It's time to play the music
It's time to light the lights
It's time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight!
Chances are, if you've been a child in the last 50 years or so, you may be familiar with the bright and colorful world of Jim Henson's fleece-skinned friends known as The Muppets. I made my Muppet self as a last minute Halloween costume this year, but the season is always right to make your own! In this Instructable, I'll show you how to craft your very own Muppet using household materials and some fleece.
Step 1: Designing Puppets: What Makes a Muppet a Muppet?
From Fraggles to Fozzie Bears to full-sized Snuffaluffagi, Muppets come in all shapes and sizes. I'll be showing the steps I took to design and make my version, but the techniques can be applied to a variety of different Muppet styles. Before starting my Muppet, I did plenty of research to break down my design into key components. Here's some advice for choosing your own:
Rod Only (Rizzo Rat): These include Muppets that are too small to operate with a human hand inside, requiring either animatronics or a wee mechanical system to actuate the jaw if necessary. Rods extend from the hands to allow one puppeteer modest control. For my first foray into amateur puppeteering, I wanted to make a bigger Muppet without any complicated mechanisms that might fail on Halloween night, although I am curious to design and share a simple way to build smaller puppets in the future, so stay tuned!
Rod Hand (Kermit): These are more common as Muppets, since they also only require one operator, but are large enough to accommodate a human hand inside the head. The hands are also independently controlled with rods down below the Muppet. I chose this style as it seemed the most expressive while still at a modest size. I could comfortably control the mouth with my off hand while operating the rods with my main hand for maximum expressiveness.
Live-Hand Muppets (Cookie Monster): These are the most expressive design in the Muppetverse, allowing the operator to control not only the mouth movement, but having their natural hand within the Muppet's own as a long-sleeved glove. This kind of bodily control comes at the cost of requiring two very coordinated operators in order for the natural motion of the hands to make sense. A friend was joining me on Halloween with his own puppet-self, but the coordination makes more sense for a production and less for a party.
Full Body+ (Big Bird): The last and largest of the Muppets also require the most dedication, since the operator wears the whole body as a suit. I wanted an easily stored costume that I could also take off quickly if I needed to do any anything else. These suits also require more complicated mechanisms for the jaw movement. The main reason I abandoned this style of Muppet was the expected unpleasantly warm internal temperature and inevitable body odor build-up.
Muppets come in every color of the spectrum, with most skin palettes tending toward fanciful colors not found on natural humanoids. Continuing on this idea, I decided to choose purple skin. Muppet noses are often independent from the rest of the facial colors, often resulting in bright contrast. I went with a bright green swatch of fleece for my nose as a nice complement to my purpleness.
If they have any at all, many Muppets have rather wild looking hair with unusual colors as well. I chose some some black fake fur to garnish my face to make for a more recognizable likeness, but this is another opportunity to give more personality to your Muppet, so get creative! Just don't be too creative...
Step 2: Tools and Materials
Total cost for this project came out to $60, but I still had tons of fleece, foam, and fur left over for future crafting endeavors. I probably only consumed<$15 worth of supplies to complete my Muppet.
- assorted fleece
- 1/2" foam sheet
- ping pong balls
- safety pins
- corrugated plastic (old political signs)
- duct tape (or gaffer's tape)
- hot glue
- 1/8" dowel rods (I used metal, but wood would work well too)
- a small shirt or two
- (optional) fake fur or an old wig
- sewing machine
- hot glue gun
- rotary fabric cutting tool
- pen knife
Step 3: Making Muppet Bodies
In order to make a properly sized foam body, we'll first need to make a body form. I made my body shape out of rolled-up cardboard pieces and some tape. As long as your form holds its shape, it should work well. I measured mine out to the length of my arm to be sure it would be a comfortable size. The "head" for the form is made from several layers of old bubble wrap that I taped into a ball-ish shape.
Once your form is made, cut a piece of foam to wrap around the chest and pin it in place.
Cut a small rectangle large enough to cover the top of the chest tube.
Fold the rectangle in quarters and cut out a curved eye-shaped hole. Make sure your hand can slide comfortably through the new hole.
Place the newly cut piece on top the of the body.
Mark and trim the outline of the chest tube from the top piece.
Hot glue the top piece to the body. (I'll just say glue for all remaining steps, but I really mean hot glue)
Glue the seam of the body and wait for the new seams to cool for a few minutes.
Take a large enough swatch of your skin fleece and pin it to the body. Mark with pins and pull it off the body.
Sew the body skin tube and trim the excess.
Turn the new skin inside out and slide it onto the the foam.
Fold over and trim as needed, gluing the fleece to the inside of the body to secure it.
Step 4: Making Muppet Arms
Muppet arms tend to be long and flexible without much, if any, muscle definition, so I decided to follow suit with my own silly tube arms.
First, fold over a long section of foam wide enough for the future hand.
Mark and cut two long strips of foam.
Stack the two pieces and draw the outline of a hand shape.
Trim the two piece of foam to make two identical arms. Extra trimming may be required to get the desired shape.
Test to see if you're satisfied with your new foam arms against your body form.
Fold over a long piece of fleece and lay an arm down as a template. Trim away the excess for a generous seam.
Mark your arm piece with pins and remove the foam template.
Sew the arm cloth and turn the arm inside out. (I used a long wooden needle to pop out my fingers)
Fill the arm with plenty of stuffing to give it shape. (I tore up some batting that was lying around instead)
Repeat the previous four steps for the other arm.
I used copper rod bent into a loop for my arm rods and then pinned them to my wrists for quick removal. For an even more seamless connection, sew small pieces of ferrous metal into the wrists and then control the arms with magnets that have been glued to dowel rods.
Step 5: Making Muppet Mouths
This is where your hand will actually interface with the puppet. I wanted an all black mouth with a bright red tongue, but many Muppets also have red mouths, pink tongues, and a black negative piece for the uvula. Although I originally used gaffer's tape to make finger straps, I would recommend a more comfortable material for prolonged use.
Begin by tracing your hand along the corrugated plastic. Make sure that the corrugation runs perpendicular to your fingers so that it will make a nice flexible crease once cut.
Mark a line along the corrugation just below your knuckle. This is where the mouth will bend.
Use a round template large enough to draw a circle around your hand pattern with the middle of the circle aligned with the knuckle notch.
Cut out the circle and give it a nice, heavy crease. Check to make sure your hand bends comfortably around, but leaving some space between the tips of your fingers and the edge of the mouth. The head foam will attach on top of the mouth here later.
Cut out a few pieces of gaffer's tape and cover the insides of two pieces with two smaller pieces, so that only the ends have the sticky back.
Bend the newly made straps slightly and attach them to the top and bottom of the jaw flap.
Secure the straps with perpendicular pieces of tape along the edges.
Trim away any excess tape extending from the mouth.
Use the new mouth assembly as a template for the inner mouth fleece.
Cut out the round pattern and glue it to the inside of the mouth.
Fold over the mouth to use as a guide for your tongue piece.
Draw a tongue shape within your new outline, leaving plenty of room towards the edge as the head fleece will make a lip here later.
I eventually trimmed the mouth shaped to better fit my foam head, but I would hold off on this step until you've made your head too.
Step 6: Making Muppet Heads
This is perhaps the most complicated step, but it really isn't too bad. I'm a sewing novice, so keep going even if you're frustrated! I failed to make the head pattern three times before I got it right. Here are the steps I took to make a more melon-headed Muppet:
Begin by running a needle or dowel through the middle of the head to create a line of symmetry.
Mark the face of your form with the general outline of your Muppet's face to get a sense of placement for the foam.
Wrap a piece from the roll of foam around the face and pin at the needle of symmetry.
Mark a long band of foam that is widest at the brow and coming to a point where the needle exits the head.
Use the wedge as a template to make more wedges, pinning them around the head until it's nearly covered.
Mark two wedges where the lips will be and keep them parted.
Glue in between the gaps of the wedges to make them whole.
Remove the inner plastic form.
Trim any edges of the head that stick out at right angles so that it is roughly rounded. It's doesn't have to be too smooth as the fleece will hide most of the imperfections of the foam, but not all of them!
Check to make sure the mouth assembly fits your new head form, trimming the edges of the mouth as necessary.
Glue the lips of the foam head to the mouth assembly.
I wanted to have the head pattern without a visible seam down the brow, but the seams hid pretty well after I was done sewing anyway, so decide where you want the seam to run along the face.
Drape some of your skin fleece along the face of your head form with the mouth open.
Cut a hole for the the mouth about 1/2" inset from the shape of the mouth. This also doesn't have to be pretty, since we'll later fold over the edge of this hole into a cleaner hem for the "lips."
Pin the fabric to the face and keep pulling it tight as you go.
Mark where you'd like the seam to go and cut out half of the face pattern.
Lay your half face pattern over the folded edge of a piece of skin fleece and cut out the pattern with a little extra for the seam.
Unfold your new symmetrical head pattern and lay it over the foam head, tucking in and stretching it to keep things tight.
Drape a new piece of fabric over the back of the head form and pin it to the face piece.
Mark the new head seam and trim the two pieces of fabric to match.
Sew two pieces of fabric together.
Turn the new skin hood inside out and trim as necessary for it to fit over the head form.
Fold over the inside of the mouth hole to make a clean looking lip and glue around the inside
If the fabric from your neck doesn't extend enough, sew an arm tube to lengthen it.
Step 7: Making Muppet Faces
Muppet eyes come in many different styles as well. I chose to go with big, bulgy eyes like Beaker or Cookie Monster.
Using a small round cylinder, like a film canister, to mark an edge around the logo of your ping pong ball.
Carefully cut out the logo with a pen knife.
Repeat for the other eyeball.
Cut out two small circles of black fleece for your pupils. Small coins make for great templates!
Draw your preferred nose shape onto a scrap of foam.
Test with your Muppet eyes to see if you enjoy the style and placement.
Use the foam to cut a template from your nose skin.
Sew and stuff your nose with fluff.
Mark and cut a foam ear pattern.
Stuff and sew your ears with fluff.
Cut out your desired fur-headed, facially-exaggerated hair for extra personalization.
Play Mr. Potato head with your Muppet until you get bored and then glue the face together.
Step 8: Final Thoughts
This was a fun crafting challenge and a fun way to improve my sewing skills. The Muppet was a hit at parties and around town, so I'm definitely excited to take on more puppetry projects in the future. I hope you found this Instructable useful. If you end up making your own Muppet, post photos in the comments!