Introduction: Make a Traditional Hand Puppet With DIY Materials
Hello! In this step-by-step guide, you will learn how to make a traditional hand puppet (think Punch & Judy or Mister Rogers). We use this type of puppet in a traditional puppet booth, but they work great as toys for children and adults to express themselves.
I am making this guide because I couldn't find this type of information online.
If you're looking for more information or have specific questions, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
To make a traditional hand puppet, you will need:
2 or more fabrics:
- muslin for the inner sleeve
- a fabric for the outer layer
- decorative fabrics or anything you want to add to the outside
1 styrofoam ball (4" balls work great, in this guide I am using a football-shaped ball to get a long snout)
1 toilet paper tube
2 buttons for eyes
Hot glue gun (and glue sticks)
Fabric scissors and regular scissors
Gaff tape (duct tape works fine too)
Riffler (or a microplane, or anything to sand / cut the styrofoam)
Sharpie or pen
Step 2: Fit the Tube to Your Fingers
Your pointer and middle finger should fit inside the toilet paper tube, but most hands will not fill the entire tube. Let's get that tube to fit your fingers snugly (but not too tight).
Cut the toilet paper roll vertically, insert your fingers and tighten the tube until it is snug.
Then attach gaffers tape (or duct tape) to keep the tube's new slimmer shape.
Cut the top of the roll to match the length of your middle finger (your finger should be just inside the top of this new slimmer tube).
Step 3: Make a Hole in the Styrofoam
Carve a toilet paper tube-sized hole into the styrofoam.
I do this by using a sharpie to trace the roll’s outline, then used a pair of scissors to carve it out.
You want to have about 1” of roll left sticking out of the hole when inserted.
Step 4: Add Facial Appliances
Cardboard ears! For this puppet, I wanted ears. If you want a special feature that you will not carve out of the styrofoam itself, now is the time to make it and test it.
I cut some slots into the styrofoam with scissors and tested the ears by sticking them in.
Do not glue anything onto the styrofoam yet (hot glue melts styrofoam instead of being friends).
Step 5: Assemble and Test
Do a quick test to check if the proportions are correct. The puppet should be ultra-lightweight and fit snugly without causing pain when you do movements.
Step 6: Carve the Face, Sand the Head
Carve the styrofoam with rifflers (scissors, knives, etc work too) to make a face. Sand down areas like the back of the head to make it more realistic.
For this puppet, I googled German Shepherd heads and dog skulls to make sure the basic shape was there. The eye location is SUPER important, so I put some on to make sure they were in the right place.
Do not hot glue anything yet.
Step 7: Mummify the Styrofoam
Cover the styrofoam with masking tape. I do this because styrofoam will melt under the intense heat of hot glue and it doesn't stick very well. Adding a layer of tape, paper mache, etc helps your fabric to stay on forever.
Now, if I wanted to make a pattern for fabric to fit this head properly, I would cut off the masking tape into big pieces and trace those pieces onto the fabric we're using. It'll look more uniform that way and it's a great idea if you're making more than one to make a pattern.
In my case, I'm just making one of these, so the layer of masking tape stays on.
Step 8: Cover the Head in Fabric
Cut strips of fabric and hot glue them onto the head to form a base. If you cut off the tape to make a pattern, you'll have to cover the styrofoam again before applying hot glue.
I decided not to make a pattern - I like how a smattering of velvet strips looks. Remember, in art there are no mistakes, only opportunities. Feel free to make your own choices!
Step 9: Finish Your Facial Appliances
Cover your ears, etc, with fabric and hot glue them to the head. I cut two slots into the head for little cardboard tabs to fit - and here I added hot glue to the tabs before inserting them.
Protip: label everything 'front' or 'back' in places that won't be covered with fabric.
Step 10: Test It Out!
Once the head is covered, try it on and make sure everything works well. It should not pinch or hurt your fingers, but it shouldn't be loose either.
For the next step, we'll be jumping over to the body...
Step 11: Cut Fabric Using Puppet Patterns
Cut out the hand puppet pattern on outer fabric (velvet in this case) and on inner sleeve (muslin). The inner sleeve is important, as the muslin is smooth against your skin, absorbs sweat, etc. The front and back of the pattern should be slightly different - make sure you label the front as it will feel different if you put it on backwards.
I can't post my hand puppet pattern here for two reasons. One, it is larger than a standard sheet of paper and therefore hard to scan. Two, everyone's hands are different! What works perfectly for my hand is probably not going to work as perfectly for yours. We went through 4-5 different slight variations until she found the one that worked best for us.
My advice is to look at this picture and get a feel for how the front and back are different, and make your own. Put your hand into the modern style (two fingers in the head) on a sheet of paper and trace that. It should feel snug but not tight.
Step 12: Sew the Patterns Together
Sew the cut back and front of the patterns together. Do this with the inner sleeve and outer layer. My wife reminds me that a sewing machine would faster / better.
Remember, don't sew the top of the neck. You'll be putting a toilet paper tube through there in a couple steps and it's easier to leave most of the neck open.
Step 13: Now Sew the Layers Together
Make sure both layers are inside out (seams visible). Put the outer layer inside the inner sleeve (muslin) and line up the seams. Sew both layers together - but leave most of the neck unsewn.
Step 14: Try It On!
Once the inner sleeve is sewn to the outer layer (inside out), turn it all right-side out and try it on. The head and body together should match! There should be lots of material around the neck.
Before you attach the head, let's finish it up...
Step 15: Finish Decorating Your Puppet
Decorate! This puppet gets some button eyes and gold fabric. I used black felt for the nose and mouth. Hot glue everything.
The body and head are still separate, but try them on together to make sure your decorations match.
Protip: shiny eyes are more "full of life" than dull ones. Human eyes reflect some light, so having this small thing can enhance the illusion that the puppet is alive.
Step 16: Attach the Head to the Body
Put your hand inside the body with your fingers inside the neck tube, and put the head in the correct position. Now it's time to hot glue the fabric from the neck on top of the neck tube.
There are ways to do this without having your hand inside the puppet, but I find that enduring some of the hot glue gun's heat enables me to make sure the puppet is on correctly and reduce mistakes. I usually have my fingers as far away from the heat as I can and do the work quickly and in segments.
When the muslin and then outer fabric is glued to the neck (neck should be covered), there will be lots of material still left. Just cut this off and use it as needed to ensure the neck looks good.
Add a ring to the back bottom and do any clean up work.
Step 17: Play With Your Puppet!
You're done! Play with your puppet and make sure everything moves well. Now that you have created your puppet...it's time to perform it in front of an audience. I'm sure they'll ask you, "Do you make your puppets yourself?" and you'll get to proudly say YES.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to email email@example.com
FAQ: I am not a professional puppet builder! If you were browsing this guide thinking "what about inserting a metal band to keep the opening of the body circular?" then YES, by all means do that. This is only meant for people at a truly beginner level (aka me) who want to build a hand puppet but can't find the most basic info.
Substitute your own favorite materials or adhesives and make your next puppet your own. This one was made for a single performance and I thought I'd have some fun documenting the process. Thanks for reading and have a great day.