Floating Freely in a Fine Fashion

Steve Johnson's free book on invisible thread reels

* A quick note from the author:
Hello reader and thanks for taking the time. As you read the text below, please keep in mind that although the text remains unchanged since it's inception in 1991, the invisible thread reel has been improved many times, the latest being
Grand Illusions' GTR. Click here to check it out!


Waxing and Wearing

There are many types of wax on the market. The best kinds of wax to use with your reel is “hard magicians wax” typically used for invisible thread work. Some brands, however, tend to crumble to readily while others are too greasy. A wax for invisible thread work should be soft only when worked between the fingers and should stiffen once adhered to the anchor. I recommend that you purchase “hard magician’s wax” from your local magic dealer. This wax is quite sticky and will adhere to most any surface.

To “Wax your line”, or place a wax ball on the end of your thread, scoop a small ball of wax out of the container using a coin or other stout object. The wax ball should be large enough that it cannot fit through the feeder hole in the side of the reel but not so large that it can easily be seen by the spectator. Roll the wax ball between the thumb and forefinger until it is in a cylindrical shape. Pull the end of your thread through the feeder hole in the side of the reel. Wrap the thread around the cylinder of wax once or twice then spin the cylinder of wax between your fingers, spooling thread out of the reel and onto the wax cylinder. Fold the wax cylinder several times to insure that the thread has thoroughly tangled inside the wax, and then roll it into a ball. Stick this waxed ball of thread to the bottom of the reel on the same side as the feeder hole.

The most common, comfortable place to wear your reel is pinned behind the breast pocket of a dress shirt. The thread can then be easily drawn through the gap between buttons on the shirt. I do know some professionals who wear their reel pinned behind vests, the inside of suit or casual jackets, inside Fanny packs or within trouser pockets. I even know one gentleman who pinned the reel inside his trousers and pulled the thread through his partly opened fly! You should wear the reel whenever you feel most comfortable and confident with it. Be careful not to inhibit the free movement of thread in and out of the reel by wearing it under tight clothing or by pulling the thread through clothing at extreme angles that cause undue friction.

The single most important thing to remember when using the reel is to be aware of the light sources surrounding you. Since being in bad light is the only way anyone is ever going to see your thread, you must be extremely cautious as to where and when to perform. The first rule of thread work is never to have light behind you from the audience perspective. That is to say, if you are in between a strong light source and your audience, you will get caught!

Bright fluorescent lights over a white floor, such as in a supermarket, are also a bad place to use the reel. A fluorescent tube produces harsh, bright, white light that usually makes the thread visible. The combination of bright overhead lights and white reflective floors makes performance a bad idea.

Performing in bright, direct sunlight is suicidal. Sunlight, being ambient, has no direct source. The light from the sun comes from all around you and causes the thread to actually glow. It is my firm opinion that in sunlight there is no safe performance zone and every audience angle will expose the performer as a thread worker.

To find out if a performance zone is sale for thread work, first do a light check. If you're working with a partner or assistant, the light check is fairly simple. Just spool out a few feet and ask your partner to walk around the audience zone looking up at you to see whether or not the crowd will be able to see the thread. When working solo a light check isn't much harder and can be done inconspicuously. Simply place the wax ball at the end of your thread underneath of your thumbnail. By casually scratching your head or in some similar fashion raising your arm, you will have pulled thread out of the reel and placed it in front of your face.

Turn your body to survey all light sources by looking past the thread into the light. By waiting until the thread "disappears" you can find the best possible zone to perform in. If the thread never vanishes from your sight, abandon that zone and perform elsewhere.

No trick is worth performing if the crowd and environment are not conducive to the performance. Remember that the effect and the performance are everything in magic. It's better to give up doing a trick in one setting rather than risk discovery. Remember also, if you ruin the effect by discovery, you will never again be able to perform that trick for the same crowd again. You also will lose credibility as a performer and, most importantly, ruin that particular style of magic for performers as a whole.

If the light is conducive to the trick, however, go for it! The effects contained in this book are guaranteed mind blowers. And by following a few simple rules regarding light, discovery is highly unlikely.

The “Z” Grip
The Z Grip is used to catch the thread between the fingers of one hand in such a way that it prevents the reel from rewinding.

For the purpose of description and illustration the handling here will be written right-handed. The practiced magician, however, should be able to use the Z Grip with either hand.

Start by facing your anchor at a distance suitable for your routine. Raise your right hand to thread level with your index finger pointing left, your right palm facing left, and the remaining right fingers pointing toward the ceiling. This hand position will enable you to place your index finger under the thread. Bend your wrist so that the palm of your hand is facing downward and the thread is trapped on top of your right index finger and underneath of the remaining right fingers. Rotate your right wrist counter clockwise and up until your palm faces toward you and to your left. The thread will now be traveling a Z shaped path through your fingers: Going away from you then doubling back toward you and around your index finger, then turning the second corner around your middle finger to travel once again toward the anchor.

The angle at which the thread is forced to travel through your fingers will generate enough friction to keep the reel from rewinding so it is not necessary to clamp your fingers together - Keep them spread open but not excessively wide. To release the grip simply bend your index finger to your palm and move your hand down and away from the thread. If you have closed the distance to your anchor before releasing the grip, it will cause the reel to rewind suddenly, making objects on the thread float up and into your hands. Also, by gradually bending the index toward the palm and the middle finger upwards you can control the amount of friction generated and therefore control the speed of the rewind.

EFFECT: The performer borrows a bill of any denomination from a spectator, wrinkles it into a ball then balances it on the tip of his finger. Stating that he has EXCELLENT balance, the performer places his finger on top of the bill and balances it upside down. Not stopping there, the performer releases the bill completely and waves his hands completely around the bill to show it floating freely. Leaving the bill floating in mid air, the performer walks several feet away, proving he is unconnected. But, with a wave of his hand, he causes the bill to float down all the way to the floor. Upon verbal command the bill floats up and into the performers waiting hand. The bill is the immediately handed out for examination.

METHOD: Choose a suitable anchor for your wax ball. Pick one in an open area so that you will be able to walk several feet away. Borrow a bill from the audience. A large bill is fine but it decreases your chances of getting to keep the bill at the end of the routine. Move about five feet from your anchor and face it. Place your arms casually in front of you at chest level but below the thread level. Snap the bill open in front of you, looking at its face. Make sure that the invisible thread is above the bill and touching it. Wrap the bill around the thread, crumbling the dollar into a ball with the thread through the middle. Hold the bill by the tips of the left fingers level with the reel and anchor in order to avoid having the ball jump out of your hands. Slowly, one by one, remove your thumb and three of your fingers. The bill will be in reality supported by the invisible thread but it will appear as though you are balancing it on one finger. Wait a moment for audience reaction and then place the middle and index fingers of your right hand on top of the bill, removing your left hand a moment later. Allow a moment for your “reverse gravity” effect to sink in, then, with a sly look at your audience, remove your right hand from the bill as well, leaving it floating in mid air. Casually turn and walk away from the bill. The reel will spool thread out silently and leave the bill floating behind you. Turn nonchalantly back toward the bill and inconspicuously grasp the thread in front of you in a Z Grip. With a verbal command or gesture, walk slowly toward the bill, causing it to float gracefully toward the floor. Once the bill has landed, give the command “Up” and release the Z Grip. The bill will zip up off the floor. With a little practice you can catch the bill with some style and grace. Promptly unfold the bill and, being careful not to catch the thread on a fold or tear in the bill, hand the bill back to the spectator.

PATTER: “I’ve recently taken up juggling. I thought it would be cheaper to juggle with ordinary objects so I’ve decided to start with money. Got any??? Just one bill, I’m only a beginner and I can’t juggle any more that that. (Take the bill) ‘To make it easier to juggle I’ll first fold the bill into an aerodynamic shape. (Rapidly, haphazardly, crumble the bill. Wait for the laugh then look at the crowd indignantly.) “You know they laughed at the Wright brothers too. Watch…an amazing feat of balance. (Balance the bill on the left fingertip.) “But that’s far from my best trick, I’ve been practicing balancing the bill upside down! (You proceed to do so.) “But if I really get good, I could balance the bill in mid air, then leave it floating without me! (Wait for the gasps and exclamations of disbelief to die down.) “I’ve got that bill very well trained. DOWN! (Walk toward the bill using the Z Grip. Wait a moment then release the grip.) “UP! And here is the bill for your examination.” (Hand the bill out for inspection.)

EFFECT: The performer produces or borrows a charge card. Explaining to the crowd that he’s going to make a “static charge” he floats the card in mid air. The card flies away from the performer and floats to the ground. It then flies up off the ground and back to the performers hand.

METHOD: A bit of magicians wax and a staple will make it easy to float any plastic credit card. Twist the staple until the prongs are perpendicular. Twist one prong into a short spiral using needle nose pliers. Next, fashion a hook by bending the opposite prong downward at a sharp angle . Encase the spiraled end of the hook in a small ball of magicians wax. Holding the waxed hook in the left hand, press the thumbnail of the right hand into the wax ball. Make sure the hook faces back toward the thumbnail. Stuck firmly to your thumb, the waxed hook won’t be too hard to conceal. First find an anchor in the zone you wish to perform in. Wax your thread line to the anchor and move away to the desired distance. (I use about four feet.)

Next, acquire a credit card. I pull my credit card out of my left trouser pocket in order to preserve the rhythm of the patter. You should feel free to borrow the credit card if it better suits your routine. Show the credit card freely with your left hand. Holding the card with the fingers on the short left face, and the thumb on the back. Take the card in the right hand with the fingers on the right short end and the thumb on the back. Be sure to keep the backs of your fingers toward the audience or they’ll see the gimmick on your thumb. With the face of the card held toward the audience in the right hand, pretend to read the back of the card. Place the waxed hook at the middle of the card, just slightly high of the center and then squash the ball of wax flat. The hook must face back away from the card in order to hang on the thread. Holding the card in the right hand, facing the audience, hang the card on the thread. Remove the fingers of your hand slowly, then just let go - The card will hang in space.

After waiting for audience reaction, move away from your anchor, leaving the card in gently floating. Face your anchor and then grasp the thread in a Z-Grip with the right hand. The left hand mimics the right as misdirection as you walk toward your anchor. The card will float down to the floor as you approach. Stop when the card is just about to touch the floor. Don’t “land” the card or the card will unhook, leaving you embarrassed. Float the card back up by guiding the thread over the crotch of the thumb on the back of the left hand and underneath the palm of the right hand.

Simultaneously push the right hand to hip level and raise the left hand to eye level, the card will float up to match the height of the left hand. Move the right hand away from the thread and the reel will rewind the slack. Move the left hand down, away from the thread, and to the left side. Place your right hand, palm up, on top of the thread. By pushing your right hand down you will cause the card to come flying merrily into your fingers. Place the card into your pocket and you’re ready to bow. If you want to hand out the card you’ll have to scrape the waxed hook off the back and conceal it until you can get rid of it.

PATTER: “For this next trick I’m going to have to create a large static charge, which is no small task! Fortunately for me I have my Static Charge Card.” (Produce and show credit card) “ It says here that I can charge as much static as I like...up to my charge limit, that is.” (Attach the waxed hook to the card and hang the card on thread) “Let’s just make a charge.” (Let go of the card and walk away) “I’m trying to lower my monthly balance…” (Lower the card) “…But they keep raising my interest rate!” (Raise the card) “Actually I’m lucky I could float a loan at all.” Catch the card and hand it out to the astonished crowd.)

The Pull Of Love
EFFECT: The performer borrows a wedding band. After a brief byplay the ring floats freely in front of the astonished crowd. The ring then flies left, right, up, down, and finally back onto the performers finger! The ring is then immediately handed out for inspection.

METHOD: Choose an anchor for your wax ball within your performance zone but don’t stick the wax ball to it just yet. Instead, place the wax ball on the end of your right thumbnail.

Borrow a ring from a spectator. Try to choose a simple gold band or the ring may be too heavy for the reel to support.

Place the ring on one of the fingers of the right hand under the pretense of keeping it. After a moment, the left hand moves back to the right to remove the ring. The ring is removed with the thumb and first finger of the left hand. The left fingers pointing right, the right fingers pointing left, and the backs of the hands toward the audience. Under cover of the left fingers, the right thumb places the wax ball on the nail of the same finger that wears the ring. Remove the ring from the right hand, holding it at eye level on your left side. The ring should now be threaded on the invisible thread with the wax ball stuck to one of the fingernails of the right hand.

While pretending to read an inscription on the inside of the ring held in your left hand, touch your anchor and stick the wax ball firmly to it. You should stick the wax ball fairly high on the anchor in order to make the ring float on to your finger in the end of the routine. If you have adequately misdirected the crowd’s attention to the ring, you should be able to anchor the line without discovery. In my performance I either lean casually against the wall with my right hand, sticking the wax to the wall, or pick up and adjust my microphone stand, once again anchoring as I touch the stand. Another more casual way to anchor is to pick up your beverage and anchor to your cup or glass. (Remember, wet glass and wax don’t like each other.)

Move away from your anchor a few feet and your reel will spool thread silently out. You should now have a thread leaving your body, traveling through the finger ring and then stuck to your anchor a few feet away. Hold the ring on the face up palm of the left hand at about chest level. Slowly lower the left hand. The ring will stand up on your fingers, apparently balancing there. Remove your left hand from under the ring entirely, leaving the ring floating in space. After a moment, move farther away from the anchor, the reel will spool out more thread as you do so, leaving the ring floating in front of the crowd behind you. You can make the ring fly away from you if you simply place the crotch of the right thumb under the thread and lift up gently. The ring will slide along the thread on its way to the anchor, appearing to actually fly from left to right in front of the crowd. Likewise, if you lower your end of the thread by pressing down on it with the right palm, the ring will fly obligingly back toward you.

Hold the thread in the right hand using a Z-Grip. Move toward the anchor and the ring will float to the ground. Feel free to “land” the ring if it so suits your routine, let go of the thread and move away from the anchor once again. The ring will fly gently up off the ground. By hooking the right thumb over the thread as you pull down, your right ring finger will be free to gently touch the underside of the thread. This will cause the ring to fly onto your finger and makes a nice climax to the routine.

I know of no subtle, undetectable method for retrieving the wax ball to remove the ring from the thread. Therefore I am in the habit of simply snapping the thread close to the anchor by using the thumb and forefinger of my right hand. Some performers wince at the thought of breaking the thread, but I feel the floating, borrowed ring is more than worth the ninety seconds of reset time necessary to recover and wax the thread. After all, you only lose eighteen inches of thread. And two minutes of private time in the restroom puts you back in the crowd and floating things freely once again.

PATTER: “Are there any ladies or gentlemen bold enough to be wearing their wedding bands tonight? Ah, good. Now are there any ladies or gentlemen bold enough to LOAN me their wedding band?? Just for a moment I assure you.” (Take the ring) “Very nice piece of jewelry...Thanks”’(Place the ring on your finger and transfer the wax ball then remove the ring.) “Just kidding. Oh, look! An inscription: ‘Genuine fourteen carat plastic.’ Big spender!” (Wax the thread to the anchor.) The ring of gold represents infinity: An infinite promise of fidelity and faith. The constant circle of their vows transgressing time, space and, yes, even physical laws and limitations... Like gravity!” (Float the ring.) “After all, true love knows no boundaries. (The ring flies up and down then back to the finger.) “And all of this is represented in a simple band of gold. Thanks for the loan, here’s your ring. And that’s the end of the trick!” (Snap the thread and take your bow.)

EFFECT: The spectator completely examines and shuffles a deck of cards. After selecting and retaining one card, the spectator returns the pack to the performer. After placing the selected card on the bottom of the pack, the performer cuts the cards. Holding the cards in the right hand, the performer shows his left hand empty. He then sprays the cards haphazardly into the air. One card detours from it flight and soars directly into the performers waiting left hand. It is, of course, the selected card. The card is then handed out for inspection along with the deck.

METHOD: I have, for many years, admired the “Card Sword” effect. The decent models of these wonderful gimmicks were, unfortunately, out of my price range. Of the ones that I could afford, none were adequately designed or manufactured to efficiently do the trick, so I never bought one. Fortunately, there is now another way.

You will first need to prepare the ball of wax that’s on the end of your thread by sticking a small bit of paper to one side. This will keep the wax ball from sticking to the wrong card when placed in the deck. Have the spectator inspect the deck and select any card. While this is being done, acquire the wax ball from wherever you keep it between performances and hold it concealed in the right hand. Take the deck back from the spectator with the left hand and transfer it to the right. The wax ball is concealed under the deck in the right hand with the papered side of the ball against the face of the bottom card. Take the spectators card with the left hand, keeping its face away from you. Place the card face down on the bottom of the deck, its back coming in contact with the sticky side of the wax ball. Squeeze the deck to insure the wax ball has adhered to the selected card then cut the deck in half, burying the selected card in the center of the deck. Move the right hand, holding the deck, to your extreme right, your elbow extended to pull as much slack out of the reel as possible.

Under the pretense of showing the left hand empty, catch the thread on the thumb of the left hand and move the hand out away from the body as far as possible. With both arms stretched wide as though to receive a hug, prepare to spray the cards into the air in front of you with the right hand. Just before you do, however, bend the left elbow slightly as though coiling back to spring out and grab a card. Spray the cards haphazardly in the air in front of you. When the selected, waxed, card is sprayed into the air it will, of course be attached to the invisible thread. To catch it, simply extend the left arm and grab. The thread should guide the card back into your waiting left hand, appearing as though you had just reached out and snatched it from the air. Scrape the wax ball off the card with the left thumbnail and hand it out, along with the deck, to be inspected. Properly performed, this effect is visual dynamite. Action packed and dramatic, this routine will grab and hold the crowd’s attention and appreciation for the rest of your act.

If you’re working with a partner the possibilities for mentalism and mind reading using a thread reel are staggering. Instead of magicians wax on the end of your thread, try using a bit of transparent scotch tape. If you stick this taped thread to the back of your partner’s ear it will be completely undetectable. In addition, you will, quite literally, have a telegraph system between you. Your partner will be able to feel the slightest tap on the thread by it tugging gently on his ear. A casual move to scratch your nose could easily produce enough time to bump the thread once for yes or twice for no. So, even though your partner has his back turned, or even if he’s out of the room and around the corner, he’ll feel your “message” and be able to give the correct answer to the spectator. Likewise, three “bumps” on the thread could mean, “third card from the right” and so on. If you use your imagination I’m sure you can come up with dozens of mind reading effects using this system.

© 1991 Steve Johnson
All Rights Reserved
Grand Illusions