My kids are huge fans of puppets. I've been working on a concept for marionettes, and quickly realized they're much more complicated (at least the ones I had envisioned) than I had first thought.
It's going to be awhile before I finish that project, but I wanted to make something simple and easy for my kids in the meantime. I have lots of felted wool sweaters for various making purposes, and decided to try a hand puppet from a sweater sleeve. Now that I've made one, I can easily make more. I suspect I'd best hurry with the additional sweater puppets, too, since they're already fighting over this one.
People can make amazing puppets with foam and other stuff. I wanted to use things that were recycled, inexpensive, and easy to find. A sewing machine isn't required for this, and won't speed up the process by very much (because it's fast to make).
You will need:
1 wool sleeve - I cut mine from a brown merino sweater from the thrift store. I'd already thrown it in the washer and dryer to felt it
other pieces of felted wool, one piece at least twice the size of the mouth
a needle and thread
bottle caps and black buttons for the eyes (or find some other round white things and add smaller black things to make eyes)
embroidery floss and an embroidery needle (optional)
hot glue gun
not pictured because I forgot:
chalk, or something else to mark the wool (not absolutely necessary, but helpful)
Step 1: Who Needs Patterns?
You'll be using your hand to make the puppet pattern right on the sweater sleeve.
Lay out the sweater sleeve, deciding where you want the seam to lie (if it's even noticeable enough to matter to you). The cuff end will be the bottom of the puppet, and the cut end will be the mouth. Open your hand comfortably, then trace around it onto the sweater. Leave about 1/2" border, and trim the cut edge of the sleeve. Mark where your wrist is on the sweater, then cut a triangle out of the fabric.
When you open the sleeve the other way, the triangle you cut along the edge will be a diamond shaped hole.
Step 2: Gotta Have a Mouth
Push the bottom lip of the mouth down so the mouth is gaping open. Trace the open mouth onto the red wool (or whatever color you chose for the inside of the mouth).
Cut out the inside mouth shape.
Now trace this shape onto the paper side of the iron-on adhesive. Cut out the iron-on adhesive about 1/2" INSIDE the border you just traced, so that the adhesive is smaller than the mouth. Trace this adhesive onto another piece of felted wool. Cut the smaller mouth-shaped piece out of the wool, and iron the adhesive onto the wool. Peel off the paper backing from the adhesive, then cut the smaller mouth-shaped piece in half horizontally (from one corner of the mouth to the other, NOT from top lip to bottom lip).
Arrange the two smaller mouth pieces onto the back of the larger mouth piece with just a tiny space between them where you cut them apart. Iron them onto the larger mouth piece. This will reinforce the mouth without making the fabric too thick to bend easily.
To make the tongue, trace your thumb (just from the thumb joint to the tip) onto the darker red wool. You can make it wider or narrower if you want, depending on how you want your puppet to look. Add a bit of iron-on adhesive to the back of the tongue, peel off the paper backing, then iron the tongue onto the front side of the puppet mouth.
Stitch the tongue along the straight edge, and down the middle. There are probably going to be lots of kid fingers in the puppet mouth, and stitching it will keep the tongue from being pulled out. It also adds a little definition to the tongue if you use darker thread.
Step 3: Sew It Together
Turn the sleeve inside out.
Pinch the top and bottom of the diamond shaped hole at the wrist together, then stitch the hole closed.
Line up the inside and outside of the mouth. Remember that your puppet is currently inside out, so make sure the tongue side is down, and the mouth reinforcements are visible. Stitch the inside and outside of the mouth together, making sure you're not sewing any other layers of fabric into the lips. That would be bad.
Turn your puppet right side out and slip it on your hand. Look at the shape of your mouth. Make your puppet talk, and decide if you want to alter anything. Try making a few different expressions. This kind of puppet is great for being expressive because it's so soft and moldable. Have you ever seen Kermit's silly expressions on the Muppet Show? Try making some of those with your puppet.
Step 4: Consider Mouth Adjustments
You can do this before or after you add the eyes.
I liked the mouth, but I wanted to see how a few stitches would affect the shape. I decided I wanted to define the upper lip a bit better. I did this by sewing a line along the upper lip, roughly 1/4" from the edge. The puppet was right side out when I did this.
I was curious about how taking in the sides of the mouth would affect the shape when it talked. I turned the puppet inside out and sewed a line on the sides of the mouth, bringing them in a little bit. There wasn't much of a difference, so I decided to bring the puppet's cheeks into the mouth a bit by sewing a horizontal line into the crease of the mouth, about one inch on both sides (see the pictures for clarification).
Step 5: Add Eyes
If you don't like the way bottle caps look, you can use the bowl part of a plastic spoon or a ping pong ball cut in half. These were what I had on hand, and I like the goggle-like shape.
Find the scrap of wool you cut from the sleeve to make the mouth shape. There should be enough to wrap around a bottle cap more than twice. Cut it in half so you have two pieces that can each wrap around a bottle cap. Take one and align the straight edge with the corner of a bottle cap. Once you're comfortable with its positioning, add a dab of hot glue to the bottle cap, and start wrapping the wool around the cap, keeping the straight edges aligned. Stretch the wool slightly so that it starts to conform around the open side of the cap. Trim the excess wool on the sides of the cap, and glue them down so they're nice and flat against the side of the cap.
Tuck any excess wool into the open side of the cap, and add hot glue to secure it. Make sure no wool is loose here, or else the eye might wobble on the puppet.
Position your black button on the white side of the cap, deciding where you like it best. Add a dot of hot glue, then carefully place the button over the glue.
Carefully add a line of glue around the bottom of the cap, then stick it onto the puppet. Um... don't do this while wearing the puppet. Hot glue is hot. Repeat with the other eye.
Step 6: Optional Touches
The puppet might've been quick to make, but you don't have to be finished quite yet. Have some fun!
Jim Henson used double stick tape to hold features on anything muppets, so you don't have to add anything permanently if you don't want to.
See how it looks if you poke a pipe cleaner through the top of the head for antennae. Consider some wool yarn tied in the middle as a mustache or goatee. Think about sewing or gluing different scraps of wool onto the fabric for horns, eyelids, wards, or a nose. Tie a small skein of embroidery floss at both ends, cut it in the middle, and use the two pieces as pigtails.
I decided to add simple eyelids for now. I was going to add more details, but my kids were already trying to pull the puppet away from me, so I'll have to add those details to other puppets later.
This was fun, quick, and easy. I really hope you try making one or several, especially if you know kids who also love puppets.
If you really want to make one but have no felted wool and thrift store sweaters are too pricey, talk to me. I have lots of different colors of scraps, and I'll happily send some (including a couple sleeves) to someone who will try making a puppet. I can't afford to ship outside the states, though, with that rate hike.
Thanks for reading! I'd love to see pictures if you make your own.