Introduction: How to Make a Pair of Angel Wings

About: Inventor and Emergency Doctor.

In this Instructable I will explain how to make a pair of wings which could be used to dress up as an angel, bird, or anything else with feathered wings (for example certain species of dragon).

The motivation for this outfit was 1) I like to make a spectacle of myself, 2) I was going to the local Surfers Against Sewage fancy dress ball, the theme being recycling. I decided to go as a recycled human being. This evolved into 'Recycled Elvis', although I actually looked more like 'Recycled Morrissey'.

I am somewhat of a perfectionist and wanted to make the wings the best that they could be, hence I spent around 70 hours on them. There are many shortcuts you could take to do it in much less time. Make sure you get plenty of sleep; I was up all night working on this. Get some decent ear plugs; you don't want to be woken up by drunken youths shouting at 2am.

It's rather difficult to rate the expense and difficulty of this project; I spent about 200 pounds on the wings and another 200 pounds on the rest of the angel outfit, although I hear you could do it for next to nothing with a bit of effort. I will explain as we go through. As for difficulty, it is not technically complicated but it does require a lot of patience. In this Instructable I have described most of the simple practical and mathematical techniques used to make the wings; I have assumed very little previous knowledge and ability. Please be patient with these passages if they do not apply to you.

If you do decide to make wings from this Instructable please make sure that you read all of it carefully first, then read well ahead of the point you are working from in order that you pick up all the relevant points before you go ahead.

You will find out later how I attached the wings, but I can say that I danced the night away and a particularly irritating man tried to pull the wings off but they stayed on. I fell over he pulled so hard!

I love inventing things in my spare time; I've invented a new way of making molded ear plugs from a kit; they are the only remoldable, resizable molded ones in the world. If you need a good pair of ear plugs for swimming check out the ZenPlugs website here. They are great for sleeping, swimming, surfing, as PPE or whenever you need a good pair of ear plugs. ZenPlugs are also antibacterial and so prevent swimmer's ear as well as surfer's ear.



You will need;

1) Feathers. I used hand-selected 12-inch long white turkey flight feathers. I bought 1250 because I didn't know how many I would use and the box contained a mixture of left and right feathers and I didn't know how many of each there would be. The box cost about £400, about 30p per feather. Also I only had time to wait for one order. In the end I used about 250 left and 250 right feathers. I have since found that you can get perfect ones with next day delivery on Amazon here These are MUCH cheaper, only 7p each!

2) Card. For articulated segments of wings. White or another light colour is best, but you could cover with white paper or paint if you have none.

3) Cotton string and strong plastic twine. You can get the twine here;

4) 3 feet of light-weight white fabric.

5) About 15ft of 1/2 inch bamboo. I will explain how to calculate the exact length later.

6) Stiff uncoated garden wire. As sported by Mike in the third photo (thanks Mike and Matt, I couldn't have done this without you!)

7) All-purpose clear adhesive. I got through 14 50ml tubes (700mls) as a guide.

8) At least 1ft square piece of about 1/8 inch thick plywood.

9) Duct tape to fix the wings to your back (I couldn't believe it would work either.) You can get it on Amazon here;

10) 2 small bolts, 4 washers and 2 lock-nuts. These are about 2mm by 20mm but it doesn't matter exactly. For wing hinges.


You will need;

1) Safety goggles for when you are working with anything sharp. Protective gloves would be a good idea also.

2) Hairdressing scissors for a good finish on the feathers.

3) Decent pliers with wire cutters.

4) Retractable Stanley knife or substantial craft knife.

5) Screwdriver for bolts (depends on bolt head type). I used a screwdriver with a bradawl attachment for making the holes in the card and plywood. A hole punch for the card and a drill for the ply would do instead.

6) Hack saw for trimming bolts. You can use a Dremel but make sure you wear your PPE ear plugs; you don't want noise induced hearing loss. The awesome Dremel I use is here;

7) Wood saw.

8) Tape measure (not shown)

Step 1: Key Features

Key features of the wings;

1) They are made of real feathers

2) They are articulated and so fold up and down in a fairly realistic fashion.

3) (My favorite part) they have no visible attachment, making it look as though you actually have wings.

Step 2: Research

I spent quite a while studying photos of various birds' wings on the internet. I decided I wanted the wings to look like those of an ibis, so typed 'ibis flying' into Google pictures and looked at the pictures, measuring the proportions of the wings. I was particularly interested in the ratio of their length to their depth and the layout of the feathers. I would recommend that you do the same if you want the wings to look realistic. I kept some the best pictures open on my laptop whilst I built the wings. Choose wings you like the look of and keep the pictures for later.

Dividing the length by the depth gave a ratio I could then apply to my own wings. Remember to note whether you are measuring from the point where the wing joins the body of the bird or from the centre of it's back. Make sure the view of the wing is as flat-side-on as you can otherwise the wing will appear shortened and your measurements will be wrong.

The wing in the picture below is 9cm by 3cm. Dividing 3 by 9 gives a ratio of 0.3 recurring.

You also need to calculate how far along the wing the joint is and record it. This is calculated in the same way. Note the layout of the feathers along the wing.

The photo below is good because the wing is full-length and the orientation of the feathers can easily be seen.

Step 3: Materials

Step 4: Tools

You will need;

1) Safety goggles for when you are working with anything sharp. Protective gloves would be a good idea also.

2) Hairdressing scissors for a good finish on the feathers.

3) Decent pliers with wire cutters.

4) Retractable Stanley knife or substantial craft knife.

5) Screwdriver for bolts (depends on bolt head type). I used a screwdriver with a bradawl attachment for making the holes in the card and plywood. A hole punch for the card and a drill for the ply would do instead.

6) Hack saw for trimming bolts. You can use a Dremel but make sure you wear your PPE ear plugs; you don't want noise induced hearing loss. The Dremel I use is here;

7) Wood saw.

8) Tape measure (not shown)

Step 5: Sizing the Wings

I wanted the wings to have as wide a wingspan as possible, fold, and also allow me to sit down as we were traveling to the ball by car. I did this by sitting down on a chair and measuring the distance from the chair to a point about 2 inches above my shoulder. This gave me the length of the longest part of the wing. The length of the shorter spar is calculated from the ratios we calculated earlier. If the length of the shorter part of the wing on your photo is 0.2 that of the longer part then multiply the distance from the chair to your shoulder by 0.2 to give this length.

If you don't want to sit down in them you could make the wingspan as large as you like, to the point they drag on the floor. As you can see from the picture they ended up being slightly longer than I intended because I didn't fully account for the length of the feathers. Knock off about 5 inches from the length you measure for the longer part to give the length of the spar to allow for the overlap of the feathers. These lengths are meant as a guide and do not need to be precise. Feel free to adjust them as you feel.

Step 6: Making the Frame 1

The first image shows what you are aiming to make. I have used the image of the completed frame throughout the Instructable as it shows each part clearly and because it helps to see what you are aiming towards.

Lets start with the hinge. You may be able to buy one that does the job but I made one because it was cheaper and only took 2 minutes.

Cut 4 6-inch lengths of wire and bend them into the shapes shown in the second picture. The loops need to be small enough not to let the washers slip through but large enough to allow them to turn on the bolt. The distance between the legs should be 1/2 inch and the legs should be parallel to allow strong fixation to the spars.

The third picture shows an assembled hinge. Make 2. Trim the bolt with the hacksaw.

The fourth picture shows the hinge bound to the spars, one short, one long. Cover the end of the spars in glue before binding with the cotton string, then cover liberally with glue afterwards. You don't want them to fall apart when you are wearing them. Make 2.

Step 7: Making the Frame 2

Next we are going to make the articulated segments which allow the wings to open out without leaving a gap.

Cut 4 triangles from the card. They need to be reasonably stiff. The length of the triangle needs to be 3-inches shorter than the short arm of your wing, as you can see in the first picture. The width of the base needs to be about 3/5ths the length of the side. It's going to vary depending on the size and proportions of your wings. You want the arrangement shown below in pictures 1 and 2; it may take a little experimentation. Too many triangles = fat bulky wing, too few = less realistic spreading effect. You could manage with just two, one attached to each spar but it would look less effective on spreading. Four looks good.

Make a hinge for the triangles from the garden wire by folding a 3.5 inch piece into a T-shape, as shown in the third picture. Reinforce the end of the triangles where they join by covering with tape to about an inch from the end so the hinge doesn't pull through.

Make a small hole near the sharpest point of each triangle, with your bradawl or hole-punch, and thread them on to the hinge. Then fold the other end so that it forms an H-shape, see fourth picture (I have omitted the card to make it clearer). Alternatively you could use a paper fastener or even tie a loop of string through the hole but be careful not to tie it too tight or it won't work.

Glue the left-hand edge of the bottom triangle to the back edge of the shortest spar leaving 2 inches of bamboo protruding at the end

Cut 4 tapes from the white material, one for each triangle. Make them 1/2 inch wide and as long as 4/5 of the base of your triangle. Glue them as shown in the second picture, with one end towards the centre of the triangle and the other end to the same point on the back of the triangle above it.

Check that the triangles can spread out so that they just overlap (picture 2) and can fold down like in picture 1. You might need to hold them apart or prop them whilst they dry so they don't stick together. The tapes are at different points on the triangles in the pictures due to adjustments I made whilst the glue was drying. The top triangle is attached to the longest spar on the wing. Check that it allows the full flexion and extension of the wing before letting the glue set.

Step 8: Making the Frame 3

Next we are going to make the wing formers.

Make four rings from the wire. Mine are about 1/7 or 1/8 of the depth of my wing in diameter, but it will depend on the type of wing you are making. Measure the depth of the bony leading edge from the picture you are using as reference. I exaggerated the diameter of mine slightly for effect.

Picture 1 shows the rings in place on the shorter spar and the inside end of the longer spar. Fasten the first two at either end of the short spar, the third at the inside end of the long spar and the fourth a quarter of the way along (a quick way to work this out is to take a piece of string the length of the spar and fold it half twice). Position them with the bamboo inside the rings and glue and bind them tightly like you did with the hinge.

The two rings on the left in the picture have wire struts to stop them from rotating under the tension of the material we will apply to them. Hold a piece of wire against the ring and the bamboo to estimate how much you will need to make a strut which runs at about 45 degrees to the spar. Allow about 1 and 1/2 inches extra for attaching it at either end. Cut it off with the wire cutters. With the pliers wind one end around the top of the ring once then glue the other end securely to the top-side of the shorter spar (see picture 1). I glued a small square of material over the end for reinforcement. You might need to prop it whilst it dries to stop it falling off.

Next make 2 snail-shaped pieces of wire as shown in picture two. The length of the snails' bodies depend on the depth of your wing at the points halfway and 3/4 of the way along the longest spar; also check the diameter of the leading edge to give the size of it's shell. Notice in picture 1 that the 2 snails are different sizes to allow for the wing tapering towards it's tip. Knock off 5 inches to allow for feather overlap later on. Take measurements from your reference picture, remembering that we have knocked five inches off the length of the wing to give the length of the spar. It doesn't matter if you don't calculate these points exactly as long as both left and right wing use the same measurements.

Bind the snails to the frame in the same way that you did with the rings.

Step 9: Making the Frame 4

Now we will cover the frame in fabric.

I started by taking the whole sheet of fabric, making sure the weave runs parallel to the leading edge spars and gluing one edge of it to the underside of the long spar from the largest snail to the far tip of the wing. This is on the front side of the wing; that is, on the top side of the snails' bodies. I then allowed it to dry. I wrapped it around the snail's shells, under their bodies and to their heads where I folded it over and glued it. It needs to be pulled quite taught so it can support the feathers we will stick to it. I held it until the glue dried and watched for slippage. You could tape it if you are in a hurry but it might not work as well. Fold and glue along the large snails body and shell, again holding it whilst it dries. I trimmed the excess material away as I went so as to get the size right and to make gluing easier.

I then ran a string diagonally from the largest snails head to a point near the beginning of the long bamboo strut and tied and glued each end so that the string was taught. Make sure you don't tie it to the shorter one as it would pull as the wing extends. The string holds the material taught.

The process is repeated with the rest of the leading edge of the wing but without the part with the snails' bodies; a simple tube is formed instead. The picture shows the finished result for the rest of the longest part of the wing. Repeat on the shorter wing spar. The finished ends of the tube are shown in picture 2.

Repeat 'Making the frame' steps 1 to 4 in mirror image to make the right wing.

Step 10: Feathers

I bought the best quality feathers I could find; the box of 1250 came to about 180 pounds, but you might be able to find feathers elsewhere for much less. Try the internet or local farmers.

The first photo shows a feather straight from the box.

The second show the same feather after I;

1) Teased the edges together (they have microscopic hooks and eyes which stick together again if you run your fingers along the edge).

2) Steamed it for about 30 seconds over a pan of boiling water (mind your fingers). This spreads it open and softens the outline.

3) Trimmed the end. Check your bird of choice for feather shapes; they vary along the length of the wing.

I did this for about 400 of the feathers I used, hence the huge amount of time the project took.

Step 11: Feathers 2

Each wing needs to be covered with feathers front and back. Picture one shows the completed left wing at the back and the half finished right wing at the front. it really is worth paying attention to detail because although people won't necessarily notice individual feathers it will improve the overall impression of the wings. Birds wings are naturally very beautiful and so I though if I mimicked them as closely as possible my wings would be beautiful too.

Start gluing the feathers from the tip of the wing. I used the longest, nicest feathers for the trailing edge as they are the most visible. Apply glue to one side of the shaft of the feather and then hold in place until it stays on its own. It's important to look at the overall shape of the wing with each feather you apply to check it's orientation fits. Also, keep referring to your photos to check you are getting it right. If you are not happy don't be scared to pull them off and start again; it'll be worth it. Remember that we allowed 5 inches for the feathers to overlap the wing tip. Make sure you get the left and right feathers the right way round and also remember that feathers have a front and a back.

Each feather had fluffy fronds at it's base, see picture 2. I often cut these off but on the wing this part of the feather needs to be covered by other feathers either way. Try to stagger each feather in the second tier so that it's shaft lies between the two feathers it covers (picture 2). Again, refer to the wing you are copying. Notice how the feathers converge on a single point and how the ends are fairly evenly spaced. Remember how many inches short you made the snails and allow the feathers to overhang by this much.

Repeat this on both sides of the wing.

Covering the overlapping triangles uses the same principle but looks as though it should be harder although it isn't really. The only difference was that I cut the shafts at the unfeathered end so that they did not get jammed near the hinge or interfere with the ribbons between the triangles. I measured it so that the shafts of the first tier overlapped the triangle by about 2 inches. The knife was useful for this, although big scissors worked but catapulted the bit of shaft across the room at about 60ft per second.

Make sure that the feathers that run alongside the longest spar overlap the feathers nearer the end of the wing (see picture 4). They need to overlap by at least an inch, preferably more.

When you get right up into the corner of the joint cut the feathers short and tuck them right in. Some of the feathers need to be glued along one edge only to allow overlap and movement. Remember to keep checking the wing can still move.

Step 12: Feathers 3

The leading edge is the next part we will tackle.

Picture 1 shows how there is a space over the elbow of the wing. I found the best way to cover this with feathers was to first overlap the tube end with whole feathers then cover these with feather trimmings, so that it looks like pictures 3 and 4. This allows for more flexibility and adjustment. Bend the ends of the feathers to make a blind ending for the tube. This bit took a couple of goes to get it right. I used some feather shafts with the feathery parts cut away for structural strength.

I stripped the fronds from feathers by holding the base of the shaft and running a sharp Stanley knife along the edge of the shaft, away from me, on both sides, the result is shown in photo 2.

The stripped feather is very fragile and easily comes apart. if you are patient you can join it back together with your fingers, otherwise you can stick the fragments on separately. Or bin them.

I then applied quite a lot of glue to the backs of these in one long bead and wrapped them around the front side of the leading edge. Pictures 3 and 4 show how they are wrapped around. Make sure you keep them all in the same orientation or it will look strange. Bits often stuck out and needed extra glue.

Start from the wing tip and work inwards, overlapping all the way. Picture 5 shows the area about 8 inches from the wing tip where the leading edge tapers.

When you have done this to both wings then turn them over and cover the backs of the leading edges with whole feathers. Picture 6 shows the wing obliquely from above so that you can see where the whole feathers from the back of the wing join the stripped feathers on the front.

When attaching the feathers remember to observe the direction of those adjacent; there should be no sudden changes of direction and they should all point in the same direction.

Step 13: Joining the Wings Together and Adding the Backplate

Ask a friend to measure the distance between the points shown in the first picture. These are where the wings will appear to join on to your body. You are looking for the point about 2 inches towards your spine from the joint between your shoulder blade and the long upper bone of your arm. This is the width of your back plate and also the width apart of the bases of the wings.

Pictures 2 and 3 show how the wings are fastened together; in Indiana Jones rope-bridge stylee.

Note that there are 2 spars joining the wings together; this allows the wings to point upwards and outwards without rotating down. The bottom spar in the diagram is tied at the tips of the short spars, the top spar is tied an inch and a half further up. Bind and glue.

Next make the back plate shown in picture 4. It is shaped like a trapezium, the longer upper edge being the length we measured earlier. The taper towards the bottom is to help it to remain hidden when worn.

Mine is 11 inches across the top, 11 inches deep and 8 inches across the bottom.

I then made holes along the top edge every inch, although every 2 inches would probably do, using the bradawl. A drill would be easier. I then made 2 sets of holes in the shape of 2 rectangles just below these holes. I made about 6 around each rectangle. Make the middle of the rectangle about 2 inches in from the edges and the top edge of the rectangle about 1/2 inch below the top row of holes.

I then made 2 hooks with a 3 inch diameter loop at the top and a 2 1/2 inch point at the bottom, as shown in pictures 5 and 6. These are made from quadruple thickness wire and tied on to the backplate tightly using lots of plastic twine, then glued.

I then made another hole towards the bottom of the backplate and passed a foot of plastic string through it and tied it.

The base plate is then tied to the upper strut of the wings with lots of string and then glued to stop the knots coming undone.

Step 14: More Feathers

Next we will cover the back plate in feathers. This requires some attention to detail.

The first picture shows the front of the backplate where you can see how I trimmed the feathers to cover the joint between the wing and the backplate. It's a good idea to overlap the backplate to cover it as much as possible.

Next cover the back of the backplate the same way you did the wings. Use left feathers on the left half and right feathers on the right half. At the top I bent the feathers so that they would cover the plate and spars nicely, (see second photo, taken from above). I found that you can also turn a left feather into a right feather (and v.v.) by gently bending it along its length, should you run out. In the event I had exactly the right number of left and right feathers, down to the last one; but needed more to make repairs after the ball.

Step 15: Attaching the Wings

The wings are now finished!

Next I asked Helpful Mike to hold the wings up and mark on my back with a pen where the hooks and the string at the bottom of the base board lined up. I then made three loops the same as I did for the hinges but straightened the legs out so that they looked like omegas. Mike covered the ends of the wire in tape so they weren't sharp then taped them on to my back with Duck tape in the positions he marked with the pen, with the loops sticking out horizontally.

I had previously checked I wasn't allergic to the tape by walking around for a day with a bit on my arm under my t-shirt.

Extend the taped area to reduce the chance of it coming off. Make sure the tape doesn't extend beyond the edges of the backplate; you can body-paint it if it shows a bit.

For the rest of my costume I wore white sunglasses, white Converse, white Ted Baker trousers and Mike and Matt helped me cover myself in white body paint. This took 2 1/2 hours for me to be happy with it. The hairdresser gave me an Elvis trim and back-combed my hair for me.

I had a great time at the ball; loud music and tinnitus the next morning. Loads of women wanted their photo taken with me and at one point I had to run away and hide in the toilets.

The Amazon links I have used here are Affiliate links. This means I get a few pence if you buy something! Please help support my Instructables by using the links to buy anything you need, it won't cost you any extra. Thank you!

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