Homemade Catenary Tarps

Homemade Catenary TarpsCatenary tarps provide excellent shelter from wind and rain while allowing ample space underneath the tarp. Outdoor enthusiasts often use catenary tarps over hammocks or dining areas; however, catenary tarps do not provide enough protection from the elements to serve as a tent. The catenary tarp is distinguished primarily by the catenary-curve cuts that form the edges and are pulled taut to allow rain run-off. The tarp is draped over a central line to create sloped walls.


Difficulty: Moderate

What to do:

Things You’ll Need:
  • 7-foot by 4-foot silnylon sheet
  • 9-foot heavy nylon cord
  • Permanent marker
  • Sewing scissors
  • Thumb tacks
  • Sewing pins
  • Sewing machine
Step 1
Fold the silnylon sheet in half width-wise and then tack it against a flat wall, so the folded edge is on the left.
Step 2
Position one end of the cord on the left corner of the top edge of the tarp and then tack it on the wall. Pull the loose end of the cord to the right edge of the tarp and tack it at the height you want your catenary cut to resolve.
Step 3
Trace the curve of the cord onto the tarp.
Step 4
Take the cord and the tarp down from the wall.
Step 5
Tack the tarp back on the wall with the folded edge at the bottom. Place six tacks along the top of the tarp to keep the loose edges aligned.
Step 6
Place the cord where the previous catenary curve intersects the top edge of the tarp and then tack it into the wall. Tack the free end of the cord to the top-right corner of the tarp. Trace the curve that the cord creates.
Step 7
Remove the cord and tarp from the wall again. Re-attach the tarp to the wall with the folded edge on the right side.
Step 8
Drape the cord from the top-left corner to the top-right corner and trace the curve that is created.
Step 9
Remove the tacks from the tarp and cord and lay the tarp, still folded, flat on the ground. Attach sewing pins around the edges to keep the tarp from sliding apart.
Step 10
Cut the silnylon along the traced lines. Unfold the tarp; both sides should be symmetrical.
Step 11
Sew triangles of extra silnylon underneath the catenary tarp at each of the six points to reinforce the fabric.
Step 12
Bend one of the nylon straps and sew both ends to one of the reinforced points on the tarp. Repeat this with the rest of the straps along the other points on the tarp and in the middle along the two 7-foot edges. The nylon loops will be used to attach guy lines from the tarp to outside points to stretch the tarp taut.

Tips & Warnings

Add a nylon-webbing trim around the edges of your tarp to prevent fraying and to increase the longevity of the tarp.
Sew a fabric tube down the middle of the tarp on the underside to run the middle line through, so the tarp stays aligned.

Article Written By Jacob Hendriks

Jacob Hendriks' work has appeared in "The Western Front," "The Planet Magazine" and Trails.com. He graduated from Western Washington University with a major in international business management and a minor in Community Health. Hendriks' passion for sports nutrition and fitness, combined with experience as a personal trainer, has led him to pursue health-oriented journalism.

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