DIY: Kite

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Springtime is kite season in the mountains. 

Like they say about the weather here – if you don’t like it, stick around. It’ll change. You’ll enjoy a foot of wet, mashed potato snow one day, and then flip-flops-with-a-fleece the next. The one thing you can count on this time of year is wind – especially on sunny afternoons. Convection currents rise up from the warming earth and meet with cooler temperatures at higher elevations, creating strong gusts racing down the mountainside. This makes perfect kite conditions, and a good “socially distant” way to get out of the house. 

Here is a “Sled Kite” design made with a 50# dog food bag. This material will not rip. Like all heavy-guage plastic that is not recycled, it will not decompose in a landfill during the next, say 500 years, so you may as well give it a second life.  

A few suggestions:

1. Open space is key. Practice fields like the one shown here behind Bridges High School offer big, wide open areas free of trees and power lines. You’ll notice that this shot was taken before the construction of RE-1 School Districts’s Third Street Teacher Housing. There’s still plenty of room here and at fields all around the Valley.

2. Know the launch Code: Parents might control the spool of kite line at first, to avoid rope burn on small, unaccustomed hands. Start with your child holding the kite frame with their back to the wind. Hold the spool and have your helper back away from you into the wind, letting out about 10’ of line. When you feel a gust, your child can lift the kite up overhead to catch the wind. You might run with the wind as it takes hold of the kite. When the kite lifts up, use one hand to control the tension on the line as your kite climbs. Slowly release more line until your kite gains altitude, finding steady winds at a higher elevation. 

3. Share the fun. Once your kite is sailing, hand over the spool and let your child feel the strength of the wind and the bliss of a kite in flight. You may need to steer again when it’s time to reel in your kite. And you may soon decide it’s time to rescue another empty pet food bag from the landfill and make your own kite.

How to make your DIY Up-cycled Kite:

 1 purchase • 3 Steps • 30 minutes

1. Gather supplies. Invest in a sturdy kite spool with at least 500 yards of thread. With this in hand, you are ready to go with a few household items. Spring is pruning season, so this is a good time to trim two 14” thin branches. Remove leaves and small stems so you have two nice, straight dowels. Then get out your empty dog food bag, scissors, yardstick, a marker, hole puncher, kitchen string, duct tape, and discarded yarn or wrapping ribbon for the tail.

2. Measure twice, cut once. After emptying the dog food, remove residue with warm soapy water and wipe dry. It’s a good practice to wash hands before and after handling pet food as well. Now, cut the bag so you can lay it out flat. Measure the dimensions shown above, marking corners first, then draw cutlines. Cut out your kite in one piece. Lay the willow branches where indicated and secure in place with duct tape. Punch a hole one inch from each corner and reinforce it with duct tape. Measure one yard (36”) of kitchen string and tightly knot each end through a corner hole. This is called the Bridle Line. Find the center of the Bridle Line, and attach your kite line to this point.  

3. Get zen. Getting the length of your kite’s tail right has been called a zen art. The tail creates stability by adding weight and drag to the kite’s lower end. The longer the tail, the less it rolls. But if you make it too long, you will add too much weight, causing it to dip. Different wind conditions call for different tails. Experiment. Talk it through with your child. At any age, the aeronautical “ah-hah!” when a kite soars through the sky with its tail dancing behind it is pure magic.

About Kathryn Camp


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