Introduction: Make a Storytelling Tree

My 4th graders and I decided to tackle a puppet theater project we called the Storytelling Tree. It has been a delightful project to work on with kids and for kids and if it is something you are interested in, I hope you will give it a try!

We have this set up in our elementary school library withpuppets....the kids love to put on their own puppet shows!

Step 1: Assemble Materials

Of course, these all depend on how big a tree you plan on making........for this one, the base measures about 34"X48" and stands 6 and1/2 feet tall. 4 or more children can easily fit inside to operate puppets.


*7 ten-foot long 3/4 inch PVC pipes

*45 degree corners, T corners and 90 degree corners to fit the PVC pipe, glue if you wish

*7-8 yards of light weight fleece (I wish my fleece had been a little darker shade of brown, but this was a good sale price)

* light stuffing material

*felt scraps for: leaves, eyes, tree knots/puppet holes, curtains behind the puppet holes

*1 1/2 yards light weight black fabric to cover "door" for puppeteers

*brown pipe cleaners for added decoration and texture to bark

*sew-on velcro to attach the fabric to the top of the PVC pipe skeleton

*thread to match the color of the tree

*zip ties might come in handy for the limbs

*fabric paint/markers if needed

Step 2: ...and Equipment

Equipment needed:

* PVC pipe cutters

*measuring tape

*sewing machine

*fabric scissors

*rubber mallet

Step 3:

Step 4: Build the PVC Skeleton

PVC pipe is a terrific (and forgiving) material to work with on this project. Using pipe cutters, 9-year old kids were able to measure, safely cut and attach pieces.

Here are the 3 features we wanted for our tree:

1. we wanted it to fit through the classroom door

2. It was going to be roughly shaped like the base of a large hollow tree.

3. There will be a door in the back large enough for puppeteers to enter and exit.

The oval-shaped base measures 34" X 48" and it is 6 and 1/2 feet tall. It tapers out a few inches from the base towards the middle. Tapers back in towards the top. The tapering out made it impossible to fit through the door as it was. To keep feature #1 above, I knew we'd have to be able to split the entire tree skeleton in half.

Check out the pictures. We just measured and built it one piece at a time, attaching connecting pieces (T's or 45 degree angles or 90 degree angles) as we built it. Basically, we had three horizontal roughly- shaped ovals- a bottom, middle and top and they were connected with 3 and half foot vertical pvc pieces to complete the skeleton from bottom oval to middle and then three foot pvc pieces from middle to top. We left a top to bottom door in the back and this is what is covered by a black cloth.

Step 5: Glue the PVC Skeleton

No children were involved in gluing the pvc pipe. All gluing was done outside and it stayed outside to dry at least 24 hours.

I planned how we'd glue the pipe in order to make the skeleton easily fit through the door in two equal-sized pieces. I wrote "NO" in red permanent marker on every section that was not going to be glued. The pictures here show "the NO"; how the base was split so it could be transported; the entire skeleton split in two pieces.

Step 6: Sew the "bark" Panels.

First picture here:Take the black fabric and create a panel that will fit the "door" in the skeleton of the tree. Sew it together and include a loop at the top so you can just slide it over the PVC pipe piece above the door. That is the curtain.

We used 3- seven foot pieces of fleece (44" nap) and sewed the right side 5/8" seams together to cover the entire PVC skeleton. On whichever end will be the top, we sewed a line of sewable velcro (the soft side of velcro) 1/2" from the top on the wrong side of the fleece. Six or seven inches down from that line of the velcro on the wrong side of fleece, we sewed the opposite "hard" side of velcro. So now we were able to hang the fleece along the top horizontal row of PVC pipe and loop it over pipe to cover our tree.

Step 7: Decorate the Tree...

Now that they are sewn into one big piece, the fleece panels are quite easy to take off and put back on for sewing on decoration purposes. We did that in stages a, b, c and d......

stage a) leaves- take multi-colored felt, cut into leaf-shaped pieces of various sizes, pin between velcro sides on tree up near top, then sew all at once just catching leaves in one place with a line of machine stitching.

stage b) face and puppet holes- we used paper to determine where we wanted facial features and puppet holes to go. For eyes we used black and white felt pinned and sewn part by machine and part by hand (whip-stitched). (the kids really wanted the eyes to move... we are still working on that) The nose was created from leftover fleece scraps, machine sewn along top of nose then stuffed and hand sewn along the bottom of the nose. We planned on the mouth being one of the puppet holes, but you could easily draw a mouth on with fabric markers.

For the puppet holes, we made four. We lightly traced around the paper hole, removed the paper and cut into the fabric with straight lines starting at the center in an "asterisk" design of 3 or 4 lines that extended to the edge of the drawn hole. Fold the triangles formed by the asterisk cuts into the tree and pin them back. These will be hand sewn (tacked with a few stitches) on the inside of the tree later. Now take a 2-3 foot long (depending on how big your puppet hole is), 6-8" wide piece of brown or black felt and put a thick line of stuffing material down the middle. Fold it over the stuffing lengthwise and pin it away from the tree in a circular fashion. Check the hole as you are pinning the felt to make sure it will be able to rest along the edge of the hole on the tree. Machine sew this away from the tree, then pin and hand sew it to the tree. On the inside of the tree you will hand tack the "asterisk" triangles, then hand sew a black or brown felt curtain behind the hole.

stage c) limbs- Take a scrap of the original fleece to make a limb or two for the tree. Shape your limb, turn right sides together and sew the seam of your branch closed. Turn it inside out, Stuff it and feel free to add a few leaves to the tip. Cut an "asterisk"-shaped hole where you want the limb to go. This time use the triangular flaps from the limb hole to machine sew the flaps to 5-6" from the bottom of the limb. Add a wooden dowel or extra piece of PVC and stick it inside the branch to give it strength. These dowels can be attached to the inside PVC frame with zip ties. The kids really wanted the limbs to be able to move and this was easy to do just by moving the dowel or PVC pipe that stuck out inside the tree. (picture)

stage d)bark/texture lines- Our fleece tree was too smooth-looking for our tastes, so we pinned lines into it by pinching about an inch of material in lines up and down the tree, (see picture) These were easy to sew later.

In the end, the fleece with all its tree decorations is just hung on the PVC frame and you are ready to go!

Step 8: Decorate a Little More....

Still wanting a little more texture to the bark, we just made light and dark brown lines with fabric markers (the kind that do not need to be heat set) all over the tree to look like bark. Also, if you have some extra fleece, add it to the bottom front of the tree for feet/roots!

....and we were done!

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