What is a Marionette?
Simply put, a marionette is a puppet that is maneuvered by strings. Typically, the strings are attached to two pieces of wood that are nailed together to form a cross, and the puppeteer moves the wood to make the marionette jump, dance, walk, wiggle its arms, eat, wave—practically any movement using its arms or legs. Some marionettes can even move their heads or make small hand motions, but these are complicated to make and difficult to maneuver. In this article, we will discuss simple marionette puppets that can be made with everyday objects.
Puppets From Household Objects
Think about what could be done with the following materials:
-Styrofoam or florist foam shapes
-Kitchen appliance parts
-Metal or wooden utensils
-Old socks or stockings
-Small paper bags
-Small cardboard boxes
-Paper towel or toilet paper tubes
-Plastic bowls, cups, or plates
Almost any item with movable parts can be made into a marionette. For example, you can tie strings to the arms and legs of a stuffed animal, and you have an instant marionette. Or you can string together three foam balls and add pipe cleaner arms and legs, and you have an abstract human puppet. Socks or old stockings can be stuffed with rags or pillow stuffing to make bodies, heads, arms, and legs. Sew or glue the open ends, and tie rubber bands around the bottom for hands and feet.
The movable parts of the marionette need to be attached to a joint. One way to do this, which works well with sturdy materials (metal, plastic, or wood), is to set one piece on top of the other and hammer a nail or drill a screw into the two pieces. With very light, thin materials (like cardboard or foam), try using metal, pronged, paper fasteners to attach the legs and arms to the body. If you are using cloth materials (pom-poms, fabric, or stuffed socks), then you can simply sew the pieces together, and they will still be able to move freely.
Papier mache is an indispensable material for puppet-making— it’s hard, durable, and light. Papier-mache pulp can be used to sculpt details or small shapes, but for larger pieces, it’s best, to begin with a light object (like an empty toilet paper tube or a balloon) and coat it with papier mache strips. First, make a paste by mixing water with flour or glue (one part water to one part flour or glue). Then tear the newspaper into approximately one-inch strips. Dip each strip in the paste, wipe excess glue from the strip with your fingers, and apply to the object in overlapping layers, allowing each layer to dry before applying a new one. To make the pulp, blend small pieces of newspaper with the paste in a food processor or a blender.
A human marionette needs to have a body, head, arm, and legs; although these can be abstracted or made to look non-realistic, all major body parts need to be present to recognize the puppet as a human character. On the other hand, if you decide to make animal puppets, you will need to decide on the essential elements of the particular animal. For example, cats have small, pointed ears, whiskers, a long, slinky body, four legs, and a long tail. Even if you make your puppet out of pine cones and telephone cords, if all of these elements are present, then your puppet will be recognizable as a cat.
Look around your house (or take a trip to your local craft/hobby store) for other items that can be turned into a puppet. Remember that your puppet must be light enough to move freely on strings, so avoid large, bulky, or heavy objects.
When you’ve finished the basic puppet, it’s time to add any finishing touches. You can paint details on its face and add yarn, ribbon, or paper curls for hair. Your puppet might fit into an old doll’s clothes, or simple clothes can be made from fabric scraps, felt, and trim. If you can’t sew, try using no-sew fabric glue, which you can find at your local craft/hobby store.
Nail together two wooden dowels, rulers, or any other long, skinny pieces of wood into a cross shape, and hammer in nails at each end of the cross. Attach strings to the puppet’s hands and feet (and any other parts you want to be able to move). Finally, tie the puppet’s strings to the nails in the cross. Now you’re ready to bring your marionette to life!Nail together