Durable, DIY Floral Foam Stick Puppets

January 23, 2019

Snowed in with the kids? Or maybe your church group or school class needs a fun project. These long-lasting floral foam puppets cost next to nothing, look like their vintage counterparts, and can be any characters you imagine.

puppets displayed on shelf
We made "Snowsuit Sam" and "Winter Coat Wendy" - but you can make any character or creature you choose!

Antique and vintage puppets are not that different from their modern counterparts. New or old, puppets are either soft (made from cloth) or hard (made from paper mache or wood.) Paper mache takes a good deal of planning and effort. Carved wood puppets require both great skill and special tools. Our puppets, by contrast, use readily available floral foam. This material is inexpensive and easily cut - but once you cover it with our special "hard coat" recipe, it becomes quite durable. Your puppet will look like its vintage predecessor, but with a fraction of the work and cost.

For this project you will need:

• floral foam (carried by dollar stores and craft shops, or available from the affiliate link below)
• any straight stick (can be a dowel, a sturdy twig, or even an unsharpened pencil)
• yarn for hair
• felt, craft foam, or other thick fabric for the clothing
• glue gun and glue sticks, or other fast-drying glue, to attach puppet head and clothing to stick
• Durham's Water Putty (found at any home improvement store for a few dollars, or available from the affiliate link below)
• white glue
• acrylic (water-based) paint
• (optional) glue-on eyes - or you can paint the eyes
• (optional) glitter hot glue sticks for eyes and lips - or you can paint the eyes and lips
• disposable mixing cups and mixing spoons
• disposable, small paint brushes
• toothpicks
• scrap cardboard
• paper (for drawing and cutting patterns)
• marker and pencil
• measuring spoons
• sandpaper
• Phillips head screwdriver or knitting needle (to make hole in foam for stick)
• scissors
• kitchen knife (for adult use) OR serrated plastic knife for kids' use
• (optional) cookie cutters in appropriate shape for puppet heads, i.e. ovals, circles, hearts, etc.

Easy-to-Follow Video Instructions:

REMEMBER, puppets and dolls are not the same! Dolls are typically made to look like their owners - human and realistic. Puppets, on the other hand, are stage performers. Like their human actor counterparts (who rely on lots of stage make-up), puppet facial features should be strongly emphasized - even exagerated - so that the audience can easily see them. Also unlike dolls, puppets can be absolutely anyone or anything: historical figures, pretend people, even animals or mythological creatures. Above all, they should be entertaining and interesting.

Notes and Tips:

1. If you're recreating characters from a book or play, use the included drawings as guides for creating your puppets. Example: early Wizard of Oz books are in the public domain and include great illustrations for use as puppet designs.
2. "Self-Portrait" puppets are always fun to make.
3. Kids can use family photos to make puppets that look like their grandparents, parents or brothers and sisters - even the family pet.
4. Encourage kids to add features that make us unique: glasses, freckles, varying skin tones, etc.
5. Double the recipes to make several puppets simultaneously. But, remember - these mixtures dry fairly quickly when exposed to air. To slow the process, put unused mixtures and wet brushes inside zip-seal bags.

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Recipe for First Hard Coat:
• 1 T. Durham's Water Putty
• 1 T. water
• 1 tsp. acrylic paint (in color of your choice)
Mix thoroughly until all lumps are gone. Apply evenly over entire floral foam head. Drying times for this recipe, and all others, will depend on the temperature and humidity in your environment but typically take between 30 and 60 minutes. Better to allow more time, if in doubt.

Recipe for Putty for Facial Features:
• 1 T. Durham's Water Putty
• 1 tsp. water
• 1 tsp. glue
• 1 tsp. paint (same as used in first hard coat)
Use clay modeling tools or your fingers to create raised facial features such as the nose, cheeks, forehead and chin. Adjust mixture with a few drops of water (if too thick) or a small amount of Durham's (if too thin.)

Recipe for Final Hard Coat:
• 1 T. Durham's Water Putty
• 2 tsp. water
• 1 tsp. glue
• 1 tsp. paint (same as used previously)
Mix thoroughly and apply evenly over entire puppet head.

NEVER put Durham's mixture down the sink. Place all mixing containers, mixing spoons, paint brushes and other items in the trash.
Affiliate Links (see our full disclosure below):
• Floral foam is easily found at dollar stores and craft supply centers. One package of foam will make multiple puppets. If you're not located near one of these stores, click this ad to go to the Amazon product page:

• Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty is available at all home improvement centers. One-pound cannisters typically cost about $2 and contain enough product for between 10 and 12 puppets. If ordered online Durham's is more expense, but perhaps the convenience is worth it. Click this link to find out:

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