Saturday, 13 December 2014

Puppet Making with Paper and Cloth

Inspired by this simply magical post by Rima Staines of the Hermitage, the older girls and I decided that making puppets would be our Summer project.

 However, it was a far more complex undertaking than I realised it would be.

It took from August to late November to finish our puppets in the end.

The girl's each had quite definite and ambitious designs in mind.
 I wanted to be able to help them to accomplish these without too much frustration so the puppets really ended up being collaborative efforts. 

I provided, technical support when threads needed threading and untangling and re-stitching.

They engaged, with guidance only in the processes that they could manage without help such as applying glue and paper to the heads and shoulders, cutting out the hands, whittling the sticks that hold the puppet's strings and stitching the fabric squares that made up the puppet's clothing.

We worked together on  painting  the faces and on stitching around the puppet's hands.


 This little man is named Thorfinn after the enchanting fairy tale by Vivian French and Jackie Morris "Singing to the Sun"

 His hands are made of wool filled cotton interlock.

His gown and hat are made of two squares of cotton print fabric.


His head and shoulders are molded out of papier mache.

 His strings are made of hemp twine strung to two hand whittled pieces of wood, kindly donated by one of the trees in our village green.

He also  has a little bell sewn to the top of his cap of which he is very proud.

I wanted to create a puppet design that would be easy enough for the children to handle and manipulate. 

This meant the design had to be pretty simple, flexible and weightless. 

However, I also wanted them to easily express their puppet's character by manipulating it's movement.  

I think this was achieved by using large squares of flowing fabric for the puppet's gowns as they gave the arms a good reach and lots of flexibility.

Thorfinn also, actually has two strings threaded through his head. 
One comes out through the front and one pokes out of the  point of his cap.

Using two strings for the head like this, allows the puppeteer to direct the angle of the head with ease.

Thorfinn can be made to look down by pulling the thread that runs through the back of his head while slackening the the thread that pokes out from under the front of his cap.


This gives poor Thorfinn a rather melancholy air. 
But never fear! 
By tightening the front string and slackening the back one his joie de vivre soon returns.

The girls' whittled the wood and rubbed it with my homemade beeswax salve.

His hair is made of Merino wool roving and stuck into place using a non toxic craft glue. 
I used my longest, scariest doll-making needle to stitch the strings through his head and cap before gluing his cap to his hair line with more copious amounts of  craft glue.

Florence, as ever unmoved by the general chaos of her household.

 Matilda and I worked on this elegant character. Her name is Lady Elspeth Barley.

Boo's creation is simply magical. He is a Celestial Bird Boy!

Here is poor Thorfinn looking a wee bit undone. 

You can see how we shaped the head, neck and shoulders from this picture. 

To paint the faces we made up a large batch of skin tone in acrylic; One pale, one cool and one slightly warmer in tone for shading. 

We applied the skin tones and waited for them to dry thoroughly before painting the facial details and sticking on the hair.

To make the basic head and neck structure, we scrunched up a sheet of newspaper in to a ball, leaving enough to twist a sketchy neck and shoulder shape with the same sheet to avoid having to stick pieces together.

We molded the face by sticking pieces of ripped up newspaper onto the structure with PVA glue.

The  bodies were made by placing two pieces of fabric right sides together and stitching all the way around leaving gaps along the top and on the top two corners for the head and hands to fit through and be stitched in place.

On a roll of sorts I decided to use a similar process to create some cloth puppets using the Waldorf method for molding their heads. 

It was certainly easier to thread twine through a wool filled head than a paper filled one!

More inspiration

  The video above describes beautifully why puppets and puppetry helps children connect with their imaginations.

I love the simplicity of this Waldorf style Puppet play using marionette style dolls.


  1. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I absolutely love them.
    A definite todo project for the next year!!
    Thanks so much.

  2. Thank you Stephanie :) They were well worth the effort and look great hanging up in the kid's rooms :)

  3. I have had a lifelong phobia of dolls, so was a bit concerned about this post but wow, I think you have cured me..your puppets are fascinating, so intricate and full of character, just charming! I would never have thought it possible to create such works as a layperson but you've proven me wrong there, might have to create some wonder with my eldest next year now. Thank you for the inspiration and tips Suzy! x

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment Carly :) I get what you mean. I find some dolls creepy too. I think that is why I love handmade, natural dolls rather than the stare-eyed plastic ones. I so happy the post was inspiring. They did take longer to make than I'd planned but the work was fun and I love the characters we were able to create.

  4. What delightful puppets. Can tell they were made with love!!! Have a grand week!! Cathy

    1. Thank you Cathy.
      They were made with lots of love... and lots of glue ( I think we went through two gallons of the stuff :) Wishing you a lovely week!

  5. They are wonderful, simple yet so full of character. Sometimes taking time over things rather than rushing can produce amazing results as you have proved. I am sure they will be the inspiration for many imaginative hours.

  6. Wow, they are amazing. And what a rare talent you have. Your eye is super tuned with beauty and detail, wonderful to see such work!
    I would like to ask you for advice, though. I want to start a beginners puppetry-club for children the age of 7-10. I have practically no experience in actually making puppets ( other than a few finger puppets) but really feel the burn and need to create such a creative channel for children and for myself as well. I have watched a lot of tutorials etc. so I'm not a total noob though! I also volunteered with Bread and Puppet the other year.
    Some back qround for my project:I feel like puppetry is one of the most profoundly touching forms of art. It can be powerful in such a fragile way, and actually that's exactly what I felt when I looked at your creations, also. Like they can speak some hidden language of our collective heart of lunar beauty.
    But now I'm getting side tracked. My reason for writing (after thanking you) was to ask for advice for such a strange case as myself :) I will be working with ca. 10 children for 1,5 hours once every week. Do you think it would be possible to create these kind of puppets in the time period of 14 weeks (21h)? I will most probably be the only instructor in the club. (Do you think this is nuts?) ¨
    I would love if you could maybe tell me a little more about your experiences with making the puppets. e.g. How your children felt about making them and did making the puppets have positive side-effects on your everyday lives? :) What things proved to be the hardest to manage?

    Thank you so much already, your blog is magical and reminds me of the music of Mariee Sioux

    With love, Ronja

    1. Hi Ronja! I'm so sorry to have missed your comment and taken such a long time to reply. I think it just got buried somehow, but thankfully I just discovered it!
      Thank you so much for your incredibly kind words. I am really touched :)
      I feel the same way about puppetry. I think it is a wonderful learning tool and even more special when you make your own!
      I think that a class could make these puppets with instruction so long as the lessons were broken down into super easy steps. Younger children may also need extra help with the sewing part of the project although it doesn't really matter if the stitching is neat, so long as it holds together.
      I'm so thrilled that you have been inspired by this post. I will try to make these again and give some more instructions to make the project easier to follow. There are some wonderful puppetry videos on you tube. I especially like the waldorf inspired one.
      Good luck with your project. Warm wishes, Suzy.

    2. I am also really honored that my blog reminds you of the magical music of Mariee Sioux!!!


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