When did duct tape become an art form?

There once was a girl with a duct-tape dress. She had a matching duct-tape hat.

She sat in a duct-tape chair by her duct-tape rug. She had duct-tape flowers in her hair and duct-tape shoes on her feet and carried a duct-tape wallet in her duct-tape purse.

Fairy tale? No, it’s all too real. Just check Pinterest.

Our house does not yet have a duct-tape rug or chair — though given our spillage Blog Photorate, I won’t reject the idea out of hand — but we have been smitten by duct-tape mania.

We have a shopping bag full of the stuff — and many, many projects to show for it.

We have duct-tape wallets, purses, hats, bracelets, headbands and some frankly unidentifiable objects known only to my daughter’s imagination. And I’m pretty sure our Halloween costumes this week will involve duct tape.

The sticky, shiny tape, used for decades on actual duct work, is the hottest craft craze for the tween set. If you have a 10-year-old daughter, odds are you have rolls of colorful duct tape in your house.

I am the first to say these creations are pretty darn cute — and useful. My (nonduct-tape) purse contains, at this moment, a duct-tape wallet for my extra credit cards and frequent customer cards at Auntie Anne’s and Cafe Kopi, a duct-tape cellphone holder and a duct-tape pouch that holds my receipts and random papers. (My daughter understands my organizational challenges.)

My black cellphone is tough to find in the nether regions of my purse, so my daughter decorated the back with brightly striped duct tape. Problem solved.

When we broke the orange caution flag on a brand-new bike, she ran to get her fluorescent orange duct tape to fix it.

According to Pinterest, you can use duct tape to repair the soles of your shoes, Blog Photorecover a chair or breath new life into an old table.

You can fashion it into earrings, belts, flowers, ties, wreaths, rugs, Christmas trees, jewelry, hammocks (!) and, yes, costumes for Halloween. There’s even a “Duct Tape Bullet Bandolier Belt and Utility Vest!”

My son’s classmate has become so accomplished in duct-tape art that she’s thinking of opening her own duct-tape website. In eighth grade.

My daughter and her friends tried selling their wares at a recent garage sale (a kindly neighbor bought a few things). They asked later if we could set up shop in front of our house every Saturday. Other than city permit issues (is this like a lemonade stand?), I suggested they might want to perfect their craft a bit first.

When did this ordinary gray tape become an art form?

For help, I turned to the big gun in the biz: Duck Brand tape, whose website refers to duct tape as “an enduring symbol of all in this world that is functional.” Well, OK.

It seems the tape was born in World War II, when there was a need for a durable, Blog Photoflexible waterproof tape that could repair vehicles and weapons. A division of the Johnson & Johnson Co. developed a product using medical tape as a base and applying two new technologies: polycoat adhesives and polyethylene coating. The latter allowed the tape to be laminated to a cloth backing, making it strong and flexible.

The company says the product was nicknamed “Duck Tape” for its ability to repel water, though other theories trace the name back to the original cotton duck fabric.
After the war, the tape was commonly used to hold duct work together, so it changed from army green to the familiar gray, and the name “duct tape” came into use.

Over the years, it was a key ingredient in some high-profile repairs, including the 1970 “Apollo 13” space mission. After the command module’s oxygen tank exploded, the NASA team had to modify square carbon dioxide filters from the failed module to fit round receptacles in the lunar module, using only materials on board the spacecraft. NASA engineer Ed Smylie later told the Associated Press he knew they were “home free” once he learned the astronauts had duct tape on board.

“One thing a Southern boy will never say is, ‘I don’t think duct tape will fix it,’” he said in the 2005 interview.

In 1971, Jack Kahl bought the Melvin A. Andersen Co., which had acquired the rights to duct tape. He later introduced a branded version, Duck Brand duct tape, and popularized its use.

The tape was being used for decorating by the 1990s, when Duck Brand had 11 basic colors. The company produced its first print, camouflage, in 1997, and in 2000, added four neon colors.

But company spokeswoman Patti Sack said the trend really took off in 2001, when the company started its annual “Stuck at Prom” contest. High school students were Blog Photochallenged to design dresses and tuxes out of duct tape, and winners would receive college scholarships. The company also ran a contest for a duct tape wedding in 2001. The winner (in California, of course) had a duct tape dress, tux, bouquet, runner ... the works.

Bloggers and social media fueled the craze: Duck Brand’s Facebook page has 5.4 million fans.

The company won’t release sales figures, but suffice to say this has not hurt its bottom line.

The tape is now sold in more than 200 colors and endless prints, including Star Wars, Spider-Man, Hello Kitty and Justin Bieber. You can get duct tape with peace signs, tie-dyed colors, seasonal designs and your favorite NFL, Major League Baseball and university brands (including the Illini).

Duck Brand tape has been featured on TV’s “Mythbusters” and “Project Runway.”

The company runs contests throughout the year, including the “Stick or Treat” contest, in which fans decorate jack-o’-lanterns using duct tape. It also hosts a festival every year in Avon, Ohio, that draws 50,000 people.

“If I didn’t live it for the last 10 years, I wouldn’t believe it myself,” Sack said.

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Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at (217) 351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth.

Photos:

Don't you need a duct-tape handbag?

‘Stick or Treat,’ an annual Duck Brand competition, gives customers the opportunity to dress up pumpkins with duct tape.

Ashton Woolen, left, and Caden Kluge of Woodstock, Ga., are the 2013 winners of Duck Brand’s ‘Stuck at Prom’ contest for the duct-tape outfits they created and wore to the Sequoyah High School event.

Just in case you need to repair your tailgate tent - Illini duct tape.

Photos courtesy Duck Brand Duct Tape
 

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