Kai's Kite Site: Applique Workshop

Copyright 1996-2009 Kai Griebenow, all rights reserved.

The logo of Kai' Kite Site is a real kite, a Black Orchid Fighter. It was done in the technique I describe below. This technique is often referred to as Randy Tom technique. I got hints from severall people and the following is some of my collected knowledge on the subject. I probably do things a little bit different than other people - a number of slightly different approaches work very well. This technique (with variations) is used by Randy Tom, Sandy and Ron Gibbian, Jose Sainz and other extraordinary kitemakers to create their masterpieces.

A number of people asked me in the past on kite festivals how I do applique work for kites. I told them that it is very simple, explained it....and also thought it might be nice to do a small applique workshop on the world wide web. In this workshop I will use two Fighter kites to explain the technique. Applique is very material invasive and often you will need 4-5 times more ripstop than you have sail area. If you want to save material use patchwork techniques.


First, you need a motif. I can't really help you there. Normally I draw all my stuff by hand on medium weight tracing paper. I use a black permanent marker to do so. That allows me to transfer the drawing easily on white ripstop. If you want your motif symmetrical, draw half of it and fold the tracing paper, then draw the other half. If you don't feel confident and you don't think you can draw something yourself, get a projector like an art projector or slide projector. I use the first item because I am normally too lazy to make slides. I just use it to enlarge my own drawings but you can also use it to copy drawings (please note that you shall not violate the copyright of other people). You can then either directly project anything on white ripstop (see below) or on tracing paper (to make changes to it).


Transferring the Motif onto White Ripstop

 When you want to use the technique I describe here you need to transfer the motif on white ripstop. For small kites, when the motif is on tracing paper, you just layer the ripstop over the motiv and transfer it with a black pencil onto the ripstop. Use a black coloured pencil and don't be shy to use plenty so that you really see the lines very clear on the white ripstop. If you want to enter the kite in competitions you later use a zigzag stitch with small stitch length and no one will see. If your motive is much smaller than the kite, project it onto white ripstop you taped to a white wall.



Attaching the Colors


In the next step you have to layer the colours onto the white ripstop. You need a table with a glass plate. A light table is nice - but not necessary. I don't have one :-(. You layer the lightest colour on white first, and then progressiveley darker colours. Some people like to use glue so that the pieces don't slide. 3M No. 75 (medium sticky) is recommended or 3M Spray Mount (slightly sticky). Don't use 3M No. 77 (mega-sticky...). The disadvantage of these methods is that you have later to clean the whole kite back with rubber cement thinner. I hate that. Further, the solvents that evaporate when you spray are not really very healthy.....you need to air the whole room. They are also flammable - and since I smoke I don't like that either. Consequently I use hot tacking with a sailmakers hot tacker. It has a very fine tip and a spring at the end and is really expensive.....(70$). I lay the colour pieces on the white ripstop and very carefully, at a few points on the black drawing lines, attach the colours.  When you are finished attaching the colours, put a large piece of black ripstop on the glass plate on the table. For Fighter kites these are the black sail templates I cut beforehand. Now you put the pack of coloured and white ripstop on top of it. You end up with a sandwich: black on bottom, colours in the middle, white on top. Now follow your drawing lines on the white ripstop with a hot tacker. Tack every inch or so, when doing large pieces use smaller distances. After this you can start sewing :-). Note that the images of this section just show two pieces tacked together: black and white for a LineCutter Fighter. The sewing picture below shows you a real sandwich and you can see the colours inbetween black and white (on top) ripstop. 



I use a zigzag stitch to sew the whole applique together, stitchlength and width 2 (on a Singer). Using these settings you won't see the black drawing lines on the back of the kite (on the white ripstop). Use the white side of your sandwich on top and just follow all the lines of the drawing. Don't forget some lines. It happens once in a while - you normally see that during the step of release cutting and have to go back to the sewing machine - I like to take such templates on travels with a little scissor and often can't do that. 


Release Cutting


Now the step requiring most time and concentration comes, the cutting step. I use small embroidery scissors for the cutting and carefully slide the slightly opened scissor along the seams. One trick that helps getting an equal distance from the seams is to put some tape on the handle of the scissor to keep it slightly open all the time. You won't get cramps in your hand either :-). I start cutting all the black stuff away from the front. Then I cut the colours layer by layer away. Hold the applique in the light frequently - sometimes two layers of ripstop produce nice mixed colours that you may like. After this step your applique is finished and you just have to build the kite around it :-). 

Some more Tricks

Large kites need large appliques. One should not make an applique too detailed. Kites fly high and you won't see the details anyway.

For very large kites break the applique up into small pieces that are later combined. It isn't nice to work with very large sails in the sewing step because the hot tacking may open up. If you don't like that you have to use spray adhesive. Sandy and Ron Gibbian often use this approach in their works.

I am still thinking about more.......


The Result

If you do all that I described and you get very excited, it may happen that the product invades your home. As you can see below a swarm of Black Orchid Fighters invaded my living room and occupied the sofa. Now they are all gone (mostly in auctions or to friends as a trade)........time for a new round :-). 


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