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Building Insulated Window Shades for Your Sprinter

sprinter van window cover

Insulated window shades for your Sprinter van are a must. Even if you are a diehard “boondocker,” at some point you’ll wish you had some more privacy or you’ll grow tired of the heat leaking through your glass. Once this realization takes place, it is time to procure some window covers for your Sprinter van.

UPDATE: we’ve learned A LOT more about Sprinter van window shades and put together a comparison of ones available to purchase.

Like all things Sprinter van, there are a lot of existing options out there. And also like most offerings for your Sprinter van, you can be easily looking at up $1,400 or more for a full set of window covers.

We’ve already saved over a $100 with our DIY rear door privacy curtain, so I figured lets save some more on window shades. Before we dive in to some of the details, let’s talk about the requirements for covers. (We now make sell for less!)

If you want to just skip to the juicy part, here is the finished product:

Window Shades Requirements

Let’s go over some of our requirements. Your requirements likely differ.

  • They must be insulated.
  • They must use magnets to attach. I don’t want to glue velcro to the inside of my windows and I refuse to use octopus pads, I mean suction cups.
  • They must fold. Every van benefits from improved organization and less clutter
  • Last but not least, the inside material needs to have a homey, non-industrial pattern.

With those requirements in place, let’s dig in to how I built one.

Materials

  • Insulation: True Low-E(TM) premium thickness foil-faced insulation. Not the fake mylar covered stuff. At one point I was considering using wool, but I was scared off by its lack of rigidity.
  • Outside facing material: 400D x 300d diamond ripstop. I went with black because I wanted a blackout effect. We won’t be using ours much during the day so no need to worry about maximizing sun reflection. YMMV.
  • Interior facing material: We went with a great woodland cotton print for a fun, relaxed feel. (We’ve now switched to ripstop for interior facing as well)
  • Magnets: 12mm x 2mm Neodymium rare earth magnets

Step 1: Cut insulation to window size

The first thing you need to do is get a template of the window you need to cover. I started with our stock sliding door window. I awkwardly held up a large sheet of the reflective low-e insulation and marked with a small Sharpie the outlines of the rubber window gasket. I figured I wanted my insulation layer to cover the insulation gasket, but not stick out further so that the magnets could attach to the steel around it.

Step 2: Cutting the fabric and some sewing

I laid our ripstop with the wrong side facing up on a big table. I then laid the cut insulation layer on top of this. Pins held the insulation to the ripstop so things wouldn’t move around. Next, I cut the fabric 3+” larger all the way around the insulation. (You’ll need this extra fabric to sew in the magnets and because the finished product needs to be big enough to reach the steel on the outside of the rubber window gasket.) I used a roll cotter which helps makes the line straighter. Straight lines when sewing make things easier.

Next I laid the cotton fabric on top of the insulation so I had a sandwich: ripstop on the bottom, insulation in the center, then cotton on top. I pinned the cotton in place carefully cut the cotton about 1″ larger than the insulation.

Next I temporarily removed the insulation later sewed three sides of the cotton fabric to the ripstop. Whey three sides? Because you need to be able to insert the insulation later!

Step 3: Mark and cut the panels

Since we want the finished window covers to fold up like an accordion, we need to cut the insulation into panels and sow each one ib individually. My total insulation template height was about 26″. So I made the top panel 6″ wide and the rest 5″. In retrospect, I should have just made them all the same width. My panels run horizontal.

Next I marked out straight horizontal lines across the insulation and used my roll cutter to make nice straight cuts. I now I had six long strips of insulation, each representing one of the horizontal panels. Use a Sharpie to label the panels so you know which one goes where. I just labeled mine 1 through 6 and I knew that number 1 would represent the panel at the top of the window. I also knew the the presence of a number meant the inside facing side.

The fabric needs “pockets” to hold the insulation strips in place. So I used a carpenters chalk line (is there a better tool for this for sewing?) to snap straight lines across the cotton fabric spaced appropriately to accommodate the strips of insulation. 

Time to get the sewing machine out and make long straight sewing runs down the chalk lines attaching the cotton fabric to the ripstop. 

Here is our cotton fabric facing up and the ripstop (black) fabric facing down. At this stage, the cotton as been sewn onto the ripstop and the horizontal lines (see the blue chalk lines) have been sewn. The hems are all still rough at this point.

Step 4: Trim the Insulated Panels

Now that the panel pockets have been sewn, the panels won’t actually fit. This is because attaching the cotton fabric to the nylon doesn’t leave a pocket thick enough to accommodate the insulation. So cut off 1/4″ or so until all of the panels fit. Remember why we only sewed three sides initially? Right, we need to be able to take the panels in and out still.

Top most insulated panel sliding into place.

Step 5: Magnets

Sewing magnets is a pain. They are thick. You can’t stitch through them. When you stitch near them, they want to attach to your presser foot. Furthermore, once they are in the fabric, you can’t have them sliding around. So you can just stuff them into a long hem or seam. Each one needs its own pocket essentially.

Now I’m sure there is a better way to do this. So when you read this and think, “OMG, that isn’t the way to do it.” Please leave a friendly comment explaining to me your approach. Anyway, here is what I did.

Get some wide 2″ painters tape and cut two rectangles the same size. Place a magnet on the tape and then cover it with another piece of tape so that you essentially have a swatch of tape with a magnet in it. 

A magnet ready to be sewn in

Next place the magnets at even intervals along the top of your project, just above the top of the first insulation panel. Fold over the extra ripstop hem covering each magnet swatch and pin in place. My original plan was to pin the nylon hem to the insulation, but I found it was easier and worked better to just fold and hem it to itself right up flush to the insulation. (This also meant I could do a lot more sewing without the insulation panels in place which makes things way easier.) I did a rolled hem so you don’t see any raw cut edges. Before you actually sew anything, take this out to your van and make sure the number and placement of your magnets is going to work out. I put eight magnets at the top, one on each side of each panel going down and two on the bottom.

Take out the insulation panel and sew your top set of magnets in place.

Step 6: Putting in the Rest of the Magnets

Repeat step 5 going around each side of the window curtain. I found the rounded corners to be particularly hard to hem well. Please, expert sewers out there, how can I do this better???

Step 7: Final Placement of Insulated Panels

Now that you have three sides of your window shade all sewn up with the magnets in place, it is time to slide the insulated panels in once and for all. After each one is pushed into place, fold and pin the remaining edge. Then sew up the last hem and your done!

You now have some awesome folding insulated Sprinter van window curtains!

Bonus

I’ll probably sew two nylon straps into mine so that when they aren’t in use, I can fold them up and use the straps to keep them folded. I’ll probably just use velcro on the nylon straps.

Have you made window curtains for your Sprinter (or similar) van? If so, please share your experience with me!

2 thoughts on “Building Insulated Window Shades for Your Sprinter

  1. Well worth a read. Got great insights and information from your blog. Thanks.

  2. Thanks so very much for this! I am going to give the DIY window coverings a try! Do you happen to have the amounts of each material that were needed? Or an easy way to calculate the dimensions of the windows into fabric yardage? Appreciate your sharing and all the help!

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