I’ve started making puppets. I’m learning to make the muppet kind of puppet with the wide open mouth and I’m slowly making progress.
A few weeks ago I had a sort of creative turning point. Although my love for three-dimensional design in fabric hasn’t wavered over the last 13 years, it’s been important to let myself shift from one area of exploration to another. For years I made nothing but fabric birds with wire legs and then there was the fleece stuffed animals period. And while I still like both of those things, I suddenly felt like it was time to pivot and explore something new. One of the things I promised myself long ago was to follow my own curiosity.
After talking it out with my family I realized that puppets are the right direction, at least for a little while. I’ve always been fascinated by puppets and wondered how to make them. I made a structured foam puppet at sleep away camp when I was nine, but haven’t tried since. So here we are.
To get started I created a new Pinterest board dedicated to puppets of all kinds. I’ve spent many hours on YouTube (this channel has been especially good). For my birthday I asked my sister to buy me this kit and then I ordered some eyes to try. I’ve also got some other puppet-making tutorials in mind for the blog that are easy and kid-friendly and use household objects like clothespins (hoping to build a little SEO for the search term “puppet” over time).
I’ve learned about all kinds of new materials including contact cement and high density foam. After finishing the puppet from the kit I made a second one and then thought about how I would improve upon it. I bought 2.5 yards of 1/2″ foam at JoAnn because, as I said to my daughter, I need enough to fail with.
One of the things that’s really important when creating something new is allowing yourself to fail a whole lot along the way. If the materials are too precious that process is painful (guilt over wasted supplies or wasted time is enough to make anyone stop midstream). I bought 2.5 yards of 1/2″ foam at JoAnn so I have enough to fail with and there have been plenty of failures so far.
Figuring out the best way to make hair has been a challenge. I just ordered some super bulky chenille yarn so let’s hope that presents a workable solution. And sourcing giant eyes that are cute and not creepy is another.
My goal in the long-term is to design an original pattern and source a set of supplies that makes puppet-making easily accessible and affordable to the regular crafty person. I’d like to market this to parents and grandparents who enjoy sewing, but also to teachers, therapists, and librarians who could create a customized puppet for the kids they work with (I’m looking at TeachersPayTeachers as a marketplace for this). I also think I could teach a puppet-making workshop down the road. They’re surprisingly fast to make and so incredibly satisfying! What’s better than a creature that comes to life and can talk to you and give you a hug!
I love being a beginner. Everything is a new discovery (oh, you can use a blow dryer to make the contact cement dry faster!). At the same time I reminded by how intimidating it is, too (oh, that guy’s been doing this forever and he’s already got patterns and videos so why should I even try?). I’m plowing forward, making a huge mess in my studio and enjoying all the small victories as I go along.
Christine Guest says
Does Fresh Stitches carry large eyes, or only small safety ones? She’s my go-to eye person.
Mary Robinette Kowal is a puppeteer and writer, she might have some ideas for you. http://maryrobinettekowal.com/
I liked reading about your explorations, and especially your family’s reactions and support. How lovely that your daughter is seeing that failure and iterations are part of the creative/engineering cycle, it gets skipped in movie montages.
Thank you. Yes, Stacey does carry some big, big eyes! Thanks for the link.
How exciting Abby! Theres nothing like a change to get you excited and dreaming again about all the possibilities that lay ahead!! It’s a pity that we see failure as something negative when in reality failure can inspire us to improve and to find paths we may never had thought of. Looking forward to following you on your puppet making journey 🙂
Thank you. Tonight I’m working on the top of the skull. Foam is such a new material for me!
It’s actually really exciting to see you taking on something new and seeing how you approach being a beginner again. And puppets are something I love too, especially the Muppet kind.
Teachers as a market is a good idea. I once taught a high school (year 7 here, 12-13 year old) class a unit on shapes by having them create a puppet show for younger kids on the topic. There were some cute puppets, but Dodecahedron Bob was a personal favourite.
I look forward to seeing your progress!
Ha! Dodecahedron Bob. That’s awesome.
Lucy Jennings says
I’m sure you will brand your puppets with your own excellent style!
Did you know that Muppets are called that because they are a blend of marionette and puppet?
I’d never thought about the name. Thank you!
Eileen McKenna says
Good for you Abby! It’s exciting and fun to be a beginner. All the victories are so satisfying! I dedicated myself to painting the beach in January and I’ve made so much progress I’m now selling prints of my ocean watercolors http://shop.eileenmckenna.com/. The satisfaction of finally capturing the ocean in paint has me so inspired! This summer every time I visit the beach, I’m taking photos for future paintings. I’ve written posts on what my process is https://mycreativeresolution.com/2017/02/17/developing-a-process-for-painting/. And plan on creating tutorials for others to follow. I love how you say you follow your curiosities – because that’s exactly what I do too! Happy puppet making! – Eileen
Roseanne Miracle says
Abby, you’re an inspiration!
Here’s something I’ve used in costuming that may work for your hair exploration. Using a woven/crocheted/net type base (something with a bit of “give”), I’ve attached strips of fabrics (torn ones are the best!), ribbons, yarns, etc. through, similar to rag rug construction.
The sky’s the limit on creativity here with fiber types and colors.
Happy puppet making!
It’s great to see you venture into the puppetry world. I make creatures for films and so have made a fair few puppets over the years. Foam is such a wonderful medium. You’re lucky in the US to have easier access to fantastic supplies- it’s a lot harder here in England. I’m on maternity but due to delve into pattern making to sell, your posts are so helpful… we are kind of opposite beginners!! Enjoy and good luck with it all.
Opposite beginners! That’s the best. Cheers to uncharted territory.
Christy S. says
Your puppet, even though it is unfinished, has so much personality! I love that you are changing direction and exploring the world of puppets. Children love them. I had three children (and now a grandson) who were picky eaters. I stitched a simple puppet, added button eyes and used it to “talk” to my kids about food. They called him “Mr. Puppet.” I cut a hole in the back of mouth so the kids’ pretend play food could disappear. The kids loved it when the puppet “ate” dinner with them. Until the youngest one tried real mashed potatoes and made a mess of that puppet, he was a family favorite.
I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Ah, youngest children. You gotta love them 🙂 Thanks for sharing this story with me.
Janice Baird says
Well I absolutely love your soft toy patterns and have made an assortment of them over the last 3 years or so, as a youngster I had lots of hand puppets (Leo the Lion, Pinky + Perky (showing my age), I would definitely like the chance to make puppets so I’ll await your creations with bated breath…..
Thanks so much for your support, Janice. It’s an interesting puzzle to not only create a pattern that works well and is easy for anyone to make, but also to source supplies that are affordable and accessible to everyone. Really fun creative puzzles to solve!
Wendi Gratz says
Try using feather boas for hair. You can coil them on the head and sew or glue them in place. The feathers are floaty and have great movement! Jim Henson used it for a lot of his puppets – including a bunch of the Fraggles. 🙂 It looks like you’re having fun! Oh – and I think Henson used ping pong balls cut in half for a lot of the eyes.
Patricia Belyea says
I made my first quilt at the age of 53. Although I was an accomplished pro in other areas, the only way to get started in quilting was to give myself permission to be a beginner. Then my efforts didn’t have to be perfect. I was learning!
Seeing your puppet made me smile as I think of you as such a serious gal and your purple creature is hilarious. Giving others the impetus to make something fun is a gift to the world. Good for you! PB
I feel like puppet people are zany and I’m definitely not zany! I actually don’t have any desire to put on the puppet show, just to make the puppets (in a decidedly unzany manner).
Carolyn Jenkins says
I’m excited to see how your puppets progress. This topic is going to be a great one for some of your future podcasts!
Wanted to share this with you and your readers. I recently had a conversation with Marina Tsaplina founder, CEO, and Creative Director of The Betes Organization. Her organization uses puppetry and the performing arts to give a voice to the experience of having a chronic health condition. She is also a puppeteer and performing artist. I learned about her puppet making workshops for Children with Diabetes last year and thought you might find this interesting as the puppets are made by the children and then used by them to express their feelings. I love how Marina uses the arts and crafts in health and wellness promotion. Using puppetry, she expanded my awareness and perspective on what it’s like to live with a chronic illness and how the arts can make a positive difference in our lives. Check this really cool organization out: http://www.thebetes.org/
Looking forward to where your new adventure leads! Warm Regards, Carolyn @GlassEyesOnLine.com
For one of the cloth dolls that I made, the pattern said to make the hair by knitting a small square of eyelash yarn and then sew it to the head. It made for a super fun hair style. 🙂 I’m not really making cloth dolls right now, so if you want, I can mail you my stash of yarns to experiment with. They are all Michael’s craft store inexpensive yarns so they wouldn’t be precious to replace for your future kits.
I don’t knit so I can replicate that exactly, but eyelash yarn is a great choice. I just got some chenille yarn to play with, too. Thank you for the suggestion.
I love being a beginner, too. Currently teaching myself how to sew clothes for myself and family with knits (after being a quilter and working with only wovens for years. In the spirit of your new venture, you may enjoy this video – Adam Savages One Day Builds – Making a puppet. Some of his other costuming videos may be inspiriting as well
Good luck with your puppets!
As a newly retired school librarian I can tell you I was always on the lookout for quality puppets, and used them often. I even found some at a supermarket once that were in the form of vegetables!
My experience has been that even in this “digital age”, (or maybe because of it), children love the connection that comes with storytelling and puppetry.
Roxann Burns says
It’s funny coincidence but I made foam puppets one year in summer school circa 1974. I was quilting a baby quilt and think I needed to make something structural next and thought about the puppet, tourquoise with red fur hair. I made eyes out of L’eggs plastic shells so they would pop up. Hopefully there’s a better way today. Anyway thanks for the links.
Arif Kuyucu says
Hello, I dream to start this great hobby. Does the sponge you use here lose its hardness over time? Some sponges lose their density due to contact with air. Would you recommend using Eva Sponge?
I haven’t found it to change over time. I don’t use EVA sponge.