For Halloween my daughter wanted to be a butterfly. She didn't want to be a just a butterfly, it had to be a "Halloween" butterfly. We tossed around ideas and finally settled on "Bug Collection Butterfly".
Using a PVC pipe as the core, and weaving thick copper wire through the pipe in a criss-cross pattern for strength, I was able to make an impressive 4-foot wing span. The costume is a bit cumbersome indoors but is great for trick-or-treating. You can certainly scale the size down if you're planning in being in tight spaces.
- Large format paper 4 feet square, at least 3 sheets*
- Black marker
- Tape measure
- 1.5 inch PVC pipe, at least 12 inches long**
- 30-40 feet of 6 gauge copper wire***
- 9x12 sheets of black felt (enough to cover the PVC pipe)
- 3 yards of black stretch fabric ****
- Strong black thread
- Sewing machine
- Hot glue gun with plenty of glue
- Wire cutter, strong enough to cut through the 6 gauge wire.
- Black duct tape
- Miter saw ( to cut the PVC pipe )
- Colored felt (enough to cover your wings)
- Two nylon straps with buckles ( I used Coleman sleeping bag straps )
- Lashing wire (optional)
- A projector (optional)
Label & Pin Materials
- Velcro ONE-WRAP, 2 strips long enough to amply wrap around the wearer’s chest
- A 6 inch square block of cheap wood 1 inch thick.
- Iron on t-shirt transfers (optional)
- White cotton fabric, at least 12 inches square (required only if using t-shirt transfers)
- Hot Iron (required only if using t-shirt transfers)
- Computer with printer
- More hot glue
- One 5/16 x 36 inch dowel
- One ¼ x 36 inch dowel
- Styrofoam ball, 3-4 inches in diameter
- Small saw (to cut the dowels)
- Sandpaper or knife (to shave dowel to a point)
- Duct tape
- Metallic silver paint
- Red paint, or other color for pin head.
* I recommend purchasing a 54 inch wide roll of plotter paper. It’s a bit expensive ($60-$80 on amazon), but it’s very handy having large sheets of paper around for craft projects. And the kids love it when I make 4 foot long paper airplanes :).
** A thicker pipe may be easier to work with if the wearer finds it comfortable.
*** A note about the wire: I used 6 Gauge copper wire because I had some on hand. It did make the wing rig a bit heavier than expected (about 10 pounds). As long as the wire is strong enough to hold its shape against the fabric, but malleable enough to work with by hand. Check out the step for threading the wire through the pipe to get an idea of what you’re up against.
**** The fabric is the base color of your wing. It doesn’t have to be black but it does have to be slightly elastic.
Step 1: Create a Pattern in Actual Size
Use the large-format paper to draw out an actual size version of the provided wire pattern. I used a projector to do this, but if you’re confident enough it can be done freehand. The key is to keep the wings symmetrical and make sure the wires cross through the PVC pipe without interfering with each other.
Step 2: Mark Holes on Sides of the PVC Pipe and Drill
Using the actual size pattern, determine the length of pipe you will need. It should be at least 2 inches longer than the topmost and bottom-most wire holes. (Mine ended up being about 8 inches)
Draw a line centered lengthwise down the entire pipe. Do this on both sides.
Place the pipe on top of your actual size wire guide and mark off where the wires will enter the pipe. Where these lines cross your center line on the pipe is where you will drill the holes. Drill the first and third holes either slightly above or below the center line. (I drilled all the holes right on center and they ended up running into each other while threading through the pipe. I ended up having to bend them around each other using a pry bar.)
Take a piece of letter size paper and trace out the center section of the wire guide where the pipe will go. Mark the position of the pipe. Again, this doesn’t have to be perfect but the better aligned your holes are, the easier it is to thread the wire.
Place the paper on your work surface and place the pipe on top. Use the lines as a guide when you drill.
Be sure to mark the angle of the two sections of wire that enter diagonally. You’ll need to drill the hole at the same angle. I just eyeballed it and drilled a slightly bigger hole. My plan was to calk up the hole but there was so much friction between the wires and the pipe that they didn’t move enough to warrant it.
Step 3: Cover Pipe With Felt
Get the 9x12 felt square. With the pipe nearby, put down a line of hot glue on the short end of the felt. Center the pipe over it and press down. Continue to roll the felt around the pipe, putting down several lines of hot glue along the way.
Once you’ve completely covered the pipe, trim off the extra and glue down the end. If there is extra felt that extends beyond the length of the pipe, snip it down from the edge to the pipe end to create tabs. Fold over the tabs and glue.
Feel for the holes you drilled in the sides of the pipe and cut away the felt to expose them.
Step 4: Thread Wire Through Pipe
Lay the actual-size wire-guide on the floor.
With the wire on top of the guide work it roughly into the shape of the wings to determine the actual length of wire needed. ( I needed somewhere between 20 and 30 feet for a 4 foot wingspan. )
Start with the lower horizontal intersection (3rd hole down). Thread the wire from left to right, bringing about half the length of the bottom edge of the wing through the other side.
Now the difficult part. On the left side of the pipe, locate the second hole down from the top. Thread the wire through the pipe, coming out on the bottommost hole on the right. Pull most of the wire through, leaving enough of a loop to form the wing.
Using the guide, begin to form the upper left wing. It doesn’t have to be perfect at this point, you just need to have the right amount of wire available for the wing.
Next, thread the wire from the topmost hole on the right, straight through the topmost hole on the left. Pull through most of the wire again, leaving enough for the lower right wing.
Continue in this manner, threading from the lowest hole on the left to the second from the top on the right, to form the lower left wing.
Finally, bring the wire around and meet the starting point to finish up the wings. Trim whatever wire is left. You can use duct tape to join the wire ends together. If you have it, use some lashing wire first to give it some extra strength.
** IMPORTANT NOTE: In some pictures you will see a piece of wire going across the outside of the pipe. All wires that intersect the pipe should run through the pipe. This was some extra wire I had at the end that I decided to continue around rather then cut off. It ended up being completely unnecessary.
Step 5: Add the Straps
Run the nylon straps through the length of the pipe and fasten into loops.
Try on the rig and continue shaping the wings.
(After doing this, I decided the that the bottom wings didn’t look quite right. I straightened the top and bottom sections to give it a less curvy, more triangular shape.)
Step 6: Trace Each Wing Individually, TWICE
I’m going to level with you and say that this was my first time using a sewing machine. There may be a better way to do the next few steps but this is how I did it.
Place a piece of large format paper under the wire frame and trace out the INSIDE of the wing shape. You want the cover to be just slightly smaller than the wire itself so it stretches tight.
Mark the top side of the wing and label: Upper left, Lower left, etc. Cut out the tracings leaving about a half inch of margin
Make a second tracing of each wing. Set aside to use as a guide for decorating the wings.
Step 7: Pin Tracing to Fabric and Sew
Double over the fabric, lay it completely flat, and pin your cut-out tracing to the fabric. I used straight pins right along the line every 3-4 inches.
Start at the innermost point of the top of the wing and sew about ¾ of the way around, leaving the inner part and about half of the bottom of the cover open. This will allow you to fit it over the wing.
Repeat for all 4 wings.
Step 8: Finish Up the Covers
Rip the paper guide off and turn the wing cover right-side out
Carefully stretch the wing covers onto the wire frame.
At this point you can finish up the bottom seams by hand. I opted to pin it up while I continued to work, just in case I needed to take the covers off. I never did.
Step 9: Decorate the Wings
This is where you can do pretty much whatever you want. Here’s what I did:
Use the second set of wing tracings to draw out the pattern. To keep the wings symmetrical, make only one upper and one lower wing pattern for use on both sides.
Cut out the shapes from your drawing. Place on top of 4 sheets of identical felt and cut out each shape. 4 pieces will give you one for each of: front-left, back-left, front-right, back-right.
Use hot glue to attach the felt to the wing fabric.
Step 10: Phase 2: the Pin
Design the label using your favorite typesetting program. I did some google searching to find some examples of bug labels to copy. I also took the scientific name of the butterfly we copied and changed it slightly to play on my daughter’s name.
You could skip the next two steps and just make a cardboard label. However I used fabric to keep the costume rain resistant.
Step 11: Print and Iron
Print the label onto t-shirt transfer paper.
Iron the label onto white cotton fabric.
Step 12: Form the Wire Frame
Print out a second copy of your bug label onto standard paper. Using your remaining wire, shape a rectangular outer border, and a square inner shape.
Lash the inner square wire to the outer rectangle wire, optionally with lashing wire first and duct-tape.
Step 13: Cut the Breast Plate
Using a piece of 1 inch thick wood, cut a rectangle slightly shorter than the outer rectangle and slightly wider than the inner square. Wide enough that you can staple the sides of the inner square to the wood.
Use a staple gun to attach the wood block to the center of your wire frame by stapling along the vertical sides of the inner square of your wire frame.
Step 14: Add Velcro Straps
Cut 2 lengths of Velcro that will amply fit around the costume wearer.
Locate the center of each Velcro strap
With the wire and wood frame facing wire-up, staple one Velcro strap, horizontally, centered along the upper portion of the front face of the wood block.
Repeat along the lower portion with the second strap.
Feed the straps behind the wire frame, when wearing the costume, the Velcro straps should only hold the wood block to the body and never press against the wire frame.
Step 15: Drill Out Pin Holes
Drill a hole the same diameter as your thicker dowel, dead center in the wood block. You can experiment with angling the hole slightly.
Have the wearer try on the whole costume at this point. First attaching the front label with the Velcro and then putting on the wings.
Place the thicker dowel into the hole and look at it from the side, determine where the other end of the pin should be attached to look as though it’s one continuous piece going through the body.
Take off the wings and place face down. Drill a hole in the PVC pipe the same diameter as the thinner dowel. Insert the dowel into the hole.
Place the wings back on the wearer, determine how much each end should stick out and mark off.
Step 16: Attach the Label
Place label fabric face down on work surface and place wire label frame on top.
You may want to place a piece of cardboard or plastic behind the fabric to give it some rigidity.
Cut the fabric 1-2 inches larger than the wire frame.
Wrap the edges around the wire frame and glue to back.
Cut a slit in the center of the label fabric where the dowel will run through.
Step 17: Cut the Dowels
Cut both dowels to size.
Using sandpaper, or a knife, shave down one end of the thinner dowel to a point. Round it off for safety.
Push the thicker dowel about ¾ of the way through the center of the styrofoam ball to make a hole. Pull them back apart.
Step 18: Paint the Pin
Paint the two dowels metallic grey or silver.
Paint the styrofoam ball whatever color you like.
Let the paint fully cure before re-inserting into the frames.
Put some hot glue on one end of the thicker dowel and insert into styrofoam ball.
Hot glue the pins into their holes in the costume frame.
Wrap a small piece duct tape around the ends to hold them in and keep them removable. (I made a second pin just in case it broke off and I needed to do a quick fix)
Step 19: Try It On!
At this point, sew up the remaining part of each wing cover if you haven’t already.
Strap the front piece on first, wrapping the velcro tightly at chest level.
Put on the wing rig like a backpack, adjust straps.