtyard. To make awning easier to move, it's divided into three 16-foot-wide sections suspended on stainless steel wires. Grommet holes let rainwater drain from folds. Owners: Frances and Vladimir Sabich of Colusa, California

Photo: Graceful spire caps tent-like structure sheltering a Seattle deck. Custom-made shell is coated nylon cloth used for sleeping-bag stuff sacks; it secures to house and nearby posts with nylon cord. Plywood base secures 24-foot-tall pole of 2-inch PVC (left); pole is reinforced by four tension wires and a steel pipe in the center. Owner/builder: Bill Edwards
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Date:Aug 1, 1984
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