Issue 2: Novice Class

Life is good… I have a new kite and like it. Why? Because I made it! I have now sewn two kites and am extremely proud of both. I have an 18″ fighter rokkaku and a 5ft rokkaku in my kite bag, signed by me… Please do not be offended by my statements… I’m not gloating, I’m just extremely proud that I could sew something out of ripstop and have it look okay. YOU can too!!!!! If I can sew a kite, then so can you! To celebrate this achievement in my kiting career, I wish to offer some hints to you that made my first kitemaking experiences a little more enjoyable.

Also, the spring competition season is already heating up in the U.S. so let’s get down to business with this month’s column. I wish to focus on precision in this issue because precision skills are very important if you choose to compete as a novice or fly recreationally with a team.

Phil’s Sewing Techniques for the First Time Kitemaker

Let me state up front that I am NOT a master kitemaker… as I said earlier, I just completed my first couple of ripstop projects. So… reader beware… these tips are just things that made my life a little easier. Master kitemakers may cringe at the thought of doing anything I am telling you… but I will also say that several of these hints came directly from master kitemakers.

First, if you haven’t done so already, read Richard Gareau’s column in this magazine. Richard is a talented kitemaker and those of you who own a Patang fighter can attest to the craftsmanship of his kites. Next, join a local kite club and get connected with the individuals who sew and make kites in the club. Many kite clubs have a “sewing guild” that meets on a fairly regular basis. Find out who these individuals are in your area and watch them work. I really mean watch them work… sort of like an apprenticeship. I know this may not be possible for many of you, but it is the single item that helped me the most. I apprenticed with my friend Terry Murray and watched him learn how to sew at the same time. Terry purchased an old (I mean OLD) sewing machine for $50 about a year and a half ago and I saw him struggle with tension issues on that machine for about 4 months before purchasing a new machine for about $200. Terry and I have discussed the possibility that many of his problems with that sewing machine were not due to problems with the machine, but problems with the user. This new machine is not a Pfaff, Bernina, nor a Viking… many of the names you will hear tossed around by folks you’ll meet in the sewing guilds of kite clubs across the world. However, this machine (called a Tailor professional and was sold as a machine for school use) does sew ripstop well and has all the basic required stitches – straight, zig zag, and multi-step zig zag with length and width adjustments for each. Terry has made several kites and banners with this machine. Having witnessed his success with this machine, I purchased one myself and am quite happy with it. I could not afford a new Pfaff, couldn’t locate any used ones in my area, and didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a sewing machine that I might never use. Someday, I’ll have a Pfaff. The built-in walking foot is WONDERFUL. Again, I encourage you to read Welcome to the Machine each month; I know I will.

About a year ago, I purchased my sewing machine I sat down with some ripstop to practice sewing. This single experience caused me to put the machine away for 9 months and almost never sew again. However, there are techniques that can make your first kitemaking project a little less frustrating.

Phil’s Hints to happy novice kitemaking!

Have the right equipment

  1. Good quality sewing machine
  2. Scotch tape (more later)
  3. Tool to hot cut ripstop
  4. Water soluble pencil
  5. Sharp sewing machine needles
  6. Good quality bonded thread

Learn to sew on a fabric other than ripstop.

If you do not have a machine with a built-in walking foot, keeping ripstop fed smoothly is a bit of an issue for a beginner. Dealing with tension is a little more satisfying when you are using a fabric with a little more bulk like flag bunting. My first successful projects were Cordura Line Bags and small 3-foot banners made of flag bunting. Once you have completed several projects, try sewing ripstop again. The key is to sew, just sew anything for practice. Small banners are great; they can decorate your equipment area at an event. Make several before you move on to larger projects.

Ripstop holds a crease very well.

I chose a small fighter kite as my first project because of its simplicity. I had to do was hot cut the pattern, double fold the edges and sew around the edges once folded, sew on spar pockets and attach a bridle. Applique was an afterthought… a frightening afterthought, but I was told by another master kitemaker, Reed Richards… “Don’t make an ugly kite, or at least one that is ugly to you, the builder”. I drew one line with my water soluble pencil ½” from the edge and another 1″ from the edge. I used these lines as my guide for the folds. I would fold a length of about 3-4″ at a time and run a crease with my fingernail along that section until I had completed the double fold around the kite. Once the fabric is creased, it is much easier to sew.

Two words… Scotch Tape.

What limited success I have had with ripstop has been due to scotch tape. My sewing skills might improve eventually to the point where I do not need it, but for now – it is a big help. After doing the double fold around the edge of the fighter, I attached scotch tape to the EDGE and I do mean EDGE of the folded material to hold it flat. Just having the tape attach to 1/32″ ever so slightly to the fold is enough. You do NOT WANT TO SEW THROUGH THE SCOTCH TAPE – it is a major pain to remove once there is stitching through it. I also used scotch tape to hold the material for my applique.


Your sewing will improve. You just have to stick with it.

Sport Kite Techniques – Precision

I feel that the foundation to all sport kite flying is PRECISION, so this month let’s go over some tips that can help with your competition precision scores. Precision is, quite simply, how well you can control your kite and place your kite where you want in the sky. Although it is NOT fun and can often seem boring from a spectator’s standpoint… (I have often been heard mumbling, “I hate precision” at events) part of the reason I dislike it is because it is so difficult. The skills required to fly good precision will be extremely helpful if you ever fly pairs or team. I encourage all novice kite fliers to study Masters Precision at all events they attend. You will most likely notice the same things that I am going to discuss below.

When competing in Novice Precision, remember the name of the game is CONTROL. You want to demonstrate that you are in control of the kite. Smooth maneuvers, steady speed, and sharp turns are important improving your precision scores. After attending my first competition, MASKC 1996, I noticed that there were no competitors at the event flying what I would call “trick kites”. I expected to see folks doing all kinds of tricks and stuff I have never seen before…and was a little disappointed when all I saw was a few axels, some tip stabs, and maybe a coin toss or two. I quickly learned that it is not your trick flying ability that leads to success on the competition field, but at the time could not place what it took to be successful. After a few more events and getting to know some of the Masters class fliers, I started to get the picture. Precision was the name of the game. Every single Masters class competitor I spoke to said basically “practice precision and become a judge, you’ll become a better flyer.” I was even fortunate enough to be sitting next to Dodd Gross at an event and asked him for some hints to competing. His advice was to practice precision. Now, this is not what I had expected to hear from one of the greatest sport kite fliers around. I suppose I’m rambling a bit, but my point is that PRECISION IS IMPORTANT!

Phil’s Hints to Improving your Precision

Download the AKA Sport Kite Rules Book

This contains all the figures for events in the U.S. You should also download the STACK Rules and Figures from the Web, just to get ideas for other figures.


Go to the kite field and PRACTICE the figures. Take a friend (doesn’t even have to be a kite flier) and have him/her judge the figures that you are practicing. Remember that sharp, crisp turns are better.

Have at least 2 sets of flying lines

I feel that it helps to have one set of lines about 100 feet in length and then another set that is around 125 feet for precision. The longer line lengths give you a larger wind window (larger figures), and help to slow your kite down a bit (or at least give the appearance of slowing it down because of the larger window).

Kite choice is IMPORTANT

Walk onto the precision competition field with a kite that is slow, stable in sharp turns, and appropriate for the conditions. If your kite is too light for the given conditions… it is going to be too fast, if it is too heavy then it is likely to stall out on the turns. I recommend using the lightest equipment you can for the given conditions. You don’t need to perform stalls, axels, coin tosses and such in Novice Precision. Save those for Intermediate and beyond. If you are just starting out, control is easier with a slow, stable kite.


I had a difficult time as a novice with this section of my precision. I knew that I had to fly between 30 seconds and 2 minutes to demonstrate my skill, but I didn’t know what to fly. Initially, I wanted to try to put in a trick or two in this section but later realized that it wasn’t my tricking ability that judges wanted to see, they wanted to see me put together a “routine” and demonstrate control. The routine would be a series of precision figures that flowed well from one figure to another – ideally with one figure ending where another began. In order to do this I might have to reverse the direction of some figures? I’ll discuss this section more in the future but hopefully you get the idea. The key to a good freestyle section is fly at least two or three distinct precision figures, with at least one being a more advanced figure for Intermediate flyers (like the dice, star, or wedge) . Remember to call in and out at the beginning and end of your freestyle. Also, ask the field director to give you time calls at 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 1 minute 30 seconds. If you are flying your freestyle component and the field director tells you that you are at 1 minute 30 seconds, then you MUST finish whatever figure you are on and LAND YOUR KITE. Do not lose points for exceeding the maximum time allowed.

Required Reading

Two books on the subjects in this month’s column have been EXTREMELY helpful to me.

Kiteworks by Maxwell Eden
Stunt Kite Basics by Richard Synergy

If you do not own these books, just order them as soon as you are finished reading Kitelife. You must have them.  Next month we’ll focus on Novice Ballet.