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!