How to Create Articulated Angel Wings

I enjoy making homemade Halloween costumes so I can truly embrace my inner demons, or in this case, Angel of Death. Based on a moniker from one of my coworkers, I’ve wanted to do this costume for years, but I didn’t want to besmirch the name with a lame costume. Finally, this past summer I put my foot down, made the decision I was going to do it the right way and got to work. The wings ended up being one of the highlights to the costume and will be worn for years ahead. They measure 5 feet long by 2 feet tall.

Please note – These wings were created partially through trial by error and partially through Internet research. I’ve attached my primary source below, although I hardly followed these directions verbatim.
Also note – This project is not cheap or quick. I spent at least $200 and many an October night busy when all was said and done.

Materials Needed:
two pieces of 10 foot 1″ PVC pipe
two 45 degree elbow joints
PVC primer and cement
two 2.5″ or longer bolts (thick enough to support weight of wings) and nuts
two smaller bolts and nuts
6 screw eyelets (avoid the cuphooks if you can)
wire (I used 16 gauge)
combined 20″ long by 30″ tall cloth (I used black)
about 500 turkey feathers (half right and half left)
a weightlifting belt
a 1×6″ non-plywood board about 12″ long (molding worked well here)
two elastic straps (enough to go around your torso)
two metal pipe straps/D-rings
a double wall hook
1/8″ cable, nylon twine or something else durable
lots and lots of hot glue

Phase I-Construct The Skeleton
A. Cut a 4.5-foot section off of each PVC pipe. This will be the main wing bone.
B. Measure and cut the back bones. I suggest using a tape measure to measure from the small of your back to your shoulders/shoulder blades.
C. Measure and cut the diagonal bones. A little forethought here can pay huge dividends at the end. I did not make mine very long – just over a foot long – and I could not open and close my wings without them colliding and damaging the feathers. You want to be able to walk around without your center of gravity getting all fouled up, but it’s also nice to be able to fully enjoy your wings.

Phase II-The Harness
A. Line up the weight belt and board, and drill through both at the same time. Push the smaller bolts through – head facing you – and secure with nuts.
B. Mount in a vice and attach four eye bolts along the narrow sides of the board, keeping in mind the elastic straps will run across your body (i.e. from upper right to lower left and upper left to lower right) as a significant part of support. You want these closer to the edges than the middle.
C. Lay the board flat and place the D-rings on the top 1/3 of the board. Screw them down – you’ll probably be only to fit one screw for both with the other holes off the board, this is ok.
D. Take the back bones, slide them through the D-rings and make note where they end up along the bottom. Now, screw the double wall hook onto the bottom of the board.
E. Remove the back bones and cut a 1.5″ notch into the bottom of each pipe. This notch will keep your wings from moving once attached.

Phase III-Coming Together
A. Measure about 6″ from the edge of each wing bones and drill a hole wide enough for the bolt all the way through. I suggest using an awl to start and then switch to a small drill bit. If need be, then swap to a larger drill bit.
B. Measure a few inches off the edge of the diagonal bone and drill a hole though those pipes.
C. Push the bolt through both a wing bone and diagonal bone – the former on the outside and the latter closer to you – and secure with a nut. Make sure the two pipes can pivot relatively freely and the bolt is holding strong.
D. Drill a very small hole on the bottoms of each wing bone just off the edge with the bolt. Thread and secure a length of cable/twine/etc. through the hole.
E. Measure and drill a hole along the top of each diagonal bone for a screw eyelet. This is where the cable/twine/etc. will run. It helps if you experiment with the hole placement while it’s still bolted together just to make sure the joint works smoothly.
F. Disconnect the bolt. Prime and cement the 45 degree elbow to the diagonal bone.
G. Temporarily connect the elbow and back bones before inserting the pipe into the harness. Adjust the angle you want the wings to lie from your body. Completely flat makes sense at first, although I’ve heard it’s difficult to walk through doors with. I can also tell you it provides absolutely no wiggle room if you screwed up on the diagonal bones like I did. I suggest turning the wings at least slightly so there’s a semblance of a point at your back. Once you find the right angle, prime and cement the elbow into the back bones.

Phase IV-The Wings
A. Using your wing skeleton as a guide, cut four pieces of fabric 4.5 feet long by 2 feet tall. This should give you a little room for error.
B. Again using your frame as a guide, design a wing style, mark it on the fabric and cut. I ended up with straight edges along the pipe at the top with a crude curve on the bottom coming up to reach a point at the wing’s edge. This step is a lot harder than it sounds and is fairly important. Do some research by looking up pictures of wings and design a style to your taste.
C. Measure and cut several pieces of wire to act as a rib for each wing. They should be different sizes and run the length of the pipe. I drilled four holes on each wing bone and ran some wire through each pipe, but I regret that decision. It would work a lot better with a piece of wire hot glued to each side of the pipe. Remember-wings are not flat and have a natural curve! This step is designed to help shape the wing.
D. Move the cable/twine/etc. through the eyelet and position it wherever you’d like the line to run in the end. Once the next steps are completed, you will not be able to adjust the line.
E. With the wire attached to the wing bone and the fabric cut, gradually glue the fabric onto the pipe and wire. This step will take some time as hot glue tends to dry quickly. I applied glue to the length of the pipe and went to press the fabric on, only to find it had already dried by the time I reached the end. Do a little at a time.
F. Hot glue the seams of the fabric together. Don’t worry if they’re ugly as sin – mine were – they’ll be hidden from sight. If you have fabric over the top of the wing bone – again like mine – make sure you secure that too. I just glued mine together so it created a little lip, but you could probably also fold and glue it onto the pipe for a cleaner look.
F. Cut holes in the fabric for the bolts.
F. Prepare and hot glue the feathers onto the wings. While not as frustrating as designing the wings, this is an extremely time-consuming step. Many people advocate trimming the feathers to a point. I was too lazy to bother, but I did cut the stems down on at least half of the feathers I used. Also remember that wings not only have a natural bend, but feathers cover each other and have an angle to them. With my wings, I put them right side up on the front and backwards on the back. Start with uncut feathers along the bottom closes to the back bones and slowly move towards the edge. At some point towards the edge, it will look bizarre and be difficult to work with if you don’t cut the hard stems down, leaving just the soft feather. Once you finish a line across, move up, go a line across and continue. It took me about 45 minutes to glue each side of each wing, although I’ve heard of people spending three hours just cutting the feathers. Make sure the feathers leave a small hole around the opening for the bolts.

Phase V-Final Assembly
A. Find a way to disguise the diagonal and back bones. Some suggest wrapping feather boas around the pipe, although I just glued some spare black fabric to it with a rib on each side to create a triangle. Before attempting this step, I strongly recommend preparing the rest of the costume. With mine, I cut holes in the robe and measured how much back bone was showing. You don’t want to have PVC pipe unexpectedly exposed.
B. Bolt the wings together completely and ensure they still work. This is when you find out if there’s a problem along the way and it’s too late to fix it. In my case, I couldn’t open and close the wings because they were tucked together tightly.
C. Tie the elastic securely on the top two eyelets. Don the weightlifting belt and tie the elastic to a lower hook across your body. The harness should feel reasonably secure, although it’s probably not a good idea to go nuts.
D. With the help of a friend, thread the back bones through the D-rings and onto the hooks. Everything should fit correctly and look awesome by now.
E. Putting these wings on alone is nearly impossible. Taking them off, however, is not a challenge so long as you have some the strength and flexibility to reach up and carefully pull the wings out of the D-rings.

Phase VI-Final Thoughts
A. In addition to the width between the wings, I also screwed up the line mechanism by gluing the nylon twine down the back bones and not through the eyelet. Originally I had plans for securing the line to keep the wings open, rather than holding by hand, but that never transpired. I’d suggest a sturdy hook with a loop in the line or a nautical cleat with knot in the line – both connected to the board.
B. You may end up with a bolt very visibly protruding from each wing, like I did. Either plan carefully, cut the bolt or just tell everyone to look at the rest of your awesome wings.
C. I’m not kidding about the glue. I went through nearly two full 10 packs of long sticks from Home Depot. Granted my hot glue gun has no trigger and I wasted a fair amount burning my hands, there’s a lot of gluing going on in this project.
D. Protect these bad boys! You invested all that time and money, why let them get damaged or destroyed?
E. If I can put my wings together through trial and error (plenty of error) and still make them look good, I’m sure yours will be even better. May I suggest putting the same passion into the rest of your costume? I couldn’t find a good robe, but I did buy a real scythe which turned plenty of heads as well.

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