It turns out that there are several large archives of free kite plans, that seem to have been online since the early days of the web. They suffer pretty badly from link rot, but there are still plenty of great plans and instruction sets to be found, for all levels of complexity and skill. With some nylon and a sewing machine, you can run up some pretty incredible designs — power kites, stunt kites, fighters, and what can only be described as flying sculptures.
For a simple start, a kite arch to take to the fantastic Electromagnetic Field (EMF) festival. Built according to these plans, the arch is 28 simple diamond kites, strung together horizontally. 28 diamond shapes were cut out of ripstop nylon, which had been carefully selected according to certain complex criteria (viz. “the cheapest colourful ripstop found within half an hour on eBay”), and pockets sewn on to accommodate the vertical spars. Cheap kite string and 6mm dowel were cut to size, and a short(ish) time on the sewing machine later, a kite arch was born:
It flies very well over a wide range of windspeeds, and even launches itself! We didn’t manage to get it flying at EMF (maybe you saw it lying forlornly on the ground near OxHack’s ringmaking tent?), but it gets out and about and works brilliantly.