Compiled and Maintained for the Puppetry Home Page by Leo Brodie
One of the trickiest parts of puppet-making is finding the right materials. There is no local puppet supply store where you can ask for arm rods. There is hardly any part of a puppet that is made from something actually intended for puppetry. A finished puppet may consist of pieces obtained from hardware stores, fabric stores, craft stores, auto parts stores, welding supply stores, plastics manufacturers, foam manufacturers, and exotic and peculiar places too numerous to mention.
The puppet builder faces two problems: knowing what materials work best for different applications, and where to get them. The purpose of this page is to collect this information in one place. All types of puppets are represented.
This page needs to be a joint effort. Please submit your favorite building materials. Your name will be credited, unless you don't want it to be.
If you find any information here obsolete, please let me know and I'll update it (see email address below).
Finding the materials that suit you is part of what goes into your puppets having their own look. We don't want every puppet to look like the Muppets. Muppets don't even look like Muppets! Actually it surprised me, when I talked to people who build for the Muppets, that they didn't have regular suppliers for things -- they just went out and found what they needed when they needed it.
"Where can I get Muppet eyes?" I've gotten this question several times. This amazes me. The puppet is your sculpture, your work of art. You don't go out and buy eyes for it any more than a portrait painter buys nose and ears stickers. Every character's eyes, pupil, etc, is different.
Now that I've got that off my chest, here are some places to find certain things:
I found a lovely book called The Whole Costumer's Catalogue. It's now available through the P of A's puppetry store or from the publishers;
Beallsville, PA, USA 15313-0207,
compuserve #: 71620,2247.
It would only be useful to those who want to buy from the US or Canada.
The book lists suppliers and stores and cross-references them with such things as celastic, armor, beards and moustaches, buttons, beads, fabric, everything from acid-free tissue to veiling. To make it even better it has a list by geographic location. It costs only $15.00 plus $3.00 p&h (USA). It's one of the most useful references I've ever bought. (submitted by Marianne Tucker)
A good place for many puppet parts: Many good small parts such as rods joints and gears etc. can be found in the Small Parts Inc. catalog.
Small Parts Inc.
13980 N.W. 58th Court P.O. box 4650
Miami Lakes, FL 33014-0650
Tel. 1-800-220-4242 or FAX 1-800-423-9009
(submitted by Mark Honschke, E-Mail: email@example.com)
"It has the obvious sewing and drapery supplies, but also animal eyes, plush, velours, and 90 inch muslin, etc."
6473 Ruch Road,
Lehigh Valley, PA 18002-0730
(From "Eureka!" by Nancy H. Sander in Puppeteers of America Playboard; submitted by Nick Coppola)
2 Sew Smart Way
Stevens Point, WI 544481-8031
They specialize in small tools that are ideal for puppet making.
P.O. Box 7500
Englewood, FL 34295-7500
McGinnis Puppets offers some doll and puppet-making supplies including puppet velour in the skin colors such as peach, brown, honey and beige, google eyes and doll joints.
1303 Duello Road
Wentzville, MO 63385
This is a great material for carving or patterning flexible heads, hands, arms, etc. It works well uncovered as skin. It takes dye (RIT or Tintex) very well. It is the same type of foam used in certain Muppets. The brand name of the foam is Scott Foam; it used to be manufactured by the Scott paper company. Generically it is known as reticulated polyfoam.
It's actual purpose is industrial filtration. It comes in different porosity, which is measured in pores per inch (PPI). The higher the number, the denser and more solid the foam. What works best is 35 PPI. The pores are fairly open and large at that size, but this gives two advantages. First, it's more flexible and lighter in weight. Second, it has a rougher texture, which makes it more forgiving when you are trying to hide seams.
Unfortunately, because it is an industrial product, it can only be ordered in large quantities. The best source is Rogers Foam Corporation, 215/295-8720, ask for Laura.
Order it in white, as you can dye it whatever color you want. It comes from the factory in "buns" which are 4' x 8' x 12', but Rogers Foam will cut it to your specifications. 1/2" thickness works well for patterning heads, arms, etc.
The foam can be glued with contact cement. (We use a brand called Drop). The foam is strong and resilient, and will last for years (unlike upholstery foam). However, you should keep it away from light when not in use. Colors will fade and yellow over time.
Note: When I began making puppets, I made them out of regular "foam rubber", the kind you get at upholstery supply stores. So I was a little dismayed when experienced puppeteers referred to this material as "junk foam." But now that I've used the good stuff, "junk foam" is a good descriptive phrase for the upholstery kind. Because of the high cost of Scott Foam, many puppeteers prefer to make patterns and prototypes out of junk foam, and save the good stuff for the finished product.
I don't intend for this page to include construction tips (someone else is free to volunteer), but in answer to many questions, the only book I know of that talks about polyfoam construction for puppets is "Wit and Wisdom of Polyfoam Construction" by Devet and Allison, which is now out of print. Also see the Puppetry Store, which is a service of the Puppeteers of America (see elsewhere in the Puppetry Page). (Leo Brodie)
Rogers Foam [see above] had a $250 minimum order, with 4'x6' sheets of 1/2" foam costing $37.92 and 4'x6' sheets of 1" foam costing $75.84.
I ordered instead from:
1101 E. Hector St.
Conshohocken, PA 19428
Contact: Steve Phillips (he's used to supplying foam for puppets) or Andy.
They have a $100 minimum order. I ordered sheets of a peach-colored 20 PPI foam, with 38"x68"x1/2" sheets costing about $9 and 38"x68"x1" sheets costing about $18. I have very good results from this foam so far.
When I ordered my foam, they also had black 20 PPI, white 14 PPI, blue 40 PPI, and black 45 PPI. Steve said some sheets of foam are 4'x6'. Blocks of foam would cost around $14.40/cu. ft., but they will only sell foam in sheets (since taking out a chunk would ruin much of the remaining bun), so you would have to buy a very thick sheet.
There is also:
9486 Sutton Place
Hamilton OH 45011
I have not called them yet, but I know that they have had filter foam that is around 35 PPI and is not colored (neutral). I assume they have it.
(submitted by Chris Vaughn <firstname.lastname@example.org>, who welcomes email and would "love to discuss materials with other builders." -- 5/14/97; e-mail address updated Jan 7,2001)
Ordinary RIT dye takes very well to Scott foam. The advantage to dying the foam is that the color goes all the way through. When you cut foam that has been dyed, the edges are the same color as the surface.
Some hints on dying foam: Large pieces of foam seem to suck the dye right out of the water. If you dye a large piece of foam in a small tray of water, the first end of the foam to touch the water will receive a stronger share of color than the other end. This is not good because the pieces won't match when you glue them together side-by-side. To avoid this, use a large amount of water compared to the foam. Use a bathtub and fill it full. Try to submerge the entire piece of foam at the same time. Don't crumble it, or the crumbled spots won't receive as much dye. Instead of a single "dip" with a strong color, make multiple dips in a more diluted bath of dye, darking the foam little by little until the desired color is acheived.
Most acrylic spray paints stiffen the foam and cause it to crack or crumble; however, Design Master Floral Spray, available in larger craft stores, works well for spray painting foam.
Drew Allison also recommends poster chalk for highlights, which he affixes with hair spray.
The Foam Book is an "easy guide to building polyfoam puppets," with patterns and tips. To order directly from the authors, make checks payable to "Grey Seal Puppets" for $14.95 per copy + $2.50 shipping & handling:
Grey Seal Puppets
225 W. 4th St.
Charlotte, NC 28209-1545
1-888-GREYSEAL, e-mail: email@example.com
A note from firstname.lastname@example.org on Dec 1, 2002:
Grey Seals puppet group has made two great new videos on making poly foam puppets. I have really enjoyed the first video and am very excited about getting my second in the mail. They are on the nip and tuck method and the 3 piece puppet making styles of poly foam puppets. See http://www.greysealpuppets.com/foambookvideo.html for more information.
I'm here in Los Angeles and there is a good foam source here:
12836 Arroyo Street
Sylmar, CA 91342
# 818-837-FOAM(3626), FAX 818-837-1114
contact Jim Young or Pam
They also carry crossed linked, closed cell polyethylene foam which we call L200 or L300 for the denser foam. They will cut the bun to the desired thickness and will ship one sheet of foam, as far as I know.
There will be a book coming out, hopefully, this fall called Costumes and Chemistry by Sylvia Moss. I've read the part of the manuscript and it answers a lot of questions about adhesives, foams, plastics, and construction techniques. Ms. Moss taught costuming at UCLA for years. Keep your eyes peeled for this one!
(submitted by Terri Fluker <email@example.com> -- Aug 2, 1998)
Here is a better source for Scott Foam. Smaller minimum orders. http://www.foammart.com/specialfx9.html. -- David Barton
The best rods for rod puppets are welding rods. Look in the phone book under Welding (believe it or not) or even try an auto parts store such as NAPA. You can buy welding rods in many different thicknesses. I mainly use 3/32" RG-60, high tensile steel, for arm rods. I also have some 1/16" RG-45 for more delicate things.
(I don't want to get much into construction here, but I do get questions about how to bend the rods. The fact is that in making arm rods, I never have to make a very sharp curve or loop. Here's the trick (this was invented by Greg Ballora): At the hand end, the rod is curved just over a quarter of a turn, with an arc about the size of a coat-hanger hook. This curve is inserted into plastic tubing embedded within the puppet's hand, in the same curved shape. In this way, the rods can be easily detached from the hands, yet when installed they grip firmly. For the handle, drill a hole into the end of a dowel, but not perpendicular to the dowel, such that the other end of the hole drills through the side of the dowel. Stick the rod through the hole, bend it sharply at the end poking though to make it flush with the dowel, then bend the rod slightly where it emerges from the end of the dowel to put it in the same line of axis with the dowel. This angle prevents the dowel from coming out or rotating within the dowel.)
Some people recommend "piano wire" or "music steel" for rods, which are more resilient are harder to bend, but I find them more difficult to work with as a result. Contact K&S Engineering at 773/586-8503.
Still others recommend umbrella spokes, but I never seem to have any spare umbrellas handy. (submitted by Leo Brodie)
For mouth puppets made of polyfoam, it is often desirable to have a flexible mouth, allowing the puppeteer greater control over the character's facial expression. The material most-often used for this is gasket rubber, which comes in sheets of neoprene rubber. Check locally for industrial supply stores or possibly shoe-repair supply stores.
We had two thicknesses, perhaps 1/8" and 3/16" (can anyone help me out?). Choose a thickness depending on both the size of the mouth (the bigger it is, the thicker the rubber needed to be for support), and the personality of the puppet (how much flexibility do you want).
Try bracing the rubber with dowels split in half. (The flat end is glued to the rubber.) These provide not only support but also a ridge to grip onto with your fingers when operating the mouth.
Gaffers tape (not duct tape) comes in real handy for all this -- including the "hinge" between the two flaps.
(submitted by Leo Brodie -- updated 5/18/97)
One [former -- see below] source for "Muppet" fleece is:
Naturally Knits, Inc.
2100 Chespark Drive,
Gastonia, North Carolina, 28052.
Phone is (704) 867-7177, Fax is (704) 867-8286
Usually you have to buy the whole bolt, but I think they have various nylon and polyester fleece types for sale by the yard once in awhile. The fleece comes in two weights to my knowledge, one heavier, one lighter. I have both and it's a matter of preference and the project that dictates which is used. Order white and dye it to your preference. The best bet is to write for sample cards before placing an order.
(submitted by Ronnie Burkett)
(Chris Vaughn writes: "Naturally Knits is no longer making "Muppet" fleece. -- 5/14/97)
Antron fleece (12 oz. and 14 oz.) takes dye extremely well, even though it's 100% synthetic. The heavier 14 oz. fleece is harder to get and is usually used to make full body costumes for theme park characters and sports team mascots.
By the roll:
Hampshire Textile Sales
PO Box 7372
Laconia NH 03247
Contact: Lawrence Guild (pronounced like "guiled")
Only sells entire rolls (about 50-55 yards, 54-56 inches wide) at $7.75/yard.
By the yard:
GA Stage, Inc. Fleece Sales
4153-12 Lawrenceville Hwy.
Lilburn, GA 30047
12oz fleece: $12.98per yard
14oz fleece: $13.98 per yard
ATTN: Kathy (Kathryn McBeth Hutcheson )
We will ship anywhere in the world any amount you need. Ask for Kathy.
You can dye the fleece with regular fabric dye (like RIT), or you can use Acetate-Nylon Dye from:
Aljo Mfg. Co.
81-83 Franklin St.
NY, NY 10013
212-226-2878 (or 212-966-4046)
Comes in 22 colors (which you can mix, of course) and tends to give the fleece much more vibrant color than RIT-type dyes.
(submitted by Chris Vaughn <firstname.lastname@example.org>, who welcomes email and would "love to discuss materials with other builders." -- 5/14/97)
The eyes are the feature that, more than any other, gives the puppet life. Here are some tips about making eyes. (But be careful who you make them at.)
(submitted by Leo Brodie)
For eyes, you can get a vacuumform sheet of clear eyes from:
Alcone Makeup Supply,
5-49 49th Ave,
Long Island City,
You can paint inside of them and create very realistic or fantasy eyes. Some of the eyes are human with the corneal bump, others are just half spheres of different sizes. It costs about $6.00 and is under the old Dick Smith Special Makeup items.
I also use the plastic ornaments sold in craft stores that are clear. The idea is to paint on the inside and hang them on your tree. The ornaments come in different sizes and again, can be painted in various ways. If you cut a circular piece of plastic and paint it to look like the iris of the eye and then epoxy it to the inside of the clear sphere, then paint the rest it looks much more 3-D particularly when viewed from the side.
(submitted by Chuck Ford 1/20/97)
As a first step for getting started with animatronic control systems, get an inexpensive radio control kit ($150) and play around with attaching the servos to eyes, ears, mouth, etc. A good source for all things RC, which comprises much of what we construct animations from, is:
1 800 637 4989.
(submitted by Jon Gellman, via rec.arts.puppetry)
You should stay away from 'airplane' radios, since they are on a different frequency from car and truck radios. The problem lies in the fact that if you are playing around with an animatronic figure, and you are within range of someone using a radio controlled airplane, you run the risk of interfering with the frequency they are on. This could cause them to lose control of the airplane, which could damage it or cause it to damage property or worse. A few years back, I read an article about a man who was hit in the chest by a model airplane, and was killed. R/C hobbyists refer to airplane radios as 'air', and car/truck/boat radios as 'surface'. Boxes of these radios for sale are so marked, and if you find a used one, it will say what frequency it is.
(submitted by John, VoxActor@aol.com, 4/12/98)
Try Full Compass Audio, Video and Lighting Equipment. Full Compass carries a fairly complete selection of sound and lighting equipment (at discounted prices). You can obtain one of their catalogs by calling 1-800-356-5844, or writing to them at 8001 Terrace Ave, Middleton, WI 53562.
(submitted by Tom Tucker, via rec.arts.puppetry)
If you like the threaded joints of PVC type, but find that longer lengths bend too easily, you can use wooden dowels glued into the joints. Use epoxy or other two-part glue to affix the dowl to the PVC joints.
Instead of PVC pipe, some puppeteers recommend carbon fiber tubing. It is much lighter and absolutely sag proof. You can get it through a pattern maker supply house. Others say carbon fiber tubing is so hard that cutting and drilling is difficult, and its cost may be prohibitve. Others recommend aluminum tubing, which can often found at recyclers or in trash.
For connectors, including three, four, five and even eight-way connectors, and swivel options, writer to "Pick Me" Products, PO Box 8179, Levelland TX 79338 806/894-9165. [Note from reader dated 4/26/02:] Pick Me products no longer sells PVC fittings. They referred me to www.plumbingstore.com, which sells all kinds of fittings.
Chicago Latex -- Latex and neoprene for casting, moldmaking, and puppets.
This page is maintained by Leo Brodie for The Puppetry Home Page.
Comments, updates and additions are welcome and needed.
Created Sep 1, 1995. Last updated Nov 1, 2012.
Note: I do not sell supplies, nor am I affiliated with any
companies that sell supplies. This page is intended for reference
Email: leopbrodie at gmail (Leo Brodie)
Punch & Brodie Productions