I completed a fun custom order the other day for set of Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings finger puppets. The customer I worked with had purchased my Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash puppets already and wanted to get the other two to complete “The Highwaymen” for her husband. Thinking about Kris and Waylon, it was clear that they would make excellent puppets– Waylon with a big, dark cowboy hat and Kris with his signature hair and squinty eyes.
Since it was such a fun set, I thought I’d walk through the process of creating custom puppets, from concept to piecing to the puppet’s completion.I start any puppet by gathering images of the character for research and listing out the details to be included in the puppet. For custom orders, I ask the customer to list details that they’d definitely like to see, and note what jumps out to me as being really characteristic of that person. For this set, I found that the bottom of Waylon and Kris’ jawline/beard would be important in capturing them– Kris with a rounded beard and Waylon’s coming to more of a point. Though finger puppets don’t have chins, these sort of details hint at it and help distinguish the character.After the sketch, I’ll begin to cut out felt shapes and piece them together until I have a set that seems to be capturing the subject pretty well. I generally cut all the felt elements at once, so as I lay them out I imagine how the embroidered details will fit into the overall look of the puppet. Above is Kris with that wispy, wing-y hairdo that just screams 70’s singer-songwriter right after I added the first stitches.Most puppets tend to come together pretty quickly once everything is cut out, but Waylon’s cowboy hat took an usual bit of felt engineering to get just right. The hat sits on top of the puppet, and had to be stitched decoratively on top without revealing the stitches underneath holding it on, and the puppet itself together.Here are the completed Kris and Waylon along with a Willie and Johnny for the completed”The Highwaymen.” Who knew felt could make for such perfect outlaws, right?
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