Go Fly a Kite!

What do tulips, robins, and kites have in common? They're some of the first signs of spring, of course. Kites! Those brightly colored shapes dancing in the sky signal the end of winter and the beginning of warmer weather. While many of us think kiteflying is something to do only in the spring, real kite enthusiasts know that any season is a good one in which to fly a kite.

No one knows for sure when or where the first kite was made. Some believe that kites were developed at the same time in many different parts of the world. It's generally thought, however, that the art of kitemaking began almost 2,000 years ago in China. From there it spread to Korea, Japan, Polynesia, India, Egypt, and eventually, to other parts of the world.

We're all familiar with flying kites just for fun, but they serve other purposes as well. Some are flown in celebrations while others are launched to mark religious occasions and holidays. Kites have been flown to gather information, and they've been used in scientific experiments. You may recall the story of Benjamin Franklin's famous kite fly in which he demonstrated the electrical power of lightning!

Today's kites are made of cloth, paper, plastic and other synthetic materials, and they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They range in price from a dollar to hundreds of dollars, but you can save money by making your own kite. If you recycle materials to do this, you'll help conserve landfill space and natural resources, too.

You will need:

  • Large paper for kite pattern
  • Large piece of cardboard
  • Plastic dry cleaning bag or
    • other lightweight scrap plastic
  • Two 36" dowel rods, 3/8"-1/4" diameter
    • or other straight, lightweight sticks
  • Duct or wide strapping tape
  • Kite string
  • Scissors
  • Utility knife
  • Hole punch
  • Marker
  • Yard stick
  • Acrylic paint and brushes (optional)

How to:

There are many different types of kites. Some are very elaborate, and some are flown with two flying lines which allow the kiteflier to do all sorts of tricks or stunts. Others are simple and easy to make like the single line kite described here called the Scott sled kite. Although it was designed by W.M. Allison in 1950, it's named for Frank Scott who spread the word about Allison's kite. The Scott sled flies well in a wind of 5 to 18 mph, and it doesn't require a tail.

Each grid on the pattern shown here is equal to 4 inches. Enlarge the pattern by transferring it to a piece of paper which measures at least 18"x36", and cut it out. To make a more permanent pattern, place the paper on a sheet of 18"x36" cardboard and trace the shape with the marker. Have an adult cut out the cardboard pattern with a utility knife.

Place the long, straight side of the pattern on the fold of the dry cleaning bag, and trace this shape and the v-shaped vent. Keeping the plastic folded, cut out the kite. If you wish, decorate the kite by painting a design or face on the front (make the vent opening your character's mouth). When it's dry, lay the kite face down on a flat surface. Place the dowel rods on either side of the vent, and tape them at the top, center, and bottom, as shown.

The bridle is the string that attaches the kite to the flying line. Reinforce the bridle points with duct tape or other strong tape, and punch a hole in each side. If you prefer, you can strengthen your kite by using grommets. The string for the bridle should measure about four times the length between the two bridle points. You'll need about 15 feet for your kite. Knot the bridle to the kite on each side. Find the center of the bridle, and tie a small loop at this point. Now, attach the flying line to the loop, and go fly a kite!

Tips and Tricks:

Recycle newspapers or preconsumer waste such as newsprint to make your kite pattern, and use a scrap of corrugated cardboard for a more permanent template. If you decide to decorate your kite, substitute leftover latex house paint for acrylics. Use sparingly, because too much paint may keep your kite grounded!

Try organizing a kite festival or contest in your neighborhood or school. Some of the categories could include smallest, biggest, and highest flying kite. Since you'll be recycling materials to make your kites, perhaps your local recycling center will sponsor the event and award ribbons or trophies to the winners.

Kids, don't try this at home! While we may admire Benjamin Franklin for his statesmanship, don't look up to him as a kiteflying role model. You should never fly a kite in a storm. Here are other kite flying tips and rules you should know before launching your kite.

If you want to learn more about kites, there are many good Web pages you can visit on the Internet. Some of the sites list books, clubs, and festivals, while others describe additional ways to make your own kites. Learn how to make kites and fly them in light or zero wind at the Urban Ninja.

The first two pictures are examples of rice paper and silk kites from Tiensing, China. These are typical of the kites that children make out of bamboo sticks, silk, or rice paper.

© 1997 Marilyn J. Brackney (updated 2018)

Volume 5 No. 4

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