Puppets are not the first thing that most people think of when they are considering back-to-school supplies, but they can be very useful educational tools. In addition to helping children learn the basics of reading and writing, they can be used by teacher or student to tell stories or review material. In this tutorial, I will demonstrate how to make a simple mouth puppet out of old clothes and other recycled materials. The first step is to download the pattern (Puppet Pattern 1 of 2, Puppet Pattern 2 of 2) and cut out all the pieces. Then you will need to gather the clothing that you want to use. I recommend knit fabrics like t-shirt material since they do not fray at the edges. Because the t-shirt is really too thin to be used by itself, I do recommend that a thicker material be used as a backing. I used an old pale pink t-shirt for the “skin” a darker pink t-shirt for the mouth, and a fleece jacket which had a broken zipper as my backing. Any skin-toned t-shirt will work for the puppet itself, and pinks, reds, or even black will work for the mouth. The next step was to cut out the pieces from my fabric. The head, nose, ears, arms and body are cut from the “skin” fabric. Additional head and body pieces are cut from the backing. The ears, nose and arms do not require backing. Only the mouth is cut from the other color fabric. The pattern also has a stabilizer piece which is to be cut from any color craft foam that you have on hand. It will not be seen. To begin forming the head, stack the fabric pieces together with the “skin” to the inside and the backing to the outside. Stitch along all the throat, face, and back-of-head seams as demonstrated in the photo. Do not stitch down the two “v” shapes going into the head. Additionally, stack and stitch the outside of the ears and turn them right side out. My photo shows one ear stitched and the lower ear stitched and turned so that you can see what they look like at both steps. Next, the face needs to be re-folded to allow the edges along the top of the head to line up. Insert the ears in between the “skin” portion of the head on either side, with the raw edges even and the base of the ears all the way to the bottom of the openings. Pin these in place. In my photo, the ears are under the gold-headed pins. Match the center seams together as well, pin them in place, then stitch the seam closed. Next comes the mouth. To make the mouth stiff enough to open and close, the fabric must be backed. I found the plastic from an empty milk container to be the perfect blend of stiffness and flexibility. Other plastics may do just as well. After you have cut a piece from the plastic to match the fabric mouth piece, they must be glued together. I used spray adhesive, but contact cement may also work if you blow-dry the applied glue for thirty seconds or so until the glue becomes tacky. With the fabric and the plastic glued together, fold the piece in half along the fold line to form the mouth piece. This step is the trickiest one of the whole project, so work slowly and carefully. Turning the head right-side-out, slide the mouth board into the head and position it about where it needs to be. Hot glue is the best thing that I found for attaching the mouth, so while your gun is heating up, you have time to look at the mouth piece and the opening in the head for the mouth to be inserted. The head piece should have enough fabric to glue along the edges of the mouth. Beginning with the corners of the mouth glue the head to the mouth piece at the fold on each side. The overlap along most of the mouth should be somewhere around ¼ inch, though that measurement does fluctuate some as it goes around the mouth and is slightly less than that at the corners. After the corners are glued down, attached the top and bottom center seams to the mouth making sure that they line up! After those four points are glued down, then glue the rest of the mouth in to position, easing the remaining fabric to fit the mouth piece. The next step is easier. Leaving the ends open, stitch around the arm pieces, turn them right-side-out and stuff them with fiberfill. I used the stuffing from an old pillow that had matted together inside. After washing the pillow, I opened it up and pulled the fibers apart wherever I could, then used this to stuff the arms. While you have the stuffing out, you should also stuff the nose. Using a needle and thread, hand-stitch around the outside edge of the nose and gather the fabric together around some more of the fiberfill. Set the arms aside for the time being and hand stitch the nose to the front of the face about ¾ of an inch above the mouth and along the center seam. Now for the face! For eyes, cut two circles of fabric from a scrap of old knit fabric and glue them onto the face wherever you would like them to be. You may want to experiment with the placement some before you glue them down. Each puppet looks a little different according to the variations made in the size and placement of the features. For pupils, sew on matching buttons. I used black, but you may prefer blue, brown or even green. For hair, I use yarn. For greater versatility, I sewed a two-and-a-half inch strip of the hook section of Velcro onto the top of the head, beginning just to the front of where the seams form a cross, and going along the seam down the back. Later I sewed several different lengths, styles, and colors of hair to the same-sized lengths of the loop section of Velcro. This way I can easily change the age or gender of the puppet to meet the needs of the moment. If you do not care to be able to change the hair around, you can sew it directly to the head, however, you may want to wait to do this until the puppet is complete. At this point, you need to lay aside the head for awhile and work on the body. Stack the body pieces together with the “skin” sections to the inside and stitch the shoulder seams together on both sides. Then you need to add the arms. Each arm must be pinned to the inside with the thumb pointing up and the whole arm angled downward toward the belly section of the puppet. Sew the arms into place as you sew the side seams of the puppet body. You will want to reinforce the arm seams since children will likely be tugging on them! I also turned under a small hem on the bottom of the body to make a neat edge, but this was a personal choice. With clothes on the puppet, the bottom edge should not really be seen. Now for the final steps! With right sides together and matching side seams and centers, pin the head inside the body of the puppet and sew it in place. When you turn the puppet right-side-out, you are nearly done. The final step before adding the hair is to add the stabilizer. This is used to give the head the proper shape and keep it from collapsing. The stabilizer should be cut from a piece of craft foam for best results, but if that is not available I suggest another piece of milk jug plastic. The photo shows where the stabilizer (mine is made from black craft foam) should be once it has been inserted into the head. All that I did to mine was to slide it up into place. It is not fastened down in any way and I can replace it with ease if it wears out. With the addition of hair, the puppet is complete. These two photos of my puppet show the difference that changing only the hair can make. The same puppet is in both photos; only the hair has been changed. Though I have not attempted to make clothes for the puppet in this article, clothes will also help define the character that you desire your puppet to have. You can either design some for yourself or look for store-bought clothes made for dolls or preemies. (I hope to design my own clothes for my puppet from more old clothing.) This means that by making only a few of the basic puppets, you can create a whole cast of different characters by changing the “accessories”. When I looked at my puppet, I was reminded of Paul’s address to the Athenians in Acts 17, where he introduces them to the “Unknown God.” In the beginning of verse twenty-eight he states, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being…”. It is an awesome thought to ponder that all of us on this earth, whether we belong to Christ or not, are sustained by the will and power of God! Without Him, we are like my puppets without my hand to activate and invigorate them–completely powerless. Christ Himself told us of our dependence on Him in John 15:5. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” May you be challenged, as I was, to seek to abide in Christ, that His empowering Spirit may direct our words and actions to follow His will and bring Him glory.
Update 4/13/14 – This is the photo that Sue Tichava (see comments) sent to me of the puppets that she made from this pattern. She added her own personal touch by giving them embroidered eyes and made their uniforms from a school uniform used by the school that she is donating them to. Thank you to Sue for sharing this photo with us. The puppets look great!
Just wanted to thank you for the great pattern on your blog. My daughter has been pestering me to make her a puppet since someone visited her school with a grey cat puppet named Eddie. She loves this one!
Thank you, Sara, for sending in the photo of your puppet. You did a wonderful job of turning the puppet into a cat! -Sharon White
Update 6/15 – This photo was sent in by Yadi Truji of the puppet that she made off of this pattern. Thank you, Yadi, for sending in photo of your work. The addition of legs is wonderful and the outfit is beautiful. -Sharon White
Update 7/24/15 – The photo at right was sent in by Heidi Hauben . See her comment and my reply below.
1-18-16 Jarrod Mendiola sent me this picture of the puppet he had made back in December. (I am sorry it has take me so long to get the photo posted, Jarrod! Please forgive me.) I think you did a great job, especially since it is your first puppet ever! Thanks for your patience and for sending me your photo. My daughter and I love the Polo shirt.
1-18-16 – The picture at right is of “Brother Blunder”, Janna Mauldin Heiner’s puppet that she made to help her teach music to a children’s class. (See her comments below.) Thank you for the picture, Janna! I love the tie!
Update 2/23/16 This picture was sent in by Bonnie. She made a puppet to represent each member of her grandchildren’s family, along with a door theater curtain to hide behind while using them. Thank you, Bonnie, for sending in a photo. I know your grandchildren will love using them!
Update 4/5/16 – This photo was sent to me by Maria Isabel Leite (see comment below) who works for a pediatric dentist office in Portugal. She made her puppets to help their young patients understand their time in the office, so her puppets have teeth! Isn’t the doctor adorable?
Update 12/30/16 -The three photos above were sent to me by Sandra de Roubaix. She found a way to enlarge the pattern and make it into various wild animals. See the comment section for details. Beautiful job, Sandra! Thanks for sharing with us.