How to Make a Chinese Butterfly Kite

Written by amber royer
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How to Make a Chinese Butterfly Kite
Butterfly kites can have a number of wing shapes. (Butterfly kite image by Freeze-frame Photography from

Live butterflies are things of beauty. There are more than 500 types of butterflies, and many types have different shaped wings and wing highlighting colours from different parts of the rainbow. Handmade butterfly kites are like that too. No two of them will be completely alike. This is a strength of traditional crafting. Before automation, skilled artisans in China took pride in creating airborne masterpieces using fine silks and natural woods. You can too.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • 8-foot long, 8mm thick round rattan core
  • Box cutter
  • String
  • Wood glue
  • 8-foot long, 1/4-inch think bamboo
  • 1 yard brightly coloured silk
  • ¼ yard black silk
  • Seamstress chalk
  • Scissors
  • Fabric Paint
  • Paintbrushes

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  1. 1

    Cut the rattan core in half. Use the box cutter to notch each end of both pieces. Soak one half of the rattan core in hot water until it becomes flexible. Tie the string around one of the notches and pull the caning into a teardrop shape, matching the notches. Wrap the string in a figure-eight pattern between the notches on the two pieces five or six times. Pull the string tight and tie it off. Repeat with the other half of the rattan core.

  2. 2

    Once the rattan cores have cooled and dried, cross the two pieces over each other (forming crisscrossed wings) and secure with a dab of wood glue at each point where the pieces of rattan core touch. Wrap these contact points in a figure eight with string to further secure them. Cut a length of bamboo long enough to fit vertically behind the wing frame an extend for an inch on both the top and bottom. Notch this length a half inch from either end. Cut another support long enough to fit from one end of the wings to the other. Attach the supports to each other, forming an "X" then attach this to the wing frame using glue and string. Add additional supports anywhere the finished frame feels wobbly. Allow all the glue to dry.

  3. 3

    Place them frame on top of the silk Use the seamstress chalk to trace roughly two inches around the wing shapes. Glue the silk around the outside of the frame. Allow it to dry. Cut a rectangle out of the black silk long enough to go vertically up the kite frame. Sew the long end of the black silk closed, forming a tube, then flatten it. Glue or sew the tube to the colourful silk, leaving enough of the tube width unattached to allow it to open in flight.

  4. 4

    Paint the kite to look like a real butterfly. Focus on the veining and spotting of the wings. Allow the paint to dry. Attach string to both notches in the vertical bamboo support, forming a "V" that comes out in front of the kite, then attach this to the longer string that will be used to fly the kite.

Tips and warnings

  • For an even more traditional kite, shape the wings out of bamboo heated over a concentrated flame. Be very careful not to set the bamboo on fire or burn yourself.
  • You can add additional curvatures to the outline of your kite by attaching bent balsa wood to make a framework for ripples along the outside of the wings. If you want a butterfly that has elaborate "bottom" wings, you can make teardrop shapes from two 2-foot pieces of rattan core.
  • Cover your painting work surface with old newspaper to prevent staining from paint splatters.
  • Be careful handling hot water and heated, wet rattan.

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