Bunch of Bees: One Stitch at a Time

Last Saturday, it was my turn along with three friends from Ottawa Social to help out building the “Bunch of Bees” balloon (see the two previous posts on this page).

If you have read the earlier posts, you will already know that Bill Whelan is also a beekeeper and this balloon envelope and the to-be-built 2nd one in the shape of a queen bee are tributes to bees. What you don’t know is the serious reason behind their creation.

You see bees are in trouble these days. Five years ago, a mysterious condition called Colony Collapse Disorder decimated honey bee colonies in parts of the United States and Canada. Now recent field studies published in Science magazine led to conclusions that a dramatic loss of queens and interference with the bees’ ability to find their way back to the hive could be indirectly tied to systematic insecticides, a common way to protect crops. Canadian farmers and Agriculture Canada are working to find solutions. Bill and Sandra Rolfe are hoping their two bee-themed balloons will draw attention to the plight of the bees.

In the workshop this past Saturday, there was nothing exciting like seeing part of the balloon being inflated. Nonetheless, steady progress is still being made. My friends are “newbies” to ballooning. Here’s a picture of them listening intently to Bill (at the sewing machine) and Sandra outlining the project. They were so enthralled with it all, I would not be surprised if a few join the NCBC.

Friends new to ballooning attentive to Sandra at right and Bill seated at sewing machine
Friends new to ballooning attentive to Sandra at right and Bill seated at sewing machine

My friends and I learned that the length of each gore is about 30 metres, consisting of 17 panels of fabric and one panel of Nomex (flame-resistant material placed at the mouth of the envelope closest to the burners), and the width of each gore is 5 metres. The balloon hive alone will weigh approximately 150 lbs. That doesn’t include the six (6) little bees to be attached to the beehive envelope.  The little bees are a whopping 6 metres in length and have a circumference of 15 metres where they attach to the envelope. Bill wants to name each bee. By the time it is all done, 1600 metres of fabric will be used to build this balloon envelope as well as several kilometres of thread.

Saturday was a milestone day as we started to sew gores to each other! Imagine sliding 30 metres of fabric with a combined width of 10 metres into a sewing machine. It was quite the assembly line:

  • Under Sandra’s guidance, we 1st pinned the two gores together
  • She then sat at the single-needle sewing machine while Bill sat at the double-needle sewing machine
  • We helped slide the fabric from the cutting/pinning table to Sandra
  • One of us unpinned the fabric as it passed through the sewing machine
  • We then guided the fabric over to Bill’s machine while one of us sat across from him applying tension so that the fabric didn’t pucker
  • The gore is so long that it was being sewed at both machines at the same time!

By the end of the day we had sewed two gores together and had pinned the next two all ready to be sewed together first thing Sunday morning. As Bill sewed, he could see the mark on one of the gores where one of the small bees would be attached. That got him excited.

I don’t have any cool pictures for you. However rest assured that thanks to new friends & old, this project is progressing to completion one stitch at a time.