Introduction: Make a Muppet for $15

Do you know how to sew and have $15?  Then you too can make your very own Muppet-style puppet!

There is an amazing TV station inside Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital in Manhattan, and they do live programming twice a day where patients can call in!  There are cool celebrity guests, musicians, clowns, and puppet game shows.

I am performing there on Halloween and wanted to bring an original character that can just be for hospital shows.  Plus I have a 7-month old baby and am home alone with him for most weekdays.  Building a puppet at home sounded like fun.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional puppet builder!  I have been making small props and watching others build over the years.  I learned how to sew from the Puppet Kitchen (highly recommend their workshops) and decided to work off a stuffed animal instead of a Muppety pattern.

Step 1: Fat Cat

I bought this cat pillow for $7 at my local discount clothing store in Astoria.  They even gave me a $1 discount because he was a little banged up.

He's a fat kitty!  (but not for long)

Total Cost so far: $7

Step 2: Step One

Removed the Polyfil from the inside of the cat.

Step 3: So Much Polyfill!

There was so much stuffing that it filled an entire shopping bag.

Step 4: The Opening

Most of the torso / limbs were two big pieces of fabric, but the head was its own formation - and this is what the neck looks like from the inside.  I widened the hole so my hand could fit inside.

Step 5: Sleeve

I was going to throw this old shirt out - instead I harvested it to make a sleeve.

Step 6: Sleeve

The sleeve goes inside the puppet (this will be Muppet-style) and protects my arm against the rough inside of the fabric.

Step 7: Razor Blades

I asked the local hardware store if they had bigger razors.  They gave me a look like "HUH" and I tried to explain that cutting shaggy fabric is best with razor blades.

$1 for the razor blades.

Total Cost so far: $8

Step 8: Cutting the Seams

Cutting the seams was hard and took time with scissors.  The sharp razor blade made short work of it.

Step 9: Separated

The white underbelly of the pillow was now separated from the tiger-striped top.

Step 10: Sewing Is Handy

I attached the sleeve to the cat's neck.  Pin, sew, pull pins as you go.

Step 11: Sleeve Now Attached

Here's what the inside of the puppet will look like.  My arm will go inside the sleeve and my hand will go into the puppet's head.

Step 12: Sewing the Body

I folded the tiger-striped fabric over this poster mailing tube (about the same dimensions as my arm) and sewed it together.

Step 13: Torso Complete

The head and body are done, now begins the hard part...

Step 14: Arms

This was the most difficult and time-consuming part.  I had no idea how to do the arms so I sewed together strips from the white fur.

Step 15: Paws

This took brainstorming.  I folded some fur over itself to make square paws and pinned it all together.

Step 16: Dollar Store, Y'all

Arms need arm rods, and thanks to a wonderful suggestion from Eric Wright from the Puppet Kitchen (he came over to pick up our old microwave) I scoured the local Dollar Stores for wire clothes hangers to turn into arm rods.

I couldn't find thick, black wire hangers, so I went with pink to match the puppet's fur.  This will definitely make this puppet stand out (nobody uses colored arm rods, except for green-screening).

The toy package on the right is for the bottom of the rods, to give me a grip.

Toy: $2
Hangers: $3
Current Total: $13

Step 17: Fixed the Ears

The ears were too floppy, so I cut a piece of thin, white coat hanger and crammed it into each ear.  Then I bent them into a triangular cat ear shape.

Step 18: Arm Coverings

I cut some fur off the bottom of the puppet and grabbed the scraps from the torso fold.  There was just barely enough to cover the arms.

Step 19: Shoulder

This is where the puppet's arm will attach to its body.  I had just enough to make it work.

Step 20: Arms Attached

i pinned the arms into place, tried it out in front of a mirror, adjusted the pins, tried again, and finally sewed the arms on.  Phew!

The cat finally looks like something - but we're not done.

Step 21: Arm Rods

I bent the ends of the clothes hangers into circles and hot-glued some white fabric to them (the same stuff that the paws are made of).  I straightened out the hangers and clipped them to the proper height.

Finally I stuffed the rods into the paws (I had left openings in the bottoms) and sewed them in.

Step 22: A Meow-th?

Some quick inspiration led me to stick my thumb out and form a crude mouth out of the cat's neck.  This is it!  No more will this puppet be a non-moving mouth character!  It gets a mouth after all.

Step 23: Plastic Ends

I disassembled the plastic toys and prepped the hot glue gun.

Step 24: Arm Rod Bottoms

These plastic bottoms are light weight, fun colors, and the perfect size for my hands.  I used a mixture of hot glue and gaff tape to fuse it all together.

Step 25: The Mouth

What makes a good mouth?  A good throat shape, apparently.  It's just a patch of black felt that I hot glued onto the neck.

Step 26: Button Eyes

My wife commented that the original eyes were creepy - and it's true.  They were angry and yellow.  I bought new eyes from our local fabric shop (awesome guy - with a whole wall of buttons in boxes) and sewed them on with some difficulty.  I also hot glued them into place to ensure they would not wobble.

I also removed the pink thread that made the old mouth.  Now its just a nose and the top of his mouth.

Button Cost: $1.50
Total Cost so far: $14.50

Step 27: Cat in Motion!

I finally get to test the finished cat.

Step 28: Hello!

All puppet characters need a good name and a proper voice!  Any suggestions?

Step 29: The Finished Product

Total Cost: $14.50

One custom Muppet-style puppet, made from thread, a white t-shirt and a fat animal pillow.  I am pretty proud of how it turned out!  I stuffed some Polyfill into the chest to get rid of some fabric wrinkles.

Step 30: Side View

So that's it!  The cat will debut on Halloween on a live TV gameshow and spread joy and laughter to sick kids and their parents in the hospital.  I hope this series inspired you to create your own puppets - it was a brand new experience for me and my confidence with building puppets is growing.

For all you professional puppet builders out there, much respect and I hope to learn more as I create more characters.

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