Set in a beautiful, rambling vegetable garden on a peaceful Ōtaki back street is the light and airy studio of a world-class kitemaker and artist.

Yvonne De Mille started making kites over 30 years ago after helping another kitemaker, and catching the bug for this art form that can be both minutely intricate and flamboyantly bold.

She was mentored by Peter Lynn, a world-renowned kitemaker widely thought of as the inventor of kiteboarding and kitesurfing, whose factory still makes kites, often in huge sizes, and where De Mille often sources fabric offcuts.

A cupboard in her studio is full of nylon bags that look like tents, but each contains the folded-up structure of a giant, colourful kite that has wowed onlookers as it has flown somewhere around the world.

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More recently, De Mille was the inspiration behind the Ōtaki Kite Festival, now in its seventh year and hugely popular, drawing crowds from all over the region to Ōtaki Beach to see hundreds of kites of all shapes and sizes in action.

"There are rules as to what makes a kite fly," she said. "Then once you know a bit about kite-making you can break those rules a bit."

Another of Yvonne De Mille's kites in flight.
Another of Yvonne De Mille's kites in flight.

Being correctly balanced, at the correct angle to the wind so lift is created and being both light and strong are the main tenets of kite making, and if it is made correctly a kite doesn't need a tail, De Mille said.

"Although tails do look nice."

One of her creations, Cathedral Window, sports a 25m tail, and De Mille enjoys bending the physics of her kites by experimenting with asymmetrical designs, extra fabric and additional tail pieces to balance and create visual impact.

"They're not made to classic shapes, they're freestyles," she said. "I'm one of the few people who does that."

De Mille works mainly in ripstop nylon, a fabric that is both strong and light, and builds frames from spiral-wound fibre glass, similar to fishing rods, or carbon fibre.

"I'm learning bamboo cutting techniques at the moment too," she said.

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The kites are machine sewn, and depending on the size and complexity of the designs, can represent hundreds of hours of work.

Sometimes, the nature of kite-flying means damage, something a kitemaker has to stay philosophical about.

"There are risks," De Mille said.

A delicate silk kite she made for an event in Malaysia some years ago snagged a stick on its first flight, tearing right through the middle of the fabric, which had a woman's face designed on it.

"She got a scar right down her cheek on the first flight."

Another time, a kite made with carbon fibre rods for light wind conditions caught a gust that was too much for it, breaking every bit of the frame.

Despite the challenges though, De Mille finds her art form deeply rewarding and shares it with her community as much as possible, both through the festival and through workshops she runs in local schools teaching children how to make paper kites.

"Everything you need to make a kite can be found in your kitchen cupboard," she said.

For more information on Yvonne De Mille, her kitemaking and the workshops she runs, including printmaking, visit www.yvonnedemille.co.nz