Introduction: Marionette Mania

A kid's favorite toys are the ones they make themselves. Have a blast making one-of-a-kind puppets with your children or for your own fun! I'll show how I made one puppet in particular, but I'm sure you and your kids will have amazing ideas of your own. 

Step 1: Materials and Supplies

You'll need:

Model Magic clay : I used one 8 oz bag. Younger kids need this much due to less developed fine motor skills, but older children or adults may be able to use less. 
String or Yarn
Elmer's glue
Skewers : I used bamboo skewers with this example, but we've also used old paintbrushes. Anything slick and thin will do. 
Styrofoam/Board with holes drilled in it/crack between two objects: Basically you just need to be ale to make the skewers stand up to keep the clay elevated. 
Pipe cleaners
Paint brush

Optional :

Paint: Acrylic works well. Watercolors will work too. You can also use colored Model Magic and skip painting all together. 
Non-stick spray : I haven't had a lot of issues with the clay sticking to the bamboo skewers, but when I made these with my kids, we did have a few pieces get stuck. It's only really an issue when they really squish the clay on the skewer. If you avoid this, then the spray isn't necessary, but it doesn't hurt either. 

Step 2: Getting Started

Grab a chunk of clay for the head. If you're using a full 8 oz, then about a fourth can be allotted for the head, but it really depends on what kind of puppet you're making, so take this time to ask your kids what they want to make. If they tell you they want to make an alien with 12 legs, then you may need to give them less for the head so that there will be enough for all those legs. 

Knead the clay . Have your little one just play with the clay. Move it, stretch it, squish it. When the clay stops ripping when pulled and starts stretching out really far, it's ready to use. Model Magic dries very quickly on the outside. When left out even for very short periods of time, the outside begins to crust up and makes it difficult to mold or stick other pieces to. Because of this, make sure you keep all pieces not being currently worked on in a ziploc bag . I had my kids take turns making their puppet pieces. While one made their head, the other was their assistant and played with the excess clay to keep it from drying.

Spray the skewers with non-stick spray. Wipe them off a bit. You don't want them to be all slimy and wet.

Step 3: Body Parts

Make the basic shape of the body and stick in on a skewer . Twist the skewer back and forth as you stick it in to make it go smoother. Don't let your little ones make it beautiful before skewering it. When they stick their pieces onto the sticks, they will get misshapen and you don't want all their hard work to be messed up.

Add a skewer for arms or anything else that will be attached to the body that you want to move. Legs will be attached at the bottom, but for every pair of arms, you need to add a skewer. 

After the basic shape is made and skewered, continue to mold and add pieces.
Don't let your little ones make pieces that are very thin.
Model Magic breaks easily when thin. If they want whiskers on their cat, fine, but make them thick and short. If pieces do break, it's not the end of the world. Simply glue them back with elmer's. 

Continue this process with all the pieces you need for your puppet. Each leg and arm needs to have two parts if you want them to have elbow or knee joints, and don't forget feet and hands. All pieces need to be on skewers separately. Don't let them touch while the clay is still wet. You don't want them to stick together at this point.

Step 4: Glue

You may think all those pieces for facial features and clothes that your little one put on their puppet are stuck. Well, they likely aren't. Because of how quickly the outside of Model Magic dries, those pieces may fall off overnight. You can avoid this by simply adding a thin layer of glue with a paint brush. You only need to put glue around pieces that are stuck on. For example, I need to add glue around my puppet's eyes and cape. No need to coat the whole thing unless you used colored model magic. Because the glue will show up shiny on a matte clay, and you won't be painting over it, you may want to go ahead and coat the whole thing. 

Set aside to dry overnight.

Step 5: Paint

If you used colored model magic, skip this step. If you used white, it's time to paint!

Acrylic works well . If you have some lying around, watercolors will work too , but, with watercolor, you have to warn your kiddos not to paint too much around areas where there is glue. The water will make the glue all sticky again and possibly knock off some of their clay. Of course, a bit of elmer's will stick it on again, but who wants to deal with that?

Set it aside to dry.

Step 6: Make a Needle

Bend the end of a pipe cleaner over and twist it to make a large needle . It's important to twist it well and all the way to the tip so that it doesn't get caught inside the puppet. 

Put a long string in the needle, squeeze the loop shut, and set aside. I usually have my kids use about as much as they can stretch between their hands with their arms outstretched. 

Step 7: String It!

Time for strings. This step is the most difficult for young ones, but they can do it with some guidance. I'll show you how I strung my puppet, but please don't feel as though this is the only or best way. It is just what has worked for me. If your child did make a crazy alien with 12 arms then this method may not work. I've had my kids make spiders with lots of legs and ghosts with none, so it may be up to you to figure out exactly how to string each unique puppet. However, I'll show you how I do it. 

Lay all the pieces of the puppet out like it is supposed to look. This is an important step to making sure all the pieces get strung correctly. A lot of pieces will likely look similar and you want your feet to be on right-side up. Laying the puppet out is the way to help your little ones visualize and put together their puppet.

1. run your pipe cleaner needle and thread through the legs as shown.2. take the yarn off the needle and put a new piece of yarn on.
3. run the new string through the arms and body as show.
4. take the yarn off the needle and put a new piece of yarn on.
5. with the next string, start from the top of the head, go through the top of the body, around the middle of the sting that is through the legs, and then back up again as shown.

Cinch all the body parts together the way you want it to look, and squeeze some glue into the parts at the end of all the strings . Be generous. You don't want the parts falling off while your little one is playing with their puppet. Don't put glue in all of the parts. The glue makes the string stiff and you want your parts to move freely.

Set it aside to dry. 

Step 8: Controls

Deciding how the puppet will be controlled is another point in which I can't tell you exactly what to do unless your kids make something very close to what I made. I deliberately made something that could stand on both two or four feet, so I'll show you how to string it for both of these walking preferences. However, it may again be up to you to figure some of this one out on your own. 

Because I know that marionettes tend to get tangled, I wanted to make my kids puppets a little less likely to get tangled while cutting down on supplies. To accomplish this we didn't use sticks to attach our strings to. We put loops in the ends of the strings and put the loops on our hands and fingers to control the puppets. 

Tie a knot in the top strings to create a loop. This loop will go on the operator's wrist. 

If your puppet will stand on two legs:

Tie loops in the ends of the arm strings. The arm on the puppet should be half raised with the loop on a finger. This way gets the largest range of movement. One arm will be controlled by the pinky finger and the other by the thumb.

If your puppet will stand on all legs:

Tie a string around the string that is between the back legs and the bottom of the body. Tie a loop in that string that will also go around the wrist. 

If your puppet has lots of arms or legs:

The best way I've found to deal with multiple arms or legs is to tie some or all of them together to have one control string. For example, one of my kids made a spider and she obviously doesn't have eight fingers, so we tied together the legs that were on the same side to create two control strings for the legs. 

If your puppet has a tail:

You can tie the tail on afterward or string it between the body and the legs. 

Additional Notes:

My kids were in second grade, so I decided to keep their puppets simple and as easy as possible to operate. We cut the strings off of the bottom of the legs and let them walk by bouncing on the ground. If your kids are older or you just want to take it further, you can add strings to the "knees" or any other place you want to make move. But don't forget that you only have so many fingers.

Step 9: It's Showtime!

Now your kids can make a background and puppet theater for puppet shows about anything they can imagine!

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