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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In this day and age, we’re all conscious of the amount of crap we produce that can’t be reused, and ends up in the local town dump. Making puppets seems like an addition on that waste, with foam, plastic and all sorts of other things being needed to make something that may, in the end, be put in the trash (that’s another topic for another day). Is it possible to make puppets out of only recycled materials? Of course! There may be some things that you’ll simply have to buy (like glue), but practically everything can be reused. Skip to the tutorial. Skip to the video showcase.
Before getting into an easy example/tutorial, let’s discuss a little more on what kinds of things you can do.
|Puppets made out of foam, bottles, and socks. Image/puppets by Hil.|
Sick of those newspapers or toilet rolls piling up? Toilet rolls make perfect arms and necks for glove puppets (a particular favourite method of making glove puppets with kids in a number of my books from the 70s), and newspapers can be recycled for papier mache heads. Likewise, you could use the papers and make thick recycled paper, which can be used for shadow puppets. Here’s a video tutorial of how to make a table-top puppet using recycled materials [link to be added].
Milk cartons and plastic bottles are another great home product; you could insert a rod into the bottle neck and then decorate them to make great marottes. Cereal boxes can be used easily for toy theatres, a type of miniature rod/paper puppets - how to make a toy theatre is presented here. It uses mostly recycled materials! [Link to be added]
The balls inside deodorant sticks can be recycled to make great puppet eyes (in fact I know of people who go out of their way to collect them), clothes (ie. socks!) can be recycled for puppet costumes or puppets themselves. Another idea is to take natural objects (ie. pinecones, branches, etc) and to find some new use for them.
The big thing is that recycled puppets should be looked at like object manipulation or found puppetry; that is, you should try to avoid recreating traditional-looking puppets. Use the object’s qualities to decide how best to reuse it.
One other thing: puppet makers are almost obsessive compulsive collectors. We save every useable scrap of foam, fleece, and other materials. By doing this, we not only reduce the amount of waste we produce, but also save money on materials in the long run. Extending this: we stock up on materials when they are on sale, keep and collect items that don’t have an immediate use but do inspire ideas, and dive into op shops, garage sales and scour trash collections on the side of the road. (A great example of using trash-collected objects, like foam, etc, is here) There are some great tutorials on the net [link to be added] on making puppets using recycled materials.
And this is how we get to my tutorial… I recently found a great toy at a collectables shop for $AUD 5. I saw it and immediately knew I could recycle it into a really simple puppet. (Yeah I know, I have a thing for recycled toy puppets) Although the following instructions are specific to the type of toy I bought, you can use this as an example and basic guide to making your own from old toys.
I used a stuffed octopus toy for this, but you may not have one. So how can you possibly recreate this at home? No worries! The trick is to find a toy that can be creatively and simply be recycled. It should be able to fit your hand. It is a good idea - thought not necessary - to have limbs or parts that can be manipulated. From there, assess the seams and construction of the toy, and think about how you can resew areas to allow for openings or rods. Use paint or other materials to add and enhance the puppet where necessary. But most of all: have fun!
One old toy - I had a stuffed octopus
A pair of scissors
Some thread to match the colour of the toy; try and recycle offcuts of thread if you can
A black glove
|The front of the toy|
|The side of the toy|
|The underneath of the toy|
This is my toy (all pics are clickable for larger viewing).
Notice how there is a seam at the bottom of the puppet. The idea is instead of hacking the toy to bits in places, to use the way the toy is sewn together to make the necessary changes. The great thing about this octopus is that the bottom of the body makes it perfect for a glove puppet, with the head of the octopus housing the hand, and the octopus legs can be manipulated by the puppeteer’s fingers. Assessing the toy really means trying to look past what it is and figuring out what it can be.
Carefully cutting the thread at the bottom of the octopus, I then removed it with a pin. On removing this thread, I discovered the opening to be too small to fit my hand comfortably inside. Using a scalpel I widened the opening, first by making a straight cut either end of the opening (the seam was sewn in a straight line). This still wasn’t quite right, so I cut the material in a curve at either end of the opening, until the opening was large enough for my hand, but also a snug fit.
|Opening the seam at the bottom of the toy.|
It’s important not to cut the material off!
You can use all of the material to your benefit in the next step. Also note that I’ve removed some of the stuffing; only within the bottom of the octopus’ body, but not from inside the legs or the head itself.
Folding the extra material inside the body of the puppet, I pinned it in place, turning the extra fabric into a seam allowance. I then got some thread of matching colour to the toy, and sewed the edge of the opening. I used a backstitch for strong stitching.
|Stitching the hem.|
|The finished hem.|
Do remember to keep the stuffing that you took out from the toy - you can reuse it for stuffing puppet arms and so forth.
|My hand inserted into the finished puppet/toy.|
To play with this puppet, insert your hand inside (oh, what about that glove listed above? Read this first, and then you’ll see… ). I found this the most comfortable: my thumb inserted into the right most tentacle at the front of the toy (I’m left handed); my index finger into the head of the octopus, between the eyes; my third finger into the tentacle second from the right; my fourth finger in the tentacle second from the left; and my pinky in the tentacle at the left. By doing this, I can control movement in the front four tentacles, as well as the head. Flexing the index finger makes the toy’s head move up and down in a nodding fashion.
But wait - you can add more movement! Yeah, the great thing about making puppets is to try and do things that the audience doesn’t expect. Instead of settling for some simple movements, I took advantage of the way the toy was sewn together (there’s that assessing thing again) at the eyes and nose. In the first photo above, you can see how the nose is sewn horizontally across the face. I simply used the same method as given above - undid the seam, then sewed a hem at the opening - and voila! Now there’s a mouth. (Ok, yeah, octopi have mouths under the tentacles… but this is a puppet!) By adding this hole, I can use my index finger - that’s inside the head anyway - to act as a tongue, pushing through the mouth opening. … You may also want to consider repainting the eyes on the toy, as toy eyes don’t really show up well if not of a sharper contrasting hue to the toy’s fabric.
Here’s a video of how the recycled toy puppet turns out:send feedback / have a question?
Australians may want to buy locally. Where? I explain here.