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Thursday, February 4, 2016

How to sew a DIY trailer awning

From the moment I first laid eyes on an old school rope and pole awning I knew I had to have one for The Glampette, once she was designed and built :)

I looked at dozens of pictures online and realized there seems to be one woman who is the go-to person for custom awnings within the tiny and vintage travel trailer communities. Her name is Marti and her company is called Marti's Vintage Trailer Awnings.

But, if you have a heavy duty sewing machine, plenty of can-do spirit (basically more gumption than (even) know-how) you can also make your own awning just like I did!

I've actually made two awnings now. The fancy one is made of canvas and has a domed shape to it which will help to divert rain in inclement weather. It also gives me standing room beneath the awning and I added velcro along the edges so that I could hang mosquito net walls when bugs are a problem. Which can be surprisingly often! The mesh can be made of classic mosquito net or noseeum mesh which has even smaller holes to keep out the tiniest of blood-sucking insects.

BTW I think the first time I realized that making a teeny-tiny domed awning was within the realm of possibilities was when I saw this thread by member Doug Hodder on the Teardrops & Tiny Travel Trailers forum. If you're considering a tiny travel trailer the website is an endless resource of ideas, feedback, suggestions, tips, and future friends!

My other awning is a very simple, lightweight, sun/shade design made of an old printed cotton tablecloth that matched The Glampette's yellow fenders.

Let me begin by saying: I AM NOT A SEAMSTRESS! So even though I made a tutorial (and a successful awning or two) there are very possibly definitely things that could have been done in more efficient/professional ways. Also, I'd appreciate your help if you spot any errors in the tutorial. Please leave a comment or contact me so that I can fix or clarify them :)

This is how the awnings attach to the side of the trailer. It's called an awning rail (I ordered mine online from Vintage Trailer Supply) that consists of a single channel that your fabric covered rope or welting slides into to hold the awning in place.

Directly above the awning rail you'll notice a black rubber rain gutter that Fred had the foresight to add above my rear door to keep rain water from dripping straight down and into the trailer. It works VERY well.

The awning took a single day to make. Collecting all of the components took months. LOL

Here is an overview illustration of what the awning consists of (before adding the velcro).
  1. Outdoor canvas fabric
  2. Two fiberglass tent poles that I carefully and slowly trimmed down (with a tiny hacksaw) repeatedly to find the correct fit for the awning to dome properly
  3. Two grommets to drop over two metal tent poles to help secure the awning in place
  4. Rope or welting
  5. I used heavier duty outdoor thread to help prevent damage and wear from being exposed to inclement weather
  6. A heavy-duty sewing machine as I'd need to sew through multiple layers of canvas
  7. Four corner pockets for the fiberglass tent poles to fit into (they are held in place by tension)
  8. A fabric reinforced center with two pieces of velcro sewn into place to secure the tent poles where they cross over
  9. The awning is hemmed on three sides
  10. The fourth side is edged with the fabric covered rope to slide into the awning rail
PLEASE NOTE: The illustrations below are not all to scale. Certain details I've exaggerated simply to make it easier for you to see what is happening. I've also used different color fabrics for the corner pockets, awning, and velcro to make it easier to distinguish between them. In practice you will want to use matching-color fabric and components whenever possible.

This is an overview of the pattern for the grommet corners. Below you can see each step laid out separately. They are not to scale. I made them of equal sizes to allow for close-up detail views.

My hems are 3/4" so I needed a seam allowance of 1.5" for my awning. The overview above allows you to press and pin your hems into place so it's easier to slip in the finished corner pockets once they're ready.

A photo of the corner pocket at work! You can see where the tent pole slides into the reinforced fabric pocket. The velcro (hooks) attached to the awning is tan while the velcro (loops) attached to the mesh is black.

  1. Begin with a rectangle and fold the corners towards the center to create a triangle
  2. Fold the triangle in half to create a smaller triangle that consists of four layers of fabric
  3. Close up detail of how to position the triangle before stitching together
  4. Stitch pattern. Do not make the tent pole pockets too narrow (side to side). You will want/need some extra room to allow for easier insertion of the tent poles.

Here are close ups of how to add the tent pole pockets to the awning.


  • Lay the corner pocket just within the seam allowances
  • Be sure to reinforce the two marked seams with thread that matches your canvas sewing the pocket directly to the awning fabric.
  • The third side I left unattached and found it worked just fine.

4. Refold hem over the tent pole corner pocket.

5. Stitch along the hem to secure the corner pocket in place.

6. I added the added the additional reinforced stitching (shown in green) to help reinforce the contact point with the end of the tent pole as this is where the most pressure will be applied from the poles pushing against the fabric.

7. I will make a separate tutorial in the future regarding the bug walls but for now here's a quick overview of how I sewed 1.5" velcro (hook side) to the underside of the awning over the hem.

On the mesh side I sewed the corresponding velcro loops so when the mesh is in storage it doesn't get caught and snagged on the velcro hooks.

8. Next I used an X-acto knife to remove the layers of fabric and velcro for the grommet. I bought the largest ones I could find but they have turned out to not be heavy duty enough so I will have to find some with longer shafts that can go through 7 layers of (thin) canvas and one layer of velcro.

9. With finished grommet in place.

10. Here is a close up photo of the actual grommet. See how it's bending along the right side? Eventually it will pop off.

The next time I set it up I'll take the time to make a tutorial that shows how the grommets, tent poles, guy lines, and stakes work to help stabilize the awning.

11. A close up of the actual center reinforced fabric and velcro used to secure the tent poles where they cross over. The square of fabric is four layers thick.

Rope and Pole Casing

Here are close up photos of the front and back of the rope side of the awning. It is constructed differently than the grommet end. I had to notch the fabric to be able to encase the rope within the fabric to slide into the awning rail.

Because I didn't have any rope on hand but did have some fabric trim I used it which is why there is an additional edge to the cord. The other awning I made was with a single length of rope I got at my local hardware store. Definitely test the tension before sewing your awning. If your rope isn't thick enough you can add more layers of fabric until it is.

1. Measure the width of your cord x4 to determine how much fabric you'll need to create the casing then double the measurement as shown above. My canvas was very thin so I needed four layers to make it thick enough to fit the rail snugly.

Fold in half.

I didn't finish the cut edge at all because I needed it to remain thing enough to fit into the awning rail. I was thinking I should get some kind of glue that stops fraying but decided it isn't necessary simply because I use the awning so infrequently.

2. Now lay your rope against the lower upper half of the folded over casing (just above the half-way mark) and fold again as pictured above.

3. Now that your rope is encased in the fabric use a zipper foot and stitch as close to the rope as possible. The nice thing about double folding the fabric is now the edge above the rope is a folded edge and not raw edges so I didn't have to do any additional sewing to finish it.

This is what the finished section should look like. Except I would leave additional cord coming off each side. On windy days your awning can blow through the rail if it's not a tight enough fit. I've found taking that extra bit of cording allows me to draw it back under the rail and I can pin it in place with a straight pin to help better secure the awning when needed.

I hope this tutorial is helpful to you! I wish it was better but I am not a seamstress so most of what I did was to try something, then try it again, and again until I got each step just right. If you have any sewing background at all I'm sure you'll put together something much more polished in probably less than half the time it took me to make mine!

Wishing you happy sewing and travels!

If you'd like to learn more about The Glampette check out this blog post and tv interview where she made her first (well, and only) studio appearance.

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