The Secrets of Making Marionettes Part II (Sep, 1934)

You can view the first part of this series here.

<< Previous
1 of 5
<< Previous
1 of 5

The Secrets of Making Marionettes


ARTISTS’ oil paints, obtainable in tubes, offer the best medium for painting marionettes. Flat white paint is used as a ground color to cover all exposed parts. When dry, white enamel is used to get a gloss on the teeth and eyeballs, using a small camel’s-hair brush as in Fig. 30. To get flesh color, mix burnt sienna with flat white paint, sometimes adding small quantities of red, yellow or blue to bring out various skin shades. Apply a spot of vermilion in the center of each cheek and blend it into the flesh color of the face. The lips are painted with a suitable mixture of vermilion and burnt sienna. Shades of blue or brown, or a mixture of both, are used to make eye shadows and lines to imitate wrinkles in the face and hands.

There are several methods of wigging, depending on the kind of marionette. In some cases, it may be advisable to cast the hair in plastic wood. This simple method is often used for male characters having short hair. Other wigs may be made from a ten-cent switch, a sheepskin dusting mit, or even from embroidery silk or wool yarn. In making a wig from a switch, the hair is sewed to a cloth skull cap as in Fig. 28. After fastening it to the head, it is trimmed to suit with a pair of small scissors, Fig. 29. After gluing the wig to the head, it is often advisable to sew the hair down loosely with colored thread, to hold it in order.

The materials used in costuming a marionette must, in general, be soft and pliable. You can dye fabrics to suit your needs. It is a good idea to make paper patterns for all parts, as in Fig. 33. Be sure to cut the material large enough so that the clothes will not fit tightly over the joints. Careful sewing with a sewing machine, Fig. 32, is necessary as the clothes must stand lots of wear and abuse. When selecting colors for costumes, the stage effect is the important thing to consider. It is advisable to try the colors and textures under the lights to be used. A colored light makes its complementary color look gray, as a red light on a green costume. A light of the same color will greatly intensify it. As the costumes are usually seen from some distance, it is well to use exaggerated intensities of the colors desired. Certain parts of a costume, such as leggings, may be tacked to the marionette’s body, as in Fig. 34.

Ordinarily, when a character appears in completely different costumes during the course of a play, it is advisable to make two separate marionettes of the character. However, it is possible to arrange one costume to be worn over the other, so it may be removed or added for the change. Because of the control strings, a removable costume must have provision made by slits to allow the costume to come off. When the removable costume is worn, the slits are concealed by snap fasteners. In this way the sleeves may be slit up to the shoulders and the coat slit up the center to the single rear control string. It then becomes an easy matter to remove the coat as in Fig. 31. If the ankle joint is well made, the stockings and the modeled shoe are painted in black enamel. If for any reason you wish to make stockings, they can be sewed up the back of the legs. The stocking material should be brought under the bottom of the foot and the shoe and fitted over it to form a neat joint. Shoes are made of thin leather, which is soaked so that it will take the shape of the foot. Its edges are carried under the foot all around and anchored there by the thick leather sole and heel tacked to the bottom of the foot with brads. Marionette jewelry can be made over from ten-cent store jewelry, but it is important that it be held in place close to the marionette so that it will not tangle the control strings.

Paper fasteners make good brass buttons.

The conventional type of controller shown in Figs. 35 and 36 is the simplest type used on upright figures. This controller is the base typo from which variations are made for more complicated controllers. It provides for the operation of the minimum of nine essential control strings used on all upright figures. The main control bar is 10 to 12 in. long, the foot control bar 11 in. long, and the head control bar 7 in. long. The spring clip, which holds the foot bar when not in use, is fastened by a bolt and wing nut which also fastens the head bar to the main control bar. The strap, used for hanging the strung marionette on an S-hook, on the puppet rails, is riveted to the head cross bar. A screw eye, through which the shoulder strings pass, is screwed into the underside of the main control bar, halfway between its ends. With a fine-gauge saw, make slits 1/2 in. deep for the leg strings in the middle of each end of the leg control bar. Do likewise in the head cross bar for the head strings. Make one slit in the middle of the back end of the main control bar for the back string, and two slits, V2 in. apart, for hand strings, in the front end of the main control bar. Make small notches on either side of all control bars 3/4 in. from each end. These notches, together with the slits, hold the control strings anchored in correct adjustment. The proper length for the strings is determined by the stage equipment which you use. For the stage, which will be described in the next article, the operator works over what is called a leaning rail. When the marionette stands on the floor of the stage, the top of the controller strap should be 6 in. above the
top edge of the leaning rail. If you are making a marionette for use without a stage, the controller is held at elbow height. Hang the controller by the strap to the correct height and cut fishline (black fishline with silk core, 18-lb. test) to correct lengths with the controller parallel to the floor. Allow 10 in. over actual length on all but the shoulder strings, for anchorage to the controller. All strings are attached to the marionette before any of them are anchored to the controller. Tie
the head strings to wire loops on either side of the head. With a large needle, carry the shoulder strings through the costume and tie them to the wire shoulder loops in the chest piece. Do likewise with the back string, tying it to the wire loop at the base of the back of the chest piece.

On a figure with trousers, carry the leg string through each leg of the trousers at a point V2 in. above the knee loops. When the figure wears a dress, carry the leg strings through the costume, 1 in. above the knee loops, and wide enough apart to allow ample leg movement. Drill small holes through each hand at the base of the thumb and fasten the hand strings through the holes by knots on the inside of the hands. Attach the shoulder strings to the controller by tying one shoulder string to a piece of doubled fishline 6 in. long, carrying the doubled line through the screw eye and tying the other shoulder string to it on the other side of the screw eye. The weight of the marionette is held by shoulder strings, allowing the head to work freely as it is held in position by the head control bar. Attach the back string to the back end of the main control bar and the hand strings to the front end of the main control bar. The leg strings go to the leg control bar so that when the bar is held in the clip, the leg strings are of equal length and slightly slack. When the figure stands erect, the back string is adjusted so that it is taut when the main control bar is parallel to the floor. The hand strings should be taut when each hand hangs at the lowest points. The method of holding the control bars is shown in Fig. 27.

A four-legged animal control bar is shown in Fig. 37. No provision is made for the leg control, as the legs can be made to respond more effectively by having them loosely swung from their joints without strings. Their motion is obtained through rhythmic rocking of the main control bar.

  1. MAKE: Blog says: June 5, 20068:22 am

    The secrets of making marionettes…

    The secrets of making marionettes, from Popular Mechanics 1934 – Link…….

  2. jtobako says: June 6, 20068:44 am

    are parts one and three avalible?

  3. Charlie says: June 6, 20068:53 am

    I don’t think I have those issues, if I come across them I will certainly post them.

  4. […] Modern Mechanix has reprinted Rufus Rose’s old Popular Mechanics article, “The Secrets of Making Marionettes” […]

  5. […] View Part II […]

  6. pari says: June 11, 20102:03 pm

    hi tank you
    i want to learn
    i am a meker puppet
    by paper mache and wood and…

Submit comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.