Introduction: Affordable Outdoor Movie Screen for Under $50

Down here in Texas we don’t get a lot of pleasant outdoor weather that doesn’t include hungry, mammoth-sized insects.  When Fall and Winter come around we try to make the most of it.

This instructable will show you how to make a quality, affordable, stowable, movie screen for outdoor viewing—for under $50!

Things to note.

1. This is NOT a free-standing screen frame.  It mounts on the wall of your house or garage. I used the wall of my house that is on the patio as I have 16+ feet between the screen and yard which produces a sufficient sized picture. 

2. This will achieve a screen height of 4 feet.  Beyond that size, you are special ordering cloth or would need to stitch two pieces together.   The former is expensive; the latter, sloppy-looking.

Step 1: Materials


• (1) 1 3/8” wooden dowel @ 96” length (approximately $12)
• (1) sheet of blackout cloth from fabric store.  It comes at 4.5 ft. width, and I had it cut to 9 ft. overall.  ($20)
• (2)  1 ¼” wood screws ($0.30)
• (2) small “D-ring” picture frame hanging hooks
• 26 ft. of non-shock absorbing cord, trotline or similar.  I used ¼” cord for the stays and trotline for the center support (about 1 ft. of it).
• (1) Bostitch grommet kit (includes punch tool, washers, grommets, and flange tool)
• (3) 1 ¼” screws and plastic anchors suitable for brick (or wood as your case may be)
• Level
• Drill with masonry bits (I used 1/8 as a pilot and ¼ to widen appropriately for the anchors)
• Scissors
• Sewing machine
• Pencil
• Straight edge
• Straight pins

Below is an image of the D-rings used.

Step 2: Prepare the Screen

The screen has a rubbery texture to one side and the white viewing surface on the other.  I recommend working with the fabric indoors on a clean surface that won’t scratch it.  I measured and marked my on a large area rug.

If the fabric store cuts smoothly you should really shouldn’t have to cut.  My store cut just about 1” longer than my dowel that I left alone as it masks the hooks on either end.

You need to sew the “tube” into which your dowel rod will slide.

On the backside, measure approximately 5 ¼” in from the top (or bottom as it makes no difference) and draw a line the length of the screen.  This will be the line to which you fold over and sew along.

I went with the shortest loss of fabric when folding over, but I was also concerned about making the “tube” to snug for the dowel to slide in easily.  5 ¼” seemed to work for both concerns.

After the pencil mark is made, fold the fabric over to the backside (so the edge of the fabric after sewing is not facing the viewers) and pin it about every 12” or so.

I used our dining room table to lay out as much of the fabric as possible on the table for ease of sewing as that is not one of my better skills.  You can also “roll” up the lower end of the screen to make it easier to handle while sewing.

Mark the center of your fabric and make a hole ( a simple scissor snip will work ) on what will become the backside of the dowel at about 11 o’clock.    This is for the center support, but you don’t want a hook mounted here as it might damage the fabric when rolling for storage.

There are a lot of ways to thread this.  I would recommend pushing a “loop” into the sewn tube of fabric and pull it out to tape around the center of the rod.  As you slide the rod into the fabric, take up the slack of the string.  When you are finishing you’ll have a “tie” coming out of the middle of your screen to tie to the middle anchor on your wall.

Step 3: Preparing the Dowel

I used #6 screws and just tapped each end of the rod with a 1/8” bit for ease.  The D-ring hangers I used are just long enough to reach the wall before moving up to the next size.  In retrospect I see you could drill slightly off-center (matching at each end of course) to prevent any reaching and slipping by the hook

Step 4: Making the Grommets

I went with seven grommets across the bottom.  One at each corner, one in the middle, and then divided each half up evenly.  The Bostitch kit was easy to use and very fast. 

NOTE:  One side of the grommets used will show slight imperfections after you’ve hammered it into place.  I recommend putting the “washer” piece of the two parts on the backside, leaving the cleaner looking side toward the audience.

Step 5: Mounting the Anchors

Measure the minimum height needed from the bottom of where you want the screen, and mark the wall.  Next, measure the left/right distances.

I just held up the rod to see where it looked best and marked from there.

Using a small 1/8” bit I worked a pilot hole into the brick.  I carefully repeated the process of small bit for depth / larger bit for widening, until I was able to secure the plastic anchor in the brick with minimal pressure.

Use a #2 Phillips to tighten the screw leaving enough room to hang the D-ring hook.

Use your ruler to measure the distance from a mortar line to the first screw to judge how high the second should be.  Running a string with a line level is also helpful.

The third anchor is to prevent bowing in the dowel rod.  You can hang the rod up and see where your cut/string are lined up, and then mark and drill your last anchor.

Step 6: Tie the Stays

I used a grinner knot on the cord as it’s strong without being a permanent knot. 

I found the easiest way to tighten the stays was to simply lift the brick slightly and pull the strings until the screen’s wrinkles came out then lower the brick.  Make sure to pull evenly on each side and not straight across from one side to the other.

Step 7: Stowing


1. lift the bricks to free the lines
2. gently lift the rod from the wall
3. roll the screen such that the rubber side is outward to protect it.
4. Consider rubber bands or use the stay cords to gently cinch it up to prevent unwinding.
5. The fabric store has bags that are nearly as long as your rod.  Ask for a second back and slide one over each end.

Step 8: Enjoy