When the March winds rise, a spontaneous rite of spring sends 30 million adults and children like lemmings in search of a kite.
At store counters you can choose from the simple diamond shape to the complicated tetrahedron, and pay from a few dollars to a lot of dollars. But with a little effort and materials scrounged from your kitchen, you and your child can send your own creation soaring. It's an unforgettably magic moment.
Washington's kite suppliers suggest two simple kites that do not resemble the familiar diamond, but are actually easier to build and more dependable fliers.
Chuck Bernstein, owner of The Kite Site in Georgetown, likes the sled kite, which requires only string, tape, a garbage bag and two dowels to become airborne. The covering can be almost anything -- garbage bags, rice paper, brown wrapping paper. Depending upon your choice, the kite can be decorated with watercolors, acrylics, magic markers, etc. Remember that wet paper rips easily, so if a preschooler is involved, use soft brushes. Thin your paint to avoid globs which might affect later flight. To eliminate these potential problems altogether, use magic markers. Suppose your kite is to be 24i from top to bottom; then you'll need a piece of covering material about 24i x 28i. Fold it in half, making a rectangle 24i x 14i; measure down 8i on the open side and from this point, cut a straight diagonal to each end, 7i from the folded center line. Unfold the material and spread it out flat. Tape the two dowels (3/16i by 24i) on the decorated side of the kite, from top to bottom, using four or five pieces of clear tape on each dowel. The dowels should be 14i apart.
Reinforce the corners with strapping tape or clear tape on both sides of the kite material, like a sandwich. Trim the tape to match the edge of the kite and punch a hole in each corner. Take a piece of line about six feet long and tie one end in each corner. Make sure the knots don't slip. Find the middle of this string and tie a loop there. This is the bridle string, and it determines how the kite meets the wind. If your kite dips to either side in flight, you haven't found the middle of the bridle string and you need to adjust it. The sled kite flies well in both moderate and strong winds.
Charles Kiser, owner of the Family Bicycle Shop in Capital Heights, has developed a simple kite that a nine-year-old can make with some adult assistance, but that can be flown by an enchanted four-year-old. The design is a garden-variety pyramid kite originally developed by Alexander Graham Bell. Bell once strung together 3,393 of these pyramid cells in an unsuccessful attempt at manned flight.
To build this kite all you need is plastic drinking straws at least nine inches long, carpet thread, plastic curtain rings, rubber cement or clear tape, a nail, a darning needle, and plastic wrap or bread bags.
Begin by threading six straws together. Tie one end of the thread to the nail and drop it through the straws. The straws should be threaded in this sequence: one, two, three, four, five, then thread through straw two a second time (entering at the intersection of straws two and three and exiting between straws one and two. Now thread through straw six and come back to straw four. Enter through the intersection of straws four and five and exit between straws three and four. Keep the thread and the threaded straws clearly separated on your working space and this step will be easier. The accompanying drawing, showing how the finished kite should look, may help you visualize what you're supposed to be doing.
Draw both ends of the cover over the straws and trim off any excess covering. Next attach a 12i bridle string to the top of your central covered straw with a darning needle and carpet thread. Loop a plastic curtain ring through the string at a point about three inches down the bridle string. Attach the other end to the bottom of the same central straw. Attach your fly line to the curtain ring. This kite flies well in mild winds. Kiser has free plans for building more complicated tetrahedron structures using four or more of these pyramid cells.
Both Bernstein and Kiser carry a full line of kite-making materials including Mylar, rip-stop nylon, spruce dowels, bamboo rods, fiberglass dowels, line and reels, in case this first success kindles your kitemania. (My family now has three different kites in production.) But beware, kite craft may affect you as it did Chuck Bernstein. "I used to be a psychologist," he said, "until I walked into a kite store."
HOW-TO BOOKS Kites: How to Fly Them, How to Build Them. Ambrose Lloyd, Charles Mitchell and Nicolette Thomas, Hold, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1975. Sixteen patterns with flying tips Create a Kite: How to Build and Fly Your Own Kites, Edited by Consumer Guide: Simon and Schuster, New York, 1977. A step-by-step guide with 20 patterns and suggestions for decorating and materials.
MYTHS ABOUT KITEFLYING Although March is the month we're programmed to need, want and fly a kite, it may not really be the best flying weather. Kite specialists rely on the Beaufort Scale to determine the best winds:
WIND IN KNOTS 7 to 10 -- Gentle: leaves and twigs put in motion; all kites fly except the very heavy ones. 11 to 15 -- Moderate: small branches move, wind raises dust; box kites and medium to heavy kites fly. 16 to 21 -- Moderate to strong: small trees sway; only strong, sturdy kites fly 22 to 27 -- Strong: large branches move; neophytes should stay home.
The best way to launch a kite, according to Chuck Bernstein, is not to run with it. Instead, he suggests having one person hold the kite, facing the flier, while the flier takes the line and stands about 20 yards away. The flier quickly pulls in a few handfuls of line while his or her helper releases the kite.