Puppet in a day!

or Working it out as you go along

or Finished beats perfect

or There must be more to life than this


Dr Puppet

Scribed by Victoria Osborne Mon 26th Jan 2015

Much thanks to Fallen to Flux for the use of their song, From the Outside Looking In


foam, glue, tape and stuff to use to make a puppet

Raw ingredients

RAW INGREDIENTS: Scrap foam (air conditioner filter foam is open cell foam which is much stronger than conventional mattress foam or ordinary polyurethane foam. Try upholstery offcuts, foam suppliers, op shop cushions etc) spray glue, contact cement, PVA, hot glue (plus gun), scissors, pins, cotton tape, gloves, strong thread, cotton thread, tape measure, thick card, fabric, textas, pencils, paper, latex, whatever you can beg, borrow, steal …

Make a plan

Make ‘detailed’ drawings

PATTERN: Draw some pictures, fine-tune a design. Think very simple. This puppet is to be a Muppet/Neville Tranter style hand-in-head. Think character. Who is this life you are making? What are they thinking? What do they know? (Dr Puppet’s aim is not to explore character but to swiftly show basic making techniques.)

Cardboard mouthpiece

MOUTH: Trace around hand for mouth template using folded paper or card. Hold mouth template like a taco shell. Recreate in firm card or thin foam. (Could cut in two pieces and hinge with cotton tape. Mark out location of finger/thumb loop. Make sure loops cover fingers comfortably. Make holes/pierce cardboard to sew through. Sew loops (or glue). Alternatively, can sew glove fingers together. Glue/sew glove to mouthpiece. Can cut off thumb and move to centre. Can you get your hand in and out easily?

foam glued to the mouthpiece for the top of the head

Top part of the head

CRANIUM: Glue head foam to mouthpiece. (This can be solid piece of foam like half an egg if desired.) Mark centre of mouth and foam. Cut slot for mouthpiece. Insert cardboard into cut slot. Gel bond (or hot glue) for flexibility. Contact adhesive can be stiff. And stinky. OPEN A WINDOW! Apply contact to edge of mouth, front and back and inside slot. Once contact is tack free (two surfaces are dry to touch, touch-dry, see instructions on tin) bring surfaces together. Avoid gluing right to the edge so there won’t be a hard glue line on the surface. Tweak head shape. How does it sit on your hand? Where will the back seam be? Try to avoid seams in the front. Draw trim marks on foam. Apply glue to cut surfaces. Use heat gun (hair dryer) to dry glue surfaces quickly. Bring seam together and press shut. Glue back seam. Experiment with squeezing to shape head, or add more pieces of foam. Trim head. Should there be further shaping? Pin to test darts. Cut out darts. Glue darts and shape head.

Bottom of the mouthpiece covered in foam to make a jaw


JAW/MANDIBLE: Trim lower jaw (if necessary). Shape piece of foam to jaw (mark) Crush/bend lower jaw into foam cushion. Mark centres. Cut in slot – depth of a few mm – or in this case a third of thickness of foam. Glue on foam to cardboard mouthpiece. Check marks line up and it’s really on the right way. Finish gluing seam (or sew). Cut around back of neck so it’s easy to get hand into mouth.

Shaping the head to add character

Brow and cheek pieces glued on in the fresh air

HEAD: Shape head. Carve around mouth to shape lips (chamfering). Try adding different bits of foam to make different shapes of head. Cheek pieces? Brow? Pinch to make nose? Where might eyes look best? Mark where to glue. Straighten gluing surfaces. Glue onto brain addition. Trim brain area. Choose some test eyes. Try different eyes. Try another set. (Chosen eyes are caps from hotel shampoo bottles but deodorant balls can be effective. More carving. More trying. Different nose? Nostrils? Carve cheek pieces. Use paper to mask places you don’t want to spray accidentally (over-spray). Glue cheek pieces on cut side so smooth surface is on outside.

Lycra spray glued to foam.

Use glue outside in fresh air!

COVER HEAD: Create smooth impermeable surface. This can be done by spraying with a layer of glue or covering puppet with nylon pantyhose. Could put a layer of Dacron over head before covering to provide extra smoothness. Then Neville Tranter, for instance, paints/stipples surface with latex, which you can paint. Stippling is applying latex to a small lump of foam and dabbing on sparingly, as latex can make the skin stiff and heavy. Dr Puppet chooses to cover this puppet with lycra.

  1. Mouth interior – in this case faux chamois/felt – cut to size
  2. Mark pattern
  3. Trim
  4. Press correct mouth interior in to fit.
  5. Spray both surfaces with glue and carefully align. TAKE IT OUTSIDE.
  6. Prepare lycra to cover head.
  7. Pin mouth pattern – cut mark inside mouth – consider seam fold.
  8. Pin in centre – test seam placement.
  9. Work out where lycra will sit. Pin lycra. Want as few joins and seams as possible. How will you cover the seams? Hair? Nose? Hat? Beard?
  10. Big and bold tack lycra along front of mouth to hold in place.
  11. Flip fabric forward and spray glue on back side of fabric and on foam head.
  12. Ease glued surfaces together as smoothly as possible.
  13. Cut away excess foam.
  14. Carefully handsew seam at front underneath. (Could stick on goatee or stipple latex or silicone over surface of whole thing to hide seams).
  15. Lycra folds can be worry lines or wrinkles or disguised as eyebrows.
  16. Trim excess lycra.
  17. Unpick tacking.
  18. Carefully handsew (or quickly hotglue) rolled over mouth to skin seam.
  19. Continue easing and pinning to minimalise seams.
  20. Sew centre chin seam to be smooth and tidy. (Sewing through glue is slow and uncomfortable.)
  21. Try a nose.
  22. Cover nose with lycra.
  23. Hot glue nose to face (in this case making more seams trying to hide one!)
  24. Hot glue in eyes.
  25. Hot glue folds of fabric around eyes.
Find suitable hair and stick it on the head in a stylish manner

Hot glue hair to head.

HAIR(Q: Is it an abominable snowman? A: It’s certainly abominable.)

  1. Glue hair to head.
  2. Glue hair down back of neck to disguise seam.
Sew neck onto head for strength

Sew neck onto head for strength

NECK: Try different necks – maybe an old sleeve? Or sock? Or other fabric – chamois or stretchy lycra. Cut out neck tube like a sleeve. Sew it. Pin neck to head – rolling seam over to prevent fraying.

Shape by cutting and gluing darts.

Shape by cutting and gluing darts.

BODY: Find a suitable shirt to stuff. One that’s past caring. Make foam shoulder/chest piece: half a cylinder. Check position of darts to shape form. Mark centre – cut dart. Double check shapes – cut additional dart if necessary. Glue – using contact cement. Add piece to back – this will be the section that rests on your forearm to support the shoulders. BE CAREFUL WITH THE SCALPEL! IT’S SHARP! Glue in place and test fit. Mark and glue lower section to help shape the shoulder/chest piece. Cut sections to allow forearm to rest comfortably in position. Trim away foam. Adjust contours of shoulders & neck opening with roll of foam. Glue outer edge, test shape and fit, trim, then glue inner edge to neck. Roll – neck edge – ease into position. Test fit head. Fit shoulders to shirt – pin and test fit.

rolled foam around cardboard cores

rolled foam around cardboard cores

ARMS:Start with cardboard tube. Measure to centre but cut on angle. Aprox 200-220 mm for upper arm. Cut with hacksaw. Mark out foam for arm – allow a little more at the top for shoulder. Remember – measure TWICE – cut ONCE.

Sew upper arms to torso

Sew upper arms to torso

CONJUNCTIONS: Trim and adjust neckline. Trim and smooth interior. Cut and dart – glue. Joint upper arm to forearm. Trim foam at elbow to make clean join. Glue and join. Test fit arm position. More tweaking neck – dart at front. Checking adjustment

Internal wire for posable hand. Other hand just stuffed with leftover foam bits.

Internal wire for posable hand. Other hand just stuffed with leftover foam bits.

HANDS: Make pattern for wire within outline of your hand. Wire coathanger – finally useful. Bend carefully to shape. Mark joints and bends. Keep checking against pattern. Check fit inside glove. Check pose against hand. Cut foam pattern – wide – allow extra. Glue, squeeze foam to shape over fingers. Stuff foamed hand into glove. Ajust wires to shape. Test fit on arm. Drill holes along top edge of upper arm tube. Sew heavy duty cotton webbing to upper arm for stronger attachment to body. Simple alternative for hand – stuff glove with foam – chopstick helps with stuffing. Pin and sew hand to arm. Double-check orientation of hand/wrist to elbow. Sew shoulder webbing to chest/shoulder section. Double check orientation – does it hang correctly? Pin and sew. Continue stiches along to edge of foam. Sew other hand.

Dr Puppet has a little rest.

Dr Puppet has a little rest.

FINALLY: Add additional foam to torso if necessary to shape body, fill it out a bit. Dart as necessary to shape torso. Cut and glue dart. Fit shirt/clothing. Adjust, pin into position. Sew into position around neck to keep collar lined up. Paint, makeup, decorate, dress …

Who is this old codger?

Still rocking out at his age.

There are as many ways to make a puppet as there are puppets. The only way to find out is to make a puppet.

(Q: How do you make a puppet? A: You just make a puppet.)