Monday, December 31, 2012

Makin' a Puppet: Obama Bear

If you 'Like' me on Facebook (which you should!), you've already seen this "Makin' a Puppet" series as it unfolded in real-time this weekend.  For those who might stumble upon this blog from a Google search or whatever, I've summarized the whole thing here for posterity.  My sister-in-law got me this awesome Obama fabric, so I thought I'd make an Obama bear hand puppet -- or at least a hand puppet wearing an Obama shirt.

Step 1: Cut out the pieces.

Step 2: Sew the ears, sew them to either side of the head, and sew the head.

Step 3: Sew the hands to the arms, sew the arms, and STUFF THEM.

Step 4: Sew the arms to the front of the shirt.

Step 5: Sew the back of the shirt to the front of the shirt
(creating the patented "Peter's Puppets Puppet Pita")

Step 6a: Stuff the head from Step 2 into the other end of the Pita, and sew all around the neck. 

Step 6b: Unfurl the Pita and it's starting to look like a puppet!

Step 7: Install the "cranial accessories."

Step 8: Glue in the mouthpiece and you're done!

Step 9: List the puppet for sale on Etsy.

Clearly this is a broad overview of how I make puppets, but it's enough to show you how it's done.  My process has evolved in the couple years I've been making these, but there's still two basic influences that survive:

1) The "Blue Boy" Pattern that had been floating around the Internet years ago, and has been (at least as of this writing) archived here.  It's very simple, and gives you a great place to start making puppets.  There's also a scan online of an old article in Good Housekeeping or something, which ostensibly shows a basic Muppet pattern from the Jim Henson archives.  It looks like a Muppet/Henson artifact.  But it also looks horribly complicated for something that should be pretty simple.

2) The style of sewing puppet bodies given in Peter Fraser's book Punch and Judy.  This is a great book overall, and (if it hasn't been weeded) seems to be a pretty popular resident in libraries' puppet book collections.  But don't take my word for it!

...So, there you go.  I got a pretty good response from this on Facebook, so I'll plan on doing a few more of these "making a puppet in real-time" photo series.  Follow my Facebook page to stay tuned!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Naughty or Nice: Rating the Santas

With the holidays upon us, and another Christmas movie queued up in the DVD player or on Netflix as soon as the last one ends (at least in this house), I thought it'd be time to rate several of the most notable portrayals of Santa Claus in movies and TV specials.  The big man from the North Pole has had quite a few incarnations: some nice, some not-so-nice.  This list runs the gamut.  I'm only considering the roles in which Santa himself is the character.  People briefly dressing up as, or assuming the role of, Santa don't count, so you won't see the Grinch's anti-Claus on this list, for instance.  I'm generally going from best to worst here, with 10 Sacks of Toys as the best, and 0 as the worst.

Miracle on 34th Street (1949): Edmund Gwenn

Let's face it, this one has got to top the list.  Gwenn's portrayal of Kris Kringle is so subtle, charming, and authentic that you'd think he was turning a long history of Santa roles on its head, starting from scratch with a renewed outlook on an old character. And yet this was 1949, and the rulebook for "Santa in the movies" hadn't even been written yet.  This one gets the full 10 out of 10 Sacks of Toys.

Elf (2003): Ed Asner

The modern classic.  True to the character in every line and gesture, yet alive with modern touches that keep Santa fresh without confusing the youngest believers with pop-culture irony and out-of-canon goofiness.  Only the test of time will prove whether or not this Santa will beat his current rating of 9 Sacks of Toys.

Santa Claus is Comin' To Town (1970): Mickey Rooney

The already-impish Mickey Rooney voices the titular role in this wonderfully humanizing portrayal of Kris Kringle, fleshing out the bare-bones character with his own backstory and mythology.  My only major gripe is Kringle's insistence that kids never cry or pout; I feel like the movie should have a disclaimer from Mister Rogers, telling kids that "it's OK to have bad feelings sometimes."  My son's personal favorite.  8 Sacks of Toys.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005): James Cosmo

This cameo appearance of Father Christmas is so brief that it almost doesn't deserve to be on the list, but it's such a favorite of mine that I couldn't resist.  Bubbling with the very stuff of Christmas magic, this Santa perfectly submits himself to the religious backdrop of his character -- and shines all the more brightly for it.  You really feel like this is the for-real Father Christmas, making a guest appearance from the place in which dreams live.  Only its brevity keeps it from surpassing its 8 Sacks of Toys.

Frosty the Snowman (1969): Paul Frees

A perfectly fine Santa: dusty with magic, wise and kind, dispensing soul-thawing moralizing and good cheer.  If only he didn't exist simply as a deus ex machina for the bind the plot wound itself into, he could have easily outpaced his 7 Sacks of Toys in a more cohesive role.

The Santa Clause (1994): Tim Allen

A funny, enthusiastic performance, perhaps only marred by its weirdly 1990's out-of-canon mythology that confuses the hell out of my son.  Oh, and the third movie might have dragged the franchise out a little too thin.  Tim Allen's hearty Midwestern Santa would be too modest to accept anything more than his honest 6 Sacks of Toys.

Snow (2005): Tom Cavanagh

I'm sure Ed is fine in this TV movie, but I've been in the room when it's been on about an infinity of times and I can never pay attention long enough to remember what's going on.  He gets 4 Sacks of Toys (I think?).

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964): Stan Francis

As beloved as this TV special is, this Santa's got issues (at least with me).  The supposedly all-seeing-one has no clue what kind of reindeer-hazing is going on in his yards; and, once he does get a clue, he vigorously encourages it.  He spends the rest of the show not eating like a petulant toddler, and then finally gets around to delivering presents when Rudolph's nose makes it less inconvenient for him.  But make sure to watch how half-assedly he delivers those presents!  During the credits, you see the process.  One of his elves grabs a toy out of the sack, gives it an umbrella, and shoves it off the side of the sleigh.  No chimney-sliding for this Santa: he can't even be bothered to stop driving.  Only the silliness of seeing a skinny Santa gives him his 2 Sacks of Toys.

Finding Mrs. Claus (2012): Will Sasso

We're starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel here.  Tim Allen's Santa may have warped the Santa-canon, but this TV movie seems completely unaware that it exists.  I'm sure Will Sasso is otherwise a decent human, but a newly-arrived space alien pretending to be a human would have more social skills than this Santa (who supposedly keeps such a close eye on each of us that his moral compass allows him to accurately judge if we're naughty or nice).  His shifty elf has to continually butt into situations in which this hapless clown might reveal himself to be Santa.  Oh, and by the way, he couldn't even be bothered to look at least a little bit like Santa.  I'm in the Christmas spirit, so I'll give him 1 Sack of Toys, as long as he doesn't trade it for magic beans on the way to the market.

Santa Claus (1959): Jose Elias Moreno

Have you ever thought about why Santa laughs "ho ho ho," and not "ha ha ha"?  My theory is that it would be too creepy to have a huge, red-faced old man barking "HA HA HA" at small children.  The Santa in this strange Mexican movie would have no qualms about barking "HA HA HA" at small children.  Perhaps only viewable via its MST3K treatment in 1993.   10 Sacks of Broken Toys (to be delivered to residents of Hell, Mordor, and Bizarro-World).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Photos of Elf Village at Macy's Santaland

Happy (early) Christmas!  For mechanical puppet fans -- especially those who enjoyed the photos of Ella's Deli in Madison -- here's photos of the downtown Minneapolis Macy's annual display of Santaland.

 Elves tending Santa's reindeer stable

The Christmas panda

The elves' bakery

The toy workshop

We brought the elf in the foreground ourselves

A rabbit conducting Treant Christmas tree carolers

Elf school

Dinner tables

Elf barracks and hijinks, with a sleeping mouse in the corner

The animals (including a Christmas walrus) decorating a Christmas tree

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Muppet Family Christmas Super Quiz

So, you think you know the 1987 one-hour Christmas special A Muppet Family Christmas?  Enter your name, take this quiz, and prove it!  (There's no spam or anything -- the free online quiz-maker assumes I need to know your name (but I don't).)  When you're done, you'll be given your ideal Muppets Secret Santa.  Have fun, and let me know who you get!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Oh, the Places These Puppets Have Gone!

Inspired by (i.e. I stole the idea from) fellow Etsy-seller DragonNerd, I've made a map of all the cities to which I've sent a puppet via Etsy sales.  Be sure to add your city to the map by visiting the Peter's Puppets Etsy Shop!

View Peter's Puppets' Etsy sales in a larger map

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How to Make a Mister Rogers Cardigan for a Daniel Tiger Fan

Fans that my son and I are of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, we've noticed that, on some episodes, there are little segments halfway through the show in which kids get to go on a factory tour, just like Mister Rogers himself used to do.  During these segments, the kids put on (and zip up!) a Mister Rogers sweater.  As far as I can tell, you can't buy cardigans like this anywhere -- regular readers of mine will already know how disinclined the Fred Rogers Company is in licensing their properties to merchandising.  So what to do?  Check it: you can put together a Mister Rogers/Daniel Tiger sweater just like I did for my stylish son (pictured above).  Like most online craft tutorials, this project mostly involves buying stuff.

(EDIT: The following couple paragraphs are out-of-date.  A reader tipped me off that the Heinz Center no longer sells the Mister Rogers patches.  But they can be ordered directly from the Fred Rogers Company here!)

The first thing to do is to head on over to the online gift shop at the Heinz History Center, which has a pretty impressive Mister Rogers section.  (Get the snowglobe while you're at it.  It's awesome.)  A little further down you'll see Mister Rogers trolley patches:

Order at least one, and when you get it, you'll get a Pittsburgh-themed greeting card thanking you for your purchase, signed by an actual sweet older lady (I assume from the handwriting), and here's what the patch looks like:

It doesn't have anything to do specifically with Daniel Tiger, but it's got the iconic trolley on it, and that's probably close enough for your little kid.  I've turned my kid into such a Mister Rogers nerd anyway that it doesn't matter to him.

Now you've got to get your cardigan.  Mister Rogers sometimes had button-up cardigans, but let's face it, that sweater's gotta ZIP. UP.  Land's End has pretty good ones.  Locally, we have a Land's End "Not Quite Perfect" store, where I found a returned, monogrammed cardigan for $22 (you'll see that the new ones online are a bit pricier).

It doesn't matter that it was monogrammed, because the patch goes right over it.  I dabbed some E-6000 glue on the back of the patch, and over the general area under it on the cardigan, just before I sewed it on, as a little extra adherence to the knitted surface (and because I strangely like the smell of E-6000).

Guess what?  Project's done.  Now your kid's rockin' it Daniel Tiger style in his/her own Mister Rogers sweater.

Have you made your own Mister Rogers sweater?  Be sure to let me know if you have!  Email pics and permission to post them to

Here's Sarah in her awesome red Daniel Tiger sweater:

EDIT: Be sure to check out my Daniel Tiger Red Trolley fabric print, now for sale at Spoonflower -- perfect for making Daniel Tiger pajamas!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Phe Peter's Puppets Playlist pon Potify

Pi pigured pout pesterday phat pou pan padd pa Potify playlist po pour plog -- popefully pe're pot poing pull pircle pack po PyPace.  Panyway, Pi'm puch pa pig pusic puy, pand Pi phink phe pusic Pi pisten po peally pinforms phe pharacters pand personalities phat Pi pake pin py puppets, po Pi phought Pi'd phip pogether pa playlist pailor-pade por Peter's Puppets.  Pit's pa pide pange pof ptuff: plassical, pazz, plezmer, punk; pou pet pit pall!  Phere's puite pa pew pideas por packground pusic, poo, pif pou're pever putting pon pa puppet play pourself (py pastes pend po pean powards pinstrumental panyway).  Po, pif pou're pa Potify puser, please penjoy!  Pit's pocated pon phe pight-pand pide pof phis plog, pand pit pooks pike phis:

Pet pe pnow pif phere's panything Pi phould padd!  Punfortunately Potify poesn't pave pome pof py pobvious phoices, pike Phe Peatles por Prank Pappa, put Pi phink pit's pa pood playlist pas pit pis.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Halloween is Coming

 Pumpkin Baby Doll Halloween Hand Puppet

Halloween will be here before you know it!  Head on over to the Peter's Puppets shop on Etsy to order these creepy cute puppets!

 Evil Dragon Demon Hand Puppet

Cute Devil Girl Hand Puppet

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Review: Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood premiered this week on PBS, and Ez and I have just seen it for the first time this morning.  In one of my posts from a few months ago, I expressed hesitant enthusiasm for the upcoming project, which revives Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe characters in a Blue's Clues-style environment, so I thought it would be good to post my review of the show as a follow-up.

My rating for Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood: A+++, three thumbs up, and fifty gold stars.

The magic starts right away.  If the voice of the narrator, who reads the standard PBS copy about "This program is brought to you by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, etc, etc, and by viewers like you -- thank you" sounds familiar, it's because it's Mister Frickin' McFeely himself.  So you know from the start that this show is going to rock.

Daniel Tiger -- the son of our Daniel Striped Tiger, the timid young clock-dwelling puppet that we adults grew up knowing so well -- begins the show by talking to the audience, changing his shoes, and zipping up his cardigan.  He launches into "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood," and then hops onto the trolley.  The trolley takes him through the current day Neighborhood of Make-Believe, as Daniel waves to friends old and new.  All our familiar landmarks are there -- the castle, the tree -- and new ones have sprouted up since we've last visited, like Music Man Sam's instrument store.  I love it.  It's like the Neighborhood is saying, "We're still here.  You've grown up, and so have we, but we're still here."  All the while, a Jack Johnson-esque vocalist is singing the "beautiful day" song with updated lyrics about Daniel Tiger, and it just hits the right pitch.  I'm not a huge fan of the Jack Johnson style on its own, but I thought his songs for the Curious George movie worked really, really well, and hearing a similar style on Daniel, but with the typical Mister Rogers jazz piano music as the instrumental accompaniment, is really nice.

There's something that hits me so hard when I hear the trolley on Daniel making the same trolley ding-ding noise as it did on the original Neighborhood.  It's like the producers are saying, "Yes, this is an updated show for 'today's kids,' but we've left every possible thing we could of the original formula in the show."

Here's a really cool thing too: our Daniel, the young Daniel's father, has grown up (obviously) and he's dressed just like Mister Rogers.  He's wearing a navy cardigan, he's still wearing his watch, and (neglect the fact that he's totally Porky Piggin' it) he comes across as a hipster dad.  I'd totally hang out with grown-up Daniel Striped Tiger.  I bet he'd want to play bass in a band with me.  And it reminds me, very sentimentally, of the coda of Mister Roger's song about growing up: "for a girl can be someday a woman, and a boy can be someday a man."  The Neighborhood characters have completed the circle, moving and developing by the same guidelines by which their creator taught.

And then the father and son tigers give each other ugga-muggas, and I have to resist the extreme, involuntary urge to get misty-eyed over a kids' cartoon show.

As far as the content of the show, I couldn't be happier.  Rather than clumsily trying to teach an awkward curriculum of phonics or whatever, the writers have kept Mister Rogers' overall theme of affective reasoning and development.  The episode we saw was all about getting angry, and what to do about it when it happens.  The other, probably more important, aspect of the show is that, apart from half the characters being anthropomorphic animals, it's completely devoid of what I think of as "magical interference."  Virtually every other current kids' show we watch -- Mickey Mouse's Clubhouse, Wild Kratts, The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That, Barney, even Sesame Street -- constantly rely on a deus ex machina of either fairy dust or robotics (or a combination of both) to solve the problems that the characters face.  Curious George, and now Daniel, are about the only current kids' shows I can think of that don't use "magical interference" at all.  When Daniel and Prince Wednesday were angry that they couldn't go to the beach because it was raining, they spread a tan blanket next to a blue blanket on the floor to make an "inside beach."  Isn't that refreshingly better, and far more honest to a child's experience, than having a magic computer create a virtual beach environment or something?  I like to think that Fred Rogers would approve of this direction of the show, because I do.

So, bottom line: Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood will definitely be a fixture of our television viewing.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ella's Deli

If you're here because you like weird old puppets (as who isn't), then I can't recommend enough that you check out Ella's Deli next time you find yourself on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin.  I had been here once or twice when I lived in the Mad City, but it's hard to appreciate it more than ironically until you've got your own kid with you.

The whole place is whirring with the mechanical susurrus of vintage motors, sending papier-mache puppets jostling and careening up the walls and across the ceiling in slow-motion frenzy; every inch of the place is knick-knacked with at least some kind of eerily unauthorized children's pop-culture-induced fever dream.   Here's some photos (and videos!) of some of the exhibits displayed at the deli.