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Topic: Muppet Style Puppet Tutorial  (Read 71158 times)
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« on: January 13, 2012 06:57:53 PM »

I've decided to share the process and pattern I used when creating this puppet.

Let me begin by stating that I am not an expert. I have limited experience with puppet making, but thought others might like a place to start. I must also say, I've never written a tutorial, and do not know if this will be easy to follow, and/or accurate. I make no guarantee that this tutorial will work out for you. It's simply what I did. Follow at your own risk.

I've included the pattern I used for my second puppet Sandwich, Seen here. The pattern is for the basic head shape only. I free handed the nose, ears and hair. I drafted the pattern myself, and it is not guaranteed to be perfect. I created the pattern from a low polygon model, whose edges I tried to unify and smooth. The results were less than satisfactory, and the head, when put together, looks somewhat octagonal from the top. I covered the head with hair, so you can't tell.

This pattern is for personal use only. I just wanted to give a little back to the community.

Before we start I thought I would list the supplies needed for the head.

1. The Pattern (Fixed: 05.12.2013)
2. 1/2 inch Foam - The Foam I buy is 24" wide, and for this pattern you need a little less than a yard.
3. A sheet of something hard and water resistant.
  a. A sheet of plastic
  b. I saw someone use corrugated plastec
  b. I use a piece of heavy cardboard that I had left over from a drawing pad. This of course is not water resistant, but it has worked well for me so far.
  c. Some people say you can use gasket rubber for a more flexible mouth, but I have never used it.

3. Cutting Utensil
  a.Rotary Cutters are best. I use a small rotary cutter I bought just for this purpose. You will not want to use your fabric ones, as the foam dulls the blades.
  b. Exacto knives and box cutters - These tend to rip the foam as you go. Use light strokes and make multiple passes if this is the route you want to go.
  c. Scissors - Scissors smash the foam and and cause the edges to be cut at weird angles. These angles will affect the shape of your puppet.
4. Pins

For Glueing
1. Contact Cement - I buy the red can of Weldwood Contact Cement. There is a less flammable version, but it takes over twice as long to dry.
2. Something to spread the glue out with. I use scrap pieces of foam. The glue is likely to ruin the brush, so choose wisely.
3. Something to deal with glue on hands
  a. Disposable gloves - recommended
  b. Tough skin if you plan to rub the glue off
  c. Naptha - This is what I use, but I must advise against it. It states clearly on the bottle to avoid contact with skin as it can cause irritation. A second reason is you do not want to rub your eyes or touch your food when you have naphtha on your hands. I use it as it works best for me and I haven't had a chance to buy more gloves. As per the label, I thoroughly wash my hands with soap and water. To prevent skin drying out, I also put lotion on.

For skinning the head.
5. Spray Adhesive
6. Some fleece for the inside of the mouth and the head.
7. Some fabric for the hair. I used a brown fur that my friend found for me at the Joanns nearby.
8. Needle and thread. Buy thread that matches your base skin fabric.

The Start
1. To start with, print, cut and assemble the pattern. I like to use card stock as it holds its shape better and doesn't get soggy when tracing.
3. Trace the main and mouth foam patterns twice each. Be sure to use the "Mouth Foam" pattern and not the "Mouth Fleece and Board" pattern. When tracing, use a light marker as these marks can sometimes shine through.  The main head pattern can be mirrored along one end. If you do, mark the center line. You will also want to flip the pattern each trace to help ensure the marked edges are placed inside.
2. Cut out the foam. At this point I like to make light lines on the edges that I need to make sure I do not glue.

Glueing the Main Head
1. After marking the edges, it's time to glue. Apply glue only to the sides, not the top or bottom.
This glue is messy, and really sticks to everything, including hands. If you choose to use gloves now is the time to put them on.
They say you do not need a lot of glue, and I find this to be true. I use just enough to slightly discolor the foam and make it shinier. Be sure you have an even coat over the sides. To help in glueing, I fold the edges together and then glue.

2. Waiting. You must wait for contact cement to dry before actually glueing the edges together. The can will give you the estimated drying time. Here it takes between ten and fifteen minutes.

3. After the glue is dried, it is time to glue the edges together. Place only a minimal amount of pressure here. This helps in case you make a mistake and need to try again.
I start at the ends and push them together lightly.

I then move to the middle of the seam and again push the edges lightly together.

The reason for spreading out the initial seal throughout the seam is to help make sure the edges line up. If you glue the seam from one end to the other, the ends might not line up. When glueing it is important to make sure that the foam matches up height wise. You do not want one side to stick up higher than the other. Keep the planes flush.
Also, Try to form the shape with the side you traced upon on the inside.

NOTE: You must ensure that you do not squish the sides, as they will compress wafer thin, and you will not be able to glue them together.

UPDATE:: Updated the way I do mouth boards.
I've changed the way I do mouth boards. The old way involved using board sandwiched between foam. The problem with this approach was that The mouth would not close completely at the lips. The new way I do it takes:
 - Gorilla tape
 - Foam
 - Board for mouth. I use corrugated plastic. Used for signs.
 - Glue
 - Stretchy fabric. (optional).

 1. Cut out 1 piece of mouth board, using the mouth board pattern. Cut along width line. Mark halves as 1 or 2 (For board only cut slightly smaller than pattern, about a 16th of an inch.).
 2. Repeat step 1, 2 times out of foam.
 3. Place mouth board pieces back into original shape. (figure A)
 4. Tape back together using gorilla tape. (figure B)
 5. Turn mouth board over, and dangle over edge of table. (figure C)
 6. Apply tape, and bend board completely together, with this side on outside. Work tape against side. (figure D)
 7. Glue one set of foam onto new mouth board, indented tape (figure E) facing foam (figure F).
::ALERT:: Be sure that foam extends past edge of board. Stretch foam if necessary. This should be a slight amount, roughly a 16th of an inch.

I started lining the inside of my mouths, making a sort of sleeve. Without one, the hand goes into the entire head, and the hand is touching foam. I like the way this feels.
   a. Cut out 2 arm segments, and the mouth liner, from any fabric that doesn't fray. I use a stretchy fabric, with the stretchy part going around the arm.
 b. Sew right sides together, with a 1/4" seam allowance. Trim closely to seam, do not turn inside out. Leave right sides together.
 c. Glue completed hand liner to foam. I glue only the outer 1/4" to keep it from making the fabric weird.(figure G).
 9. Apply glue to outer 1/4" of foam, and glue to top of mouth stack.

Figure H shows the new mouth. This mouth will close flush, and more easily than the old method.

Putting them Together
1. Apply 1/2 to 3/4 strip of glue inside the head around the mouth opening.

2. Mark the center points on the underside of the mouth piece, you will need this when assembling the head and mouth.
3. Apply glue along the side of the mouth board.
4, Wait for glue to dry.
5. This part is tricky. The mouth board is slightly larger than the mouth is meant for. This is to give the head a more interesting shape. Unfortunately, this makes things a bit more difficult for you. At this time bend the mouth only a minimal amount to get it into the head.
Align the corners of the mouth and press slightly. Now align the center marks on the mouth board with the seam line on the head. When the edges are properly lined up firmly press together to finish the seal.
*ALERT* it is very important that you get the mouth board perfectly in place. If you do not, the mouth will look off. I glued mine in slightly crooked and the dimple on one side of the mouth is noticeably larger than the one on the other.

Adding Ears and Nose
I did not provide a pattern for these parts as I did not use one. I simply created them as I went.
The ears and nose looked similar to this.


1. Trace and cut out the main pattern from the fleece of your choice, mirroring it along the straight edge.
2. Cut out the fleece for the inside of the mouth, using the Mouth Fleece and Board pattern.
Advisory: I do not recommend using felt as it tore as I was trying to sew it together.

3. Here you are going to follow the directions on your spray adhesive to glue the fabric to head fleece to the head. For the adhesive I have, I spray both sides, wait 15 seconds and then glue them together.
You're going to want to do this a little at a time. The head will be slightly larger than the fleece, so you must stretch the fleece as you go. Start in the front center and pull the fleece to the other seam lines. Continue to spray and stretch. If you do not stretch enough, the fleece will not fit. Do not completely glue down the edges of the fleece, as we will need to stitch them together.

To create the pattern for the ears, nose, hair and any other part not provided in the pattern, you have two options that I know of.
  A. Lay the fabric over the part to be covered and pinch and pin it into the correct shape. After pinning, mark and cut out the pattern. Here's a simple example on how I did my ears.

Here I'm doing the hair.

To simplify things, I used a scrap piece of fabric instead of the actual fur. It's important to create markers on the head that will help you line things up later.

I learned this technique from the Swazzle tutorial page found here.
They actually have a very good tutorial on this site that helped me out immensely, Here that is.

I suppose one could draw onto the heads fleece and cut it out as a pattern to use for the hair, but I have never done that. I've always just pinched, pinned and cut.

After you have your fleece cut out and glued into place, it's time to sew.
The Stitch I use is called the Henson Stitch. It's difficult to explain, So here's a youtube video of a guy explaining it. This is much easier to learn from, than the static webpage I learned from.

I glued my hair into place as I knew it would be too difficult to sew on. I glued a hem and then glued the hair into place, that way you don't see the edges of the fur.

Here's the head after stitching the top

2. At this point I put on the eyes. I used large black stuffed animal eyes that have the clip in the back. To put them on, I used an exact knife to cut a tiny hole through the fleece and foam. I then forced the eye through and clipped it into place.

Hope this works for you.
Sandwich signing off.

Update Pattern link, and updated mouth board directions.

Update: 05.12.2013:
Corrected and updated the Head pattern, which was originally incorrectly scaled.
*thank you to radioactivearachnid for pointing out the error.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2013 08:48:59 AM by bedalton » THIS ROCKS   Logged
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« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2012 07:05:57 PM »

Very interesting. I don't know if I'll be making one, but you never know. Thanks for the tute!!! I will save it for future projects. Lots of work went into this. Great Job!!! Cheesy

Will do personal swaps!! I make Art Dolls/Junker Jane Dolls/Raggedy Ann & Andy Dolls/also TM Patches
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2012 07:18:27 PM »

Very nice tutorial! You're a pro! Tongue  Awesome puppet too, I'd love to make my daughter one!

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Did he just go crazy and fall asleep?

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« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2012 08:21:45 PM »

Wow that is awesome! Thanks for sharing your pattern and templates! I just might have to give it a go!
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« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2012 12:25:57 AM »

Aside from your puppet being so cute and well done, you've made an incredible tutorial. Thank you for taking the time and sharing it. I'll be bookmarking this wonderful tute.
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« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2012 12:13:11 PM »

thank you for share this tut!!!! i love the result!!!!


Im up for personal swaps...

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« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2012 12:16:47 PM »

Excellant instructions:)

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What a piece of work is man!

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« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2012 04:49:57 PM »

He's adorable, and your tutorial is amazing. I can't wait to try this.

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« Reply #8 on: January 14, 2012 07:46:34 PM »

Fantastic! Great work. There really isn't enough puppet building tutorials on the web! I would know, I searched high and low. I'm finishing up my first puppet.  Grin

« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2012 06:09:20 PM »

This is pretty awesome - and really cute Smiley

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« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2012 10:23:17 PM »

Awesome job!  Thank you for posting... I will be bookmarking this for the future!
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2012 08:44:47 AM »

Fantastic! Great work. There really isn't enough puppet building tutorials on the web! I would know, I searched high and low. I'm finishing up my first puppet.  Grin

I can't wait to see what yours looks like. How far along are you?

Update: I started the body yesterday, but it turned out I did my measurements wrong, and the body was far too small. I should have checked it before doing all the hand stitching. I think I'm going to modify it for machine stitching. I did a test, and I was able to hide the stitch well. I think it may have hidden better than my hand stitching. I'll have to see how it looks on the body.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2012 08:46:47 AM by bedalton » THIS ROCKS   Logged
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« Reply #12 on: January 16, 2012 03:12:47 PM »

thank you thank you thank you for posting this! amazing job Cheesy

« Reply #13 on: January 17, 2012 09:19:52 AM »

Awesome job. I've assembled a couple using patterns I've cobbled together online (it's really hard to find them for free!). You use all the same methods I did as well. I may have to go back to my Derek puppet and make version 3.0
« Reply #14 on: January 17, 2012 11:02:11 AM »

@Microfibermilitia: Three's a charm as they say. This is the 3rd version of the head pattern I made. Do you have pictures of Derek 1 and 2?
« Reply #15 on: January 17, 2012 02:17:00 PM »

Derek 1.0 with thrift store fleece and hot glue instead of sewing (foam everything though)

Not the best pic of him but

Version 2.1. Done with high end fleece, the special puppet stitch, etc. I redid the head once. I can't get the shape right. The first head was better overall shape but some imperfections in the mouth area (mostly inside where I put in a foam strap to hold my hand closer to the mouth plate). This head is better up front but the profile and overall look has a lot to be desired. Hence the interest in your head pattern.

2.1 got roughed up since the main places I brought him to was a gay bar in Chicago and one guy decided to try to break my hand while it was inside the puppet. Yeah. He also has his own Facebook page and has had long discussions with people on a city bus. Smiley
« Reply #16 on: January 18, 2012 04:50:28 AM »

 Shocked Wow this is amazing!

Love Kooky Crafts
« Reply #17 on: January 18, 2012 07:23:25 AM »

Regarding the body, since my guy was shirtless, I did the Henson stitch along the sides (fluffing up the fleece really does make a difference... Also, I think I used the same you tube video tutorial for that!)

I DID do machine stitching for the arms it went back to fluff the fleece so it'd blend better.

SO excited to see the body!

« Reply #18 on: January 23, 2012 03:24:12 PM »

Derek is awesome! I'd be afraid of recreating a puppet. I feel like there would be some kind of jealousy or maybe evil twins syndrome. But then again, I talk to my puppets, and give them way more personality than is probably healthy.

I'm glad to hear he's such an extrovert, engaging people on the bus. Me and my puppets keep to ourselves. I'm still trying to drudge up the courage to make a small video to share with my friends, but so far I've come up short.

You've also giving me some food for thought. I've just made a mental note to be on the look out for grabby men in a gay bar. A mental note I already had, but now it's been expanded to cover puppets and puppet hands.
« Reply #19 on: January 27, 2012 01:30:25 PM »

Re: courage w/ puppets,

I thought of it a bit like puppet therapy. Bringing a puppet to my friend's "Circus"-themed b-day party also helped. Also, going to fetish nights. I figured that all these guys are in various bondage and leather contraptions around me so me having a puppet on my hand is really on par.

It came from talking to my puppets as well. Derek is kinda my inner-gay boy coming out (so to speak). All my puppets had a lot more chutzpah than I did that I just embraced it.

Also had the line that went something like (coming out of Derek's mouth), "I'm strange? You're the one having a conversation with a puppet."

I also live in a big city.  Grin
« Reply #20 on: February 08, 2012 04:58:55 AM »

Wow! that's a lot of work. LOVE this puppet

Gente de Massinha
« Reply #21 on: February 14, 2012 05:53:36 PM »

Beautiful puppet! Thank you for share Smiley
Little owl
« Reply #22 on: February 16, 2012 10:47:39 AM »

Very good tutorial (lots of work!! wow Smiley) and a very nice puppet, really cool to read Smiley

« Reply #23 on: February 17, 2012 12:14:39 PM »

My children LOVED the muppets...but I won't tell you how many decades ago that was. You did a wonderful job.

« Reply #24 on: February 22, 2012 10:09:09 AM »

This is so great!
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« Reply #25 on: April 11, 2012 01:58:16 PM »

This is incredible! Your puppet head is so cute! I don't know if i'll be making one any time soon, but if i ever really want to make a puppet, i'll definitely use your tutorial.

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« Reply #26 on: April 17, 2012 09:00:33 AM »

Thank you so much for the tut!  I'll have to try it some time!
« Reply #27 on: February 12, 2013 02:35:41 PM »

Firstly I'd like to say wow. What a great puppet. I've been looking for a good first puppet project and your tutorial looks nice and easy to follow.

One quick question. Has the pattern moved? Unfortunately the link is dead.

Thank you for posting such an inspiring tutorial.
« Reply #28 on: February 19, 2013 09:49:21 AM »

Hey Ashley8bit. I've tried modding this pattern a few times. And cannot remember which pattern is the good one. I'm pretty sure I know which file it is, but let me knock one out real quick, and I'll get back to you later today.
Sorry it's taken so long, I just saw the message in my inbox.
« Reply #29 on: February 19, 2013 01:36:07 PM »

Hey Ashley8bit. I've tried modding this pattern a few times. And cannot remember which pattern is the good one. I'm pretty sure I know which file it is, but let me knock one out real quick, and I'll get back to you later today.
Sorry it's taken so long, I just saw the message in my inbox.

I was wondering the same thing...I would love to have the pattern
« Reply #30 on: February 19, 2013 02:53:09 PM »

I've updated the pattern link, and altered the mouthboard directions.
I'm glad I decided to do a mockup on the original pattern, as I saw that the mouthboard I included in the original pattern was wrong. It was about a 1/4" too small all around. I'm sorry to the person who sent me a message saying they did not line up. My illustrator file had a different mouthboard than the one I had included in the pdf, so I did not understand what you were referring to.
« Reply #31 on: February 24, 2013 08:09:12 AM »

I printed out the pattern pieces and the head pattern seems small. Does it need too be enlarged and if so, how much? I did one head from a freebie on line and I can't seem to get it flexible enough. Also, I tried hot glue and all I ended up with was burnt fingers....lol. I am going to use contact cement when I try your pattern.
« Reply #32 on: February 26, 2013 08:37:05 AM »

When I printed out the pattern this time I also thought it looked small. That is why I wasn't sure which pattern it was, as I had tried a few different sizes. This pattern was labeled with the number I remembered, so I put it together and it is the right one. It ends up being bigger than you'd think, I was surprised.

I tried hot glue at first, and that was a disaster. I also ended up with burnt fingers, and never got any of the seams to stick. Contact cement is great, it is just a bit messy and slow. I've seen people put it in a refillable mustard kind of bottle and just squeeze it on and spread it, but I've never tried it. If you feel impatient, there's always super 77 spray adhesive. It's practically instant, and I use it for prototyping. The only problem is that unfleeced heads left in the sun and heat will come slightly unglued. They won't come completely apart, but you can see the outer part of the seams lifting apart. Fleeced though, it holds together, and I haven't had a problem. People use super 77 for puppets, and mascot costumes, but I still use contact cement for a final draft. I think it's just because I know it will work, and I've only been using super 77 about 7 or 8 months. I still have a puppet that's perfectly in tact, fleeced, and no signs of splitting, but it still makes me nervous.

As for flexibility, this puppet works out very well, contact cement is flexible. Resting, the mouth is open, that way it's easy to open and close. The only warning I have for you, is to be very careful to line up the edges of the mouth board and the corners of the head's mouth. If they don't line up just right, the mouth will tear a bit until it reaches the mouth board's hing area. The tear will stop and then function normally once it hits that spot, but you're mouth will be slightly crooked, which won't be very noticeable until the mouth is closed, and the dimples are different.

Remember when gluing the mouth in, not to push the seams together until you are absolutely certain, because once you start to press them together, there's really no coming back. I've ripped a number of puppets when trying to reposition the mouth after I started to finalize the seams. The mouth will stick as you position it, but you will still be able to reposition it until you pinch it together. The mouth board is tight, and the foam of the head actually has to stretch in order to accommodate it. This is intentional, but is a little difficult to work with.
« Reply #33 on: February 26, 2013 10:55:29 AM »

Thank you so much for all the good advice. It's very generous of you.
« Reply #34 on: March 05, 2013 11:41:04 AM »

Just checking in to say thanks for updating the pattern. I'll try my hand at building a puppet very soon. Thanks again. Ashley.
« Reply #35 on: May 12, 2013 07:40:55 AM »

A word of warning. The head pattern I posted is wrong. The PDF program I used scaled the images. I'm checking the reformatted pattern, and will let update status when finished. To anyone who downloaded the pattern, I'm really sorry.
« Reply #36 on: May 12, 2013 08:51:08 AM »

I was able to correct the problem with the pattern, and I have verified that the pattern in the PDF works. Unfortunately, I did not check the PDF last time, just the images that went into it. I'm sorry for any problem this may have caused. The pattern pieces are now split into page sized junks to keep my program from scaling them.
Again, sorry.
« Reply #37 on: November 09, 2015 03:26:01 PM »

That's an awesome puppet! I'm doing a 12 week puppet theater class, and I've been looking for a pattern for this style puppet (our final puppet). It's wonderful that you've posted the pattern! I'll try to get pictures when we're done with ours.  Thanks!


Where did all this fabric come from? I CAN'T have bought THAT much!
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