My journey creating and producing puppetry... trials, tribulations, inspiration and contemplation.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Puppet Making Basics with Project Puppet

In my quest to make my first Puppet, I was lucky to come across While sifting through the various methods of acquiring puppet making skills, Project Puppet seemed to be the easiest of places to start. They supply all your patterns and instructions so, suffice it to say, I will go over my experience in more general terms and let you in on my own mistakes and inspired moments that helped me along the way. First and foremost... READ. Read up on anything you can on puppet making to understand what goes into making a good quality puppet if that's your goal. The Puppeteers Unite Blog has one of the most extensive lists of puppet links out there. It also helps to have some basic sewing skills; a sewing machine helps things along too and buying a glue gun is a good investment as well.

When you get your pattern, you should adhere it to some poster board and cut out the individual shapes. First cut the rough shape of the piece and then tack it down. When I first started cutting up my pattern, I used a glue stick to adhere my first piece. Tip ONE - DON'T do that! It was just a tad messy and the glue can clump under the paper pattern. I switched to double sided tape and it was smooth sailing from there. Cutting the pattern and then the materials are the most time consuming parts of this [and any] puppet making project.

I didn't know if I would be able to make a decent enough puppet so, I went the low-rent route and purchased foam and fleece from a fabric store. Again - READ - and remember the terms 'Reticulated Foam' [sold on Project Puppet] and Antron Fleece. More on that later. You might be surprised as I was that the head [above] was just one piece of foam. The pattern suggests using a firm material such as cardboard or foam core for the mouth plate. I thought I would use the play foam stuff that you get at craft stores. First building mistake. The craft foam doesn't hold it's own as well and when it gives to any pressure, you might lose some of the integrity of the mouth. Something more sturdy will also help hold the shape of the head. The pattern is also made so that you can improvise. The head on the right is shown with the foam neck strip in place. A neck hole template is included to cut out where your hand enters. It fit snug around the sides of my hand and without the body, it felt ok. After completion, it becomes a little bothersome and I realize I should have cut the hole bigger so my hand can glide in and out without anything 'grabbing' at my hand in attempts to operate the mouth. I also like the method of joining the back/ inside of the mouth plates with one piece of fabric as outlined by the Foam Book. I employed that method with my puppet. The mouth is lined in front with black felt and ready for the next step.

As I mentioned, I used a basic fabric store fleece. I can definitely see how this material has started to look 'worked' from beginning to the end of the project. I imagine you could get better results with a stronger no-pill fleece or just go the pro route and get the Antron fleece. Above is the puppet covered in fleece next to his foam body. The fleece head covering was sewn to a neck sleeve which will be sewn inside the body after the body gets a fleece covering of it's own.

The figure above on the left shows the puppet nearing completion and just trying on his wig. I modified the fleece covering pattern for the head to design how I would cut the hair fabric. This was a great silky fleece 'fur/ hair' that's in many of the retail fabric stores. There is a hand pattern separate from the arm pattern in case you are making your puppet with a foam exterior [foam head & hands]. Since I had decided on the fleece, I modified the hand pattern with the arm pattern to make one hand/arm pattern. After stuffing the hand & arms with poly-fill, I sewed a little elbow to keep the arm articulated. Another thing I learned from reading up on puppet making - if your arm doesn't bend, you've limited the ability for your puppet to perform. The figure on the right shows how you can start adding character. I chose a ping pong ball with about 1/4 of it cut off. It was covered in fleece and glued to the face. The ears were a simple pattern of my own making, stuffed with poly fill and glued to the sides of the head. I used the hair/ wig to spot where they would be placed.

I also used ping pong balls for the eyes... cut in half with a razor and small scissors. A small bit of fabric was glued down part of the eye to simulate the eye-lid and glued around to the back to give it a smooth appearance. I've seen a lot of puppets made with black felt circles and I didn't trust myself enough to cut perfect circles out of fabric. I found the perfect solution in the wiggle eyes from the craft store. I used the 24mm size [left image] and clipped a couple of them open to use their perfect black discs. I only placed the eyes and unattached discs on the face and took a picture. I actually opened the image in Photoshop first, placed the black disc on a new layer and moved it around with a duplicate pupil to see what my best placement would be before committing to gluing it all down.

Eyebrows and a tongue were cut from felt and glued in place. A small piece of the hair fabric was cut to fashion a goatee. Some sources say you shouldn't name your puppet until it's complete. I had a couple names in mind for the type of character I wanted to do and when I saw him complete for the first time, his name came to me.... Benny [his friends call him Ben.] For the final touch, I went shopping for Benny's shirt. There's always kids clothes on clearance somewhere and this XS [4-5] plaid button down from Old Navy was the perfect fit. Last tip - if you want your puppet to have a crisp look, don't shop in second-hand stores for 'slightly worn' clothes. You can tell they're second-hand. You worked this hard, your puppet deserves to look their best... or, if you have enough energy left, make an original costume of your own. I imagine Benny is the type of guy who would have a loving companion [a dog] so, I've got a lot to plan. PEACE!


swedishpuppets said...

Looks great! A little tip tho. An eyeliner would be perfect imho. Try craft foam, they come in black. Just cut a little strip and but it on the edge where the eyes meet the eyelids.

Thanks for the pupil-tip! Great idea to use the discs from the googley-eyes.

Bored@Home said...

thanks for posting how you made your puppet, its nice to see other people views of their creation

Easy Zee said...

Lots of great advise on your blog, thanks for sharing your puppet making experience. I am in the middle of making my first puppet and I learned a lot from your blog. I hope you make more puppets soon.

Oscar Blanco said...


Thanks for sharing!
I came upon your blog, trying to find where I could get my 1.5 year old baby a Mana Mana doll (the original puppet from the Sesame Street skit).
I hooked him on it because I thought he might like it. Now he asks for it several times a day hehe.
I made him a drawing of it, but my artistic skills don't include making puppets.
Do you know by any chance where I could find it? Or someone who can custom make it, but without breaking my bank? I just thought it would be great to sing it to him with a live puppet... but I think having it made can be rather expensive :p

David said...

@Oscar Blanco - Thanks for the comments Oscar. I would check etsy to see if you can find someone in your price range. Most puppet builders I've priced for commissions start at $500 and go higher and many will not touch a trademarked character for good reason. Sometimes, they are happy to do something 'in the style' of the original so no copyright is infringed. Good luck with your search! Peace & puppets!