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Making a Puppet

from Stuffed Animal

At the left is the predecessor of Drango, a $10 stuffed animal from Sam's Club. He had a working mouth and a neck that had flexibility. It was ideal for a vent puppet.

A hole was made under the tail to be used for working inside and also for my arm. Around half of the stuffing was removed. This gave better flexibility. Once the excess stuffing was removed I used toweling to make a tube from the tail opening to the neck. I added a top hat from a craft store and a small yellow bow tie. I also cut the forked tongue to rounded and not sticking out. Since I was going to use him with young kids this was less frightening.

Thus Dudley Dragon was born. After some time I needed a puppet large enough for stage work and designed Drango as Dudley's older (and bigger) brother. Drango was custom made from scratch.

Tips for making a stuffed animal into a vent puppet: 

Select one that has a neck. Figures with no neck will not be able to turn their head. With the stuffing as it comes it may be too stiff but you should remove a good bit of the stuffing to give it flexibility.

Make sure the mouth opens (preferred) or it can be re-sewn to allow that (much harder).

Don't forget to completely reseal the stuffing with the tube from the neck to the opening. If you don't you'll be sorry!

Here is Cousin Esther the Duck. Esther started life as a stuffed animal from Wal-Mart costing $8.

I decided not to animate the mouth. She is much like Romy in that regard. The trick I use is a special Polyfill. Very compressible so the head can turn and move. 

An 'L' shaped head stick  (Shown at left #1) is inserted through a hole cut in the bottom (#2) and sewn to the tip of the beak (Detail at lower right). I use a very stiff metal bent into a 'U' for the part that goes into the beak. This made it easier to sew to the beak. If you don't fasten it to the tip of the beak it will slip back as you animate the puppet. The long part goes out the bottom. I seal it with a cone shaped cloth (#3) glued to the stick inside the body and the wide part attached to the opening to keep the filling in (Detail at lower left). With the cone extending into the body the head can be pulled down to the body as well as turned and tilted for a pretty full range of motion. 

You can adapt this to other characters. Make sure the neck is distinct enough to make movements, although you may not be able to turn until the Polyfill is in place. 

I get that at JoAnn Fabric. It is "Silky Soft" by Airtex Industries. The ultimate in quality polyfill. This is the best I've found. Use just enough to fill the character but don't overfill. I use this in Drango and my others.


Seanachie is a cat puppet and has the most complex mechanism. Again a hole is cut for the arm. In this case under the tail and a sleeve to the hear to protect the filling. In this case because of the body size I removed all the stiffing and left the original in the legs.

The head uses a piece of foam. A slot was made for the index finger. The index finger is inserted into the slot which attaches the head to the finger. A long screw went into the lower jaw to control the mouth. My longest finger works this. 

I use Seanachie (the cat's name) on my left arm. A curved rod is used to operate the left paw. It is curved around to fit into the palm of the hand. The right paw also uses a curved rod. This is attached to a film can. My thumb goes in the film can to operate the right paw.

The rods are made of old fashioned coat hangers, the one made of decent thickness metal. The diagram at the left shows the positions of the various mechanisms. It takes practice to use it however when you get the hang of it, the head, mouth, and both paws can be animated.

A wonderful source of all kinds of stuffed animals is at: http://www.stuffed-animals.com