The easiest way to get your wings up and flying is to buy pre-made wings and attach them to your back plate. However, if you're looking for a handmade, unique custom set of wings, here is one way to build lightweight, translucent wings from cellophane and poster board.
- Poster board, chipboard or Bristol board for the wing frames
- 16g wire for support
- Colored or iridescent cellophane gift wrap (get this at the craft store)
- Therm-o-web iron-on vinyl
- Jewels or findings for decoration
- Elastic straps or clear bra straps
You can do this project largely by hand with a utility knife and an iron, and a lot of elbow grease. But having some good maker tools in your shop will make the job a lot easier and give you more accuracy with your cuts. Here's what I used:
My wings use three different variations of a frame design based on a cicada's wing. The largest wings (cicada_wings_1) are cut from chipboard. The thicker material along with the thicker frame design keeps these wings nice and rigid.
The smaller wings are cut from poster board. This lighter material combined with the more delicate wing veins in the design make these wings really flexible and bendy.
I've included a couple different designs in the .zip file below. All the files are ready to either print out and cut by hand, or to upload to your vinyl cutter software program.
Cutting on a Cricut
Open the Cricut Design Space app and choose "New Project". Click "Upload" and upload the wing design of your choice. Choose "Simple" on the next screen, then "Continue" on the next screen since there is no background to remove. On the third screen, select "Save as a Cut Image".
Import the uploaded images into your project. I like to make them a color other than black, so they are easier to see and work with. You'll need to resize them as well -- I've given you high resolution 300dpi images, since the Cricut software does a much better job with those, but that does mean you'll need to size each wing frame down.
Resize the wing files so they're at least an inch smaller than your maximum cutting area. On my 12x24 mat, my wings are no more than 11 inches wide and 23 inches tall.
Position the frames at least an inch from each edge. We're going to tape the poster board to the mat and we need to leave room for the tape.
Tape your material to a strong grip cutting mat on all four sides. Press it down firmly so you get a really good grip. Using a clean strong grip mat is the best way to ensure success with your cut.
Another great tip: you can sharpen and clean your cutting blade by stabbing it into a rolled up ball of aluminum foil a bunch of times.
Now is the time to spray paint your wing frames in the color of your choice. My completed wings have large wings painted gold, medium wings painted silver, and small wings left white.
The wing membranes are made of cellophane gift wrap (from the craft store) bonded to Thermoweb heat bond vinyl. The Thermoweb is clear and gives a flexible strength, while the cellophane adds iridescence or color. Cellophane wrap comes in a lot of different colors, so you can go wild and make any color of wings you'd like.
Once your frames are dry, cut a piece of Thermoweb fusible vinyl a little larger than the wing frame. Be sure it extends past the frame on all sides.
Cut a piece of cellophane wrap about the same size. Don't worry about getting the size or shape exact yet; we'll trim it down later.
Peel the paper backing off the Thermoweb and lay it flat on the table with the sticky side up. Place the wing frame down on top of it, avoiding any wrinkles.
Place your cellophane wrap down on the table. Gently lower the wing and Thermoweb onto the cellophane layer so the sticky side connects with the cellophane. Again, try to avoid any wrinkles or bubbles. Take your time, and be sure it covers the whole frame and extends out past the edges on all sides.
The Thermoweb's strong bonding property is activated by heat. I experimented with different heat sources, and had success using an iron and also using a heat gun to gently heat the Thermoweb until it bonded to the cellophane and wing frame. However, I had the most success running the whole thing through a standard laminating machine on the 5 mil setting. The machine applied just the right amount of heat, evenly, while pressing and rolling out any wrinkles or bubbles that slipped in.
Tips for Success
- Trim the cellophane and Thermoweb fairly close to the wing frames before laminating, or the machine might jam. It needs something stiff to grab on to.
- For a more weathered look, run the wings through the machine twice
- Remember you're making a left and a right wing. The wings will look slightly different from the front and back, so be sure to sandwich the wings in reverse order for the second side.
Once your Thermoweb and cellophane have bonded, trim the edges of the wing with a sharp knife or a heat tool. Leave about 1/8" of material around all the edges of your wing frames to keep it from separating.
Adding a support wire along the top of the wing frame will stiffen the wings and make them posable. I used 16g steel wire from the hardware store.
Note: in the photos below, I'm attaching the wires before adding the membranes. However, in the process of building my final set of wings, I had a lot more success making the membranes first, then attaching the wires at the end. It was much harder to get the membranes smooth and perfect with the wire already attached.
Bend the wire so that it fits neatly along the top of your wing frame. Use tape to hold it in place. Leave 6-8 extra inches of wire at the base where it will attach to the backplate.
Thread a needle with clear monofilament (fishing line). You can find this at an outdoor store, most hardware stores, and many craft stores.
Sew the wire along the edge of the wing frame. This wire will take a lot of abuse, so stitch it securely. I placed one stitch every 3/4" or so and knotted each stitch as I went.
Be sure to poke your needle through the poster board part of the frame and not through the membranes, which are delicate and will tear if you pierce them.
Insert your front-most wing into the wing mount and mark where the screw holes go. Poke through the holes with something sharp and insert two M3 15mm screws, and tighten down with their corresponding nuts.
The wire along the top edge will fit right into the mount giving the wing stability.
Add any additional wing sections by sewing them with monofilament line to the mounted wing. Twist all the extending wires together to hold all the wing sections together as a unit. The wire will give strength and stability, and once you're sure everything is secure, you can bend the different wing sections out to varying degrees for a beautiful organic look.
Decorate your wings with lace, metal findings, jewels, glitter, or whatever makes your heart sing.
Sew elastic straps through the strap holes in the back mounting plate to fit your shoulders. You can use clear bra straps (available online or from the fabric store) if you want nearly invisible, adjustable straps for your wings.