Introduction: How to Make a Dragon Puppet.
UPDATE: January, 2018 - My instructable won first prize in the Fibre Arts Contest!!!
So many thanks to Instructables.com and all of the people who visited my instructable. I was so excited to receive my grand prize in zip time and can't wait to try it out and learn something new - how to spin fibre!!!! Thank you to the sponsors for this contest for the Ashford Spinning Wheel, the beautiful wool sampler from woolgatherings.com, the special flame needle from lesliewind.com, and the great t-shirt from Instructables.com. Go ahead and make your instructable, you won't regret it.
So, I decided I wanted to make a large arm puppet after seeing some awesome creations on the web. Trying to find some free instructions was another story. Hence, I am providing this set of instructions (not 100% detailed) to perhaps help guide someone else through the process of making their very own creation. I searched and found some really great demos on making other types of puppets and had to take bits and pieces to make my own. I have put all of the steps, including the mistakes. So, you should really follow the whole process to see the tips and recommendations as the mistakes may have been discovered later in the project and are in the order they occurred. This is my very first puppet, so I can only share with you the process and products I used and the little bit of information I obtained through my web searching. It took me approximately 45 hours to make the puppet you see here. Keep in mind that I have years of sewing experience but not puppetry, so I already had a lot of the tools needed to make such an item; you may need to invest in some of them too or find an alternative method. You may also find an alternative product because you cannot find the same type I used. I was exceptionally pleased with how my creation turned out, and the photo you see is his first public appearance at our local cosplay convention, CaperCon, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Enjoy. PS...his name is Juniper.
Step 1: Choosing Your Puppet Foundation Material.
I found online that most people use foam as the base for their puppet. However, when I went to my local fabric store, they did not have foam per se....they had fibrefoam. I wasn't in a position to go shopping around so chose to purchase the fibrefoam - about 2 meters - it was quite wide and would be plenty for this project. What I discovered when making him was that this product was superior to using foam. The fibrefoam was easy to sew, glue items to, and could easily be thinned by just pulling a layer off at a time as thick as you want. I purchased the standard contact cement (used by the puppet industry) but did not use it at all on this project. If I was going to use the puppet a lot, I may have found the contact cement to be better for longer use. I sewed all of the seams and used a glue gun with multitemp glue. Worked like a charm.
Step 2: Getting Your Puppet Teeth, Ears, Horns, Etc.
I chose not to make all of the pieces to my puppet - like the teeth, ears, horns. But all of these items can be made using clay, foam, and other various products. There are a lot of instructions online to do these items separately. The halloween section had a lot of variety for these items to purchase. I found these monster teeth that had brown fur on the bottom gumline and up to the ears. I was able to just pull it off without a problem. If you choose to purchase this part of your puppet, then the rest of the puppet will be sized around that piece. I purchased two jaws for my mouth. I also purchased some horns, ears, and a unicorn horn (which I chose not to use in the end). I needed something for claws and purchase a cheap halloween mask with tiny plastic items that I could use. I purchased fur at my local fabric store for the pelt.
Step 3: Choosing the Eyeballs.
There were some of the items I didn't want to make from scratch, so I went on a hunt to find some products to use. It was a great time to do this, as the halloween supplies were in full force when I went shopping. I needed something for his eyes so picked out some different items that were about the size I was looking to use. I picked most of these up at our local dollar store - rubber balls, styrofoam balls, plastic and metal christmas decos. I chose to use the gold balls in front, as they "appeared" to be made out of a tintype material and thought this would add stability to the eyes.
Step 4: Mistake #1.
When I chose the metal type balls for the eyes, painted them, topcoated them, and began to make the eye mechanism.....I discovered they were not aluminum balls at all (see the offending awl and the resulting hole in the piece above.) So, make sure you are using plastic balls or something that will not break when you try to drill or punch a hole in the end. I had to redo the eyes with the christmas balls that were actually plastic underneath the red fibres.
Step 5: Paint for the Eyes.
I needed to paint the eyes and wanted them to be shiny, so I used a super black nail polish and diamond topcoat polish.
Step 6: Getting the Eyeballs Ready.
I painted the eyes first so they would be dry to make the eye mechanism. I made sure that each coat was dry before putting on the next. The nail polish went on in two coats and then one coat of the diamond topcoat.
Step 7: Puppet Mouth Materials.
I chose a couple of products to make my puppet mouth. I selected a hard plastic from a plastic bin and some thin, approximately a little more than 1/4 inch foam floor mats, and some black and brown felt. You can use only one color, that was just all I had on hand and made it work for me.
I traced a pattern on paper from my monster jaw to make sure my foam base would fit in nice and snug. I chose black and brown felt to make the pocket to hold the pieces. The small light colored piece in photo two is the piece that will be used to hold the top and bottom jaw pieces together and move the mouth to open and close (the back plate) - that was cut out of the hard plastic with the bottom and top jaw cut out of the foam floor mat. You will need to cut out three pieces of felt for each jaw piece and one piece for the mouth back plate.
Step 8: Mistake #2.
So, while this happened a bit later in the process, I will share it here with you. When I had the mouth pieces all ready to insert into the head piece, I noticed that the mouth back plate plastic was already cracking and breaking and that was from only using the piece for fitting the jaw parts. So, this piece had to be remade with another material that would be more flexible.
I decided that the foam floor mat would actually make a suitable replacement for this part.
Step 9: Materials and Pattern for the Mouth.
I traced a pattern on paper from my monster jaw to make sure my foam base would fit in nice and snug. I chose black and brown felt to make the pocket to hold the pieces. The small light colored piece in photo one is the piece that will be used to hold the top and bottom jaw pieces together (the backplate) and move the mouth to open and close.
I used this YouTube video to make the mouth - it was very helpful.
Step 10: Making the Jaw Pockets.
The jaw pockets hold your foam mouth piece inside the head and have a pocket to slip your hand inside. You will need to put three pieces together and sew all around three sides and leave the straight end piece open. Once sewn, make small cuts in the the edges, not quite to the sewing line so that when you turn it inside out the seam will turn properly. If you need to understand this better, just google "clipping curved seams in sewing." Turn your pocket inside out and slip the foam between two of the pieces. There should be a pocket for you to slip your hand inside. Do the same thing on the other piece to give you an upper and lower jaw.
Step 11: Making the Mouthpiece Back Plate.
Using the hard plastic template, cut out a piece of felt or fabric the same color as your jaw pieces. Make it slightly bigger than the template. Once this is done, using some fabric glue (the one shown here is excellent and can be purchased at most fabric stores or craft stores), glue the template onto the fabric. Trim off the excess and glue it around the edges of the template (see photo three closeup). You will put the straps on in another step, this is here just to show you a closeup of the glued edges.
Step 12: Fitting the Teeth.
Since my purchased teeth were the same, I cut out the incisors on the bottom set so that the mouth would close a bit better. I just pushed them through the bottom and cut off the excess and then glued the holes shut - looks like he has fillings. I was then ready to fit the jaws into the mouth pockets. Make sure that you have the pockets on the bottom of the bottom jaw and on the top of the top jaw so that you can fit your had in the top and your thumb in the bottom slots. Once you make sure you have the pockets in the right orientation, fit your teeth on the ends and make sure they are snug. Do not glue them in until you are sure they fit properly. Put your hands inside and make sure they work. Once you are happy with this, then glue the teeth onto the jaw pieces.
Take your back plate piece and insert it into the top and bottom jaw pieces and give it a try for a fitting. This will give the spring like function of moving the mouth open and close and provide the back of the throat for your puppet, so the fabric side has to face the mouth opening.
Step 13: Making the Bottom Jaw.
Once my teeth were glued to the jaw pieces, I need to finish the bottom jaw. As you can see, the jaws I purchased had a plastic base that was pre-formed. On the top jaw, I cut this off so that it would be more flat on the stop of his snout, but I left it on the bottom piece to help give his bottom jaw some shape. I stuffed this with some of the fibre foam for stiffness.
Step 14: Making the Tongue and Mistake #3
I just cut out a rough shape for a tongue and used pink felt - you can use whatever color you want. I used two pieces of felt and one thinner layer of the fibre foam - that was what made the fibre foam so much easier to work with - you can cut out a shape and then just peel off a thin layer at a time to get the thickness you want. You put the fibre foam on the bottom with the two layers of felt on top. Make sure the fibre foam is shorter than the felt. I had to cut some of it out later so you can see it was the same length as the tongue pieces in the photos - MIstake #3 - make yours shorter to save you having to do this later. You need a thinner section here to wrap around the back of the bottom jaw. Sew the edges all around except for the straight edge, clip the curved edges like you did for the jaw pieces and turn it inside out so that the fibre foam piece is in between the two felted pieces. Either machine or hand sew a straight line from the back edge of the tongue to not quite the very tip. I used some cream or powdered eye shadow to create some shadows on the back of the tongue, the center and the edges (you might be able to use some pencil crayons if you don't have eye shadow).
Step 15: Back Plate Straps and Mistake #4.
Once you have your back plate sized up correctly for your jaw pieces, you will need to make straps to hold your fingers in place to move the mouth pieces opened and closed. I just used a couple of pieces of leather but anything sturdy will do as you will most likely not be able to replace or repair this easily if you need to later. In picture one, you can see where I tried to fit them to my hand. Make sure they are very snug and go down almost to the tips....Mistake #4 - I did not make mine go down far enough so that it would make opening and closing the mouth easier. If you put them too far back on your hand, it is too difficult and fatiguing on your hand when the straps are too far from the tips. Secure the straps with glue - I made sure mine went around the other side almost doubled so they would not come undone easily.
Step 16: Adding the Tongue to the Jaw.
Take the bottom jaw piece and lay the tongue on top, extending the straight edge piece over the end slightly. I used a bit of glue down the center of the tongue to stick it in place. Then tuck the end inside the jaw pocket - you can add a bit of glue to keep it tucked in too. Once that is done, take your back plate and insert it into the pocket of the top and bottom jaw. Put your hands in the pockets and give it a test. These images are actually with the first back plate....but earlier I explained that the thin piece of plastic was too brittle, and I remade it with the more flexible foam floor mat that I used to make the top and bottom jaws - I added some duck tape on the outside of the foam to give it strength (you can see this in picture 3).
Step 17: Choosing a Pattern.
It was really difficult to find a specific pattern for the shape I wanted, so I started with a basic puppet head shape in several sizes. I used photoshop to make the pattern different sizes and was able to print it on a larger printer. You can also print a smaller version and then enlarge it yourself on large paper. This is the basic puppet head pattern I used. You can find more if needed on a web search for "puppet head pattern". Now that you have your mouthpiece done, you are ready to find the proper size head pattern. Cut out the paper patterns and join them together at the letter points indicated. I just used a small piece of transparent tape. It is just to get a general size for your mouthpiece. Insert your mouthpiece and see which one fits best, usually the one where the mouthpiece is easy to get in and out. I then put the chosen pattern pieces on the fibrefoam - NOTE: place one pattern piece down on the fibrefoam with the writing facing up and then flip it over and place it with the writing side down. Cut out the pattern pieces.
Step 18: Sewing Your Head Piece.
Once you have your pieces cut out, you are ready to join them together. The beauty of fibrefoam is that you can easily sew it together. The fibres help to hold the sewing together. It is a bit longer than gluing but a lot less messy and smelly. I suspect the sewing will also be a bit sturdier in the long term. Join the edges of your pattern where the letters match (pinning will help to keep it in place as you sew) and sew the seams - I used a crochet thread to add extra strength to the seams - I found regular sewing thread not to be strong enough. However, if you were to use upholstery thread, that would probably do as well. I had crochet thread on hand. Once you have all of the seams sewn together, turn your puppet headpiece inside out to make it smoother on the outside - put your hand inside and give it a try.
Step 19: Making and Adding the Eye Mechanism.
To make the eye mechanism, I used a simple structure I found on milkrockets.com. It used coat hanger wire. I ended up making the eyes a second time with a coat hanger that was thinner. It was incredibly difficult to shape and form the wire both times. In retrospect, I would even buy a thinner gauge wire than the coat hanger. I would suggest trying a couple of different gauges to see which one would be sturdy but easier to shape than coat hangers. In the first one, I wanted to make mine with a little bend to the left so that my baby finger could operate the mechanism for the eyes while my other fingers controlled the mouthpiece. The second time round, I just made it straight as in the diagram - that worked better. You should note that before you bend the wire over the eyeballs, you should keep the straight mechanism piece in the downward position so that your eyes will be in the open position, and you will have to push it upwards with your finger to move the lids down over the eyes. You will need to cut a small hole between the eye socket area to push the wire mechanism through. I cut two holes in the head piece approximating the distance for the balls to fit into and tried it a couple of times to make sure the holes were big enough for the eye balls to sit into but not all the way. Once you have the holes the correct size, you will glue your eyeballs to the edges of the holes to secure them in place. I just used a piece of white fleece shaped like a "D" to go over the wire eyelid. I just tucked it under the wire and sewed it in place and then, with the eyelid pushed to the down/closed position, I glued it to the headpiece. This makes sure it has enough fabric to close and then, when in the open position, gives it a few creases on the eyelid.
I watched this young man's video series, and he does a great job of showing you how to make this mechanism.
Step 20: Mechanism Note and Eyelashes.
The first image is the first mechanism inside for the hand and the second one is with it just straight. After the eyelids were done, I needed some eyelashes and used brown felt for the first set. Not what I was looking for, so I purchased some halloween eyelashes with little feathers on them. Much better.
Step 21: Under Eyes.
To give the eyes a base, I added a small "C" shape of white felt that I actually glued part way up on the eyeball and then under the eye area on the snout for the under eye area.
Step 22: Inserting the Mouth Piece.
Once you have the eyes to your satisfaction, you then need to add the mouth to the headpiece. Insert the mouthpiece into the mouth opening on your head piece. I used some glue to adhere the top onto the top jaw and the bottom onto the bottom jaw piece. When that is done, you are ready to start padding your headpiece in preparation for the fur/skin layer. I added some small padding pieces (this is where the benefits come from using fibre foam since I could just peel off a layer if I wanted it a bit thinner in some areas) around the head. I used glue gun glue to set the pieces.
Step 23: Adding the Muzzle Fur.
Now you will begin to cover your puppet head with the fur. I found some other examples of dog puppets to give me an idea of how to place the fur and in what direction the fur should lay. My fur for this project was pelted with small pockets of indents. I discovered through my research that using a blade to gently cut through the back of the fur reduces the amount of flying fur in your home by 95%!!! As well, this allows for the fur on the other side to come apart and provide nice soft edges - cutting with scissors on the front side make the fur choppy and uneven. When laying the fur, I chose to use the whole piece for fitting and cut only small pieces so that I wouldn't waste it by cutting a too large piece for placement and then trim it down. This worked ok. When laying your pieces, make sure to lay them in an order that allows for the fur to fall over other pieces - for example, I wanted the fur on the upper lip to be under the left and right muzzle pieces so that had to go on first, and over the piece between the eyes, so the piece tween the eyes had to go on before the muzzle pieces too; however, I did not glue the piece between the eyes all the way up, because I wanted it to sit on top of the pieces I put on the top of the head later. So, order of adhesion is important so the fur will lay properly.
This was the image I used to help me place the fur properly.
Step 24: Continuing Fur Placement.
Because I wanted the fur on the back of the head and under the chin to fall over the neck piece, I needed to do the neck piece next before finishing the head. The neck piece was basically a tube sewn up one side. Sewing the fur fabric is done on the wrong side with the two edges pulled together using an overcast stitch close to the edge (I was tucking the fur down between the two seams constantly to ensure it would not get snagged in the sewing too much). This allows for the fur to fall nicely on the right side without any visible seam showing. The neck piece was then sewn to the head piece all the way around securely. Once that was done, I was ready to do the chin pieces. Again, keep in mind I wanted the fur to lay over the neck piece and flow nicely downward, so the under chin needed to be done first. Then the piece that would be attached to the bottom jaw lip line. You can see how the fur will lie in one direction when it is all finished under the chin onto the neck piece.
Step 25: Finishing the Head Piece.
I cut one piece of fur for the head top, sides and back and placed it on the puppet - moving the piece between the eyes down over the nose so that could go on top of this fur piece. It was too big for the back, but instead of cutting out the excess, I pulled it together and tacked it down to the back of the head - it gave the head a bit of bulk and looks like two excess fur folds. After placing and the gluing the head fur, I pulled the center eye fur piece up over the head on the centre area and glued it in place. I cut out a noselike shape from fabric (you can use different types of material, velveteen, leatherlike, vinyl, etc), sewed it, stuffed it and pulled the two ends together in front to give it some nostrils (I tacked this together with thread). I then collected the horns and ears together for attachment. I glued the ears, nose and horns on the head. The horns did not stay well with the glue, so I also sewed them to the head piece for added stability.
Step 26: The Body Piece.
Once the head and neck were done, it was time to make the body section. I traced out a form that resembled a long tubular body with a tail. I added some boning to give the body a tiny bit of shape, but you could probably get away without it. I just placed the boning in two rows around the chest and stomach locations and sewed it onto the fabric. Then I sewed the long seam joining the two sides to make the body piece. You can put more stuffing in the tail piece to give it some form, that is up to you....I did not.
Step 27: Making the Paws and Claws.
I traced a somewhat paw looking shape from the fabric and cut out eight pieces. I had purchased a halloween mask that had little clawlike pieces that I could remove and use for claws. However, I realized they would be far too small and had to come up with an alternate solution. I had some vinyl that had a skin like texture I was going to put on the puppet belly and under tail areas but decided not to do this. So, I just used it to make the claws instead. I wanted three claws on each paw so cut out 24 pieces for the claws and joined two each together (I used my sewing machine for this, but you could do this by hand), stuffed them with general purpose fibre stuffing (most craft/fabric stores and Walmarts will have this), and sewed the ends together (I made them fairly well stuffed to keep them firm). Once that was done, I put to paw pieces together (right sides together) and started to sew around the seams; when I would get to the claw sections, I would place one claw inbetween the two fur pieces and sew that edge and do it again until all three were inserted (make sure to check that your claws will all be going in the same direction) and continued to sew the edge. Repeat for all four paws. Once the paws were sewn with the claws, I turned them right side out and stuffed them a bit with the fibre stuffing and sewed the edges together.
Step 28: Attaching the Body to the Neck.
I do not have a photo of this step. However, all I did was lay the head and neck piece out flat facing up and take the body piece with the belly upwards and place the body neck edge up inside the head neck piece about 5 inches and hand sewed the back neck edge of the body piece to the back of the head neck piece, leaving the front opened to insert you arm into the neck and head piece. There is enough fur in the neck piece to come down over your arm to hide it a bit.
Step 29: Adding the Paws.
Once you have the body attached to the neck, you are ready to add the paw pieces to the body. I placed my arm into the neck and head and draped the body piece over the back of my shoulders to get a general body placement for the paws. I then sewed them to the body piece on the outside, moving the fur out of the way as best I could so that you would not see the attachment sewing.
Step 30: The Other Arm.
Since I wanted my puppet to look more realistic, I make a fake arm to attach over my shoulder to hang by my side made of the same material as the outfit I would be wearing. You can use any old shirt, sweatshirt etc. you would like.
Step 31: The Finished Product.
Give your puppet a name (people will ask, lol). This is Juniper's first appearance in public with me in full steampunk regalia. We had a lot of fun at the convention. I used two clips and a chain connected up under his paw on my left shoulder and to his tail to keep it up a bit and a pin for his other paw on my jacket shoulder. It was a bit awkward trying to get him attached by myself - a helper would have been better.
I hope you enjoyed my very first instructable and that my learning experience will help motivate you and alleviate some of the mystery about making your own puppet. There is a lot of information on the web about making puppets, which is where I researched and obtained some of the information I needed to make my puppet, but I could not find directions like these to walk me through it step-by-step to make one like this (most of them were for small hand puppets).
Juniper and I want to wish you all the best in your adventure to create your own unique vision of your friend - or even to copy the style you see here - Juniper would love to know there are more just like him out there. Cheers and raaarrrr.
PS Besides Juniper's eyes and mouth moving - he did make sounds - I put some cat purring and monster growling sounds on my iPhone and inserted it inside his neck on high volume and repeat. Too much fun!!!
Grand Prize in the
Fiber Arts Contest 2017