45-foot ‘Dune’ sandworm has roots in Huntsville makerspace


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – If you’ve seen a giant “Dune” sandworm marching in the 2019 Huntsville Christmas Parade or Atlanta’s Dragon Con, you’ve seen Huntsville’s Makers Local 256 in action.

The pay-what-you-can makerspace is located at 414 Stevens Avenue in Huntsville’s Five Points neighborhood. Crazily enough, Michele Cotten says it’s the third space the 100-member group has had in its nearly 12 years – the group has just kept growing and growing.

As for the 45-foot “Dune” sandworm, it has an interesting backstory, starting in 2019.

“I’m a very avid cosplayer and I’ve been doing that for several years now, and I’ve roped my husband into a few couples cosplays…two years ago, I asked him…’What can I do for you?’ I should not have asked that question. He wanted a ‘Dune’ sandworm in the style of a Chinese Dragon.”

Michele Cotten, Makers Local 256

Six months later, Cotten, working with other members and friends of the organization, had her sandworm. She bills it as her largest project to date and largest group cosplay she’s ever been part of.

Each section of the worm is held together with PVC pipes; Cotten had to consult some members of Makers Local 256 with engineering backgrounds to learn how to bend PVC piping to create the frames needed for all the sections.

Excepting the head, each section is carried by a freman – the “desert people” in the “Dune” series – on a six-foot pole, with a plastic cup attached to a belt to give their arms a rest. The same sections are covered with muslin, shaped to look like each section of the worm and the tail. In addition, there are lights running down the length of the worm – a feature added during the 2019 Christmas parade and retained for later events.

Each middle section also has a foam “ridge,” for texture and dimension as the worm marches.

Cotten, who always carries the four-foot diameter head of the sandworm, said there have been two versions of the harness for the head.

The first version used a single pole put through the center of the PVC frame, attached to Cotten’s back.

She said the 40-pound head felt more like 70 pounds under the old harness.

The new harness distributes the weight onto two metal poles that attach to Cotten’s waist, giving her more mobility as she leads the way – she even did a jig for a friend while in the harness!

If somebody has to back out at the last minute, no problem! Each section of the worm is connected by velcro, so one section just gets removed…shortening the worm to 40 feet.

Makers Local doesn't just have the worm; one of their members made t-shirts for the project! (Art by BrainTwist)
Makers Local doesn’t just have the worm; one of their members made t-shirts for the project! (Art by BrainTwist)

After the first test run from the makerspace to Old Towne Coffee on Pratt Avenue (where the makers were rewarded with coffee from the shop), Cotten said guide ropes were added to make sure nobody got too close or too far apart, spoiling the Chinese Dragon effect.

Cotton said neighbors even thought the test run was one of the coolest things ever in Five Points.

And if you want to see the sandworm marching, be sure to head to Bridge Street Town Center Friday night.

As part of Cinemark Bridge Street’s premiere of the movie “Dune,” Makers Local’s fremen will be marching at 6:15 and 7:30 p.m., debuting the new head harness as well.

If you’re interested in checking out what Makers Local 256 is all about, be sure to visit them during Public Nights Tuesdays from 6-10 p.m.

For more information on joining, visit the Makers Local 256 website.

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