I've been busy making a new puppet for the lovely Jo Empson, and thought I would share the process with you. (And me, as I sometimes forget how I did things!)
I decided to make this puppet using the "foam and fleece" method, as is used for the Muppets. Most of the puppets I have made before were either fully textile, or papier mache, but as this puppet needed to be large I thought this would be nice and light, and also look bold and child-friendly. So - here we go!
1. First, I assembled my chosen studio companions.
(For future reference, note to self - try to choose companions that don't poo on the floor. Bea, I'm looking at you. Don't think I didn't notice, because I did.)
2. I made a pattern from paper for the puppet's mouth plate.
3. I cut the mouth plate out from cardboard. This isn't the best material to use actually - some kind of plastic would be better but I didn't have anything large enough. Then I covered the cardboard with red fabric. I used a kind of wincyette because that's what I had, but a lot of puppet makers use felt. Also most people glue the fabric to the board or use self adhesive felt. But I find sewing less scary as it's undo-able!
4. I made a black "hole" and a pink tongue from felt and glued them on. I used fabric glue…but more about glue later.
5. The mouth plate started to crease, so I strengthened it by gluing on some jersey fabric, painting on fabric stiffener, and adding a piece of card.
6. I started putting notches in the foam to sculpt it. The black line you can see is the size and shape of the mouth plate.
7. Then I glued the notches together using the hot glue gun. I did the same with the bottom jaw afterwards. (The bottom jaw is 1/2" foam.)
(Most painful place to burn self with hot glue gun? Crook of thumb.)
8. Now to cover the foam with fleece. Die hard Muppet makers use Antron Fleece, but this is just ordinary polar fleece, available online. I draped the fleece over the foam, pinned it in place and made pleats where necessary to smooth it out. I intended to cut away the excess and join the edges. But eventually I decided to sculpt the pleats into nostrils, which you will see later.
Online there are many tutorials and tips for sewing fleece to foam. Some people make a pattern from other fabric, transfer it to fleece and then sew it inside out. As this puppet is quite quirkily shaped and large, I just trimmed and stitched as I went along.
9. I sewed the mouth plate to the fleece. Some puppet makers glue it in. I used a kind of whip stitch. There are several stitches you can use including "Henson Stitch". Fleece seems to be quite forgiving and the stitches do sink in quite nicely. You can fluff up the stitched line with the tip of the needle and this hides them even more.
10. I was using polystyrene balls for eyes. It's possible to use ping pong balls or fishing floats too. I drew the pupils on with a Sharpie. I then made a strap with fleece to sew onto the puppet. Then with another semicircle of fleece, I made eyelids which I sewed on.
11. Now for the final embellishments. I made teeth by cutting out foam, covering it with white fleece and sewing them in place.
12. Then, I made coloured spots from other scrap fabric, and a couple of spikes from 1/2" foam covered with red towelling. I glued on the spots using fabric glue and sewed on the spikes.
Voila! And here he is in action at the Wychwood Festival. The children certainly seemed to like him!
I used plenty of websites and books to help me with this process. I will compile a list of them and put it on the side (if I can work out how!). Puppet making is fun!