Tutorial: Butterfly Fairy Wings (with wire and fabric)

tutorial: wings for cosplay

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Fabric and wire are ideal for creating large wings with a closed shape. Butterfly or insect wings are good options. The idea is to create your desired shape with the wire, pull the fabric over it, and paint your design on the fabric. 

This is a little bit difficult since the wire can easily bend out of shape. But it is still a fairly easy method for creating visually interesting wings.

butterfly fabric and wire wings

Supplies you will need for this tutorial:

  • Paper and writing utensils
  • 9 gauge wire
  • Pantyhose or your fabric of choice (transparent or stretch fabrics will give you the best results)
  • Needle and thread
  • Duct tape or electric tape
  • Ribbon or elastic
drawn butterfly wings
draw your wings and make sure you have a closed design.

Step 1: Draw your design

As always, the first step is to draw out the shape you want to create for your wings. As long as you plan to have symmetrical wings, you only need to draw one side of them. You’ll be able to use the same design when shaping the wire for both sides. Make sure the wings drawing is to-scale so you don’t have to try to resize it later.

When drawing your design, make sure you are making a closed structure. This means you want the wire to connect back with itself, leaving no open spaces. You can, however, create more than one close wing design, such as the two loops for the butterfly wings. 

measuring the wire and creating wings
Measure your wire pieces and shape it along the wing drawing you made. Twist the ends together to keep it closed.

Step 2: Create your wire outline

Now it’s time to create the basic shape of the wings using wire. I recommend using a 9 gauge wire since this is strong enough to hold its shape. You might be able to use 12 gauge wire if you are making smaller wings. For wire, the lower number means it’s a thicker wire and stronger than higher numbers.

  1. Measure the outline of each closed wing structure. I use a measuring tape to slowly go along the outline of my wing shapes to get an accurate measurement. For my butterfly wings, since there are two sections on each wing, I measure each separately.
  2. Add about five or six inches to each of your measurements and cut the wire. You’ll want two wires for each length so you can have symmetrical right and left wings.
  3. Carefully bend and shape your wire along the outline of the design that you made. You should have a couple of inches of wire leftover on either end of the design. Twist those together to close the wing shape.

If you are making butterfly wings, like me, you’ll be left with four separate wing shapes. Two for the upper part of the wings, and two for the bottom part.

cover the wing pieces with fabric
Use the pantyhose or fabric to cover your wire wings. Use your drawing to reshape the wings if they become misshapen during the process.

Step 3: Add your fabric 

The process of adding fabric to your wing shape will be slightly different depending on the type of fabric you use. The easiest way to approach this is to use a pair of tights or pantyhose:

  1. Stretch one leg of the pantyhose all the way around one of your wing shapes. Cut off the excess fabric. The shape might collapse a little bit, but don’t worry! You can fix that easily once you get the fabric over top.
  2. Sew the cut end of the tights back together and stretch them over the next section of the wings. Make sure to use a zig-zag stitch when you sew up the tights so that the thread will stretch with the fabric.
  3. Repeat with the second pantyhose leg on the left-side wings.
  4. Sew the open ends of the fabric around the twisted wire. I wrap the open end of the fabric around the wire and then sew it shut to keep the fabric in place.

If you want to use a different kind of material, you can also cut out the wing shapes in the fabric. You’ll want two pieces for each wing shape. Sew them together, leaving one edge open so you can put the wire inside. Then sew it shut. You should be left with four wire wings with fabric.

the butterfly wings
You can add decorations if you want to, or use fancy fabric to make the wings look more interesting.

Step 4: Add decorations and details

Since I decided to use fancy tights that already had a cool-looking design, I didn’t add any extra decorations. However, you can use this time to decorate and add as many details as you want. 

If you are painting the material, I recommend using fabric paint. I know Jacquard is known for its line of quality paints to use on fabrics. It’s also a good idea to test the paint on some scrap fabric first. You want to make sure it’s not going to cause a lot of bleeding on your wings and mess up the design.

attaching the wings together
First connect the left wings together and the right wings together, then twist the wire in the middle. Add tape and ribbon over top to cover the wire and create a harness for the wings.

Step 5: Attach the wings together

After you are satisfied with the look of your wings and everything is dry, it’s time to put it all together. We’ll also add a harness to the wings so that you can wear them or attach them to your costume.

  1. Take one wing bottom and one wing top. Position the two pieces how you want them to look, then twist the wire ends together. Repeat with the left wing pieces.
  2. Now take both the right and the left wing and twist the wires together again. This will be a little difficult since the wires should be pretty thick from having so many pieces in the twist.
  3. Take some duct tape or electrical tape and wrap it around your center wire piece. This will keep the ugly twisted wire from showing in your final design, and it will cover the ends of the wires and keep them from poking into your back.
  4. Cut two pieces of ribbon or elastic and tie them around the center of your wing structure. Then create loops in the elastic or tie the ribbon around your arms to hold your wings in place.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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