Thursday, January 28, 2010

Star Wars Puppets


When one of my very favorite kiddos turned 4 last year, I wanted to make him a gift centered around one of his very favorite things: Star Wars! I seem to recall my idea evolved from seeing this cute little finger puppet on Craft. Star Wars puppets immediately seemed perfect and like the only thing I could possibly make for my buddy Ian.


You've seen those puppets around your house for a while now. Here's the story (and a bit of a tutorial) on how they came to life.

First, I decided Darth Vader and Yoda would be the 2 characters most suited to being turned into puppets and most appropriate for some fun performance play. After searching online for patterns, I found nothin' and had to concede that I'd have to create these puppets myself.

I looked for the most straightforward puppet pattern I could find and came upon this free Super Easy People pattern (PDF). I also researched the look of these 2 characters and saved a bunch of images of each of them in a folder, both photos and illustrations, for guidance. Google Image Search rocks!

I had black felt in my stash, and couldn't find the right green felt color for Yoda anywhere short of ordering it online -- and I didn't have time for that. I had a birthday deadline to meet! I bought some green fleece material instead -- not such a great idea in retrospect. If you're making these puppets, I recommend getting some felt.

For Darth, I cut the puppet pattern straight up.


For Yoda, I used the puppet pattern but added ears I drew based on some of the images I had found.


I cut two pieces of each fabric, for the front and back of the puppets. I also cut a hat for Darth, again drawn based on some images. As you can see from my scribbles, it took me a few tries to get the shape quite right.


The next part was the trickiest: embroidery! As I've mentioned previously, my embroidery skills are not so great. I can draw, but replicating the same thing with stitches was a challenge I tackled a bit cluelessly. I drew a simplified version of the facial features of my two characters on paper and then went to town "drawing" the same outlines with embroidery thread on the fabric, starting with Mr. Vader and some silver thread to emulate Darth's shiny helmet.


Good enough if you don't look too close!

Then, it was Master Yoda's turn. One of Yoda's key feature is his many wrinkles. To do that, I pinched the fabric on the back and stitched it tight with some matching green thread, basically creating haphazard pleats. It looks okay, but the fleece is not a great material for this, you can see the thread through the "wrinkles" quite a bit. I actually wonder how it might have looked with felt?? Hmmm.

Another mistake I made here is to cut the puppet outline before doing the wrinkles. Stitching all those pleats shrunk Yoda's head quite a bit. If I make these again, I'll fashion the wrinkles on the fabric before cutting it so that I can adjust the pattern outline a bit, and before embroidering the facial features as well. So to recap: wrinkles first on Yoda!!

This is the back of Yoda's face, you can see the pleats/wrinkles.

I added some felt on the inside of Yoda's ears to make them stand properly. If you're making the puppet out of felt itself, you probably wouldn't need that because the material would be rigid enough in the first place.

It was time to sew the puppets. Right sides together, I pinned and stitched with a 1/4 inch allowance all the way around except for the bottom. I stitched around Yoda's ears by hand because I'm not that great at handling details and curves with the machine. I also sewed the top of Vader's helmet together and affixed it to his head with a few black stitches.

Here, you can see the difference in the head's size between the front and the back, post-wrinkles. Notice the felt in the ears, as well.

To finish up my puppets, I cut and painted some little wooden dowels to make mini-light sabers. Silver paint for the handle, red for Darth Vader, green for Yoda. I looked it up, my friend! I stuck little velcro squares around the light sabers' handles.

I stitched the other side of the sticky velcro to the puppets' hands. Total pain in the booty. It was important for me to stitch that velcro because I just knew that, simply stuck, it would come off with one kiddo removal of the light sabers. Stitching the velcro is another thing I should have done earlier in the process, before sewing the front and back fabric pieces together.

Finally, I cut a trapeze shape of black felt for Vader's cape and with a few stitches, attached it to the puppet's shoulders. And, so Yoda wouldn't go naked, I made a little robe for him out of some natural linen from my stash. I zigzagged the edges so it would look a little worn and frayed, like the real Yoda's outfit.


And here you have them, my little Star Wars puppets! The best part of this gift was getting to play "puppet light saber fight" with Ian after he opened his present! I hope he still enjoys playing with them.

Angel-mini-buttonJen, this is one of the most thoughtful, creative gifts Ian has ever received. He is still in full force "Star Wars" mode (with a little Indiana Jones thrown in). When these puppets are not in use (they make perfect age appropriate Star Wars toys for the baby and Ian to play with together) I have them on little stands (really just tall pieces of log from an old tree we cut down) so they serve as decorations. They've held up very well after lots of play. I've told you before how impressed I am that you created the pattern and did the embroidery freehand, I am inspired by your willingness to try something new!


  1. WOW! Those are amazing Jenny! Rowena contacted me about these and I'm so glad she did. They're fantastic! I would love to link to these in the future if you didn't mind.

  2. Thank you very much Rachel! Of course you can link to them, we are always grateful for the link love. :)

  3. i needed to help my son make darth vador for his school project. this was an awesome help.
    great job

  4. I'm working on a puppet theater and puppets for my granddaughters. I think I'll have to add this pair for their daddy who is a great fan!

  5. Oh my goodness! These are so fabulous! And your hand-stitching...are you kidding??? They look amazing!!! My boys would go nuts!

  6. are these for sale?! i could never possibly make this! and i want to give these to my teacher for a present :)


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