A highlight of Meadowlark Music Class is the puppet show. It’s right after our lullaby song, so everyone is calm and settled. Along with musical accompaniment from one of our homemade recordings, I bring out a puppet that embodies the wonder to be found in the natural world. This season, for the first time in this class, I built our puppet show around a Frost Fairy marionette, capturing the magic of winter.
Our soundtrack was the song “Frost Fairies Flying” from our winter musical release, Where do the Bear Cubs Go. As the music began to play, the little fairy would hop out of a basket, dance on a drum, and then take off to fly around the room over the children’s heads.
The song lyrics are new words I set to a traditional melody “Rise Up O Flame.” They are:
Frost Fairies flying on a chill winter morning
Quietly turning all the green world to white.
This past week, we said farewell to the frost fairy, since I generally bring two puppet shows each season, and it was time for the new one.
But that doesn’t mean that Frost Fairies need to be over and done with at your house. 🙂 Why? Because you can use the tutorial below to make your own!
Though it bears mention, with spring on the way (and apparently arrived already here in California,) you might want to consider turning it into something else.
You could make it in blue and call it a water sprite. Make it in pink and call it a spring fairy.
Make it in dark blue, paint on a white moon and stars and call it a night fairy, who comes out to announce that it’s time for bedtime!
If you do decide to make it, I hope you will enjoy it.
I love how projects like this can enrich our family culture, helping us to slow down and reconnect with the simple joy of making something by hand.
1 square silk scarf, not too large. I used one that was 21.5” by 21.5”
A great place to order these is Dharma Trading. They’re very inexpensive, it’s a good, ethical business, and you can order dyes there too to change the colors of your silks, if you wish.
Two sticks, approximately 10” long. I used sticks I found in the park, but you could also use dowels from the craft store if you want to go for a more “polished” look.
Glue gun or white glue if you don’t have a glue gun.
Yarn, about 1 foot in length, any color, to bind the two sticks together
Fishing line for stringing the marionette. 2 yards to be safe.
Wool or synthetic stuffing. One ball about seven inches in diameter should give you enough.
Thin string. I use doll making string, but you could also use embroidery floss, or any very thin yet sturdy yarn. About 3 feet to be safe.
Thread that matches the color of your scarf and a needle
How to Make the Scarf Puppet
Use the wool to form five balls. You will use these to make the head, hands and feet of the scarf puppet. You will need:
— One ball around 2 ½ inches in diameter
— Four balls that are each ¾ inches in diameter
Wrap the wool tightly to give each ball a nice sturdy shape.
Lay out your silk scarf.
Begin with the hands and feet. This is important, since we want to have the hands and feet finished before we turn to the business of getting the head centered. Otherwise, the head may end up a bit off center.
Lay one of the hand / foot balls in a corner, and fold the corner down in a triangle so that it just covers the ball completely, and there’s enough left at the bottom that you can gather it around the ball and tie it up to contain it.
Gather the silk tightly around the ball so that the ball is completely covered, and you have enough fabric at the bottom to tie it off.
Tie a 6 inch length of thin string around the silk at the base of the ball. Try to get it nice and tight so that it’s not wrinkly. Wrap it a couple more times after you tie it to get it nice and tight, then tie it off again. One thing that can help is to soak the string in some water before you put it on. That helps it be less slippy.
If you are comfortable sewing, you can also just do this with a needle and thread, using a combination of sewing and wrapping the thread around to tie it off.
Repeat this step on all four corners of the scarf, to form hands and feet.
Now that your hands and feet are done, it’s time to get the head in position. The goal is to get it centered, in such a way that the head doesn’t make one arm look longer than the other. So start by getting the hands even. Try holding them as I have done in this picture to line them up.
Now, place your head ball into the space just evenly between them, so that the silk covers the head and just overlaps them slightly. Just like you did in the hands. You just want to have enough room to tie it off with another string. Around 3 ½ inches should be enough of the silk to pull down over the head, though it will vary slightly depending on the size of your head.
Hold the puppet up, this time with the head at the top and the hands dangling down. Again, your goal is to get the head in the center, so that the arms hanging down are of equal length. Adjust as necessary to make this so, moving the head ball slightly until you like the way it looks.
Now tie off the head at the neck, just like you did for the hands, using either a simple “wrap and tie” method, or using a needle and thread to tie it off that way.
Now your scarf puppet is starting to really take shape. But to take it the extra mile, we’re going to do a little extra shaping on the body. This part is my special discovery – a bit of simple tailoring that adds so much elegance to the form, especially when the puppet is in motion.
As pictured here, with the scarf puppet spread out so that the head faces up and the hands and feet are flat on the floor, move your fingers to a point about halfway between the hands and the feet on one side. Pinch the scarf here, and gently pull it up to the puppet’s wrist, so that it makes a kind of accordion fold, as pictured. Using your needle and thread, gently tack it here with a couple of stitches.
Do the same thing on the other side, between the other hand and the other foot.
Now, just one last step to shape the body. With the scarf puppet still laid out on the floor in this way, look at the scarf between the two feet. Observe how it naturally wants to fall. Pull it up a bit and flatten it down so that it lands about ⅓ to half way up the puppet’s flat “body.” Now find the approximate midpoint between the two sides of the puppet.
Using a couple of stitches, tack it down right there.
Making the Controller
Using your two sticks, form a cross, like a lower case letter “t”. If your sticks are different in length, use the longer one to make the trunk of the t, and the shorter one to make the cross of the t. (Note: I used sticks that were not too straight on this one, and it’s better if they are really straight. Try to find straight ones if you can!)
Using your glue gun, tack the two sticks together, and then wrap with yarn, crossing over the two sticks and wrapping around to make the joint stronger. Secure with a little extra glue gun glue.
Now we’re ready to string the puppet!
We’ll start with the head. Using your needle and around 2 feet of fishing line, sew down through the top of the head of the puppet, wrap once around the puppet’s neck, and then sew back up through the top of the head, trying to come out about where you entered. Pull the fishing line so that you have one very long line hanging out, and one end that’s about 2 inches, just long enough to tie.
Tie it off.
Now add fishing line to the hands. (This is all you need, because the beauty of a scarf puppet is that when you lift the hands, the hands pull the feet up with them giving the appearance of walking.)
You can add the fishing lines to the hands either by sewing through the ball that makes the hand, or simply by tying the fishing line around each wrist. Make sure that you leave one very long tail, and you can trim the other short enough that it disappears, essentially.
Now we will afix the scarf puppet to the controller.
Hold your cross of sticks so that it is oriented like “t”. Locate the bottom (base) of the t. This is where you’ll be tying the string that leads to the head.
So as you do this, you’ll also need to decide how low you want your marionette to hang down.
I advise keeping the strings pretty short, since this allows for maximum control, and also minimum tangling. It’s especially important to keep the strings short if you are making this puppet for a small child, since you want them to be able to walk the puppet around without it dragging on the ground.
For my five year old, I made the strings just about a foot long between the puppet and the mechanism.
Once you arrive at the length you want, tie the fishing line that leads to the head onto the cross of sticks at the base of the “t”. Secure with a little glue gun glue where the line meets the stick.
Now you’re ready to attach the hand lines.
Hold the mechanism parallel to the ground, since this is the way you’ll hold it when you control the puppet.
Afix the hand lines to each end of the stick that makes up the cross of the “t”. To get the right length, here is a guideline:
When the mechanism is held parallel to the ground, the puppets hands should hang all the way down to her sides. Tie the fishing lines so that the hands hang down like this, with the line just that long and no longer.
For maximum mobility, tie the hand lines as close to the ends of the stick as possible.
Secure with a little glue.
That’s it! You’re done! If you used a glue gun, your puppet is already dry and ready to take flight! (If you used white glue, you’ll need to allow an hour for drying time.)
Put on some music, or better yet, sing a song, and start your little puppet dancing! The basic idea is to rotate the controller ever so slightly from side to side. As each end of the cross of the “t” comes up, it will lift the hand (and foot) that dangles from it. So rotating it side to side will give the appearance of walking.
Explore it, and you’ll find many other wonderful expressive gestures that your puppet can do. (Search “scarf puppet” on YouTube for lots more inspiration on this!)
Little ones will be enthralled. Actually, you may find that grown ups are too!
If you enjoyed this post, here are a few ways to go deeper:
Wherever you live, you can download our latest musical release for families. It’s free / pay what you want!
If you’re in the SF Bay Area, join us in person for: