18 August 2007


Here we go: Andrew's World Famous Tennis Ball Rod Puppet.

(Also known as "the puppet design that saved my college German Language grade.")

One day, while trying to teach Holly how to play fetch I noticed that the springy tennis ball our reticent dalmatian refused to run after had a curious "seam" that almost looked like a down-turned mouth. Since Holly was having more fun destroying a pair of Pamela's boots than playing fetch, I took her tennis ball to my puppetry workstation (our dining room table), grabbed a nearby x-acto knife, and cut open a portion of the seam.


I mounted the ball on a dowel, gave it facial features, and dressed it in a red hood. I gathered together a few random puppets I had laying around, pounded out a short play script ("A Not So Grimm Fairy Tale"), and enlisted fellow theatre major Scott Black in the ensuing madness. We had to present a "final project" in our German Language class, something about or involving German culture. Dr. Mitchell, our Yoda-like professor, was absolutely delighted by the little puppet play, and Scott and I got passing grades. The play was in English.

The design has evolved a bit over the years. Little Red Riding Hood (wish I had a picture!) had no arms and no body to speak of, just a red felt hood that hinted at structure underneath. I've solved the problem of body and arms using simple items you can find around the house.

[NOTE: Do not follow the bellow instructions. They are grossly irresponsible and dangerous. I mean, using an x-acto knife in the way I describe is absolutely insane! Don't do it.]


Tennis ball
16" long, 5/8" diameter dowel rod
Fishing line
Plastic or metal ring, 1" diameter
An empty 25 oz liquid dishwashing soap bottle
Strut hanger (wire hanger with paper tube)
1/4" stretch elastic (or ribbon)
Googly eyes, pom poms, yarn, etc. (puppet face making stuff)
Small nail, small screw eye
Tools (hammer, cordless drill, etc.)

1. Using an x-acto knife (or other similarly dangerous cutting device) on the tennis ball, I cut the puppet's mouth.

2. I then cut a "neck hole" in the bottom of the tennis ball. This needs to be big enough to accomodate the dowel rod.

3. Now I shove in the dowel rod. (If I want to earn extra points, I paint the end of the dowel rod black, so that it can't be seen when the puppet's mouth opens!)

4. I then tap a nail into the end of the dowel rod, through the crown of the puppet's head.

5. Okay, this is really dangerous. I make hole in the bottom of the soap bottle, big enough to accommodate the dowel. I hate to say I how I do this. The plastic on the bottom of a soap bottle is fairly thick, so trying to melt a hole with a red-hot screwdriver takes forever. I use a 5/8" paddle bit ... vary carefully!

6. I make a hole just under the top rim of the soap bottle. This is for the screw eye. I make two more holes to accommodate a control line for the mouth.

7. Time to assemble the puppet head and body. The soap bottle body is held in place by the screw eye. Neat, huh?

8. Using a pick, I make a hole in the puppet's lower lip.

9. Time to string up the puppet mouth! Sometimes I'll make a small loop on the lower lip, and tie the fishing line to that. Makes it easier to replace the fishing line as needed. Usually I'll just knot the fishing line inside the mouth.

Feeding the fishing line through the bottle is a pain. I have yet to come up with the perfect solution for this. Once it's fed through, I tie on a little plastic ring.

10. Arms: This is something new that I'm playing with. Take the paper tube off of the strut hanger, and cut it into arm and hand pieces. Cut the metal part of the hanger in two, and straighten the two parts out except for the ends that go into the paper tube. These are the arm rods. Dummy up handles on these arm rods, and set to the side.

From the paper tube I cut two 3" pieces, two 2" pieces and two 3/4" pieces. I string these arm pieces together, and attach to the body.

The bent ends of the arm rods insert into the puppet's hands.

11. Ta-da! A puppet! Paint it, glue fabric to it, give it facial features, etc.