The History of Shade Sails

Shade Sail on sewing loft floor

You might see shade sails and think they must be a modern invention. They look modern and can certainly add to the modern design of any outdoor space. However, the history of shade sails goes back much further than most would think.

In fact, shade sails or a similar type of shade have been used for thousands of years. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Syrians all used a type of shade created by a piece of fabric.

While shade sails were used by many ancient societies, they were not the same as they are today. The biggest problem most historic societies faced, was the fabric would degrade over time.

Shade Sails Used in Egypt

One of the best examples of shade sails found throughout history is found in the Egyptian markets. Vendors used “woven mats” to protect their goods and themselves from the sun. These shade sails may have been called something else and made of a different fabric, but the general concept was the same.

Roman Colosseum Shade Sails

Another use of shade sails throughout history was found within the Roman Colosseum. The shade sails used in the Colosseum were actually adopted from actual canvas sails from boasts. The sails were attached to a timber frame and this was known as the velarium. The coolest part, they designed the frame and sails to be mobile and it was very effective.

Shade Sail on sewing loft floor

Adopted into Homes with Newer Materials

As societies started to see the benefits of taking ship sails and using them as shade sails, the idea became more common. Shade sails were seen in homes throughout many societies and by the 19th century, they were used in just about every county across the world.

Typically, these shade sails were attached to a wooden frame and were used like a canopy. It was common to find adjustable awnings at the front of stores and the popularity of sun sails became worldwide.

The Pioneer of Shade Sail Technology

Fast-forwarding to more recent times, Austria is known as the pioneer of shade sail technology. It started with tensile architecture showing up at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl in 1959 in Melbourne.

Several years later at Expo ’88 in Brisbane, giant tensile structures called “sun sails” were used to provide shelter for the main pavilions. The technology continues to improve and shade sails became a common option to provide shade for cars, patios, gardens, and many other areas.

New, Inexpensive Fabric Made Shade Sails Popular in the 1990s

A newer type of fabric caused shade sails to become even more affordable and more popular in the 1990s. The fabric is known as shade cloth and it’s used today to help protect from UV rays. Some forms of shade cloth are even waterproof.

This type of fabric allowed for a lightweight shade sail with incredible capabilities compared to the older options. Even though the name of what is known as shade sails today, wasn’t always the same, the concept has remained.

Newer shade cloth originally appeared in South Africa and Australia in the 1990s. Later, this new material expanded to the United States, Europe, and South America. Many of the top shade sail companies are still found in Australia today and exporting to other countries is common.