I'm a puppet maker with a degree in theatre. A former lighting techie, stage manager and producer. And I like to think that with puppetry, the only limit is your imagination. More...
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This time of year is perfect for posting something I’ve wanted to write about since the beginning of last year. I present to you the Gift Guide for Puppeteers, a list of suggestions and ideas for presents to give to your loved one who is into puppetry. I’ve got some practical ideas, but also lots of just plain fun stuff, with a mix for both builders and performers and for reasonable budgets. Even if you’re not celebrating anything during the upcoming holiday season, all of the ideas are secular, so they also make for perfect ideas for birthdays, anniversaries, and the like. So, with that in mind, here’s some goodies that are bound to please:
Yeah, I know this is about as exciting as getting your mother a toaster for her birthday, but it’s both practical and relatively inexpensive. Every puppet maker needs scissors, and generally speaking you should have a few on hand at any given time. Using scissors on paper dulls the blades over time, so I always have two handy - one for fabric, one for paper. This way my scissors last a good long time. But you also need to find quality scissors, not just the craft ones for kids. The ones I get locally are usually $30-40 per pair, making them a reasonably-priced gift for anyone’s budget.
|Sterilite 66-Quart See-Through Storage Box with Latching Lid, Set of 4, via Amazon.com.|
Whether you’ve got a performer or a builder in the house, it’s likely that you’re constantly trying to step over those puppets, parts or materials. Most puppeteers I know prefer to store their stuff in large stackable plastic tubs, that you can find at most storage/building supply shops. They may not be the most glamourous gift in the world, but it does make living with your puppeteer a lot easier Actually, us puppeteers are always battling with storage ideas, so if there’s some product or tool that makes storing things tidier, it would probably be welcomed. You can read more about methods of storage here. (On a related note, a label maker is an ideally matched present to go with any storage solution)
|Brother XL2600I Sew Advance Sew Affordable 25-Stitch Free-Arm Sewing Machine, via Amazon.com.|
Oddly enough, you may want to wait after the holidays to buy something like this, as sewing machines are often on sale in the post-Christmas period. However, if you want something a bit more expensive, nothing gets past a good sewing machine. Because our household sewing machine was very old (my grandmother’s 1950s one), when I decided to purchase one for my puppet making, we shared the cost. Even though I bought it for about $200 during sale time and with a discount card, it’s still a rather large purchase. So if you have a loved one who needs a sewing machine, pool your dough and grab something good. The people at Puppets and Stuff have chatted about good machines before, so head over there for some recommendations. I have a Brother BM 2600 that I absolutely love.
Something every builder may look for is puppet parts - eyes, noses, and so on - along with certain materials. Many puppet sellers/makers offer these things, and you’ll find a lot of stuff on Etsy.com as well as eBay. It might not be the most exciting thing in the world, but why not please your loved one by getting something they actually want and/or need?
What better gift than to get something for the puppeteer’s library - or even just a gift certificate for their library, so you know you get the right thing . You could try tracking down a rare book (Ray DaSilva’s bookstore is ideal for that, although they are UK based), or just grab something from Amazon. (See the ‘books’ page on this website for some reviews/suggestions) A great idea that’s not often considered is to purchase a membership with a local puppetry group (UNIMA International is the worldwide organisation, but there are others out there) which gets the person trade publications, meets & greets, discounted tickets and other stuff. If there’s no organisation worth joining, or the person isn’t interested, you can often still obtain a separate subscription to their trade magazines, which are amazing resources and worthy investments.
Of course, workshops or tickets to a show can also be good items. Tickets to see a performance have often been family presents in my house, and seeing The Lion King musical was one example. It’s not just a good - and rather expensive - option for the puppeteer, but also a bit of a family night out that is enjoyable for all. Workshops can be for both performers and builders, and what better way to get a hobby puppeteer some more skills than by getting them a pass to work with a professional and hone their skills.
Patterns or DVD tutorials are perfect for the builder or performer, especially if there is a series of tutorials sold online (ie Dr Puppet’s videos) but come in discounted form when packaged together. Buying an individual pattern may be affordable for most people, but getting a series is a larger investment and so most people don’t do it. This is one that your puppeteer will love you for. Puppet makers often have patterns available, but if you’re not sure what you’re looking for Etsy.com is often a good place to start. Whilst the site is predominantly for craft/handmade items, you will also find a lot of fun and easy-to-make puppet patterns available to buy.
|Puppet peepers. Image courtesy of and with permission from Hobey Ford.|
I’m sure you’ve seen these little guys: two small eyeballs on a little ‘hook’ or elastic, which attach to your fingers. These are commonly used as a way to practice puppetry, getting the line of sight correct, whilst avoiding holding up larger puppets for long periods of time. Most people don’t realise that American puppeteer, Hobey Ford, invented and patented them. Peepers Puppet are an ideal gift for the performer and for the present-giver who has a small budget. They cost less than $4 USD each, and come in a variety of colours.
I’m not sure if other companies do this, but West Australian company, Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, have a program where you ‘adopt’ a puppet. Basically it’s the same premise as adopting an animal at a zoo; you pay a fee, which goes towards upkeep of the company, new works, etc, a certificate of adoption, and the ability to visit your puppet. You don’t get to take it home, but you do get to support local artists. For those more inclined to give to charities on behalf of others at this time of year, this may be a suitable and unusual gift.
This one seems like a good idea just for the beginners, but actually it can be just as useful for the professionals too. You can obtain a puppet for practice or performance, or something a little more collectible. Many people collect puppets that have historical value, of a puppet type they’re particularly interested in, are just plain cool, and so on. There are many ways to go about finding collectible puppets, from visiting local collectible stores and op shops, to contacting your nearby puppetry organisation, and finding online auctions like this one. Etsy.com is my all-time favourite place for finding weird and unique puppets, and I’ve even found some amazing table-top puppet theatres (aka puppet stages) that are simply unique and ideal for gifts. Yes, you can find a lot of ‘crap’ on the site, but by and large you will find stuff that is both professional quality and extremely unusual. Better than buying a generic puppet at one of those puppet superstores. You can also often request custom items via the site. There are also puppet-themed items that anyone would love, like these furry drums with puppet eyes. Of course, plenty of puppet makers are also more than happy to create unique items, so why not commission a puppet maker instead?
|Sesame Street cake pops. Image courtesy of and with permission from Bakerella|
Normally I steer clear of anything replica, and even for me this falls in a grey area that I still haven’t decided on. But this one is so fun and so tasty that it’s going in anyway. It’s a few years ago since my sister introduced me to Cake Pops. Basically, they’re moist balls of cake, on a lollipop stick, decorated with melted candy and various delectable decorations. The inventor of the pops, Bakerella, has all sorts of recipes on her website for different variations. My favourite, and an excellent gift for anyone with a sweet tooth, are the Sesame Street versions. Make Oscar, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, and Elmo… and try not to gobble them up before finishing! Don’t be intimidated by the work that goes into them, they are surprisingly easy to make and ideal for a family activity where the kids help decorate.
This naturally leads to a puppet-themed party. There are so many fun things you can do with kids, and you can make it religious themed, secular, focusing on the birthday boy/girl, or just as a way to fill in time. Hart and Sew posted their shadow puppet party, and Oh Amanda posted her muppet-type puppet party, and both give some great ideas of how to make a fun day for the kids. You can make puppets from scratch, get puppet kits, or if you’re more inclined to leave someone else to do the work, hire a puppeteer to entertain and/or provide a workshop.
|The Muppet Show: Season One, via Amazon.com.|
Practically everyone loves Sesame Street or The Muppets. Find your loved one’s favourite TV show or movie and head to memorabilia sellers. (Be warned though, there’s a lot of fake stuff out there. Make sure you’re buying official stuff, check into the seller’s feedback and background, and be sure to get a certificate of authenticity) You can often get a surprising amount of things from movies and TV shows, as costumes, props and other items go on sale, along with autographed photos. Some of my prized possessions include an autographed photo of my favourite character (Rygel from Farscape, signed by the voice of the puppet, Jonathan Hardy), rare toys, and even costume patterns used from the Farscape series. The first and last of those items came direct from the official seller on behalf of Henson’s Creature Company, so they’re both valuable and authentic pieces of TV history. The autograph was cheap, despite the ‘value’ to collectors; about $15 USD not including shipping. Likewise, CDs of music from live performances, movies or TV shows might be of interest to your loved one; and don’t forget box sets of DVDs, which can often be a more expensive present that the whole family can enjoy. And most DVDs come with behind-the-scenes stuff, which means your puppeteer will love all the extras that explain how things were made or used.send feedback / have a question?
Australians may want to buy locally. Where? I explain here.