Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Directions for Making Puppets

The author with a self-portrait marionette puppet under construction.
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
How to Make Puppets
There are many different kinds of puppets that you can make. In this article you'll find step-by-step directions for making the three most popular kinds of puppets.
         Marionettes (puppets operated by pulling strings)
         Glove or hand puppets (puppets that you wear like a glove)
         Rod puppets (puppets operated by rods)
You'll get a version of each puppet design - these are suitable as an adult craft project but a simplified version adapted to the needs of kids with some adult assistance should be easy enough to create.
I'll also give you a comprehensive list of all the materials and tools that you will need to build these puppets for yourself together with tips on how to 'bring your puppet to life' once it's made.
For anyone interested in learning how to make truly beautiful puppets in a beautiful situation and under the finest tuition the world has to offer, I'll also tell you about the extraordinary workshops that the Czech/American partnership of Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen offer in Prague. But more of that later.
Puppetry can be a great hobby, a useful educational tool or even a very lucrative and satisfying profession.
First, let's look at the three different kinds of puppets that we are going to learn how to make so you can better understand which type you are most interested in.

Marionette Puppets
A simple 'blank' wooden marionette
 made for demonstration purposes
. Based on a traditional Italian design.
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
The string puppet - or marionette - is the most commonly recognized and the most challenging puppet to make.
From 'Pinocchio' to the TV series'Thunderbirds' and the hit movie'Being John Malkovich' marionette puppets have an enduring popular appeal.
A marionette is traditionally carved from wood and represents a fully articulated figure, moved by a number of strings running from parts of the body to a control mechanism above.
Marionettes can be beautiful objects in their own right as well as graceful and stunning performers on the puppet stage.
The instructions in this article will show you how to carve, paint and clothe your own marionette puppet.
For some inspiration and ideas, take a look at this video of the process of marionette puppet construction from the very popular marionette carving courses run by Czech puppet masters in Prague:
A Marionette Carving Workshop

Glove Puppets
The author performing a puppet show
 with some of his glove puppets.
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
The glove puppet - or hand puppet - is the a traditional puppet type used the world over, from America to China. It is the easiest to build and works best for fast, comic action.
The 'Punch and Judy' show is probably the best known presentation of glove puppets in the west, although the eastern countries have their own strong traditions.
A glove puppet traditionally has a head and hands carved from wood and a cloth body. Its range of movement is more restricted than that of a marionette but it is capable of greater speed and responsiveness - which is why it lends itself so well to comedy. As it is operated directly by the puppeteer's hand inside the body, it can also pick objects up.
Glove puppets are easy to make and great fun to use. They are also the best for children to start with.
The instructions in this article will show you how to carve, paint and clothe your own glove puppet.
For some inspiration, watch this video of Rod Burnett, one of Britain's most well-known Punch and Judy performers doing a good job of delivering the show in Spanish at a festival in Spain!
Punch and Judy Glove Puppet Show

Rod Puppets
Large rod puppets created by the author. A central rod passes
 from the head through the body, which is simply draped
 fabric. Note the thin rods that attach to the hands to 
complete the mechanism.
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
The rod puppet - or stick puppet - is a puppet type that originated in the folk traditions of eastern Europe, when peasant people used broom handles and wooden spoons, decorated and moved, to illustrate the telling of folk-tales.
A more recent development of the rod puppet is the rod-hand puppet popularized by Jim Henson and known to people the world over in the characters of The Muppet Show and Sesame Street.
The traditional rod puppet has a head and hands carved from wood and a shoulder piece draped in fabric to form the body. The head sits atop a central rod and smaller rods attach to the hands. These three rods work together to control the puppet.
Rod puppets can vary in complexity and construction from very simple to feats of skilled engineering . The simplest forms can be great for children to build and use and the more complex forms provide a satisfying project for an adult to try.
The instructions in this article will show you how to carve, paint and clothe your own rod puppet.
For some inspiration, watch the following two videos. The first is an interview with John Blundall, sharing his puppet collection and demonstrating a simpler form of rod puppet in action. The second is an interview with Hansjurgen Fettig who discusses and demonstrates his more complex mechanisms (this last is in French but don't worry, you don't need to understand the words!)
Rod Puppet Demonstration with John Blundall

Complex Rod Puppets with Hansjurgen Fettig

Principles of Puppet Design - Getting Started
As you have seen, starting with the basic idea of a puppet, the only limit is your imagination!
Now, let's make a start by taking you step-by-step through the creation of your own puppet.
The first things to look at are the fundamental principles of puppet design.
Shortly, we'll learn how to make each kind of puppet that we've looked at so far. The first part of this process, however, is the same for all puppets, so let's look at that now.
Questions To Ask Yourself Now
         Who is the puppet for? Yourself, a child, a show?
        What kind of character will it be? Male, female? Young or old? Fat or thin? Happy or sad or noble or wicked or...?
         How much time do you have?Are you working to a deadline or do you have all the time in the world?
         What materials/tools have you already got? It makes sense to make your first puppet using materials and tools that you already have.
         What's your budget? Depending on the scale and type of your puppet project, it could cost a couple of dollars or many hundreds.
         Do you have someone to help or can you do it all yourself?Sometimes it can be useful if you can give some of the work to another person - someone skilled in sewing for the costume for example. Otherwise, be prepared to enjoy learning some new skills!
Planning Your Puppet
Your finished puppet will be more impressive and effective if you spend a little bit of time thinking it through before starting the character sketch and technical drawing.
The best puppets have strong, identifiable characteristics and are made to perform a specific function. This helps you have a clear objective in mind and will determine what materials you will use and what size, type and style of puppet you will make.
An elegant ballerina, for example, will perhaps best be a marionette carved in bass-wood or lime, painted in oil and dressed in light muslin. A cheeky, chatterbox monkey might be best suited to a hand-rod puppet constructed of foam and fur fabric. If you want a portable show that will pack in a suitcase and be carried easily, then glove puppets may be your preferred choice.
Look at the questions highlighted in blue above and note down your answers. Don't worry too much about this, it is your project and there will be opportunity to change your mind later. However, getting your ideas clear at the outset is a great help. Once you have some idea of the 'who, what and why' of your puppet, you'll be ready to get started!

How to Make a Marionette Puppet
Watch the video below which shows the whole process before following the step-by-step instructions.

Step One: Character and Technical Drawings For The Marionette
The first step in making a marionette is to make the character and the technical drawings. It is very important not to skip this, as it will provide you with essential information to work from when it comes to carving, painting and costuming your marionette puppet.
To do the drawings you will need:
·         Several sheets of paper large enough to draw your puppet roughly to scale
·         Soft pencils, hard pencils, a ruler/straight edge, an eraser
·         Some colors - colored pencils or water-color paints are good for this.
·         Architect quality tracing paper

A Sample Character Sketch
An example of a character sketch for a marionette puppet.
Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen. Used with permission.

Doing the character sketch should be fun and you can experiment all you like until you have something that you are happy with. Don't worry if drawing isn't your best skill. At this stage all that matters is that you get your ideas down.
Draw big and fairly fast and don't worry about details. This is just to get the main visual points down and the rough proportions and 'feel' of the puppet you will make. Remember, this is a character drawing and so your objective is to express thecharacter of your puppet not compete with Michelangelo! Don't forget to refer to the notes you made before.
It is best to be bold and work fairly quickly without rushing and to make several different drawings. Keep them all, as you can then choose the best bits, trace them and combine them to make your final character study.
When you are ready to make your final character study, work more precisely and start to add some color.
A Sample Technical Drawing
An example of a technical drawing. Note that the marionette
 is drawn both in frontal and profile views with a clearly
 marked center line and each section blocked out as it will be
 cut from a piece of wood.
Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen. Used with permission

To make the technical drawing from your character sketch, you will need the tracing paper. Fix the tracing paper over your final character sketch and, using the straight edge, draw horizontal lines right across both the frontal and profile views, which should be side by side.
Make these lines correspond to the main points of the figure. For example, the top of the shoulders, the waist, the top of the leg, the knee and so on.
Now draw lines downwards from the top of the page defining the distance between the shoulders, arms, hips and legs. You should end up with a series of boxes around the various body parts of your marionette puppet design. This will give you the measurements for the blocks of wood from which the puppet will be carved.
Be sure at this stage to add the center points of any joints.

Step Two: Carving The Marionette Puppet
Now you have your technical drawings you are ready to transfer them to blocks of wood and begin carving your marionette.
The best wood to use for carving marionettes is either basswood or lime (sometimes known as linden). This can be purchased already seasoned in blocks of various sizes from your local timber merchant.
Steps In Carving The Head of The Marionette
The stages in carving the head (and any other body part) of a wooden marionette.
Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen. Used with permission.
Make tracings of the individual parts of the marionette, being careful to mark the joints. Then transfer these outlines to the flat surface of the wood. Once you have both the frontal and profile images on the block, you can cut out the rough shape.
At this stage, drill any holes that will be required for the joint pins and cut out any mortice and tenon slots that will be needed. Put the pieces together and check that they fit well and move smoothly.
Once that is done and you have all your parts roughed out, fix each shape into a carpenter's vice and you can then begin to carve with wood chisels to refine the form.
The first step once you have cut your blocks, is to trace
 the outline onto the surface of the wood.
Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen Used with permission.
Safety When Carving
Remember these tips for safety when carving:
        always hold the piece in a vice or on a solid surface
         always push the chisel with the sharp end away from your body
         carving can take time - if you are feeling tired, take a break
         always have a first aid kit handy in case of an accident
         keep your tools and working space clean and tidy

Work slowly when carving, taking time to check your progress as you go.
You should always work on the whole body part, bringing the total form out together so as to keep everything in proportion, rather than finishing one tiny area and then trying to move on to the next.
Always carve across the grain and keep your chisels nice and sharp. You don't necessarily need a full set of chisels, one or two can also serve, you will just have to be conscious of the limitations imposed by fewer tools as you design and build your marionette.
Once you have cut out the main blocks for your marionette, make
 sure that you have drilled all the holes and cut tongue and groove
 slots for the joints before you begin to carve.
Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen. Used with permission.

If you have little or no experience with carving in wood, then experiment carving various forms on test pieces of wood before you embark on your final marionette project. Be patient, carving is a real skill and it takes time and experience to become expert at it.

When you assemble your marionette, ensure that all the moving parts are working smoothly
 before you fix them permanently in place.
Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen. Used with permission.

Step Three: Assembling Your Marionette Puppet
When you assemble your marionette, ensure that all the moving parts are working smoothly before you fix them permanently in place.
Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen. Used with permission.
Once you have finished carving your marionette puppet, it is time to put all the parts together.
There are many different ways of making joints but in my experience, the most common and effective are:
        hook and eye between neck and body
         pinned mortice and tenon (tongue and groove) for legs and knees
         cloth for arms and shoulders
When putting the parts of your marionette together, it is important to ensure that all the moving parts run smoothly and cleanly without sticking. Once you are confident that everything is working, you can pin and glue everything permanently into place.
Well done, you are now very close to having a finished marionette puppet of your own!

Step Four: Painting and Clothing Your Marionette

Now you have a complete carved and assembled figure, it is time to paint and add clothes and strings.
The traditional medium for painting a wooden marionette puppet is oil paint. This should be mixed with linseed oil before application and applied in thin layers. It can take a long time to dry and so patience is required. However, not only are the pigments of very high quality but the oil paint will also serve to seal the wood meaning that the marionette could well endure for hundreds of years in full working order.
The first coat should always be plain white and left to dry completely before over-painting with colors.
When painting the marionette, do not feel bound to follow a sense of realism. A marionette is not a model human, it is a creation in its own right. Let your imagination go.

Comparison of Oil and Acrylic Paint

If you are not confident with oil paint, I have found that acrylics are also a possibility. They are easier to use, faster to apply and dry and quite durable. My only concern is that the pigments tend to be too bold for my liking but that may be a matter of personal taste.
If you are unsure which kind of paint is best suited to your project, have a look at the table opposite which might help you decide. I would always recommend taking time to experiment on scrap wood beforehand in order to be confident of your understanding before going ahead and painting your final project.

The first thing to bear in mind when thinking about clothing is, again, that a marionette is not a 'little person' but an object in its own right. This has implications for how to make clothes for a marionette.
A clothed marionette.
 Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen.
 Used with permission.
Firstly, it is not advisable to make a set of clothes and then dress the marionette. The problem with that - aside from the fact that a marionette is unlikely to have human proportions - is that the limbs of the puppet are not flexible and hands and feet cannot be adjusted once made.
So, unlike a real person, it is practically impossible for a marionette to slip into its clothes.
For this reason, the 'clothes' of a marionette are usually made directly onto the body.
Certainly, some items can be sewn up first, or partially made and then sewn in place. Baggy trousers, if the feet are not too big for example, or a cloak or hat. However, it is worth planning to stitch most of the items - or sometimes glue them - into place directly and by hand.
For this reason any standard doll clothing patterns you might wish to use would have to be carefully adapted before they would be suitable for the marionette puppet.
I recommend that you make your designs from scratch and use a combination of machine-sewing (where possible to speed things up) but mainly hand sewing the clothes onto the body.
A marionette with painted clothing.
Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen.
Used with permission.
Another alternative is to include the impression of clothing in the original carving and then simply paint the clothes! Which method you choose will depend largely on the character, materials and skills available to you and the effect you want to achieve.
Examples of both kinds of marionettes, fully clothed and with painted clothes can be seen to the right.
In general terms, choose light, cotton and silk fabrics for most of the clothing as these materials weigh less and move more freely then heavier cloths.
Step Five: Stringing Your Marionette
Stringing your marionette onto the control bar is the final step in the creation of your marionette but, if you want the puppet to be used rather than to be merely decorative, this must be done very carefully to give proper balance and movement.
The marionette should be strung upright onto the control which can be hung from a hook so that it is vertical and unobstructed.
The design of the control is likely to vary with the design of the puppet but most bars for a human figure are variations on a simple, common cross structure. The strings for the various body parts are then tied onto extensions from this cross from pins inserted into the body part.
The marionette is then made to move by a combination of pulling and releasing strings and by tipping, turning and twisting the control itself.
A Typical Control Bar for a 'Human' Marionette
A standard control mechanism showing where the strings should be attached.
Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen. Used with permission. (annotations: Austin Hackney)
The best kind of thread to use for stringing marionettes is heavy gauge, waxed shoemaker's thread.
However, any strong thread can be used and can be waxed with beeswax before threading. The waxing helps to preserve the strings, stops them becoming reflective (which is important if your marionette is going to perform under stage lights) and makes any running strings less likely to fray and break.
There is an order in which the strings of the marionette should be attached in order to achieve the best balance with minimal adjustment.
The strings should always be attached first to the body part and then to the control. Tie them loosely at first so you can adjust them. When everything is balanced, you can tie them off properly. Some like to fix the knots with a dab of glue and others warn against this. I'm usually pretty confident and so happy to fix them but its up to you.
1.    The head strings should be attached first. Ensure that the puppet rests it feet on the ground without its knees bending when it is hanging from the head strings and that the control, at that length, is at a comfortable height for the puppeteer to hold without strain.
2.    Next, string the shoulder strings. The tension should be such that the shoulders are horizontally balanced and that the slightest lifting of the shoulder strings causes the head to be freed and incline slightly forwards.
3.    The third step is to attach the back string. This string should hang loose when the puppet is standing straight and only become taught if the puppet bends forwards from the waist.
4.    Finally, add the leg strings (which are best fixed just above the knee joints) and the strings that run from the hands. In general the leg strings should be only just taught when the marionette is standing up and the hands ever so slightly lifted up.
This arrangement of relative tension on the strings will give the marionette the best and most responsive range of natural movements as you experiment with tipping and turning the control.
A standard control mechanism is illustrated above - it should be fairly self-explanatory from this photo how to construct the control.

Tips For Operating a Marionette
         Relax and feel free to experiment
         Don't try and imitate human movement
         Explore what the puppet can do best
         Use the control bar for the main movement
        Only pull individual strings to emphasize a gesture
         Avoid using a mirror - try to 'get the feel' of the movement instead
Bringing Your Marionette To Life
Well done! Now you have completed your first marionette, its time to start pulling the strings and bringing your character to life.
While it's true that a marionette can be a beautiful object just to hang up as a conversation piece, the real beauty of any puppet is in the illusion of life that is created when it begins to move.
Actually, to say 'pulling the strings' is only partly true. The key to your marionette puppet's movement, if it has been strung well, is mostly in the way that you incline and turn the control bar itself.
Remember, that all the strings attach to the control and are always in a state of relative tension. As you experiment with simple tipping and twisting the control bar you will discover that these strings can be tensed and released in a variety of ways without any need to pull them. This will, in turn, offer you a good range of movement.
When learning how to make your marionette puppet move you should relax and adopt a very free, playful attitude. This way, you will discover much more from your experiments.
It is useful to note that a simple marionette need not attempt to accurately imitate human movement - although more complex marionettes can do so. Try and discover what kind of movement your marionette is best able to produce rather than trying to make it do what you want. That way, you will get the best from your puppet.
When it comes to pulling the strings you will find that you have to do so only to emphasize certain gestures or movements and that most of the 'life' of the marionette comes from the control bar.
The main thing is to be playful, relax and have fun.

Fine Marionettes as An Art Form

How to Make A Glove Puppet
This is a traditional character from the Italian tradition,
 which in turn is derived from the masked
 Commedia del'Arte. This figure represents Pulcinella,
 the baker.
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
So, we have looked in some detail at how to make a marionette puppet. Now, let's take a step-by-step look at directions for making a glove puppet.
Many of the skills and techniques that we used for making the marionette are readily transferable to the glove puppet, so for several of the steps we can just refer back to what has already been explained.
For example, the design process and the technical drawing for the head and the hands and the methods for carving them are identical.
However, when it comes to the head, there are a few important additional points that you should take care to note.
         The head of the glove puppet must be designed as a whole with the neck piece
·         The head and neck must be hollowed out and the neck piece wide enough to comfortably fit at least one, possibly two fingers into it
         The head cannot normally be made much larger than the puppeteer's loosely clenched fist
         The hands and wrists must also be one piece and the wrists must be wide enough to be hollowed out to permit a very snug fit of a finger on one side and a thumb on the other.

One of the author's collection of glove puppets - they are essentially just a head and two hands on a cloth body, or glove.
Source: Austin Hackney (author)
Step One: Carving and Hollowing the Head and Hands of the Glove Puppet
As we've just seen, the design and carving of the glove puppet is exactly the same as for the marionette - just with fewer parts!
So the first step is to carve the head and hands using precisely the same tools and techniques that we studied before for the string puppet.
The next step with the glove puppet, however, is to hollow the head out and make a finger and thumb hole in the hands.
The technique best used for hollowing the head first involves splitting it in two. This is done with a single, confident stroke of a hand axe.
I know that this can be quite nerve-wrecking for the novice as it seems that it could all go horribly wrong. I know the first time I was introduced to this technique; I was convinced that all my careful labors would conclude as nothing more than wood chip scattered on the workshop floor!
However, I need not have feared. Science and nature dictate that a sharp axe and a deft swipe will render the two halves of the head beautifully in two, with a cut so pure and fine that when the two halves are reunited the join will be invisible to the eye. The key is to ensure that the grain runs through the head ear to ear - which indeed it must if you are to carve the facial features largely across the grain.
This is a great deal easier to see than it is to explain. Once more, I suggest that you take a chunk of wood and experiment with the hand axe. You will soon see just how easy and effective this technique is and you'll have the confidence to apply it to your puppet.
Once the head is split, it should then be hollowed out. This is done with a special, curved chisel known as a 'gouge'.                    
You should be careful not to gouge out too much of the head as you need to maintain its strength. The purpose is to make the head lighter so that it can be easily supported and manipulated by the puppeteer's fingers. Once the head is light enough, you can stop!
It doesn't matter what the inside of the head looks like as no one will ever see it. Once finished with the gouge, the two sides can then be reunited with a good layer of Elmer's glue (P.V.A.) and clamped together in a vice until fixed.
The best way to make the holes in the wrists of the hands for the fingers is to first use a drill bit of the appropriate diameter and then a round file or sandpaper to smooth the inside. It is very important that the fit is good and that it feels comfortable.
Now you have a head and hands, you can paint them as for the marionette and then make the body of your glove puppet, the details of which are explained in the next step. First, however, I strongly recommend that you watch this video of a television program by Jim Henson, the great North American puppeteer and inventor of The Muppets. It was intended for kids but is very instructive about the essentials of puppets and glove puppets in particular.
Here it is:

Step Two: Making Your Glove Puppet's Body
As you have seen in the video above, the essentials of the glove puppet's body can be as simple as a piece of cloth draped over the hand.
However, it is more common that a simple 'three-fingered glove' body is sewn to loosely fit the puppeteer's hand.
The head and the hands are then glued on to this - a more powerful contact adhesive than Elmer's is required for this to ensure a good bond - PattexEvostik or Superbondare ideal. The head is glued on to the central 'finger' and the hands onto the 'ring finger' and 'thumb' respectively.
The pinky, or 'little finger' is not used, but folded in and gives some substance to the body.
The author demonstrating the traditional finger positions for the glove puppet's operation. The head rests on the the middle fingers, the hands on the ring finger and thumb and the 'pinky' curls in to give substance to the body.
Source: Austin Hackney (author)

Once the basic body is sewn, then it can be dressed by the addition of as many details as are required to bring out the personality of the character in question.
Really, there are no rules for this, it is entirely up to you and your creativity. A couple of ideas may help, however:
         keep it simple - clarity is important with glove puppets and too much detail is at best wasted because it cannot be seen by the audience or at worst, confusing to the viewer
         clothes can be simply glued in place - although a few 'security stitches' are never a bad idea
         unlike with the marionette where light fabrics are best, the heavier cloths such as velvet and wool work well with glove puppets as they give more body
         keep 'trying out' the glove puppet's body as you make it to make sure that you will get the comfort, weight and range of movement that you need
         if your puppet is to be used in a performance, be sure to insert a long black sleeve that will reach the puppeteer's elbow, extending from inside the body. This will ensure that the puppeteer's arm is never seen, thus breaking the illusion of life.
         A wire ring sewn in at the hem of the glove puppet can make it easier to hang up and quickly insert the hand during a show

Step Three: How to Use Your Glove Puppet
Now you have made your glove puppet, you will want to 'bring it to life'.
We've already seen a traditional British 'Punch and Judy' show and while there can be no doubting that of its kind, Professor Rod Burnett is one of the finest exponents, no-one can match the Chinese puppet masters for their skill, precision and artistry in this field, as the following video of Chinese glove puppetry - known as Potehi - clearly shows:
Of course, such skill can only come through years of practice.
But there is nothing to stop you enjoying your glove puppet straight away. Remember how Jim Henson showed us that a simple sock or handkerchief can equally well serve as a puppet.
There are some important points to consider when giving life to your glove puppet:
        remember that the heart and soul of the glove puppet is your own hand - so everything your hand does, the puppet will do
         give life to your puppet by 'breathing' with the palm of your hand
         bold, quick movements work best for glove puppets
         don't forget that your glove puppet can pick things up and throw them around!

How to Make a Rod Puppet
An eastern European puppet master manipulates a traditional rod puppet. Rod puppets originate in eastern Europe and are still very popular there.
Source: Joe Mabel GNU Free Documentation License
Now we have learned a great deal about the marionette and the glove puppet, it is time to turn our attention to the last type of popular puppet that we are going to learn how to make; the rod puppet.
As before, the techniques for the design and carving of the head and hands of the rod puppet are the same as those for the marionette and the glove puppet.
The main difference is in the construction.
The head of the rod puppet has a hole drilled in the base into which a wooden rod, which can be short or long depending on how the puppet will be performed, is inserted and glued. This rod will effectively define the puppet's body. The upper few inches of the rod below the head will be the puppet's neck.
Below the neck a rounded 'shoulder piece' with a hole drilled through it so that it can slide up the rod, is then fixed into position. Fabric will be draped over this shoulder piece to create the impression of the body. Rod puppets generally do not have legs.
The hands of the rod puppet can be attached directly to the fabric of the body, or more complex arms similar to those of the marionette can be made and attached to the shoulders.
The rods to control the hands should be made of steel wire inserted into wooden dowel at one end for the puppeteer to hold and either directly into the side f the hands at the other end or loosely attached with thread or glued leather to the center of the hands depending on the kind of movement that you want to achieve.
As ever, the key is to experiment with the different possibilities to see what gives you the best effect.
The video below demonstrates the structure and function of a simple rod puppet.

How To Operate A Rod Puppet

Tools For Puppet Making
Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen. Used with permission
Tools and Equipment in The Puppet Workshop
The professional puppeteer's workshop can include a large number of tools, both small hand tools and larger machines such as a circular and band saw, bench press and grinding machines.
However, it is not necessary to have all this equipment to begin puppet-making.
The following list covers the basic requirements.
         a selection of scissors
         craft knife
         metal rule
         steel tape
         try square
         handsaw, tenon saw, coping saw, hacksaw
         hand drill, carpenter's brace
         twist drills and countersinks
         pincers and pliers
         files and rasps
         bevelled and flat woodcarving chisels, hand gouges
         claw and tack hammer
         selection of brushes
         staples, nails, tacks, screws and hook-eyes
         first aid kit

Source: Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen. Used with permission
Puppet Making Courses
The best way to learn how to make any kind of puppet is in the workshop of a real puppet master.
There are a few puppet courses around but in my opinion the absolute best - both in terms of the quality of the instruction and the value for money - are those run by Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen in their magical workshop in Prague in the Czech republic.
Mirek Trejtnar and Leah Gaffen have been running these workshops for over ten years and their students travel from all over the world to study the construction and art of the marionette. Mirek and his expert team have also given puppetry workshops in the USA, Singapore, Macao, Hong Kong, and in New Zealand.
Mirek is one of the finest puppet masters in the world with highly specialized knowledge of woodworking and marionette construction. Not only that but he is an excellent communicator and teacher.
Leah is an American and is responsible for the organizational side of things.
Their students have the opportunity to work intensively with puppeteers, designers, artists and woodcarvers of the highest order. The workshops involve a lot of work but they are also great fun and there is plenty of opportunity to socialize, network and enjoy the beautiful, historic city which is the setting for these workshops.
For further information and contact details, I recommend Mirek and Leah's website - well worth a visit.
Special thanks to Mirek and Leah for their kind permission to use some images from their workshops in the making of this post.


  1. Thanks for reading, Donna and taking the time to comment.

    I'm glad that you like it and hope it might even be useful to you. By all means feel free to share this post/blog as far and wide as you like!

    Thanks again.


  2. Hi Austin, I found you again! And am going to now rty to start making the puppets for children here in Spain,. a sort of simple English lesson with fun. Have you ever done anything similar with Italian children? I have to say I swing from being really enthusiastic to feeling terribly unconfident about it. Best wishes Liz Hart

    1. Hi Liz,

      Glad you found your way back here! Also impressed that you are up for making some puppets and having a go. It sounds like a great idea.

      It is perfectly understandable that you might feel a little under-confident at first and very normal. The trick with that is just to take a deep breath and have fun. Make having fun the focus of your endeavour - rather than ;being good at it' or 'making an impression' and you won't go wrong. Don't be a perfectionist. Just get started and learn from any mistakes.

      Using puppets to teach language is a good idea. I've never done that work directly in Italy as I've always just performed in Italian, although we did discuss a schools programme at one point based on language learning.

      To be honest, you could do worse than just borrowing a few ideas from TV shows such as Sesame Street to get you inspired. That's a really good indicator of the level that might work for you.

      Here's a useful video, very basic but makes some good points.

      Start simple and make changes as you learn. Let me know how it goes and if there is any specific advice you need, don't hesitate to ask.

      Kind regards,



All comments and contributions to the discussion are welcome! And I always reply to comments, too.