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Issue 7 (Jan/Feb 1999): KiteCraft

feature kite plan pizazz sewing applique

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#1 Dick Barnes

Dick Barnes


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Posted 01 February 1999 - 04:00 AM

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KiteCraft is a new feature in KiteLife.com. Master kitemaker Dick Barnes will teach his techniques of building high-end sportkites.

Editor's note: Unfortunately, none of the thumbnails in this article will click open a larger size image - all the full size images were stored on the Pizazz Kites website, which is no longer online.

What you'll find in this article:

Part One: Tools and Supplies
Part Two: Cutting the Sail
Part Three: Applique
Part Four: Sewing the Sail
Part Five: Making the Leading Edge


Okay, here's the deal. This is sort of a follow up to Richard Gareau's page with a twist. My expertise lies totally with sportkites, so we are going to build a sportkite. After we are done, someone else will author this page and we can build something else. I'm sure that Graeme Poole will help us all build a dragonfly kite, and I'm thinking that other kite makers will share their experiences in making the kites they specialize in. Who knows, maybe we can coax Ron Gibian into teaching us to build one of his masterpieces.

This is meant to be an interactive page. I will tell you everything I know about the Pizazz (that's the kite I market) and I hope that all of you will feel free to share your experiences.

Here's what you get: All the measurements for the Pizazz, all the sewing techniques I use, all my little tricks, and for a small fee I'll ship you the precut sail pieces so you can sew along! (see below)

We are going to start right at the beginning and work through the final product. The pages will be set up as an interactive book so everyone can just click on parts that are of the most interest. I expect to update the builders@pizazzkites.com daily and hope we can generate some worthwhile discussion of kite making there.

The Pizazz is the property of Pizazz Kiteworks (that's me) so you don't have to worry about anyone whining. I do ask you though, please, make yourself a Pizazz or two but don't sell them, that's my job!

Here's how to get started.

Option 1. If you want to build this kite entirely from scratch, email me and ask for paper templates. I will send you full scale drawings of the sail pieces. This costs you $2 plus $3 shipping in the U.S.

Option 2. If you would like me to supply you with precut sail pieces email me and ask for a precut sail. The precut sail includes all the parts necessary to complete the sail and bridle. You will have your choice of sail materials and colors. The precut sail is available in 3/4 ounce porcher nylon for $20.33, toray polyester for $21.80, and polycarbonite icarex for $25.43. Please add $3 for shipping in the U.S.

Option 3. If you would like me to supply you with precut frame pieces email me and ask for a frame kit. The frame kit includes all of the parts necessary to frame the kite and are precut to size. You will have your choice of framing material. The frame kit is available with GForce UL or Skyshark 3PT for $60.27, AVIA Super Skinny (SUL) for $66.04, Skyshark Response Zero Gold for $86.16, AVIA pultrude 2200 for $22.04, AVIA 2300 for $25, or AVIA 2400 for $25.96. If you would like just the hardware kit and use your own spars it will be $6.16. The standoffs are included in the hardware kit. Please add $3 for shipping in the U.S.

Only include $3 for shipping once. All parts will be sent Priority US mail. The template and sail pieces will be rolled, not folded.

Part 1 - Tools and Supplies


I sew on a 4' x 6' bench I made and use an old sliding glass door (less the framing) for a surface. Let me say right now, a razor blade will scratch the surface of the glass and over a period of time make it nearly impossible to cut on as the fabric is not always cleanly cut when the razor blade passes across a previous scratch. I have stopped cutting on my 'new' sliding glass door with razor blades and now use the hot cutter exclusively. I find the 4' x 6' bench almost big enough but I have it in a corner and that is entirely unacceptable.

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I have a Pfaff 1171 sewing machine, the dual feed is wonderful but I don't think it is a 'must' for sewing kites. I use a wood burning tool as a hot gun, it is small, has a very sharp tip, and I can hold it quite close to the hot end for ease of control. For measuring and cutting straight edges I have a 4' heavy aluminum ruler, a light 18" stainless steel ruler and a 4' heavy aluminum 'T' square that I cut a foot and a half off of so it wasn't so long and so I had a shorter heavy aluminum ruler as well. The heavy aluminum rulers are tools carpenters use when cutting sheet rock.

I cut templates for the kite panels and I normally cut templates for appliqués that lend themselves to drawing from a template. The sail piece templates are made of formica as I will be using the hot cutter against them. The appliqué templates are made of thin plywood.

A Dremel tool for cutting spars, 6" scissors, appliqué scissors, a stitch ripper and a hole punch just about rounds up the rest of the tools. Oh and razor blades... all over the place.


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I rarely sew layers of cloth without first gluing them together. I have found that it is easier and faster to glue, then sew. On seams I use seam stick (double back tape) and on appliqué I use Duro All Purpose Spray Adhesive. The Duro is cheaper than the 3M spray adhesive and doesn't stick nearly as well. I have found the lack of bonding ability of the Duro spray adhesive to be a large bonus in the appliqué process. After all the sewing is done I use Goo Gone to remove any residue of the glue.

I use Quick Tite Super Glue. It comes in a 5 gram clear plastic bottle so you can see how much is left and I've consistently been able to use the entire bottle of it without it drying up or gluing itself shut.

I use a quilter's pencil from Dritz for marking on the kite and drawing the appliqué. It is a light gray color and shows up well on everything but white and light gray. It washes off quickly in warm water and erases with a gentle eraser if you need to correct something while you are drawing.

Kite Supplies

The sail cloth we are using is 3/4 ounce Porcher rip stop nylon. Porcher is a soft, uncoated, 62" wide sailcloth resembling Carrington. The nose of the kite is 3.9 ounce black dacron with a layer of kevlar sewn inside. The leading edge tubes and the trailing edges are 1.5 ounce rip stop nylon. The frame is AVIA GForce UL with APA leading edge fittings, JACO standoff connectors, .098" mcr for standoffs, and a .2100" AVIA pultrude upper spreader.

All the kite materials except the Porcher rip stop nylon are available through Kite Studio.

Part 2 - Cutting the Sail

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As I mentioned earlier, I hot cut all of my sail pieces. The Pizazz sail consists of a center sail piece and three panels on each wing. To ensure that the center sail piece is symmetrical, I fold the cloth in half and cut from a template that represents one half of the center section.

In this image I have the cloth folded and I'm aligning the center of the panel with the fold in the layer of cloth.

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Once I have the template in the proper place I cut the folded layers of cloth with the hot cutter.

Then separate the melted edges with your hand, ruler, or whatever. Some caution is needed here. Try to always run "down hill" to the grain of the cloth to avoid pulling the fiber out of the cloth as you split the layers.

I cut the wing panels in a similar fashion using one piece of cloth folded in half. That way I cut two pieces of sail at the same time and use them both on the same kite. If you look closely at this picture you will see that I am making many of the same wing panels. This reduces overall waste of the cloth. I'm sure many of you know that cutting one kite at a time can be very wasteful.

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It's slow and painful but for long straight cuts I use a straight edge. As nice as my table saw is for making templates for some reason it always seems to have a bow in it.

After a short time you too can have a wide selection of precut kite panels!

Part 3 - Appliquéing the Sail

I appliqué the sail pieces before I sew any of them together. With that in mind we will discuss appliquéing next.

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The appliqué that we are doing on this project is a large raindrop shaped object. It is a two color appliqué, one color being the color of the center sail and the other color matches the upper wing
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panels. I always add a layer to the back of the sail that matches the color of the front layer. That way the appliqué looks the same from the front and back.

First I cut out two pieces of red cloth 15"x25" making sure the grain of the cloth is running the same direction as the grain of the sail. Taking the layer that I will draw on, I carefully measure and find the vertical center of the cloth to ensure the appliqué will be drawn straight on the cloth.

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I use this pattern frequently so I made a plywood template for it. The sequence of pictures above show tracing around the three piece template. I have been very careful to align the template along the centerline of the cloth and I am using a quilter's pencil to draw.

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Placing the appliqué exactly where you want it once it has glue on it can be a bit tricky. I prefer a very definite mark on the sail that I can see very well when I do this so I put a piece of tape on the sail and draw on it. Once I'm sure that I know where I'm going to place the appliqué, I spray it with a light coat of spray adhesive. For this purpose I like the cheap spray adhesive as it doesn't hold nearly as well as the big name brands. I taped the sail to the glass working surface to hold it in place as I drag the appliqué across the sail and into place. Once the appliqué is where I want it I press it firmly against the sail smoothing it flat. Turn the sail over and apply the back layer of red cloth to the back of the sail. At this point I generally trim off any of the appliqué material that is sticking out over the sail and tape down the corners if they look like they aren't going to stay in place.

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I sew the appliqué seam with a 4 mm wide zigzag and normally have the stitch length set to 1.5 mm. At this point I work against some conventional wisdom. With the cloth lightly glued together I sew first around the outside of the appliqué. This leaves me a little safer IMHO that I'm not going to disturb the appliqué sewing tight corners later. (This appliqué doesn't have any tight corners, however.)

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I have learned to stop sewing and cut off the ends of the thread from the start of the seam before I close the loop. This reduces the chance of having an ugly knot at the end of the seam. When I start a seam I start just beyond where I want to be and start with a zigzag backwards, then sew forward over it for a lock stitch. At the end of a seam I do one zigzag backwards for a lock stitch.

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I use a stitch ripper and a pair of appliqué scissors to cut away the appliqué. I use the stitch ripper with the pointed end between the layers of cloth and press the tool against the seam as I cut. It is important to keep the tip of the stitch ripper away from the seam as it is very easy to cut through the zigzag stitch with a stitch ripper. I use the appliqué scissors in tight areas.

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Some appliqués can be very time consuming, this one is relatively quick and easy. I find it helpful to cut away all the necessary layers at the same time for a cleaner edge. It is important to stay a uniform distance from the seam so the outline will be a consistent width.

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Once I'm finished with one side I flip the kite over and remove the extra layers from the back.

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Before I sew the wings to the center sail I'm going to sew the center tee reinforcement. I use two additional layers of porcher nylon on the front and back of the sail. I cut these earlier when I was cutting the sail. The two layers were hot cut together and I glue them to the sail with spray adhesive before sewing.

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The final step for the center sail is the reinforcement for the tip of the spine. For this I again use double layers of porcher on both sides of the sail (4 layers total). This is one of the areas that I sew through the seam stick. I tape a double layer of cloth (3" long) to one side of the sail. Then I turn it over and put a layer of seam stick across the sail to stick the next double layer of cloth down. I also put seam stick down the center of the cloth and cut a 6 1/2" length of 80 pound dacron line. I fold the dacron line in half and put the loose ends right at the lower edge of the horizontal piece of tape then press it into the tape running down the centerline. This allows for 1/2" of dacron loop sticking out beyond the tip of the sail. Place a layer of tape over the dacron line and then the second double layer of porcher to complete the assembly. At this point I hot cut the excess material away before sewing the tip.

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The dacron line is going to shorten slightly as we sew through it. We want to start sewing nearest the loop end so we will still have a 1/2" loop when we are finished. To make sure the sail feeds through the sewing machine I place a piece of length of line through the loop to help pull the sail as it starts. Once the sail starts feeding I'll get rid of the line I was using to pull. Here I'm using a walking zigzag set to .8 mm. I sew down the centerline to the end of the reinforcement, tie off, and then sew across the reinforcement, sewing it to the sail.

This completes the preparations to the center sail and we are ready to start sewing the sail together.

Part 4 - Sewing the Sail

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All of the seams on the Pizazz sail are flat fell seams. Simply put, this means we lay two layers of cloth together back to back and sew down the edge leaving a seam allowance. We then lay the two layers of cloth out flat, roll the seam allowance under and stitch down the cloth again. This gives us a seam similar in appearance to the seam down the outside of a pair of jeans. All of my seam allowances are 1.5 cm and I use a 3 mm straight stitch. I had to switch kites as the white and read weren't giving me sufficient contrast to show up against the white background.

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The seam allowance is the distance between the edge of the two pieces of fabric and the line we intend on sewing. All pieces of the Pizazz are cut to allow a 1.5 cm seam allowance. We will always sew the cloth facing "back to back" Today we are going to sew the wing sections together.

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For the completed wings to fit correctly to the center sail it is very important that the individual wing panels be aligned correctly when sewn together. The sharp angle of the wing panels makes this difficult. The edges of the wing panels have to cross 1.5 cm from the edge of the fabric. To aid in laying out the panels for sewing it helps to construct a set of two parallel lines spaced 1.5 cm apart to act as a template.

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Start assembling the wing by laying the lower wing panel face down on your working surface. Then put a layer of seam stick down the top edge of the panel. It is necessary to apply a slight amount of tension to the sail panel to keep it straight as you put the tape on. I do this by laying my hand against the sail as I pull the seam stick along. If you put too much tension on the tape it will stretch the cloth and put a noticeable bow in the edge of the cloth. Leave the paper backing on the tape for now.

Once the lower wing panel is taped to the work surface I slide the 1.5 cm template under the cloth and align one line with the edge of the sail piece. Tape the template down.

Lay the middle wing panel face up on top of the lower wing panel. This gives us two layers of cloth, back to back. As long as the paper is still on the seam stick we can slide the upper layer of cloth around to get it properly in place. The lower edge of the middle (blue) wing panel must lay directly on top of the upper edge of the lower (orange) wing panel and the diagonally cut edges of the two panels should cross at 1.5 cm (the second parallel line). See the picture. Tape the middle wing panel in place at both ends with cellophane tape. I find that masking tape sticks more than I'd like for this purpose.

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With the middle wing panel taped down slowly remove the paper backing to the seam stick by peeling it back from one end. I pull it straight back along the tape to prevent moving either layer of cloth out of line. The middle wing panel will fall down against the lower wing panel as the paper backing is removed and should lay flat against the seam stick that we put on the lower wing panel. Press the middle wing panel gently in place and remove the cellophane tape. Then carefully peel the seam stick and wing panels from the work surface and trim the ends. Make the other wing panel at this time, making sure to make it opposite of the first so you will have opposite wings. I'd hate to count the number of kites I've started and wound up two left wings!

My sewing machine has guide lines along the right side of the sewing surface measured in centimeters. If your machine has these guides measured in inches you will want to measure out 1.5 cm from the needle and make yourself a guide line there. Now we sew the length of the seam standing off 1.5 cm from the edge. This allows us to sew the wing panels together using seam stick to hold them while not sewing through all that tape. I use a 3 mm long stitch on all of my seams.

Once we have the two panels sewn together we trim away 1/2 of the seam allowance on the lower wing panel. That way we are cutting away the portion of the cloth that will be folded under as this seam will be rolled down. If the middle wing panel was white (or a vented panel) I may decide that I wanted to roll the seam up, as the white wouldn't cover up the orange very well. If this were the case I would cut away 1/2 of the middle wing panel seam allowance. I hope that didn't confuse anyone. This is not a critical measurement so I generally just slide my scissors between the layers and slide them up the seam using the tape as a guide.

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Once we have cut away the entire length of the seam we peel away the excess cloth removing the seam stick with it.

Now we fold the seam allowance from the middle wing panel over the lower wing panel. The fold should take in 1/2 of the seam allowance so the edge of the middle wing panel comes just to the seam. Fold the cloth the entire length of the seam and crease the cloth at this fold.

Next lay the wing panels out flat, face up. Pull the panels out flat and crease along the seam. Make sure you don't have any of the lower wing panel rolled under the middle wing panel.

At this point you should be able to roll the seam under and have the entire wing panel lay flat against your work surface.

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I sew the roll down with a straight stitch 1.5 mm from the edge. To do this I'm using the center of the clear plastic on the left side of my sewing foot as a guide. I'm pretty sure you will have to find your own guide on your machine. As I sew down this seam I will just make sure the fold stays under my mark.

As I sew down the seam it is necessary to apply a slight outward pressure on both sides of the cloth to make sure none of the sail gets tucked under the seam. I normally sew 4 - 5 cm before I have to stop and tuck the fold under again.

When the seam is entirely sewn we should have a wing piece that looks similar to this. This is the end of the wing section that should be aligned correctly as it will be sewn to the center sail. The closer to straight we get this end the better off we are. Due to fabric stretch and the slight errors we get in cutting the sail pieces the other end will not match exactly.

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In similar fashion continue aligning the sail pieces. Lay the lower two wing panels face down on the surface and put seam stick on the back of the panel. Place the upper wing section on top of the lower two face up. Then sew, cut away, fold and finish the seam.

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The templates for the wing have a built in error, hence so do the wing sections. We will correct this error now. The middle wing section is longer than the lower wing section and this will be noticeable at the wing tip. Lay a straight edge along the leading edge of the wing from the top of the lower wing section to the bottom of the upper wing section. You will notice a small amount of cloth extending beyond the straight edge. Cut this off using a razor blade or hot knife. This should be a straight cut making a smooth edge between the upper and lower wing sections.

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Once both wing pieces are assembled lay the center sail face down on the working surface and apply seam stick to the edge. Next place the wing on the center sail face up. The three images above show the proper alignment of the wing sections. Again, due to minor sewing errors the wing panels may not align properly. If everything is correct the upper tip of the wing should cross the top of the center sail as shown in the center picture. The bottom of the wing should cross the lower portion of the center sail as shown in the picture on the right. If this doesn't happen, don't worry too much. The important thing is to align both wings on the center sail so they are even at the top of the center sail. Leave any discrepancy at the bottom. Sew the wings to the center sail just as we sewed the wing sections together. Note here when you roll the seam between the center sail and wing section you have two choices. One being to roll the seam toward the center, the other being to roll the seam away from the center. There are two considerations here. If you have a lighter
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colored center sail than wing the seam doesn't look as good rolled out. The second consideration, believe it or not, is it affects the way the kite flies. Rolling the seam toward the center sail gives the kite a little more stability and flies a little more precisely. That has to do with the position of the standoffs. We will discuss that later.

Once you have the wing section sewn on it should look like this. If the bottom of the seam doesn't match exactly, trim the excess off in a smooth curve. Sew the other wing on and we have the sail completed and are ready for the leading edge.

Part 5 Making the Leading Edge
(the leading edge strip is 3" x 62.5")

First let me tell you that when I sit down and seriously make leading edges it takes me 40 minutes to make the leading edges for one kite. This isn't a quick project.

The black 1.5 oz rip stop nylon didn't photograph very well so I'm going to be making some soft purple leading edges. I'll try to make sure that I don't confuse anyone. These first few steps are important to anyone that is making leading edges from sail cloth rather than 3" leading edge strips.

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I always put reinforcement material around the leading edge cut outs. This reinforcement material goes inside the leading edge. For 3/4 ounce leading edges I make the reinforcements from two layers of white 3/4 ounce rip stop. To do this I lay two layers of material down, one on top of the other and hot cut it into 4" wide strips long enough to span all the leading edges I'm making at the time and have a little overlap. It is very important to hot cut these pieces as it seals them together so it is effectively one layer of cloth. In this example I am making two sets of leading edges and each leading edge will be 3" wide. This is a 14" wide piece of cloth. We will need two strips, one for the upper leading edge cut outs and one for the lower leading edge cut outs. In this example I am making 4 strips 4" wide because that's how much cloth I had laying around and because I told rodbuggy I'd send him some. I use white because it shows the least when the kite is in the air.

For making 1.5 ounce rip stop nylon leading edges you will need two 3"x62.5" leading edge strips and four 2"x4" 3.9 ounce dacron reinforcement pieces.

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Start out with a leading edge strip 3"x62.5" with nice square ends. In these examples I started with a 12"x62.5" strip and later cut it into four 3" strips. To put a nice end on the wing tip end put 1/4" wide seam stick along the end and fold it over then sew it. Once the end of the leading edge is folded over your leading edge should be 62.25" long. Measure up the leading edge strip from the wing tip end to locate the areas to reinforce for the cut outs. Mark these places. The lower leading edge reinforcement is placed between 18.5" and 22.5" up from the wing tip. The upper reinforcement is placed between 47.25" and 51.25" up from the wing tip.

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If you are using 3" 1.5 ounce rip stop nylon fold it down the center the entire length of the leading edge. Then position the 4"x2" 3.9 ounce dacron reinforcements over your marks (centered from side to side). Hold them there with seam stick. If you are cutting your own leading edges place the 4" wide strips we made earlier across your leading edge material over the marks for the leading edge cut outs. If you are cutting your own leading edges you should have a strip of material 6" wide and is now 62.25" long (this would make two leading edges). To hold this material in place I hot cut the ends of the reinforcement material off just at the edge of the leading edge bonding the reinforcement material to the leading edge strip. I also partially hot cut through the reinforcement material at the center where the two leading edge pieces will eventually be separated.

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At this time sew the reinforcement to the leading edge. Remember sew the reinforcement to the inside of the leading edge pocket. Use a zigzag stitch to sew the reinforcement on the leading edge and sew as close as possible to the edges as you can. Sew as close to the edge of the reinforcement as possible so the spar has no chance to get lodged between the leading edge and reinforcement when you frame the kite. It is only necessary to sew across the reinforcements, not all the way around them. If you are making leading edges from cloth instead of leading edge strips you can separate the leading edges now with a hot cutter.

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Once we have the reinforcements sewn on and the leading edge pockets folded in half, we are going to taper the ends. The left hand picture shows the wing tip end. Measure over 28 mm from the fold and make a mark. Lay a straight edge from the mark up to the beginning of the lower reinforcement (18.5"). Hot cut along the straight edge. This tapers the wing tip and seals the leading edge pocket closed. On the nose end of the leading edge pocket make a mark 32 mm from the fold and taper that end back to the top of the upper reinforcement (11") again sealing the leading edge. Now lay a straight edge from the upper leading edge reinforcement to the lower leading edge reinforcement approximately 1/4" in from the open edge. Hot tack along this line to seal the remainder of the leading edge together. This will effectively give you one piece of cloth to sew to the sail. Don't worry about being extremely neat with this hot tacking as this part of the leading edge will be rolled under in the seam.

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The leading edge cut outs are 3" long and 1/2" deep and should be centered on the reinforcements. I have a template I use for this purpose. Hot cutting these cut outs seals the reinforcements to the leading edge. It also seals the leading edge pocket shut and makes it far easier to sew to the sail. Open these pockets later when you put the spars in the kite.

COMING SOON, Check back Often:

Part Six: Attaching the Leading Edge
Part Seven: Attaching the Trailing Edge
Part Eight: Attaching the Nose
Part Nine: Cutting the Frame
Part Ten: Tying the Bridle

Attached Files

Dick Barnes
Pizazz Kites

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