Making the Alien Puppet- Time to start construction

Making the Alien Puppet- Time to start construction

Now that the fleece is all marked out, it’s time to start construction of the foam understructure of the puppet. I tried to follow the recommended foam layout, but I discovered that the recommended layout omitted 2 of the 4 foam hands, and if I used the recommended layout, all the foam pieces wouldn’t fit. I changed the layout and managed to fit all the pattern pieces on the foam provided.

top view of a sheet of foam with pattern pieces traced on it.
Working out the pattern rearrangement to fit all the pattern pieces.

My next process was to make the rigid mouth plate that goes into the puppet. For some unknown reason, my bandsaw is not working, so instead of using the provided plywood, I decided to switch to Sintra plastic sheets which is what I normally use for puppet mouth plates as Sintra can be cut with a blade.

It was when I started reading the instruction booklet for making the mouth plate for this kit, that I came to the conclusion that this kit is not for first time puppet makers. The instructions were vague on the relationship between the size and shape of the velour pattern, and the gap between the mouth plate pieces. The size of the velour pattern must be the same as the length of the mouth plate, but these are not covered in detail in the instructions.

The process I followed was-

  1. Lay the plates on top of the velour pattern piece to find where the gap is.
  2. Lay a piece of gaffer tape on top of the velour pattern piece sticky side up where that gap will be
  3. Lay each piece of the plate on top aligning the edges with the pattern piece and pressing it down onto the gaffer tape.
  4. Flip the assembly over and attach the second piece of gaffer tape ensuring that the tape wraps around the edges of the mouthplate gap.

Using this method allowed me to get the gap proportions right for this pattern since the dimensions are not outlined in the instructions.

Once the plate was assembled, I used my cordless Dremel to round off the top edges of the finger grips. I then sanded the mouth plates where the grips would be located and used contact cement to glue the grips down.

  • Plastic mouth plate pieces with gaffer tape around the pencil
    Materials for making the mouth plate. Lining pattern, plastic mouth plate shapes and gaffer tape.


Making the Alien puppet- is there enough fabric?

Making the Alien puppet- is there enough fabric?

When I filmed the unboxing, I was concerned at the amount of Nylafleece™ that was sent with the kit. The piece of fleece was 1 yard x 1 yard (90x90cm). Given that I wanted to use the same fleece to make features such as ears, eyestalks, as well as allowing for the possibility of mistakes in cutting the pattern, it didn’t feel like enough fabric at first glance.

Even laying the pattern out according to the layout directions in the instruction booklet- the pattern got too close to the machine edge. I was able to adjust the layout so that I was comfortable with the distance of the pattern pieces from the machine edge, but there was very little fleece leftover for all the add ons I want to do with this character.

Blue nylafleece laid out with a pattern drawn on it.
Nylafleece with an attempt at laying out the pattern drawn on it.











After preparing the fleece pattern, I also took the opportunity to prepare the arm sleeve using the provided stretch satin, as well as the rod pockets in duck cloth. I normally use a dance fabric like lycra because it is more stretchy than the provided satin, and it slides onto the arm with ease. Laying out, and sewing these pieces was straight forward, but as soon as I cut the satin out, it started to fray really badly around the edges. I decided to oversew the raw edge using a zig zag stitch even though this was not in the instructions. The arm sleeve and rod pockets are the only parts of this puppet I intend to sew on the sewing machine. The rest of the puppet will be handsewn.

2 bean shaped rod pockets beside a close up view of a puppeteers arm sleeve
Oversewn arm sleeve and rod pockets.

Building my Alien puppet- designing the character

My design for this puppet is to build an Alien character as I don’t  have an alien in my puppet collection, plus I was trying to work out what to do with Ocean blue fleece. I also want to challenge myself with this puppet, by incorporating an eye mechanism that I have admired for years, as well as try to incorporate some foam patterning to build up the base shape.

In terms of character, this yet un-named alien is friendly, and is obsessed with things that smell nice like fresh baked cookies, flowers, perfume. On it’s planet- smell is the basis of their economy. So this character is looking for nice smells to take back to it’s planet for trade.

The mechanism is a closing eye- and to add to the challenge, I want to put it up on stalks above the head! I figured out the layers of the mechanism while watching the character of Polly in Muppets Treasure Island.  I am still trying to figure out if the trigger for the eye mech will be inside the head, or down on the arm rod for the puppet, but that is a decision for down the road.

Pencil sketch showing front and side views of my alien puppet
My design for the Alien puppet using the Hubbub puppet pattern

The rising trend of puppet kits- Opening the Monkey Boys Kit

The Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic has encouraged everyone to find alternative ways to be creative. This is no different in the puppet world. Since it is not currently safe to hold a workshop to teach how to build a puppet, there is a rising trend of well known puppet-makers teaming with suppliers to send out puppet making kits that contain everything someone needs to make a foam hand puppet. During November 2020, two US based puppet company’s released puppet kits- Puppet Pelts, and Monkey Boys Productions.

The Puppet Pelts kit- known as the Puppet Makers Workshop contains everything required to build a hand and rod puppet including contact cement, which meant it cannot be shipped overseas. Here is a picture from their website of what is in the box-

Listing of the supplies in the box

List of supplies in the Puppet Pelts kit

The other company is Monkey Boys Productions based in Pennsylvania USA. They released 4 kits called Flick, Splat, Hubbub and Yawp. The difference between the two kits was that the Monkey Boys kits contain everything except 6 items- scissors, glue, fabric marker, chalk, sewing machine, and wire for arm rods. This meant that the kit could be shipped to me in Australia. Another difference is that the Monkey Boys kit does not come with a 5 session video workshop, but it does come with an instruction book, and video tutorials where required.

You can see and order the kits from the Monkey Boys online store

I ordered the Hubbub kit because I liked the interesting head shape, and as a puppet making teacher, I am interested in how puppet kits are put together so that people who don’t have access to the best quality supplies, can access them. I filmed an unboxing of the kit to record what you get in the Monkey Boys Pro Puppet Kit known as Hubbub.

I intend to share this puppet making journey here on my blog as I turn the Monkey Boys Kit into an Alien character.


Puppeteering/ Zooming from home- experimenting with bed sheets as green screens

Puppeteering/ Zooming from home- experimenting with bed sheets as green screens

Over the last few weeks, I have been involved in many video conferencing calls for both my teaching world and my puppetry world. When I have used Zoom, I have used their virtual background feature, and it works really well to a point. The tricky part is if I want to show the other people in the call an object, or even play with a puppet, the virtual background without the green screen option cannot include the object beside me such as a puppet on my arm.

My first thought was, can I use a substitute fabric as a green screen/ chroma key background? I wanted to focus on using the materials I had at home that are a solid colour. I started out exploring bed sheets since they are light to hang up. I had one that is a blue grey colour, and the other was a pale green. While setting up for filming, my new woven polyproplene green screen that I had purchased on Amazon arrived, so now I could compare the effects.

The filming equipment I used is on my post about using a phone to record video with puppets

Here are the additional items

  • Tripods set up on desk with zoom videoconference in the background
    Phone filming setup with zoom running on the computer in the background

Results from the experiment

In Zoom, I got best results from using the green bed sheet and the commercial green screen without any additional lighting apart from the ceiling downlights.

In editing using Adobe Premiere Pro- I got the cleanest background removal results from the professional green screen.

If I was to do the experiment again, I want to see what would happen if I added lights to the sheet/ screen only to even out the colour difference across the surface. I would also iron or smooth out the surface to see if the background removal was more successful.

Miss H

Puppeteering from home- Puppet tech idea

Puppeteering from home- Puppet tech idea

A frog once said in a TEDx Talk, “If necessity is mother of invention, then creativity is the father”. Given the whole world has been isolated by the COVID 19 pandemic, puppeteers are trying to find ways to reach their audiences remotely. There is a lot of discussion in the puppetry community about how to adapt video conferencing and streaming technology to puppetry.

Over the last 5 years, I have been learning the art of television and film puppetry from 2 amazing gentlemen who I am honoured to call my mentors- Noel MacNeal and Peter Linz. One of the challenges I have faced practising my puppetry skills at home, is recording video of my puppets being puppets. I started out using my webcamera, but it could not record what the puppet was doing. If I use my phone or iPad as the camera, either the image on the screen looks like a mirror, or I can’t see the image on screen. In both of those situations,  I don’t know if the puppet looks right for the audience.

I have assembled my own monitor puppetry kit over the last 5 years with a Sony Handycam, a small flat screen tv which has evolved into a professional 7 inch field monitor as my puppetry monitor, tripod and cables. Even though this setup is in an old suitcase with wheels. it’s very difficult to move around, and I have to download and edit the footage afterwards. This means that the puppet cannot interact live with an audience, or another puppet that is not in the same room. I haven’t been able to acquire the equipment required to live stream from the Handycam to any of the streaming platforms like Facebook live or Zoom yet.

Monitor puppetry kit in it's case
Monitor Puppetry kit with tripod, screen, camera, cables, HDMI Splitter

However, on April 14, 2020, my puppetry mentor Peter Linz, shared this photo and a New York Times article on how Elmo’s Playdate was filmed on his Instagram account. I looked at the equipment he was using. It was his mobile phone, linked to his field monitor. The phone was recording the performance, yet he could see what his character Ernie was doing on the monitor. By looking at the cables coming out of the phone in the photo, I immediately worked out I could adapt the equipment I have at home! It was such a creative, innovative solution to the problem!

Peter Linz performing Ernie using a mobile phone
Peter Linz performing Ernie for Elmo’s Playdate. Photo Credit Aria Linz

So this is how I have been able to reverse engineer the setup. Please note that this setup is for iPhone (I have a standard iPhone 11).

You will need

  • Mobile phone
  • Tripod compatible phone cradle
  • Tall tripod
  • HDMI adaptor for your phone. I am using the Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter. For the Samsung Galaxy phone, they have their own USB-C to HDMI adapter
  • Monitor with HDMI input eg a Television or computer monitor with HDMI input. I am using the Eyoyo 7 inch field monitor
  • HDMI cable
  • Power board to provide power for the setup with an extension cord.

Here is a video demonstration of the setup

Miss H

World Puppetry Day 2020

World Puppetry Day 2020

Well, it is the early morning of World Puppetry Day 2020. The world is currently facing a serious pandemic, but it is important to find sparks of joy. One of my sparks of joy is that I have been blessed to meet a young drama teacher, who has become my puppetry apprentice. Over the last 2.5 years since I met him in 2017 at a Professional Development workshop I was leading, Pete Davidson’s puppetry career has sprouted wings, and he is now soaring. Today, he launched his very own puppetry podcast- Talking Sock and I am one of the first guests!

It is so wonderful to now be able to hear and share the voices of Australian Puppetry. I follow many puppetry podcasts, but this is the first Australian puppet podcast!

Here are the first three interviews

Encountering puppets from my childhood- The Karakuri Dolls at Questacon

As a child, one of the puppets that I encountered, and it left a significant impression on me, was the Karakuri dolls on display in the foyer of Questacon- the National Science and Technology Centre in Canberra, Australia. The Karakuri dolls were a bicentennial gift from Japan to Australia in 1988. Two identical dolls were given- one with a full costume, and a second without the costume so that visitors to the centre could see how the doll works. I loved pressing the button and watching the uncostumed doll dance and transform into the demon character. I remember the traditional Japanese music was very hypnotising.

Since seeing the dolls perform as a child, seeing the costumed one again during my visit to Questacon in July was very nostalgic. The dolls have performed so often for visitors, that they both required extensive restoration. Sadly, the Karakuri doll on display is currently not moving, but it was wonderful to encounter a significant puppet from my childhood.

Restored Karakuri doll on display
Restored Karakuri on display.



Encountering puppets from my childhood- Mr Squiggle and Friends

Encountering puppets from my childhood- Mr Squiggle and Friends

I am often asked, how did I get into the world of puppetry? For me, I am the first in my family to be actively involved in the puppet world, but I did grow up around puppets. I was a child of the 1980’s, and I was taken to lots of live puppet theatre by my mother and grandmother, puppet shows were frequently performed at my school, and the most influential source on me was were puppets on television twice a day. I grew up with Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, The Sooty Show, stop motion presentations of Paddington Bear, and Wind in the Willows, and the most important puppet in Australian television history, Mr Squiggle and Friends. During 2019, Mr Squiggle and Friends because of their significance to Australian culture, have been depicted on actual circulating Australian coins as well as in a collector’s set to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Mr Squiggle and Friends. To celebrate the anniversary, the puppets from Mr Squiggle and Friends, as well as related materials have gone on display at the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra.

From 1959, only three years after television arrived in Australia, Mr Squiggle, a marionette puppet that could actually draw using a pencil for his nose on camera, would entertain children like me for over 40 years. His friends were Rocket, Blackboard, Bill Steamshovel, Gus the Snail, and a human presenter. Mr Squiggle lived on the moon at 93 Crater Crescent, and used Rocket as his transport to Earth, and he loved to transform squiggles drawn by viewers and sent into the show into illustrations. Mr Squiggle and Friends was created and puppeteered by one man, Norman Hetherington (1921-2010).

I loved the show a great deal, not because the characters were puppets, it was because the storytelling was fun and interesting. Mr Squiggle drew his pictures so that the image was upside down, and as a child, I loved trying to work out what the picture would be before the pink cardboard was turned around so that the image would be right side up. Each image also had a story about it that Mr Squiggle would tell to his human friend. Quite often, once the picture had been finished, Mr Squiggle would add more lines and shapes to it, and ask his human friend to turn the picture around again, a whole new picture would emerge. I also liked how naughty Rocket could be, Rocket never spoke, he used movement and sounds to convey his attitude, and Blackboard could be downright rude with his signature “Hurry Up!”.

The Puppets

Mr Squiggle

Mr Squiggle was a marionette with blinking eyes, and the ability to extend his neck out of his body so that his pencil nose could reach all areas of the drawing board. When I first got to see the Mr Squiggle puppet at the 50 years of Television exhibition in 2009, I finally worked out what the pencil “lead” in his nose was made from- it was a stick of artist charcoal, but Mr Squiggle’s “lead” evolved over the years.

When ever I saw Mr Squiggle draw, his human presenter would hold his hand. Thinking about how the puppet was performed from above, and that his neck extended, I have wondered if the human presenter by holding the puppet’s hand, was actually helping to keep the puppet’s body grounded, allowing the neck to move in and out.

The Mr Squiggle puppet
Mr Squiggle in 2019
Miss H with Mr Squiggle puppet at the Australian Mint exhbition
Miss H with Mr Squiggle at the Australian Mint

Bill the Steamshovel

Bill the Steamshovel was another marionette puppet, who loved to eat concrete crunchies and blow smoke as he talked. The smoke was baby powder blown through tubing that ran from off camera, into the body, and along the puppet’s neck. Most of his construction was from foam, and I loved listening to his riddles!

Sadly, only the head and neck of Bill Steamshovel was on display at the Australian Mint.

Head and neck of Bill Steamshovel puppet
Head and neck of Bill Steamshovel


Rocket was Mr Squiggle’s mode of transport from his home at 93 Crater Crescent the Moon, to visit his friends on Earth. Rocket was a marionette with a hole in the front so that Mr Squiggle’s pencil could stick out. Rocket had no speaking voice, and would quite often use his whistle and/or party blower to communicate impatience akin to a child sticking their tongue out to be rude. The whole front of Rocket would swing down to allow for Mr Squiggle, with assistance from his human companion to get in and out. Once loaded, and with the front door closed over the nose, Mr Squiggle and Rocket would be pulled out of the shot with a blast of powder, then cut to an animated representation of Mr Squiggle returning home through space.

Looking at the Rocket puppet, it was really interesting to see that the puppet was mostly made of wood, and several details on the front, were actually sections of upholstery foam. The rivets were just painted on, yet they looked very real on camera.

The Mr Squiggle puppet and the Rocket puppet
Mr Squiggle and Rocket

Gus the Snail

Gus was the only hand puppet on the show. Gus is a very confident, assertive character, to point were for me, I did not like his character because of his bossy, self centred nature. Instead of a shell, Gus had a TV set on his back. I remember how much Gus liked knock knock jokes.

Gus the Snail puppet with a Television on his back instead of a shell.
Gus the Snail


Blackboard was the easel upon which Mr Squiggle drew squiggles for 40 years. Another marionette puppet, made of wood, with rope legs connected to red shoes, Blackboard was a very grumpy character. He only had one eye that could open, and his mouth would open and close when a squiggle was not in the way. Quite often the audience would hear Blackboard’s signature “Hmpf,” or “Hurry up”, but the puppet was not moving because a squiggle was sitting on the two nails.

Blackboard is such an iconic character, that I spotted a sandwich sign outside a coffee shop in Canberra on my way to the Royal Australian Mint, to see the Mr Squiggle exhibition that had been decorated as Blackboard with one eye open.

Miss H with the Blackboard puppet on display at the Australian Mint
Miss H with the Blackboard puppet
Representation of Blackboard seen outside a coffee shop in Canberra

The exhibition at the Royal Australian Mint

A small display of the Mr Squiggle and Friends puppets, as well as scripts, actual squiggles, and a painting of Mr Squiggle and his human creator, Norman Hetherington was in the central section of the Royal Australian Mint exhibition gallery on the second floor.

Squiggle of an Elephant holding a candle done by Mr Squiggle.
An actual squiggle from the Mr Squiggle TV show.

The exhibition was free to the public, and it was lovely to see the puppets, except I am worried that the puppets don’t look like puppets anymore. So much work has been done to them to make it possible for them to be displayed. All the strings have been removed, and Mr Squiggle’s hat has been changed and twisted so that he looks like the drawings of Mr Squiggle in the picture books, colouring books, and the coin album. The original hat concealed the rod that went from Mr Squiggle’s head all the way up to the controller.

I was disappointed that there were no video monitors in the exhibition space showing episodes or segments of Mr Squiggle and Friends. The show has been off the air since 1999, so the children coming to see Mr Squiggle had no point of reference to understand what their parents or grandparents were explaining of their childhood friend.

Sign board at Mr Squiggle and Friends exhibition


Royal Australian Mint

Going Beyond the Sock 2019 Day 10-12

Day 10, Monday 10 June 2019

Today was a really special day. A friend of mine who is a cast member of the Jim Henson Company’s show Puppet Up, invited me to join a tour he was running of the Jim Henson Company lot in LA. The main courtyard is very relaxing and beautiful. It has an air of an European village with outdoor tables, planter boxes of flowers, and close buildings. The studio was built by Charlie Chaplin in 1918, and there are references to Charlie Chaplin everywhere, including the statue of Kermit the Frog standing on the top of the gate dressed as Charlie Chaplin’s signature character- the Little Tramp.

We visited the reception area where I got to hold a real Emmy award, the Barn where the Creature Shop used to be housed, the Henson Screening room, and the Charlie Chaplin Soundstage where the tour group was given a demonstration of monitor puppetry. After the tour group left, I was given the opportunity to have a go at the monitor puppetry on the soundstage, using a REAL Henson made puppet! I am very grateful to my friend for allowing me to tag along on the tour and to have a go at the monitor puppetry!

  • With Lucy Green at the Company bench

Day 11, Tuesday 11 June 2019

Today’s adventure was taking the Warner Bros Studio Deluxe tour. Starting at 10am, the tour started in the Deluxe screening room which had very nice pastries and beverages for the guests. Arranged next to the wall were costumes from the main characters of the TV show Friends. After a brief video about the studio, and meeting our tour guide Thom, we boarded our own tram and started driving through the studio starting with the backlot jungle area. Highlight for me in this area was the now empty lagoon as it was the location where Kermit the Frog sang the Rainbow Connection at the beginning of the original Muppet Movie 40 years ago.

After moving from the jungle area, the tour moved to the Midwest Street and again, it was a place that had special significance for me as a puppet maker and fan of the Muppets. It was the shooting location for the song Life’s a Happy Song from the movie The Muppets (2011).

  • Lagoon where Rainbow Connection was filmed in the original Muppet Movie.

One of my favourite Warner Bros TV shows was the West Wing and it was filmed at the LA Warner Bros Studio! I got to see Stage 29 where the main set was located, but during the tour of the property warehouse, I got to sit at the President’s desk from the show, as well as find various pieces of set decorating and props from the show!

  • Sitting at the President's desk from West Wing

I highly recommend the Warner Bros Deluxe tour- you get to see much more than the regular tour, as well as touch things, go inside more buildings, and there is the delicious lunch in the Warner Bros Commissary Fine Dining Room. I do recommend bringing small snacks for the morning and afternoon break as there is no opportunity to purchase snacks while on the tour.

Day 12- Wednesday 12 June 2019

Today was my travel day home to Australia. Fortunately, the wifi in the hotel meant I could wait in the Lobby until the taxi picked me up in the late afternoon to take me to the airport. After treating myself to new noise cancelling headphones, I enjoyed a light meal in the One World Alliance Lounge. Once I boarded my QANTAS Business Class flight, I fell asleep virtually immediately, and slept for about 6 hours straight.

It has been a magical holiday- I am so grateful to my puppet friends in the USA for the kindness and generosity they shared with me that made it magical.

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