This is just an overview of ripstop nylon, focusing on what it is and
it's various uses. Particularly for kites of course, like that Delta in the photo!
Typical nylon-sailed kite
Typical nylon-sailed kite
As far as history goes, there's not much to be found online.
Apart from the fact that this material replaced silk as the cloth of
choice for military parachutes. That was back during WW2. The 1940s.
Being synthetic, it was easy to produce nylon cloth in large volumes and
thus production was cheap compared to using silk.
Just to digress for a moment, not all home-made kites are made in rip-stop straight away. A useful approach is to make a kite in plastic first, just to get a feel for it's performance and general flying characteristics.
When the owner is satisfied, perhaps after making more than one kite, they splash out on some rip-stop nylon and make the long-lasting design of their dreams :-)
My Big MBK Book Bundle is a collection of printable e-books, downloaded as PDF files. I've had positive feedback from visitors who have re-made some of these designs in rip-stop. Including a guy who scaled up the MBK Octopus so it was many meters in length and sent through some photos.
The World Of Ripstop
By the way, it's not limited to nylon, but let's stick to the topic at hand...
Nylon itself is used in a massive array of everyday items,
so I won't even mention any here. You can probably think of a quite a
few yourself, without doing any research at all!
Even the ripstop variety of nylon cloth has many, many uses in the 21st Century. This is not common knowledge, so I will list a few here....
- Outdoor gear such as tents and weather-proof covers.
- Colorful, light-weight and durable clothing. And accessories such as bags.
- Engine-less aviation sectors such as balloons, hang-gliders, paragliders and parasails.
- KITES! Thank goodness for that.
Ripstop. That's quite descriptive, because larger diameter threads
are woven into the fabric at regular intervals. Typically 5 mm to 8 mm
(1/5" to 1/4"). This results in a pattern of small squares, which are
visible if you look at the material closely. Any small hole or tear
tends to stop at the first larger thread it comes to. The rip stops.
There wouldn't be much left if you took all the ripstop nylon away from a typical kite festival!
In a nutshell, this kite sail material is very light and very durable. Also, it is made with zero porosity which means air and water cannot penetrate it. It's almost like it was made for kites in the first place!
For some other applications, the porosity is not zero. Enough said.
Coloring The World
With Ripstop Nylon
These days, nylon kite sail material is dyed in the factory.
Not painted. Hence many bright colors are available straight 'off the
shelf'. However, it's still possible to home-dye plain ripstop nylon
cloth. Some have even done a tie-dye job on their kite sail! Ah, the
Dye products from the Dylon company can be used to successfully
and permanently change the color of the fabric. The process involves
soaking the cloth in a hot but not boiling dye solution. Very thorough
rinsing with cold water afterwards is necessary. Otherwise, any dye left
on the surface could start to run, if the kite gets wet! OK I guess if
all the panels are the same color, but otherwise it could really be a
Here are a couple of nice kite photos, representing the small and
big end of the retail kite spectrum. I'm pretty sure they both employ
ripstop nylon cloth! A small inflatable-sparred Sled in the first image, and a
positively giant sized inflatable show kite in the other image...
A Word On Weights
The great majority of shop kites these days seem to use either 1/2 ounce or 3/4 ounce ripstop nylon. That's the weight per square yard of material. 1.5 ounce is less common, and there is even a smattering of other odd sizes like 0.6 ounce.
Hang on, why 'square yards' in this Metric age? To get more precise about it, in the U.S. they use ounces per "sailmaker's yard" which is 36 by 28.5 inches. The Brits use the standard Imperial yard. Finally, and most sensibly, the rest of Europe uses grams per square meter.
1 ounce American equals 1.26 ounces British and 42.8 grams per square meter. So when you buy a kite, the meaning of the cloth weight figure (if given) depends on the country of manufacture of the ripstop cloth.
We saw a Cody Box kite once at a kite festival, aloft in a very light
breeze. Huh? Well, it was covered in 1/2 ounce ripstop nylon
apparently, and I'm guessing it had graphite spars as well! Box kites
ain't what they used to be.
Perhaps the massive kite-selling activity in the U.S. is the
reason this non-metric measure seems to persist when people talk and
write about sail weight.
Personally, I've by-passed using rip-stop altogether, since I'm all about showing people how to make their own kites quickly from cheap materials...
The Big MBK Book Bundle is a collection of my printable e-books, downloaded as PDF files.
I guess if a plastic creation really 'hits the spot' then it can be re-made in ripstop nylon. It would then be a tad heavier but definitely more durable.