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Friday, November 22, 2013

Tutorial: How to make a Kite

In China, flying kites is a popular pastime. In fact, the Chinese may have invented kites, though even if they didn't they were the force behind the spread of kite design to the rest of the world.

To read more about the Chinese history and legends of kites, read our post here.

Weeks ago, in getting ready for the Double Ninth festival, the girls made their own Chinese kites. They perused Demi's "Kites: Magic Wishes that Fly Up to the Sky" for inspiration. With rice paper, acrylic paints and thin dowels, we jumped head first into making fanciful Chinese kites. They looked gorgeous! As it turns out, we weren't being very practical.


Their gorgeous Chinese kites - they spent hours making them.
Pea's butterfly kite symbolizes beauty and free spirit; Elle's bat kite symbolizes joy and long life
.
Kite making and flying is a science - many factors determine whether and how a kite will fly: balance, wind pressure, and gravity. You can read more about how kites fly here. Various aspects of kite making determine its success, especially the tow point - the angle at which your kite line is attached to your kite. When making a kite without instructions, you will need to experiment where your tow point should be, and the girls' beautiful kites were not strong enough to withstand the trials. Our other mistake was trying them out in our spacious yard - spacious but surrounded by trees. As the wind goes around trees and buildings, it becomes turbulent, making it difficult to fly a kite. An empty field of sorts is ideal.


The Wright brothers used kites to study aerodynamics

Kites have been patched with lots of masking tape on the back, touched up and hanging as art (next to the tetrahedral kite we made years ago, but haven't even tried flying).
We then decided to try a simpler kite, the classic diamond shaped two stick kite. We were inspired by this, (though we made a single kite):

Above is an example of a train kite - mulitiple kites connected by a line together
Photo Credit: Will Clayton
And finally, over a month later, we flew it. (I kept waiting for the stars to align with good weather, enough wind, both girls at home, and no previous commitments or homework to complete, and the time to go the beach - I ended up going separate times with each girl) I ignored my own advice and took it to a baseball field -- surrounded by trees. As noted above, the trees created too much turbulence. We had much more success at the beach, though luckily it was deserted because it took a few tries to get it going. I wanted to make sure it could fly before posting this :)

Yay! It can fly!


How to Make a Kite


You will need:
  • 1 sheet of standard 8.5 x 11 paper
  • Pencil, ruler, scissors
  • Newspaper (Hubby brought home a Chinese newspaper, and, well, what else was I going to do with it?)
  • Dowel (one 1/8" dowel, 48" long was all we needed, found at Home Depot)
  • Masking tape (there will be a lot of "secure with tape" - make sure it is good tape, and easy to peel off the roll)
  • Glue
  • Twine
  • Spool of quilting quality thread & needle (one with lots of thread)
  • Crepe streamer
  • Measuring tape
  • Paint or markers to decorate the kite
  • Small piece of wax paper (optional)
  1. First, make your template with your sheet of paper. I made a "half" template to create a symmetrical kite, which is important for balance. Using a ruler, trace a diagonal line from top corner to opposite bottom corner, dividing it in half. Keep one half as is, and take the other half to form the top of your diamond - see picture below. Cut to size, and tape the two pieces together. 
Cut along the lines, tape both pieces together
2. Take a standard sheet of newspaper, folded in half. Place template with long edge lined up along the fold of the newspaper. Trace and cut. The length, from top to bottom should be approximately 17 1/4" and the width from left to right should be approximately 16 1/2".




3. Decorate your kite - it is easier to do that now rather then when it has rods in the back. Bright, bold colors will show up more when your kite is high up in the sky. Inspired by the Chinese kite train above, we painted an opera mask. You can download a free printable, ready to color or paint mask here  that can be glued on, or try painting it freehand. Let it dry before attaching rods to the back :)



4. Cut your dowel into two pieces: 1 at 17 1/4" long, and the other at 16 1/2" long. Don't throw out the leftover piece, you'll be using that for the kite reel. Using masking tape, cover each end of the dowels, so they don't pierce through the paper. Lay the two dowels in form of cross using your kite piece as a guide. Using twine, secure the two pieces together where they meet in the middle. Place a piece of wax paper underneath the knotted center, and cover the twine with glue. Let dry. This ensures it stays good and sturdy. I used wax paper underneath so it could be peeled away once the glue dries.



5. Secure dowels in place with masking tape - one piece at all four ends. Cut each corner perpendicular to the dowel so that folding the edge will be easier (see figure B, right image). Take twine, wrap it around the tip of one dowel, then run it around all sides, twisting it securely at each tip, knotting it when you have returned to the first one. Make sure the twine is taut. This forms a frame. Secure the twine at each dowel tip with tape. 

Figure A
Figure B
6. Fold the edge of the paper over the framing twine. Unfold, spread glue over the edges, and press them over the string. Let dry.


7. Attach the bridle string. The bridle is a string about 3 times as long as the kite. The bridle is attached to the kite, in this case at both ends of the spine, and the kite line is attached to the bridle. Cut a piece of thread 53" long. Tie one end of your thread to the dowel at the bottom of the kite. Once knotted to dowel, thread it through the paper, to the painted side. Doing it this way means you will see your image when the kite is flying. Thread the other end of your thread back through the paper at the top of the kite, knotting it to the top of the dowel. There should be hanging thread from the front/painted side of the kite. 



8. Holding the length of thread from the top of the kite, measure down 17". This is your tow point, the point where the kite line will be attached. Tie a loop in your thread at this point (see top right image). If you lift your bridle from the loop, the thread should be shorter near the top of the kite. 

9. Make your kite reel. Rather than pulling it feet upon feet of thread to wrap it around something else (piece of wood or heavy cardboard) - I just used the rest of the spool of thread. I poked the remaining piece of dowel through the center of the spool, making sure there is enough length of dowel on either side of the spool to hold onto, and secured with tape. Attach the thread from your reel to the loop on your kite bridle.



10. Lastly, attach a tail to the kite. We used a paper streamer - actually, we used two :). The tail should be 1 1/2 times the length of the spine - in this case 26" long. I added a much longer tail after having difficulty with the kite spinning in circles -  the second tail is 60" long. Attach the tail to the bottom end of the kite, securing with tape on the back. Make sure it is centered.

It's done! Try taking the kite out for a spin. Despite crashing repeatedly after spinning madly in circles (prior to the 2nd tail), this kite remained resilient and did not need any patching up. The longer, second tail really helped stabilize it. It make take a few tries to get it up - but that is part of the fun. Keep in mind - location, location, location. An open field, with light to medium wind is ideal. And don't forget to never fly near power lines.




You can find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups:
You can find more creative and kid friendly activities at the following linkups:
Entertaining & EducationalBest for Future; AfterSchool Blog Hop
Best4Future Wednesdays

11 comments:

  1. I pinned this one. It's a great tutorial. My kids have tried several times to make kites with little success. I grew up near the beach and always saw people flying kites there.

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    1. The beach was definitely an improvement - I'd love to hear about it if you try making a kite again.

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  2. I agree - it's brilliant! C(9) plays around with making kites often. She made one recently as part of a Cubs competition, and she was quite disappointed with how hers flew (didn't fly!). I am going to share this with her, she'll love it. I'd never really thought much about the science of kites (doh!). Thank you for another inspiring post :-)

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    1. Making a kite that flies really is a challenge - especially not wanted it to rip apart as it's being tested! Newspaper was surprisingly resilient :) If I could have gotten away with it, kite making would definitely have been a science lesson (harder to pull off when they've been in school all week...) - maybe some was learned by proxy. She could probably still get her kite to fly by adjusting the tow point (where bridle meets kite line) even by just a little, or adding/lengthening the tail. I wish her luck!

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  3. This is a really great tutorial! My guys make kites out of plastic bags, straws and wool, with some success. Although I think calling them kites is probably a stretch! I'm definitely going to have them try your method. Thank you, Marie!
    ps Are you a teacher in real life?

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    1. I think they're on the right track - plastic bags really catch the wind - and if I wasn't making a Chinese kite, I think I would have gone that route with a sled design - they seem to be full proof. I think the great thing about kites is there are so many designs and variations - if it flies and you still have a hold on it - then it's a kite to be proud of :)

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  4. This has been on my Want-To-Do list for a long time. Thank you for the great tutorial and for your faithful linking up.

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    1. Thank you for hosting the link up Phyllis! I can't imagine there is anything left on a want to do list for you - you do so much!

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  5. Making kites was on our list for China, but daughter was not interested, and we never got to it. But your post reminded me that now would be a good time to fly our store-bought kite :) Thanks for sharing your tutorial with Afterschool!

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    1. It'll probably be a much easier go with store bought ones!

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  6. Great job.... I want share a kitesurfing school website were kitesurfing lover lern how to launch kite wih proper instruction. http://www.kitesurfingnovascotia.com

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