Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bug Party - Butterfly Wings Tutorial

This is the tutorial (you're welcome!) for making the Butterfly Wings we gave out to guests at Kate's Bug Party

As with all my tutorials and patterns (free and for sale), this is for personal, non-commercial use only. This means you can make these Butterfly Wings for gifts but you may not make them for sale in your etsy shop, craft fair booth or any kind of endeavor for commercial profit. If you want to sell stuff for profit, make your own patterns and engineer your own projects, or use the ones that offer limited commercial licenses which allow for such retail sale. 

Now let's get started. 

These Butterfly Wings are quite large and I didn't want to waste paper making the full template of the wings. You can do that yourself (instructions to follow). I did, however, draft for you the templates for the hood and sleeves because they have to fit nicely or else look and feel hideous and your children might reject them. 

Here are the templates for the hood and sleeves.

They are drafted in two main sizes: Kate's (about 5 years old) and Emily/Jenna's (6-8 years old). Feel free to adjust the pattern to fit different- sized children. This is hardly a custom-fit garment, so all you need to do is lengthen or shorten the sleeve lengths and maybe make the hood gusset longer or shorter (and the hood sides correspondingly larger to match) to accommodate for longer necks and bigger heads. 

As always, my patterns have NO seam allowances, so add your own (I recommend 1/2" for easy handling, which you can trim to 1/4" later to reduce bulk when the seams are completed). The only exception is the antenna, which is a topstitched sandwich and technically doesn't need a seam allowance (since there are no seams)- just a stitching line position. But I included the tuck allowance at the bottom of the antenna to allow it to be tucked into the relevant seam in the gusset.

This is the schematic diagram for the hood construction:

First, make the antennae. Just top-stitch. No need for interfacing. I even used cheap acrylic felt. Do not backstitch at the bottom of the antennae. You will be splitting the seam apart later.

Next, insert the antennae into the seam that joins both parts of the gusset.

Sew that seam with the RS's of the gusset pieces together, enclosing the ends of the antennae within it.

At the ends of the antennae, split apart their layers up to that gusset seam, breaking the topstitching in the process, 

press open that seam, separating the layers of the antennae as shown,

flip over to the RS of the gusset and topstitch on either side of the seamline, catching the ends of the antennae underneath in the process. The antennae are now equally anchored on either side of the seam, 

so that they stand up when the hood is completed.

Now attach the gusset to the hood sides. Use whatever method you are familiar with (pinning, easing, snipping SA etc.) to attach the curved edges of the hood to the relatively straight edges of the gusset,

with one special note: leave the last 1/2" of the seam on each side of the gusset (where the hood will attach to the neck of the wings) unsewn. Do you see those notches at the lower edge of the hood?

Zooming in - the red arrows show the last 1/2" of each  seam left unsewn (remember to backstitch!) We do this to separate the bottom edge of the hood into three sections. The annotations below explain the purposes of those different sections and what will happen to the corresponding seam allowances.

Here's a schematic diagram of the hood to say the same thing.

Now trim the pointy corners of the hood - a curve is easier to hem than a pointy corner.

Fold the SA (or, more accurately, the hem allowance) of that edge to the WS of the hood and topstitch all around to finish that edge. Note that the gusset bit is left unhemmed because it gets attached to the neck of the wing portion later. 

The hood is finished. Set it aside and work on the wings. There are three parts to the wing portion: 
  1. the sleeves 
  2. the wings themselves and 
  3. the worm. 
Templates are provided for the sleeves, in three sizes. Cut out two sleeves, with SA on the top edge and bottom edge only, as shown in the diagrams accompanying the template.

There is no template for the wings or the worm (which is my cunning name for that central bit that was once the caterpillar before it became the butterfly). You will make your own patterns for these. Here is a schematic diagram to help: 

To make the wing pattern, lay your child on newspaper (or the fabric itself) and have her spread her arms out, then trace the wing shape and length of sleeves you want. You literally wing it (hahahahaha! Couldn't resist). Here is Kate demonstrating the layout:

Wings before sleeves attached

Wings after sleeves attached

Alternatively, if your fabric is big enough, you can also cut each wing+sleeve as a single piece. If your fabric is REALLY big enough, you can even cut out the two+wings+two+sleeves as a single huge piece. So

Alternative 1: 
2 separate wings with attached sleeves, to be folded along dotted line in lieu of seams.

Alternative 2: 
One+wing+plus+one+separate+sleeve (pink side), shown with the integrated folded-sleeve wing (yellow side) for comparison.

Get the idea?
Right, let's move on.

If you are planning to embellish the wings with applique, you should do that first. We pinned and topstitched four patches onto the RS's of the wings as shown. 

The next step is to attach the sleeves. Line up the longest edge of the sleeve with the top edge of the wing, so their cuffs are aligned.

Cut a notch where the shoulder end of the sleeve meets the top edge of the wing. This notch should be as deep as the SA of this top edge of the wing. The notch separates the top edge of the wing into two sections: one that attaches to the sleeve, and the other that forms the neck to attach to the hood.

Beginning at the slit, sew the seam that attaches the sleeve to the wing. Note the WS/RS configurations of sleeve and wing.

Then flip the sleeve over to the WS of the wing and sew the bottom edge of the sleeve to the wing. Depending on the position (and color) of your earlier embellishment on the RS of the wing, you might have to change your bobbin thread to match whatever is underneath that seam. 

The sleeve was drafted to end in a perpendicular cuff line because I have no idea how slanty your particular wing is going to be when you draft it. When you have attached my sleeve to your wing, you can trim the cuff to match the slant of the wing tip,

like this.

The finished sleeve will hug the shoulder like this

even when the arm is raised

and allow quite a bit of freedom of motion while still being comfortable to wear.

Now repeat the whole process for the other wing and sleeve.

Then sew both wing halves together with their WSs (not RSs) touching. So yes, you will get exposed SA on the RS of the wings, like this:

It gets hidden later. Trust me. Remember that I am fanatical about hiding SA and wherever possible, I will. 

The wing portion is finished! We will now assemble the entire outfit, connecting the hood, wing and worm at the neck region. This is the layout:

and this is the schematic diagram showing the layering. Pay attention to the RS and WS configurations and the fact that the hood is upside down.

Sew that seam at the neck, through all three layers, from slit to slit.

Here is that seam (blue arrow) in a different color combination for visibility. Note that there are no visible SAs on this side of the seam - they are all on the RS of the outfit. 

Home stretch now! Flip the worm over to the RS of the wings. You will notice that now, ALL the previously-exposed SA are going to be hidden under the worm (good riddance). 

Pin the worm in position and topstitch along both long edges of the worm, securing it to the wings and covering all the exposed SAs in the process. 

The Butterfly Wings are completed!

Here are some shots of the finished outfit - the hood

the back, with hood down

the sleeves

and in motion.

For an alternative Butterfly Winged costume, try this post

Before I sign off, here's a question I've been asked countless times (about other tutorials as well) and I thought I'd finally answer it:

FAQ: Why are you so generous? Why didn't you release this as a paid pattern instead of a free tutorial? Don't shortchange yourself!

A: Hahahaha! It's not generosity, dahlings - it's foresight. If this were a paid pattern, I'd have to actually spoonfeed you the templates for everything, including the paper-wasting ginormous wings, the blob patches, the worm spine thing AND have to draw in seam allowances for you AND have to grade the pieces into all sizes from preemie to 18 years old. And then release a limited-edition Adult Size Version. AND have to take about 500 photos and write copious amounts of detailed sewing instructions, including the kind of needles to use and the definition of a "straight stitch" and "selvedge" just so I could say on the cover page, "Suitable for beginners". And then I'd have to have it tested by different people with different sewing skill levels (including beginners) with different-sized children, for whom I'd have to design a feedback form, after which I'd have to compile all the feedback and distill the bits that actually would improve the pattern from the bits that are only a reflection of the testers' general ignorance or shady sewing backgrounds. 

And then have to deal with download issues like Internet Explorer or people waiting by their physical mailboxes for a pdf pattern to be delivered by UPS or who, despite repeated warnings, download the pattern to their iPads and then realize it can't be printed from there and then panic and have to be calmed down so they don't shoot angry emails to paypal and open disputes to sully my reputation.

And we haven't even begun to talk about the hours and hours at the sewing machine making samples and muslins and testing and counter-testing and at the computer typing and scanning and editing photos and corresponding with testers. Why would I choose this incredibly time-consuming chore, of all things, to do with my precious summer (or winter or fall or spring, really) hours?

Ah. With a free tutorial, though, I can do as little as I like and make you do some of the work and learn something about drafting in the process, and you save money and your daughters, nieces, granddaughters and grandnieces still get their Butterfly Wings and everybody is happy. So... as I said: foresight. It may not fill my bank account but it's bought me a free summer. And we all know which is irreplaceable. 

Happy flying!


  1. you are awesome! thanks for taking the time to do a tutorial for this!

  2. those look really, really awesome *save for when I will one day have kids*

  3. You are fabulous! I about died reading you FAQ, because those are the exact same reasons I have tried to explain to my family about why I don't bother to sell patterns! It's like the second people find out you can draft something, you MUST sell the patterns you design. But I always think "Are you kidding? I made one, and now I'm over it." :D Bless you for your honesty!

  4. Thank you so much LiEr for your incredible generosity. I look forward to seeing two happy little butterflies fluttering around Hampstead Heath over the summer holidays.

  5. Thanks for the tutorial again. I will love to make theses

  6. Well to be *perfectly* precise, the central bit of the butterfly was never the caterpillar... rather, once inside the chrysalis, the long-dormant butterfly cells get activated and feed on the rich soup of the the disintegrating caterpillar body to divide and develop into the butterfly body.

    Sorry, couldn't resist :)

    1. limescented: That's EVEN worse! All along I've been thinking, "butterflies should be avoided because they're just desiccated caterpillars with wings". Now I'll forever remember that butterflies (and moths) are ALL caterpillar. So, out with the Old Theory: "Butterfly = upcycled caterpillar". Enter new theory: Butterfly = recycled caterpillar. I feel ill.

    2. Hahaha. Still laughing. Thanks for the excellent tutorial.

  7. Thank you so much! I know that I will have almost as much fun making these as my daughter will have playing with them :)

  8. Wow! That's a great tutorial - thanks so much. Enjoy that summer of yours!

  9. Thanks for the tutorial. What an awesome party gift. I might just have to find a small person to make one for.

    Life of an Agnostic Sunday School Teacher

  10. These are so beautiful. Thank you for sharing so all our little girls can look just as cute.

  11. Love this - you are amazing, as always!

  12. awesome ♥♥♥, incredible party! just incredible!

  13. Just wing it... =) Love it. Thanks for the tutorial! And I love the FAQ section.

  14. That's so cool, I can't stop reading this post. :)

  15. Thank you for that wonderful tutorial! I still have quite a few years before I might possibly need to make these, but it'll be so nice to refer to then! :)

  16. Your awesome. Thank you for all those tutorials and countless explanations on drafting.
    PS: You wouldn`t like to move to Germany, by any chance? We really have a lovely neighborhood around my place...

  17. Amazing and fabulous!! Now I just have to imagine how to get to the butterfly from a caterpillar so we can act out in preschool the Very Hungry Caterpillar! Thanks!

  18. Amazing and incredible! Now I just have to figure out how to get from a caterpillar to the butterfly for a preschool costume to go along with the Very Hungry Caterpillar! Thanks so much!

  19. Glad to had found your beautiful blog! so much to inspire me!

  20. Thank you, LiEr!!! I see happy butterfly-children in my future!

  21. This is just amazing - I'm going to find the fabric tomorrow.Did you make them from felt or fleece material?

    1. Vicky: fleece. Forgot to mention that in this post! See previous post for reasons.

  22. Thank you so much for the tutorial! My 3 yo son saw your pictures and immediately said, "I want to be a butterfly too!" So I shall be making a set of small wings this weekend.

  23. Thank you so much for the tutorial! I made a butterfly for my three-year old daughter and she loves it. She has asked me to make one for her little sister... Good excuse to do some more sewing!

  24. I am in love with your blog!! Thank you so much, I can not wait to try these!!!

  25. Halloween costume made! Thank you so much for taking the time to post this tutorial. This was so much fun to make, I need to make more!

  26. These are adorable! About how much fleece does it take? I can't see where you saw how much you need to start. I'd like to make some to donate to my daughters school for the dress up center! Thank you for sharing the tutorial!

  27. Sorry if this came through twice, I can't see that it posted. How much fabric does it take?

    1. Lori: I actually did not estimate the yardage because I was just using scrap fleece. Some pieces I had were big enough to cut the whole pair of wings from, as one piece. Some were too small and I had to cut one wing separately in layout from the other. I am going to suggest that you measure the wingspan for the child you are sewing for and buy that distance in yardage, if you want the stretch direction to be along the width of the sleeve. Or measure the length of the wings from head to tail you need, and buy that distance in yardage if you want the stretch direction to be from hand to hand. It is up to you.

    2. I understand! Thanks so much!!!

  28. Hello, just discovered your blog. There is a huge carnaval party in our area in Germany. I was looking for a costume inspiration, your butterfly costume will be perfect! Thanks!

  29. Thanks so much for this tutorial! I riffed on it to make my four-year-old a bat costume for World Book Day. The sleeve and hood templates were invaluable, and the construction method was so clever!

  30. Forgot to add that I also used "buy the length" (since the fabric was more than wide enough) to figure out the fabric purchase on the fly when I got to the counter and realized I hadn't planned it :-D


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