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The History of Shade Sails

The History of Shade Sails

shade sails history


At first glance, shade sails seem like a thoroughly modern invention. Providing protection from the sun and simultaneously being waterproof, they are canopies that protect the people underneath from all kinds of weather. They can even be used on boats and as temporary shades for days out.

You might think that there can be no historical equivalent that provides such flexibility, but that simply isn’t true.

Oddly enough, shade sails or similar shades have been in use for thousands of years. Ancient civilizations including the Egyptians, Syrians, Greeks, and Romans all used pieces of fabric to provide shade.

In Egypt, market stalls were protected from the sun by pieces of fabric that were described as “woven mats”. Homes could be provided with sun protection in the same manner. In the Roman Colosseum, shade was provided with the use of canvas sails that were manhandled by sailors – a true use of sails to provide shade. This was known as the velarium, a fantastical construction made on a timber frame, fully moveable, and highly effective.

Sailors would have understood the benefits that sails could offer for protection from the sun, and so a seafaring nation such as the Romans, Greeks, and others would be perfectly positioned to use sails for an alternative purpose.

As the idea was adopted in homes, the concept travelled across continents with the Roman army, and soon dwellings around the world took advantage of the idea. Awnings that protected entrance ways from heat and rain, handheld parasols that protected individuals, all became possible with a spot of lateral thinking.

By the 19th century, awnings were in use in most countries, with countries around the world beginning to make use of new materials to construct them. Canopies were created with wooden frames, just as the Romans had done, but as the decades progressed, wooden and metal poles became more commonplace.

Adjustable awnings were attached to the front of shops, and the popularity of such sun sails increased. However, for people who enjoyed spending time outside, especially in their own gardens, smaller hand held parasols were ineffective, and the larger awnings used by shops often needed attaching to buildings. A style of portable awning or large parasol was developed, becoming commonly known as the garden umbrella.

This allowed multiple people to be given sun protection at the same time and worked really well as garden dining and entertainment became more and more popular. However, having a central pole to accommodate and the relatively small amount of shade a single parasol can provide means that the modern day market is open to new innovation.

Sail shades began to make a comeback in the 1990s as an inexpensive fabric, known as shade cloth, was developed. The modern fabric is now protected from degradation by UV rays, waterproof, lightweight, and just as capable of providing shade as its ancient counterpart. Click here to find out more.

Popular in hot climates such as Australia, Asia, South Africa and parts of America, the comeback is now very much a part of Europe’s culture too.  Many communal spaces, schools, restaurants and bars have adopted the new UV and waterproof materials and multiple sails hung imaginatively together can provide a real feature whilst providing much needed shelter from the sun.

Shade sails have provided protection from heat and direct sunlight for thousands of years, and modern variations that are fully waterproof can keep you protected from the weather all year round. Decks and patios are enhanced by using shade sails, and there are many ways sun protection can be used in your home, garden, or business.