It's funny how you underestimate the time it takes to get something done. All that was left was to make Ellie's shirt and sew her up. I estimated it would take an hour, maybe a little more. How hard could it be? Ha!
I wanted to add an Earth patch to the onesie I bought at the thrift store. James painted an Earth when he was in Kindergarten and I fell in love with it. I thought it would be the perfect Earth Protector emblem!
I tested a few different size Earths to see what worked best. Originally, I envisioned a large Earth in the center of her shirt, but decided on creating a pocket-sized one.
After technical difficulties getting the printer working, I finally got the Earth printed on transfer paper. I did a test run on an old shirt to make sure I didn't mess it up. Worked like charm.
I then printed another copy and went to work on adhering it to the onesie. The iron was hot; I had the pillow case ready to go, which I am still not sure why I needed it, and started ironing on the Earth. It wasn't sticking.
As you will see from the video below, I realized after a few minutes of ironing, that I didn't take off the back adhesive so of course it wasn't going to stick. How embarrassing! I quickly rectified the situation, peeled off the backing and within a few seconds of ironing, the Earth was firmly attached to the shirt!
Now all I had to do was to sew everything together! I had to wait until the shirt was finished to do this because I could not be able to get the shirt on if everything was already attached. I'm glad I realized this before I started sewing.
Other than having to resew the legs a few times, everything went well, even if it took me the better part of half a day!
And there she is, backpack and all!
Instinctively, I knew the arms would be the hardest part of making Ellie. Maybe that's why I left them for last.
From the beginning, I knew I wanted Ellie to be a hand rod puppet. I wanted her to be animated and be able to interact with children. A hand rod puppet has metal rods attached to their hands so that you can control their movement. To operate the puppet, one of my arms goes through her body and up to her head to move her mouth and my other hand would hold on to two metal rods to move her arms.
For the arm rods, I used a 3/32nd welding rod. I had no idea what a welding rod was but a nice man at the hardware store showed me where to find them. I used Herculean strength to bend the ends to make a loop and painted them a light gray color to blend in with Ellie.
The hand rod gods were not on my side that day because it rained while my arm rods were outside drying. I brought them inside but because I had to handle them while they were still tacky the paint smudged. Oh well!
As I let the paint dry a little more, I worked on constructing the arms. I cut the fabric out of blue fleece sewed it up, leaving a little opening where we would insert the foam hands. My first go around, I sewed the bottom of the arms but realized my mistake. Luckily, it was an easy fix and snipped it off.
Then, I took the painted welding rods and twisted flower wire around them. This would make the fingers moveable. I sandwiched two pieces of foam around the wire and glued them together with hot glue. The challenging part was trying to get the hand with its wiring into the fleece hand pattern.
Once the foam was in, I noticed that I glued the rod the wrong way. I had it coming out the end of the hand when it should have been coming out the bottom-side of the puppet. With a little finagling, I manged to bend it to my will. There is an odd bump on the side of the hands but hopefully no one will notice!
The last step in making the arm rods was to attach the wooden dowel handles. I measured the dowels out at around 5 inches each and used a handsaw to cut them in two. If you are making handles, be sure to sand them so they don't catch on your puppet and they are more comfortable to hold.
Per Adam's advice, I marked the hole for the welding rod off center so my thumb could comfortably rest on the handle.
The drill bit I had to make the hole was a 5/32nd size and hoped that it would work. It didn't. It was too large. I went out and got a 3/32nd drill bit instead. This size was too small. Because the rods I bought had casing around them it didn't fit perfectly. I manually had to make the hole bigger. I broke many handles and almost broke my hand rods, but I didn't give up. I knew I was getting close, and I had to keep going.
Once the rods fit snugly into the handle, I used epoxy to secure the handle to the welding rod. Finally, they were finished! Although the arms are not perfect, sometimes the best kind of training comes from making mistakes.
Now that the hands and arms were done, all that was left were the legs. Since many puppets don't need legs because they are behind a screen, I wasn't able to find a pattern to make them. It was time for this baby bird to get her wings and figure it out herself!
I drew a pattern on a piece of brown paper bag and started cutting. After they were sewed together and the foam inserted, I knew everything would be okay. They were so simple to make! I even made a pair of shoes to go with them.
Once the shoes and legs were put together, it was only then when I saw the error of my ways. If I would've made the legs a different color, they could've been pants instead of needing to find a pair to put on her. But since they were blue, I was worried what the kids would think! We didn't need a pant-less puppet! To fix the situation and make it a little easier on myself, I made a heart patch for her knee to make the blue look more pant-like!
After everything was constructed, I pinned her together to get a picture of how she looked.
All I have to do next is finish Ellie's outfit and sew her up!
I knew I wanted Ellie's hair to be fun. I couldn't find a tutorial on how to make hair for a girl puppet out of yarn on Adam's website so I scoured the internet and found this video. It was a helpful resource to get me started.
Ellie is an Earth Protector, so I wanted her hair to represent the Earth using sea blues, emerald greens, sky blues, and mountain greens. Moana's Te Fiti was my inspiration.
First, I made a template to wind the yarn around. I used cardboard from an old box. I started with aqua blue and kept adding color by color. To add more dimension, I used different textures of yarn.
Once I finished winding, I slid a rectangle-shaped piece of cardboard under the yarn and attached my tape. I did this on both sides and then cut the bottom edge of the yarn.
Next, I got a scrap of green fleece and placed it in between the two strips of tape. This helped secure the yarn as I put it through the sewing machine. I got two inches into sewing when the needle broke! I guess the needle was no match for the yarn. I hand sewed the rest.
After sewing I flipped it over. I was so happy with how it came out. I thought I would need to make multiple pieces to fully cover the head, but I didn't because it was so thick. It was perfect! I trimmed the back of the hair to make it straight then pinned it to Ellie's head and started sewing it on.
Look at that! It proves that if you have perseverance, you can do anything! Sesame Street, here I come!
Ellie is a real character now. I can't wait to play with her.
Next up, I need to make her arms and legs, and put an outfit on her! We are almost there!
Eyes are one of the most important parts of a puppet. They give the character dimension, personality, and a soul. This was true with Ellie.
What I love most about puppet eyes is that they can come from anywhere. You can be as creative as you'd like. I've seen puppeteers use ping pong balls, buttons, eyes from a stuffed animal, and even eyes made from a mold. I had plastic spoons hiding in a drawer, so I used them!
I'm lucky I had extra because trying to cut the handle off the spoon was difficult. With each cut, it created cracks and jagged edges. Because I was afraid they would crack further, I didn't cut as much off as I originally planned.
To smooth off the edges and reduce the shine, I took sand paper to the spoon. They looked much better after doing this.
To make the pupils, I bought a circular punch tool. I wanted to make sure they were the same size. I bought black felt for the pupils that had adhesive on the back. Well, let me tell you. Do not put sticky felt in a punch tool. Not good. It was a sticky mess.
Plan B. I took the puncher packaging and cut out the "actual size" image on the packaging and used that instead! Talk about thinking on your feet. It proved to me you don't need fancy tools to make fancy puppets.
For the eyelids, I picked a light blue and green combination. I used adhesive spray to attach the fleece to the spoons. Like the ears, the eyes were not perfectly symmetrical. I think it adds character.
I used lots of sewing pins to mark where I thought the eyes should go and I applied contact cement to make them stick.
Once the eyes were firmly in place, I put on the pupils. If you ever are making puppet eyes, use a sewing pin to place them. It is much easier to move them around. Another tip is to not put the pupils directly in the center of the eye. You want to find the right focus.
I really liked how the eyes turned out! For the next puppet I think I will have more white showing and a larger pupil to help make the eyes appear softer.
Last, I added the tongue! I used pink craft foam. I cut a semi-circle and glued it on with contact cement.
As I was using the contact cement, a dollop fell on the puppet's face and panic set in. Contact cement does not dry clear, it dries an amber yellow. I tried everything to get it off. I used hot water and dish soap and scrubbed. No luck. I tried to scrap it off. Still hard. I got scissors and tried to cut out the hard pieces, but that made it worse. I took a razor to see if I could re-fleece the bare spot but it didn't work. I did everything I could do but eventually had to make peace with it. As I told myself when I set out on this adventure... progress, not perfection. Next time I'll be more careful.
It's amazing what a set of eyes can do! Ellie is coming to life.
Next I will show the process of how we made Ellie's hair! My favorite part!
Let's bring this puppet to life. It's time to create Ellie!
Before building any of the features, I first had to insert a plug to have more control over the motion of the mouth. Adam suggested a 1-inch piece of foam for the plug. I only had 1/2" pieces, so I glued two together. With a little spray adhesive, I covered it with an old shirt so that the foam held up better.
To keep the foam in place, I had to fill the head with stuffing. If there was one thing I had an abundance of in this house it was stuffing, mainly coming out of Bradley's doggy toys. As I gathered the fluff, Bradley looked at me in horror. I was taking apart his friend. I decided against the dog toy fluff and instead, I found an old pillow I made from fabric scraps my freshman year of college.
The head looked fuller and more puppet like. Once I was happy with the feel of the mouth movement, I glued the seam with contact cement and was ready to get started on the facial features!
Once fully dry it was time to put the fleece pattern on the head-again. Because the head was over stuffed, I could barely get it on. I had to take out some stuffing to sew up the back.
I was excited to get started on the nose. Everyone knows a puppet nose can make or break a puppet. I used foam to shape the style of the nose I wanted. I had previously made a foam nose from a pattern Adam had on his website but it was too large for this puppet.
I ended up making two noses to see what fit the puppet's face the best. I opted for the smaller one. Placing the nose first, makes setting the ears and eyes easier.
Once I finished the nose, It was time to cut the template for the ears. I'm not sure why, but I really enjoyed making the ears. You need two pieces of fleece and one piece of foam per each ear. A quick trip through the sewing machine and the ears were done! They are not perfect, nor are they symmetrical but I think it makes the puppet sweeter because of it.
With a few pins, I placed the nose and ears on the puppet and positioned them where I wanted them. I did a ladder stitch to attach them to the fleece. This was the moment where Ellie was looking more like a puppet!
Next I'll be taking you through the process of how I made Ellie's eyes out of plastic spoons!
Check out Adam Kreutinger's YouTube videos to learn more on how to make puppets. I couldn't have gotten this far without them.
If you make your own puppet, send us an email at email@example.com or tag us on Facebook or Instagram at @thesolutionaryschool. We'd love to see your creations!