Wednesday, 4 June 2014

How to Make a Dragon

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 was to be re-creating the head of the dragon from the above illustration (copyright Jo Empson), from her picture book "Never Ever", to go with the girl character I made last year.

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.

 You can see above that at this stage I made some foam finger holes, because I intended this to be a glove puppet. However, later on it became clear it was too long and weighty to be worked with one hand, so I removed them and made hand holes instead. Here I also started the top of the head by putting the mouth plate on a piece of 1" foam and drawing round it with a large border to allow for shaping it.

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.)
 Throughout all these pics you will notice a range of different glues which I bought and tried and failed with during this process. I even glued my own hands with Gorilla Glue, which swells up. (And, NB, doesn't stick foam). It made my hands so sticky that I couldn't sew afterwards for ages. I used so many chemicals trying to get it off I think I actually took the top layer of skin off. I tried Copydex and PVA, but settled on the hot glue gun which does stick foam very well.

(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.

 You can see the nostrils here too.

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!


Abbie said...

He's gorgeous Liza... and a fab tutorial to boot!

Jo Empson said...

This is so facinating to see all the different stages, and as an ardent non-sewer is inspiring enough to even make me want to have a go! I feel soooo lucky to be the proud owner of a fabulous dragon who the children absolutely loved! Thank you so VERY much! xXx