Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Butterfly

The first and most important part of this butterfly is the beautiful fabric. Everything else has come back to letting the fabric shine.
I laid out the fabric, folded in half, measured and traced out the wings. I then cut the fabric while still folded so I ended up with two mirror images. I turned under the tiniest hem I could and stitched each wing all the way around. Ideally I would have done this with a Serger and gotten a cleaner edge, but alas I do not have access to one, so I hemmed, which resulted in the edges haves that rippled effect (I decided it looked okay and am calling it a design choice).
For the body I took a piece of PVC and ripped it in half. 
I installed wooden blocks at each end with mounting hardware
And used the rollers from spring-roll window shades to hold the wings.
The end caps were cut so that when the two halves of the tube were placed back together, there was an opening for the wing to be pulled through.
I attached the wings to the rollers with Gaff tape. You can also see the labels in this image to make sure the wings are installed correctly. Once the fabric is folded and rolled, top and bottom and front and back can be difficult to figure out. If everything else is correct, but you take the wing out of the wrong side of the body, you'll end up seeing the back side.
On my first attempt with the wings I attached grommets to the wing tip and hooked the puppeteer's rods there. the curved shape of the wings caused big problems though. If you can imagine drawing a line from the tip of the wing diagonally to the point where it attaches to the roll, the curve above that line was completely unsupported and instead of flowing beautifully like the rest of the wing, it flopped and sagged.
We tried stiffening it with iron-on interfacing, we tried supporting the the wing vertically with wire and plastic ribs. Nothing worked. 
The eventual solution was to move the imaginary diagonal up.
I cut off the old corner and sewed a piece of sheer netting onto the top of the wing, creating a diagonal line from the grommet down to the roller above the wing itself. The entire wing hung beautifully from this line.
I textured the body with a coat of masking tape
gave him antennae
and legs, and painted him dark brown
Then installed my fabric rolls, leaving just the sheer fabric and the grommets sticking out. 

The original plan was that, once installed, the spring rollers would allow the wings to easily retract into and be pulled out of the body night after night. That idea ended up failing because, to make everything fit, the rollers had to be taken out of the body and rolled neatly. I initially kept the spring rollers in though, because I believed they provided resistance to make the unfurling of the butterfly smoother. In the end though, the problems the rollers caused weren't worth the benefit (the same slapstick comedy problems always caused be roll-up blinds and maps and projector screens; constantly rolling backwards when you want them to lock in place and refusing to roll up when you  need them to retract).
I ended up taking the tubes apart and taking out the spring roller element. The sheer amount of fabric inside that small tube provided plenty of friction force to make the unfurling a smooth controlled motion. 

In the play our magical character pulls the butterfly body out of a wheelbarrow, presenting it as a bug before our three puppeteers enter. One takes the handle on the base of the body and the other two insert the grommets into hooks at the end of long dowels. They unfurl the butterfly wings and flap away.

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