Stephanie Brown made her first kite 11 years ago, when she was four.
"It was made out of toothpicks and stamps," she recalls. "It flew for a few minutes and then the stamps fell off."
Since that time, Stephanie has made hundreds of kites, some of which have won prizes at the Smithsonian's Annual Kite Festival. This year, however, she has opted for helping other people get their kites together at a workshop sponsored by the Smithsonian Resident Associates.
"Your frame is finished," she tells a boy about her age. "I'm going to make a mark where you should attach your bridle."
Stephanie's dad and her mother are also helping out at the workshop, under the direction of Paul Garber, Historian Emeritus of the National Air and Space Museum, and outspoken kite enthusiast. Garber, wearing a cobbler's apron and a button that says "Go fly a kite," is helping 10 year-old Michael Klinglesmith make an India fighter kite out of a scarf Michael bought at yard sale. First, the scarf must pass the blow test. If you can feel your breath as you blow through the scarf, the material is too porous. As long as it passes the blow test, cloth makes a better kite than paper, says Garber.
"Cloth forms a keel and gives a kite longitudinal stability," he says, demonstrating the quality in several sample kites at one end of the room.
At tables around the room people are working on kites of various sizes and shapes.
"What kind of kite? It's just a plain old kite," says six-year-old Shelby Ross, although Stephanie explains that the plain old kite is really an Eddy kite.
"It's also called a two-stick dimensional," says Stephanie. It was designed by William Eddy. His daughter had a lot of his original kites when he died, and Mr. Garber talked her out of one. It's now in the Air and Space Museum."
Bill Bigge is making the strangest kites of all. To demonstrate, he dumps one out of a cereal box and it wafts slowly down to the table. The mini-kite, he explains, is made of microfilm, a substance he's teaching 17-year-old Frederick Hostrop to make. The two spread a few drops of nitrate dope on a pan of water and then lay a frame around it and wait for the film to harden.
"They're indoor kites," explains Stephanie. "They're so light that even heat from bodies in a room will make them fly. I made one once and walked by an air vent with it, and it got sucked away."
"Kites are frustrating," announces 13-year-old Charles Seljos. "Just a second ago I cut a notch in the end of the stick for the string, and when I put the string in it, the stick broke."
"Do you want to glue for a while, Mom?" asks 11-year-old Stacy Colby, who is wearing a cast because of a broken hand but who already has finished the frame of a very large kite and is glueing the paper to the frame.
"This is our first kite," says Stacy's mother, when the job is done. "And if it flies, we are definitely going to enter it in the contest."
A more immediate question, however, is whether the kite will fit into the family car.
"Measure the car before you make the kite," says Stephanie's mother, Margo Brown. "We learned that a long time ago. You make the kite to fit the car."