Sunday, 1 April 2012

Elephant No. 182: Duct Tape


I've been seeing instructions for duct tape bracelets and duct tape wallets for a few weeks now, so I thought I'd try some kind of duct tape elephant today.

Duct tape is a cloth or fibre-backed plastic tape. It's similar to gaffer's tape, which is used to tape down wires and such in theatrical and musical performances; however, gaffer's tape is designed to be removed cleanly, while duct tape most assuredly is not. Duct tape is usually grey or silver, but also comes in black and, bowing to its use as a craft material, now comes in colours and even patterns such as leopard skin and jungle camouflage. 

Duct tape is sometimes called "duck tape", which is not a slang or brand name, but actually relates to the tape's original purpose. In 1942, the Revolite company—formerly a division of Johnson & Johnson—developed a tape with a rubber-based adhesive, applied to a duck-cloth, or heavy canvas, backing. The tape proved resistant to water, and was used to seal ammunition cases during the Second World War. Because it proved so effective, it was also used as a quick fix for military equipment, including jeeps, firearms and even aircraft.

Duct tape repair using the "matching" colour.

Over the past 70 years, duct tape has had many interesting uses. As "racer's tape"—or "tank tape" in the United States—it has been used for more than forty years to repair fiberglass body work on race cars. It has also been used in Space; for example, when the carbon dioxide filters failed on Apollo 13, duct tape was used to help seal the square filters into round holes. Duct tape was also used on Apollo 17 to repair a damaged fender on the lunar rover.

Various forms of duct tape are also used by the military, including the balancing and repair of helicopter blades during the Vietnam War. Interestingly, the plasticized duct tape most of us know is useless for duct work, as it quickly becomes brittle and falls off.

Prom costumes made with duct tape.

Today, duct tape has found a place in popular culture, and has been used in any number of weird and wonderful applications. It has been used to make prom dresses, costumes, and was once even claimed as a wart remedy. It has been featured in experiments on television shows such as Mythbusters, and on sitcoms such as The Red Green Show, which made extensive use of duct tape, dubbing it "the handyman's secret weapon." Others have called the combination of WD-40 and duct tape "the redneck repair kit", and the Duct Tape Guys (Jim Berg and Tim Nyberg), who have written several books about duct tape, coined the truism, "It ain't broke; it just lacks duct tape."

I personally don't love duct tape. We usually have a roll of it around the house, but it tends to get brittle and useless before we ever use it up. I think its partly because I tend to associate it with cheapo repairs, and partly because I've never liked the way it looks on anything. As a craft material, however, it had interesting new possibilities.

I started with this roll of brand-new duct tape that I picked up for a dollar.

I've never made anything with duct tape, so I wasn't entirely sure how to make a shape that wasn't square with this stuff. Actually, even trying to make a square wasn't easy, because if you're not incredibly precise and careful, the tape gloms onto itself in some weird spot and absolutely won't let go.

I started by tearing off a piece measuring about 25 cm (10 inches) in length, and used it to make a sort of oblong. I had to make this simple shape twice, because the first attempt was a wrinkly mess.

Next, I made four legs by folding pieces about 7.5 cm (3 inches) long over themselves a couple of times.

I stuck the legs to the body by taping them on with little bits of duct tape, then made another square for a head.

I taped down the corners of the head to shape it a little, then taped it to the body.

I thought the body looked a bit small, so I added a bit more to the back.

Next, I added a trunk by tearing a strip about half the width of the tape. I taped the strip to the head, then folded and twisted it around itself. It was a bit too long, so I trimmed off the end with scissors.

I added a tail by tearing off a tiny piece and twisting it around itself. I left some of the adhesive free so that I could stick it to the body. I also thought it would be interesting to give the elephant some wrinkles, so I cut a strip about as long as the body, then loosely pleated it before sticking it on the existing body, wrinkling it some more as I laid it down.

I decided to shape the trunk a bit by pleating it in a couple of places. I secured the pleats with tiny pieces of tape on the underside.

 I made an ear next.

I wasn't sure about the sort of parallelogram shape, so I added a bit more tape to enlarge the ear and make it a bit rounder. I attached the ear to the head from behind, and added a loop of tape under the front part of the ear to secure it to the head.

To finish, I made a tusk with a twist of duct tape, securing it with a tiny piece of tape. For an eye, I balled up the smallest piece of tape I could handle, securing it to the head with an equally small loop of tape.

Aside from the fact that I don't like the stickiness of duct tape, I didn't mind this activity at all. The elephant has no useful purpose as clothing, wallet or bracelet, but it turned out rather well, I think. I'm not sure I'd make another one, but it was kind of fun in the end.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In late November, A.D. 1254, an African elephant arrived at Whitsand, England. The elephant was a gift from Louis IX of France to Henry III of England, and is said to have been acquired by Louis during a crusade in Palestine.

In January 1255, the Sheriff of Kent was ordered to "bring the King's elephant from Whitsand to Dover, and if possible to London by water." The elephant was to join the royal menagerie at the Tower of London, which also featured three leopards, a bear and a polar bear.

In 1255, Henry ordered elaborate arrangements to be made for his elephant. "We command," he wrote the Sheriff of London, “that ye cause without delay, to be built at our Tower of London, one house of forty feet long and twenty feet deep, for our elephant.”

All who saw the elephant were enchanted. Matthew Paris, a Benedictine monk from St. Alban's Abbey was sure "this was the only elephant ever seen in England," and drew it twice.

Sadly, no one knew anything about keeping elephants. Its enclosure was far too small, and the damp, chilly environment was hardly conducive to its health. In addition, no one really knew what to feed it. The elephant—whose name, if it had one, has never been recorded—died in 1258, apparently from a surfeit of red wine.

Henry III's elephant being fed by its keeper, Henricus de Flor, ca. 1255.
Matthew Paris (1200–1259)
Collection of the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, U.K.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation
Elephants Without Borders 
Save the Elephants
International Elephant Foundation Elephant's World (Thailand) 
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Elephant Nature Park (Thailand)