Scott Skinner
From Discourse 16

Scott Skinner. One of Scott Skinner’s paper-fish kites, an homage to Nobuhiko Yoshizumi, mentor and friend.

I don’t often write about kitemaking per se for Discourse, but I’m going to take the opportunity in order to talk about inspiration, mentors, and kite heritage.

I might have chosen to talk about the paper- piecework fish kites that I worked on for most of last year – certainly, they were an homage to Nobuhiko Yoshizumi, mentor and friend – but I’d like to take the opportunity to go back almost 20 years to a time that I had more patchwork quilt books in my collection than kite books. Having learned by the early 90s that the great benefit of most quilt books was to find a single detail that might be used in a unique way in a kite sail, I found a book that would forever change my approach to patchwork.

Pattern on Pattern by Ruth B. McDowell showed me the power of overlapping and enlarging/reducing patterns upon themselves (out of print, but still available on Amazon). I happened upon a simple pattern that would allow me to make swallow – my word, could be any bird – images within a four-block section of patchwork. What I quickly discovered, thanks to Ms. McDowell, was that the image could be enlarged with a 16-piece section. That meant that I could have a large swallow made up of four less-defined small swallows. My sewing ability was the only limit to what extent I might exploit this technique. (The next multiple is an 8×8 square made up of 64 individual blocks; challenging for the best ripstop sewer.) Some of my first paper kites were pattern-on-pattern, four-block swallow designs.

Scott Skinner. More from Scott’s recent series of paper piecework fish kites.

Scott Skinner. More from Scott’s recent series of paper piecework fish kites.

Scott Skinner. One of Scott’s first 10×10 paper swallow kites, inspired by Pattern on Pattern.

Scott Skinner. One of Scott’s later 25×30 Edo-style swallow kites, also made with pattern-on-pattern ideas.

Very soon after, I discovered that the basic block design that I had developed could be “doubled,” that is, two diagonal corners could be made up of three pieces with a diamond-shaped center piece that would complete the square block. This block pattern (photo on page 33, right) allowed me to make the swallow in either of two directions. Incidentally, this kite is from a series of four Edo-style kites made with pattern-on-pattern ideas as well as the traditional Japanese ji-dako, or letter-kite, idea. Mentors Nobuhiko Yoshizumi and Mikio Toki helped me with finish details on all the kites. The four are different traditional Edo designs, including one which is a “creative” kaku-dako: its sparring follows the block pattern of the paper patchwork.

So now comes the inspiration for my current pattern-on-pattern project. Traveling to Guatemala in November of 2013 to celebrate the barriletes gigantes (giant kites) as well as the introduction of the Drachen Foundation’s Spanish-language version of Giant Kites of Guatemala, I was struck again by the close association between the butterfly mythology of the Mayan people and their cultural tradition linked to kites. Indeed, just the current word for kite, papalote, echoes the native word for butterfly. So butterfly kite it would be! Now I worked through all the inspiring butterfly kites that I’ve seen over the years: the Chinese butterflies of Ha Yiqi and Chen Zhou Ji, the wonderful geometric fliers first made by Didier Ferment and made exquisitely by many others since, the giant butterfly barrilete from Sumpango, and even the ferry from Ishigaki Island, Japan.

So with all this inspiration, what was I to do? Make a butterfly-shaped kite, a “round” barrilete, or perhaps a geometric form reminiscent of a butterfly? Alas, these ideas are for another day, as I decided to “play it safe” and make an Edo-style kite which simply happens to be my favorite. At the outset, I decided I would try to use every kitemaking technique and a wide variety of Japanese papers to, again, make a two-color kite much like many seen in ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints). Additionally, I would, for the first time, make this a collapsible kaku-dako framed entirely of bamboo worked from start to finish by me. I decided against using old bamboo – it’s just too valuable to me to use so much for one project. After finishing the paper sail, adding re-enforcements, edge-treatment, and the like, I started to frame the kite. I found that a compromise was in order, so instead of framing the kite as a traditional Edo, I would eliminate the diagonal spars and make it like a Shirone kite. This would increase the number of bridles needed, but was a nice way to finish a rigid frame without having to fashion two collapsible diagonal spars.

As I write, the kite is complete except for bridling. An early spring in Colorado may allow me to do that in the next weeks, but knowing our weather, it may be June before this significant amount of work will be done. Next may be a matching butterfly ferry, or perhaps a similar kite made with ripstop and carbon fiber. Regardless, this is a kite that I couldn’t have made 10 years ago. I needed more knowledge, more skill, more inspiration, and more confidence. My thanks to the makers of inspiring kites that I’ve seen throughout my travels. Especially, thanks to Nobuhiko Yoshizumi and Mikio Toki who have been patient teachers for many years. Thanks to Robert Trepanier, whose innovative ideas trickle down to some of the smallest kite details (in this kite, it was his pulley-style tensioning technique) and to Sumpango’s Happy Boys, who broke with tradition and made a spectacular butterfly barrilete at the 2013 Day of the Dead Festival. ◆

Scott Skinner. Details of Scott’s latest kite.

Scott Skinner. Details of Scott’s latest kite.

Scott Skinner. Scott’s butterfly-inspired, pattern-on-pattern, Edo-style kite. The backlit, framed kite shows surface details including woodblock print, dye, and waxed elements.