A kite tail is also sometimes known as a laundry line because experienced kite fliers like to attach “laundry” which are usually small, lightweight objects, like spinners, line art, or bouncers, to the tail to enhance a kite’s aesthetics.
There are usually 2 ways to make a kite tail:
- Buying a pre-made kite tail from your local kite store
- Making your own kite tail
In this article we will explore:
- Why a kite needs a tail
- Types of kite tails
- What materials to use for a kite tail
- How to make a kite tail
- How to choose a kite tail (if buying from a shop)
- Common issues with kite tails and how to fix them
Most manufactured kites will come with the tail of the correct size and weight, so this article will concentrate on kite tails made or bought by beginners or occasional hobbyist.
Why A Kite Needs A Tail
Many people often overlook the importance of tails when flying kites. While kite tails are a quick and often easy way to add color and flair to your kite, kite tails also help to keep the kite stable and pointed in the right direction.
A tail stabilizes your kite in stronger winds by adding drag to the kite. In light winds your kite will need less tail or maybe no tail at all. Depending on your kite’s design, trying to fly it without a tail may result in the kite spinning, veering to one side, or crashing because the kite is unstable. Adding a tail to a kite makes it more stable by adding weight to prevent it from spinning, and helps to point your kite in the right direction to keep it afloat.
A tail that is anywhere between 3 to 8 times the kite’s length (from the front tip to the back tip of a kite) can help to stabilize it and prevent it from spinning or crashing. However, each kite is flown in varying situations – wind conditions can vary, and each kite is different from each other; the best way to get the right tail length for your particular kite is to try it out!
Types Of Kite Tails
While kite tails can come in various shapes and sizes, they usually fall into 4 categories – flat tails, tubes, line art, and bouncers.
If you choose to purchase a kite tail, they usually come with a hook or loop of string at the end to attach to your kite. A kite tail is usually made from ripstop nylon and usually come in bright and striking colors.
Keep in mind when purchasing a kite tail that the longer or larger the tail, the more drag is created on your kite. This can make the kite too heavy to launch or fly. On the other hand, a smaller kite tail may not produce enough drag to stabilize your kite.
Flat tails are the most commonly seen type of kite tails – they are easy to make or purchase, and can come in different colours. As they are flat, they generate significantly less drag than tubes or other three-dimensional pieces.
Flat kite tails usually come pre-packed in a compact roll or folded on itself. These tails are usually long (100 feet), however you can make them as long or as short as you need for your kite. Flat kite tails are easy to setup and pack away.
Tubes or tubular tails are similar to flat tails because they have a long and narrow profile. Sometimes a tube will be constructed so it tapers to a point at the end, but usually it is a long circular tube that requires wind to inflate.
Because of their shape, tubes generate more drag, and will appear different in the sky. Flat tails tend to wave or flick around, while tubes being more fluid will appear to undulate like a snake. Tubes are easy to set up and pack away.
Below is a video of an entrancing set of tube tails on a kite:
Line art tails vary vastly in size, shapes, and designs. Some are for stabilizing kites, and some are simply for display. You will see some inflatable spinners, wheels, or even windsock designs when exploring this fascinating category of kite tails.
These are usually attached to the kite line itself, which can make your entire kite setup look a lot bigger and exciting!
Below are some images of line art:
Line art are generally made from ripstop nylon and may or may not have a frame. They are best used with kites that generate a lot of lift so that the overall design can be best displayed. Depending on how complex your line art is, it may or may not be easy to setup or pack away. Make sure to always check your line art for any tangles, twists, or knots before and after flying them!
Bouncers are usually the largest type of line art; due to either their size or design (or both), they generate so much drag that they usually bounce on the ground instead of lifting off, hence their name. Some examples of types of bouncers are crowns, wheels, and bols.
Bouncers can be attached to a kite line with a kite that generates a lot of lift, just like line art; alternatively, bouncers can be anchored directly to the ground.
Bouncers are complex like line art kite tails, with many lines and various parts that may or may not require assembly prior to flying. Always check them for tangles, tears, twists, or knots before and after flying them.
What Materials To Use For A Kite Tail
For children, making a kite tail (along with a kite) can be a great craft and teaching activity. Ideally, you will want to use materials that are light and waterproof.
A material that is easily found at home is plastic bags. These can be cut into strips to make flat tails. They can then be taped end-to-end till you reach your desired length; they can easily be trimmed if they prove to be too long when the kite is actually flown.
Another option is rain jacket material – to get it on the cheap, go to a thrift store and find a kids-size rain jacket or poncho. Cut it into a long strip, and attach it to your kite by cutting a thinner piece to act as a string and tying the tail to your kite.
You could also use either paper or ribbon in ‘rungs’ to make ladder tails. These unique tails are made by stringing the paper or ribbon rungs between 2 lengths of kite line. These generate a lot of drag and hence do not need to be made very long. However, the ladder tail is tricky to balance and hence is fairly rare to see. Keep in mind that paper can tear easily especially when wet.
Newspaper can be quickly cut into long strips and painted to make kite tails; however, it is very easily torn.
You can also use woven recyclable shopping bags or different types of cotton. Keep in mind that cotton can soak up water easily, which will weigh your kite down if you are flying it in wet weather.
Another rarely-seen material nowadays is videotape. If you are able to retrieve any tape from broken cassettes or VHS tapes, you will find that it is light, smooth, and catches light very easily. Keep in mind that videotape can easily tangle, and is not biodegradable. Always dispose of your videotape correctly, as it is a hazard to wildlife.
A less-than-traditional material that make good tails in a pinch are boundary tapes, also known as flaggers or surveyors tape. These are usually used by surveyors. These tapes come in many brilliant colours, widths, and lengths. Flaggers tape can be found in hardware stores and is inexpensive.
For the amount you get per roll, it is cheap enough to share with others. If you see someone whose kite is flying all over the place due to a lack of tail, you can always offer some flaggers tape to help stabilize their kite. It is also a great way to mark off where you have anchored your kite or have lines laid out to prevent people from walking all over them.
It is good practice to have some spare tail material with you – a length of ribbon, strips from plastic bags, or flaggers tape, along with some spare line to attach the tail to a kite.
How To Make A Kite Tail
Flat kite tails are the easiest to make from scratch, so we will detail some instructions and tips in this section. Keep in mind that most measurements will be against your kite, since a kite tail should always be tailored for the kite that it will be attached to to ensure stability when flying.
Flat Kite Tails
Cut out a long rectangular strip of material that is approximately 1/10 the width of the kite, and at least 8 times as long as the kite is tall, and then attach this strip of material to your kite by tying it with some string to your kite. This formula works for a wide variety of kite shapes and sizes. If you want a fancier look, make it a bit thinner and attach one or 2 more tails in the same way to make a “pony’s tail” for your kite!
An excellent tail can be made from a plastic bag. Trim off the bottom and the handles so you have a circular band of plastic. Then cut round and round the bag to produce a single long strip, with a width of 1/10 of your kite. You can make multiples and tie them end-to-end to make a long streamer-style tail, or tie them together to make a pony’s tail with the instructions above.
You can also tie ribbons into your kite tail to create more drag. For this, use a length of kite line or string approximately 10 times as the kite is tall – this is because your tail will get shorter with every knot tied into it. Then make strips of material 1/5 of the kite’s width, and half as wide as it is long. Tie the strips of material to the kite line or string at regular intervals at least 1 rectangle length from each other.
Chain loops can be easily made if you have a scissors or a blade to cut plastic bags up with, and can be made in a pinch if you need a kite while out flying.
Cut across the width of a plastic bag, discarding the handles of the bag. Make each strip approximately 1/10 the width of your kite. Cut as many as you can from the bag to get plastic bag loops. Tie the loops end-to-end to form a chain, being careful not to pull them too tight. Use more plastic bags if you have to, and make the chain at least 5 times as long as the kite is tall. You can have
To create a looped tail, simply attach the both ends of a flat kite tail to your kite. A looped tail looks like a letter ‘U’ when your kite is in flight. This creates much more drag with a shorter tail, and is best for sled kites. Keep in mind that a low-flying kite with overly-long loops can snag on objects or people.
If you do not have any materials on hand for making a kite tail, keep in mind that it is drag that you are after, and look at some of the items that you may have on hand, or turn to Mother Nature for some assistance:
- Tie on a paper handkerchief or unused tissue
- Make a paper tassel or bow tail from newspaper
- Use bunches of grass, leaves or other natural materials
Tips for when adding a tail to your kite
Balance is important. When adding tails to the left and right wingtips of your kite, make sure that both tails are the same length. This prevents one tail from generating more drag in the air and causing your kite to spin.
If you are adding more than 2 tails, they should be added to the kite symmetrically to keep your kite balanced. You can attach 1 long tail in the middle, and 2 tails of the same length on the left and right wingtips of the kite. Alternatively, a single loop kite tail attached on one side of the kite to the other. Additional loops can also be attached to other loops for more drag.
Tails should be attached to the bottom of the kite to point the top of the kite into the wind to generate the most lift.
If your kite doesn’t require a tail to keep it stable, you can use light but bright materials like plastic bags to make a tail for aesthetic purposes.
Keep in mind how much space you have available for flying a kite with a tail. Overly long tails can be difficult to launch safely in a small space, and can be damaged if people accidentally step on the lines or the tail(s) before launch.
As wind conditions change over time, you will need to adapt your kite tail to ensure your kite is kept afloat in the sky and not weighed down by a tail. An easy way to get a feel for this is to experiment with the length of your kite tail. Longer tails make more more stable kite flying, and shorter tails make more wilder and more unpredictable flight patterns in the sky.
How To Choose A Kite Tail (if buying from a shop)
Buying a kite tail opens your world up to many different types of ‘laundry line’ items, and you may be confused on what to use for your kite. We’ve compiled a short list of which kind of tails would go well with which kind of kite design. You can also ask your local kite shop or kite group for help.
Things you should consider when buying a kite tail(s) or line art:
- Choose tails or line art that accent your kites well.
- Choose the color of the kite tail or line art so that it fits into your overall kite display design.
- Ensure the proportion of the kite tail or line art, so that its length looks right with the kite and doesn’t detract from your entire display. It is also a safety consideration to ensure that your kite tail(s) or line art isn’t so big that your kite cannot lift it properly.
- With proportion, you should also consider the amount of drag that the kite tail(s) or line art will create.
Kites that do well in light winds – for example: the Delta kite – work well with shorter flat tails like ribbons. Even if your kite has no attachment point, you can tape the tail onto the end or tips of the kite. A large Delta kite (10 feet from wingtip to wingtip) can lift a lot of ‘laundry’, but as they are meant to float in the air, rather than to lift, it may be more sensible and aesthetically pleasing to use flat tails.
Box kites and Rokkaku kites generate moderate lift, so choose tails that will augment your kite, especially in color. You can also attach line art to the line to make your display more stunning.
If you are wanting a full-on display for line art, use a larger kite or those designed for lift, like sled kites and parafoils. In most cases, the kites will perform better with drogues, but they can also display a large assortment of art on the kite line.
If you are wanting to buy many matching pieces of line art or kite tail, buy them groups to ensure that the colours are identical. This is because fabric colors used by manufactures can change between production runs, which will result in slightly varying colours between batches.
Attaching store-bought kite tail or laundry to your kite
How do you attach laundry or kite tail to the kite line or kite? Simple snaps or carabiners work well for most applications. If you have bought a kite tail or line art, they usually come with metal loops or loops of string to enable you to attach them to your kite or kite line.
If your kite has places where you can attach items to, commonly known as attachment tabs, make sure these are strong enough for your line art or tail. A connection tab can be the weak link in your display – it can be disheartening if line art or a kite tail comes loose. It can also be dangerous as heavy line art or tails can injure people.
For beginners flying kites with light to moderate laundry line(s), you can use knots to attach the kite tail or line art to your kite. If you bought your kite tail(s) or line art from a local kite shop, ask if they can show you how to attach them to your kite.
Keep in mind that over time, knots can wear out the line that its knotted to. Always check all your lines for fraying and wear and tear before and after flying your kite.
Carabiners are also ideal for attaching items, especially for larger kites or kites designed for lifting items. Make sure to check that the load bearing of your carabiner(s) is suitable for the load you’re lifting.
Common Issues With Kite Tails And How To Fix Them
Before launching your kite with its tail(s)/line art, make sure to check it for any tangles, twists, knots, frays, or wear-and-tear damage. This can help to prevent accidents while flying your kite. On the same note, it is also a good idea to check your kite and tail(s) and line art when packing them after a (hopefully great) session of kite flying.
Twisted/tangled kite tails
Long kite tails can easily get twisted if wind conditions are unforgiving, and they can also tangle easily if you are not careful when setting up or packing away.
If your flat kite tail looks like the bottom picture above, make sure to roll your kite tail up like a bandage, flattening it as you go. Keep the roll tight and compact so it has little chance of twisting itself. This is something that can be done while watching TV. As you should leave it at least a day for the material to completely flatten out, you can put a rubber band around the roll to prevent it from unravelling.
If you find your kite tail in tangles, it is usually just a series of loops. With enough time and patience, you can untangle them. Store-bought kite tails are usually made with material that slides against itself, instead of bunching up, which works in your favor.
Start from one end of the tail, and work your way through the tangles in sections. Straighten the first section once you’re done with it, and follow the instructions above for rolling it into a roll for storage before starting on the next section.
Knots in the kite tail
Knots in your kite’s tail can tighten very quickly if you are not careful. If they are too tight to pick apart by hand, and if your kite tail can be washed, try washing your kite tail in soapy warm water. Undo all the knots while your kite tail is still wet, then air dry completely before storing. You can clip your kite tail to the front of a fan on low speed to quicken the drying process. Do not use a hairdryer or put your kite tail in the dryer as heat can cause the material to change its shape or size.
Kite still spins to one side
This problem is the most common if you have tails attached to both wingtips of your kite.
Firstly, remove the tails to check if the cause of the problem is indeed the tails. If your kite continues to spin to one side without the tails, it may be that your kite itself is unbalanced. For tips on how to fix this, click here.
If your kite no longer spins without the tails, then the problem lies with your tails. It may be that the tails are not symmetrical, or one is just slightly longer than the other. Ensure both tails are of the same length by holding one end up to the other, and then checking to see if there are any discrepancies between both of them. If one tail is longer than the other, trim the longer one till it is the same length as the shorter tail. If there are any knots in either tail, you should undo the knots before using the tails.
Kite does not or struggles to launch or stay afloat
Too much tail or line art can cause your kite to struggle to launch or stay afloat. In such cases, carefully retrieve your kite and all laundry attached to it, and start by removing the biggest item, and then re-launching your kite to see if it will fly.
If it does fly, then the item you removed puts too much drag on your kite, which keeps it earth-bound. If you want to display the item while flying your kite, swap out other items or use a larger kite or a kite that generates more lift – i.e. box kites, sleds, or parafoils.
If your kite is still earth-bound after removing the largest item, that means that the other items are still weighing your kite down. Start removing them and re-launch your kite after each one.
With anything that moves and rubs against each other, there is general wear-and-tear involved. Knots can cause fraying in kite lines, and should be checked before and after flying a kite.
Unfortunately, there is little that can be done about general wear-and-tear apart from replacing the worn out part. This can be your kite line, attachment tab(s), or even parts of your kite sail.
Proper storage of all of your kite parts will ensure its longevity, but nothing beats a thorough check of all your equipment before heading out to the field or the beach for a kite-flying session.
If your kite tail has been damaged beyond repair, it’s probably time to look at replacement tails, either store-bought or handmade. Your local hobby store may have the same material, or you can make your own with our instructions and tips above. Make sure that you weigh your current tail(s) or line art (if handmade), as making a heavier version than the old one will affect your kite’s flying performance.