Outdoor Movie. DIY Screen

It all started with an amazing find for only $3 at our local Goodwill… a vintage school projector screen.  I knew I could do something with it.  Plus, it had the nostalgia factor going…brought back memories of the overhead projector and dittos at school.  Not sure why it reminded me of dittos, but it did.  Remember getting hot off the press ditto sheets passed out at school, and every kid would lift them up to smell them?  Ahh, memories.  My kids have no idea what I am talking about.  I am old.  Anyways, back to the projector screen find.  My husband (on a very rare thrift store appearance) agreed it was cool, so we brought it home and thought immediately of using it for an outdoor movie screen.  Inspired by sites like this and this, I was determined to plan an outdoor movie night for the girls.  Laying out blankets, eating popcorn and sitting under the stars while enjoying a great movie.  Like a drive-in without the car or the commute to the theater.  While we are lucky here in Buffalo to still have  a Drive-In theater close by (within 30 minutes) you just can’t get any more convenient than your back yard!

So, the invitations went out, the movie was chosen (Willy Wonka- the original!) and we did a trial run of the borrowed projector and our vintage screen.  BUST.  Romanced by the nostalgia, we didn’t really think about aspect ratio, the size of the screen vs. the size of a widescreen modern day movie.  Not ready to cancel our party I had to come up with a better idea.  Armed with some spare blackout lining from my latest roman shade sewing project we headed outside to test it out as a movie screen- and it looked pretty good!  A trip to Joann’s was in order to buy enough for our screen and I got to work.  After some research on aspect ratio (google it- it is a real thing!) we determined our ideal measurement would be to use the width of the blackout lining fabric of 54 inches, and a length of around 96 inches.  You can look up aspect ratio here, but we went with a 16:9 ratio.  I purchased 3 yards of the lining to make it easy, and cut it down a bit to 100 inches.  Measurements do not have to be totally accurate, you just want a good ratio between your height and width.  I used PVC pipe to stabilize the top and bottom, using a heavier pole for the bottom to weight it down.  Head to your local Home Depot or hardware store and buy a 1/2 inch PVC pipe, and a 3/4 inch PVC pipe.  Home Depot will cut it for you for free (at least mine did), so go ahead and have them cut each to 100 inches.  The poles cost less than $5 total, and come in 10 ft sections.

At first I planned to use Duck tape and tape a border around the screen and onto the poles, as I found a few online tutorials doing this with white fabric screens.  My instincts told me to sew it, but my husband vetoed that and said- keep it simple…tape it.  I agreed and bought some black Duck tape to mimic a real movie screen and got to taping.  After the tape sticking to itself a half dozen times, and the girls running in and interrupting, and me messing up again I decided this was far from simple!  Yikes.  A big mess.  Trimming a piece of fabric 100×54 in sticky tape is not an easy job!  So, I ignored the tutorials (and my husband) and went up to my sewing room.  I broke it down in case you want to make your own!


the kids at their “drive in” with their decorated box cars


Sorry about the horrible pics- it is really hard to take good pictures at night when you are entertaining a dozen kids (and you are shilling out tons of candy!).  The wrinkles that show up weren’t visible during the movie, and had we set this up earlier than 10 minutes before our party we would have spaced our hooks out farther!  Live and learn.  Also, want to copy the sweet (no pun intended) lollipop balloons?  I used the tutorial here as a guide. I skipped the paint and tape and kept it simple (or lazy).   I bought dowels at Joann’s for 1.00 each, blew up a balloon, placed it into a cellophane bag, twisted around the base of the balloon,  and tied it onto the dowel and just stuck them in the ground.  The balloons and cellophane basket bags (2 in each pack) were from Dollar tree.  Super cheap- I made 4 for only $7, but I still have plenty of balloons left and plan on using this idea again- for Halloween ghosts!  The kids loved these, the perfect touch for a Willy Wonka movie party!



What you’ll need:

3 yards  54″ Blackout Drapery Lining (I used RocLon Budget lining in ecru/white)

100 inches 1/2 inch PVC pipe

100 inches 3/4 inch PVC pipe

White thread

pipe caps to fit pipes (optional)

rope/hooks depending on your mounting situation


1.  Hem your short edges; the 54 inch width using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.  You do not need to double fold the seam, just fold it over once and sew using white thread.  This will be a bit difficult to do given the weight and amount of the fabric.  Do not force it through your machine, I found it helpful to use my left hand to hold up the weight of the excess fabric and let my feed dogs pull it through the machine.  Take your time!  Repeat this with the other 54 inch side.
2.  Create your “pockets” for your poles.  Fold down one side roughly 2 inches and sew.  Again, no need to double fold.  Adjust if necessary depending on the size of your poles.  Repeat on the other side but fold down 3 inches to fit the larger pole.  Be sure to backstitch a few times at the beginning and end of each since these will be holding a bit of weight.

3.  Insert your PVC pipes into the pockets and pop on your pipe caps (optional).  I found them at the end of the PVC aisle, and bought two in each size- 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch for under 40 cents each.  These finish off the look of the poles, and help keep the poles from slipping out of their pockets.  Your screen is done!

4.  Now for the hanging hardware.  We chose to hang ours on the front of our garage.  My husband screwed in two of these type hooks to the wood trim above our garage door.  You could purchase these and just rest the ends of your pipe in the hooks if you have a similar place to hang it, or you could eliminate the pipe caps and slip some rope or string through your pipes and hang from two trees or across a fence or structure.  We simply rested ours on the hooks and it worked great.

Thanks to the fabric being on sale at Joann’s ($4 a yard!) the total cost of this project came under $20.  Can’t beat that!  When you are done simply roll it up around one of your polls and store it away until the next time.  After the fun we had, there will surely be a next time!!


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