The Length & Breadth of Traditional Kite Making
Excerpt: Chapter 3 – Kite flying. The Real Life Georgi Porgi Book 3 By George Hodge.
Easter time was kite making and flying time. ‘Twas the time when boys all over Anguilla made, flew and fought kites which dotted the blue sky over their respective villages.
We did not have to worry about our kites being a nuisance to anyone or a hindrance to anything. Only one plane I knew flew over Anguilla then – one with Frenchmen – Cha Cha Chas from Guadeloupe or Martinique who came to the island regularly to buy animals.
There was not a great variety of kites – in terms of shapes, styles and colours. No box kites. No Chinese-type kites. Just regular kites similar to what generations of boys before had made and flown. Even the types of lines used to hoist and fly the kites had not changed.
Picture a young boy coming across a knitted cap by pure coincidence! Picture his excitement finding such a treasure! See the glint in his eyes and the joy in his face! There was good reason – he had found a source of long, strong, reliable twine to use as line for his kite!
One alternative was knotting together short pieces of cotton line ripped from brown paper cement bags. Finding these bags was a task in itself. You had to go in search of them; and, you had to be real lucky to find any at all. Finding a few could (in the lingo of the day) “still hardly do”.
The line so gotten would suffice for the actual making of the kite itself; and, also make the loops which controlled the way the kite flew; and, the one to which the tail was attached. It was impossible, in those days, to find enough bags to produce a long enough knotted line to actually fly a kite to any real height.
When I used flour as a paste to stick the customary brown cement bag paper onto the frame of a kite, it was like sending out an invitation to the pests to attend a feast or to do mass destruction; but, that was the best method; for, using the milk of the frangipani tree – or, the gooey fruit of clamming cheery tree did not give as good or lasting results.
A time when seafaring fathers made time for their sons
Certainly, kite flying time was a time when I had to be very protective of my signature creations. It was a time when the sea was rough; when squalls heralded in the mornings and, seafaring fathers would, perforce, be stuck at home. A time when, fortunately, little boys finally had access to them; when dads were dads for a period and, they would show their sons how to make, fly and fight kites. I was one such son! I recall Pa one time helping me haul in a kite that was a bit too strong for me; such was the heavy wind blowing at the time.
To acquire a line that was long and strong enough to really and truly fly a kite that would make him feel proud and happy, a boy had to either get his father to let him use an old fishing line; or, endure the long and arduous task of weaving one. One or the other; but, a fishing line would mean having to build and fly a kite that a boy could not manage on his own. There is where the father’s help would be needed.
I was never fortunate where the used bank line was concerned; but, this did not mean that I never ever did have the use of a piece of bank line. I used it to spin the tops I would make; but, I had to resort to stealing a yard or so each time; and, just hope and pray that I did not get caught. Which I did; and, paid the price; for, Pa checked everything on a regular basis; and, would always know if something was moved or tampered with.
Making your own kite line from the fibre tree
I have a vivid memory of going to a sisal (fibre) tree; and, using a sharp knife, cutting leaves at the bottom, from near the root; while, making sure, all the time, to avoid the sharp, needle pointed, nail-like, black tips on the other end. That was the easy part.
The hard part was scraping a leaf to rid it of pulp to enable the embedded strands of fibre to be exposed and harvested. I would then select another leaf; and, repeat the process, until I thought I had enough strands of fibre to achieve my goal.
This all came with a price – an irritating itch that could cause severe rash; but, that could not stop the zealous person that I was! It did, however, cause me to abort on occasion; but, only to return to work towards reaching my target.
Valuable lessons learnt! From very early! From each facet of a boy’s life. In kite flying, it was “no pain, no gain!”; and, “if you can’t beat them, join them!” – that is, at least, do what every other boy did, if you could not do better. Undoubtedly, I went on to actually do better! The secret was you observe; you learn; and, you aim to emulate! I certainly did all three!
How I learned to make a simple kite using coconut leaves
I don’t know for sure – but, I rather doubt it – if Pa ever showed me how to make a kite; or, fashion the loop to make it fly as vertically as possible, that is, with as little curve in the line as possible. He could have! As I related a while ago, one time, he helped me pull in a three foot high kite.
The wind was high. When I loosened the line – Grandpa’s old, abandoned, bank line – from where I had tied it, the powerful kite started dragging me. I can see him now, hurrying over to my rescue; pulling in the kite, like he was pulling in a big shark – the muscles in his strong arms bulging; veins popping; feet braced; and, with determination on his face.
I’m pretty sure that I had to have observed; and, learned how to build the top flight kite from my first cousin – the always happy, always smiling, good natured – Brosey. I also turned out to be a pretty good kite maker. I would not say excellent; but, I was good. I am not here trying to convince myself. I knew so; and, was told so! So good I was, that I became a much sought after kite maker and supplier. I didn’t get that good without practice or without trial and error.
I started out like any other boy making small, simple kites. So small, they could not even burst sewing thread, even with the strongest of wind blowing. The simplest kite had the shape of a triangle joined at the base of a bigger one. Got it – the smaller triangle on top of the upside down larger one? So, how did I make it? I would cut a piece of paper in the shape of the aforesaid Siamese pair of triangles and select small pieces of stick to use as ribs (ribs from coconut leaves could also be used).
I would thread a longer rib through the length of the piece of light paper. Think of the conjoined base of the triangles. That was where I would thread the second, shorter rib. This done, I had a kite all ready to prep, then to fly!
The line to fly the kite, I would tie at the top end of the vertical rib; then, loop it with a piece I would insert horizontally at the conjoined base. I would then tie a light piece of paper or a strip of old clothes at the bottom end of the vertical rib. This would serve as a tail for balance when the kite was in flight. The kite was now ready to be hoisted and flown.
Making stronger and bigger kites
For second level kites, I would find some dry coconut leaves; extract three ribs; clean and cut them to the desired lengths; tie them securely together with thread or light twine; tie the tip of one rib with one long piece of thread; then, the next and repeat until the thread frames the kite; adjust until the shape of the six sided kite is in sync; then, place the frame on a piece of light but strong paper or plastic.
A half inch out from the string, I would cut the paper with a scissors all around the frame; then, mix some flour with water to make a paste; apply it to the half inch area; bend it over the string around the frame; and, stick the bent paper to that in the body of the kite; let the paste to dry; then, tie on the loop and tail; and, the kite was ready to fly.
It did not take me long to graduate to level three in kite making – that is, construct bigger, more durable kites with freezers. This meant using ribs that were light but strong and pliable – able to withstand high winds without snapping or being too heavy to be a drag on the kite’s flying ability.
Choosing kite sticks that were light enough but strong
Some boys cut strips from the dry fibre pole; and, used those to make their kites. I used the tried and proven sage tree; for, its long, slender sticks were light; but, were still strong and flexible. My kites were, therefore, not heavy or bulky; and, they were able to withstand the strongest of winds.
I would go in search of the perfect sticks; find an accommodating tree in a hedge somewhere; select and cut suitable sticks that grew straight up from the root; scrape off the bark; cut each to the desired length; let the sticks dry for a while; then, assemble them in the usual manner, with one difference.
The difference was having to make provision for a freezer – paper pasted on the line at the upper end of the kite. The paper had to be serrated with a scissors to enable it to sing in the wind while the kite was flying.
To free up the usual line at the top – which would normally be pasted over with the cover paper – a curved rib had to replace it; and; to keep this curved rib sturdy in place, a vertical rib had to be securely tied to it; and, anchored at the centre of the kite.
Making over 1000 feet of string (twine) by hand
Third level kites demanded stronger and longer flying lines. No longer would sewing thread do in any aspect of the kite making; and, while I could rip out and use the twine from the scull caps to put it together; or, the cotton line salvaged from cement bags, none of these were able to withstand the strong winds. Nylon line was not popular then; so, we had to twist fibre to the requisite size, strength and length.
So, picture me taking dried strands of the fibre I had dried in readiness; tying a few strands in three sections to a table leg or to a branch of a cedar or some home yard tree; then, twisting and twisting with both hands – splicing in additional strands along the way – until I had about a thousand or so feet in length! This arduous task did not finish in one sitting. Besides, it caused the rubbing off – or, the wearing down – of the prints of my two index fingers and two thumbs, the four twisting fingers; and, also a numbness in them.
But, imagine my joy to finally see and have a line that could fly my kite above all others in sight! A line that was able to withstand the strong wind pressure on the kite and not burst! The sixteenth of an inch thick line that I wove certainly stood up to the test, just like my kites themselves.
Inspecting how it flew
Picture yourself standing in a yard or grey ground looking at kites doing different things in the sky above. Some swerving or dipping, mainly because they lacked tail to steady them. Some high and some low, depending on the amount of line they had; or, how the loop in the line that controlled the height – vis a vis the amount of line – was made. A few very still, even in the strong breeze – because all aspects were in sync; and, a steady freezing sound distinctly coming from one.
That was my kite! My kites also stood out in the sky because they all stood up on their lines, that is, there was hardly ever any belly or curving in the line; and, that was because I became an expert at making and adjusting the loop that controlled how the kite would fly. Thus, it was not by pure accident that they ruled the skies – flying really high overhead, their freezers emanating a sound that drew attention to them over the rest.
My high fliers also flew at night. In the bright moonlight – which, in those days, was as bright as daylight itself – the kites could easily and clearly be seen. In the dark nights, the sound of their freezers betrayed their presence, flying high above.
Making fighter kites with razor blades attached
Those were the smooth, high fliers! The fighters could be neither – they had to fly low to engage the enemy; and, be capable of erratic flight. To achieve this, I fitted them with too short a tail; and, a razor blade at the very end to complete their battle gear.
In those days, the men mostly shaved with a barber shop razor; but, there was also the single blade that had a protective back. This sturdy, one-edge razor is what we used in kite fighting in my days. In later years, there was the thin, flexible double edge razor blade that would sometimes break in your hand while being used.
So, while I had the perfect kite for the fight, I could still lose. I could – if I lacked the skill and ability; or, if I lacked sharp reflexes, great hand and eye coordination or strategy! I would set my loop to give my kite more height on the same length of line (if my kite had more than its “enemy”, I would reel it in accordingly).
The enemy kite has a belly in its line. It flies below mine. It is in position for my razor to swipe its line. I put my kite in a side-to-side movement. Its razor flashes in the sun, as it gets into action. It’s only a matter of time; for, the enemy kite is like a sitting duck, unable to muster any defense, just waiting for the inevitable.
The lessons you learn from kite making & flying
Nobody likes to be a loser! Not even the youngest of boy or girl! There’s denial and regret! There’s embarrassment! There might even be abandonment! Especially if losing becomes a habit! Then, there are vital lessons to be learnt. From very early! You lose your kite; you go and look for it; make some adjustments; and, get back in the race. Don’t abandon it! You don’t walk away like a spoilt child! Learn from your mistakes!
I did not start out as a winner! I fought and lost a couple of times well – at first and several times in between winning – until I had mastered the many aspects of kite making itself, flying and fighting.
All in all, what fun in the sun for little boys! To think that I was in little Anguilla; and, little boys like me, in the big countries like America, Canada, China and India, were also having fun flying kites, even if different! What a way to unite boys everywhere! Just like football or cricket in the more modern days! Was I thinking like that, at that young age? Exactly! Living on a small island has its pluses! Your mind is a wide open gateway! From a very early age!
Liked this read? The remainder of this book can be found here. The Real Life Georgi Porgi Book 3 By George Hodge.