David Bowies at Chicago Public Library

On Monday I had the opportunity to teach a puppet-making workshop at the Maker Lab at Harold Washington Library. That morning the news had broken that David Bowie passed away overnight, and it was clearly on everyone’s minds. I had intended on allowing participants to chose their own hero to commemorate as a puppet during the class, but someone suggested early on that the different Bowie eras people had been seeing on social media all morning would make the perfect subjects. So each person set out to select their favorite Bowie, from an eye-patched Ziggy Stardust, to the hairless The Man to Fell to Earth, Aladdin Sane’s iconic lightening bolt, and Labyrinth‘s flamboyant Jareth.

The class would have been fun regardless, but the special subjects turned it into a lovely tribute as well. Not to mention the amazing creations that came out of the event.

Thanks to Harold Washington Library and One Book, One Chicago for having me!

An Old Year, A New Year

Inspired by the Top Nine lists everyone’s been posting on Instagram this week, I decided to take a look back at some of my favorite moments from 2015. Instead of going on just people’s likes on the photos I posted (which, let’s be honest, tended to be an indicator of how well I hashtagged), I created a collage of the personal and professional moments that’ll stick with me most over the past twelve months.
Top Nine of 2015

  1. RBG: My new Ruth Bader Ginsburg puppet was by far my favorite design in years. I’ve already explored some of the many reasons why I love RGB, and it was lovely to know that she’s got plenty of other puppet-loving fans out there besides myself.
  2. Good/Bad: A twofer of possibly my best and worst parent moments of the year– The bad news: My kid got his front tooth knocked out at school. Dang. The good news: An epic Pee Wee Herman Halloween costume.
  3. The King: I love this custom Elvis puppet. It was about time I got to render that famous white suit in felt.
  4. Pride + Victory: This year, the Chicago Pride Parade fortuitiously fell the day after the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. To say that the event felt electric would be a bit of an understatement, and I’m so proud we could be there to witness that moment.
  5. Furiosa: My favorite custom puppet of the year– I got to create this Imperator Furiosa based on the badass character from the surprisingly good film, Mad Max: Fury Road. I shared a few months back about my process in getting her signature black make-up just right.
  6. New Views: Probably my biggest personal moment of the year, after a very long search and a lot of false starts and dead ends, this August I got a new job doing pretty much exactly what I dreamed of doing at pretty much exactly the kind of organization I wanted to work for. Oh, and this is the view from the building on Michigan Avenue. Not too shabby.
  7. Jean-Michel: Another fun custom order I completed this year was this Jean-Michel Basquiat. One of my favorite all-time artists, it was great to get the push to finally try out making him 4″ tall.
  8. Roadtrip: Our family vacation to Cape Cod this fall was an epic week of r + r, but the highlight of the trip (and one of my very highest highlights of the year) was the 30+ humpback whales we saw on our whale-watching excursion. It was pure magic to be in the presence of these incredible creatures, literally close enough to be eye to eye and get wet from their spray, and is an experience I’ll never forget.
  9. Furry Friends: This year we decided to volunteer as a foster home for the wonderful dog rescue One Tail at a Time. We hosted four lovely pups over the course of the year, the final one– Sprinks/now Murf– became a “foster fail” when we decided to make him a permanent addition to the family. How could we say no to that face!

There you have it–my 2015 in a nine-part nutshell! I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: thank you to you–my readers, customers, and friends–for coming along on this journey, reading what I have to say, and being interested in my finds. I hope 2015 was good to you, and wish for a brighter and kinder 2016 for us all.

New Swallow Christmas Ornaments

There are times when I feel myself becoming something of a living Portlandia skit, and never more so than when I decided to whip up a batch of swallow ornaments the other day. When in doubt, put a bird on it!These candy-colored avians are inspired by classic tattoo illustrations, and a variation on a brooch design you may remember from years back. Bright and cheery colors like this are sort of my thing, and these birds do their job looking pretty darn cheerful on the tree. Tis the season to deck the halls!

Swallow ornaments are now!


Holiday Products Are a Go!

It’s that time of year again! The holidays are upon us– or getting there, at least– and seasonal products are available now in my shop!Louis CK ornament, Ira Glass ornament, Frida Kahlo ornament, Steve Martin ornamentAny finger puppet you’ve had your eye on is available as an ornament, for the perfect bit of fandom for any tree. How about a Ruth Bader Ginsburg ornament for the law student in your life, Frida Kahlo for your favorite budding surrealist, or Steve Martin going wild and crazy on the tree for years to come.
Pop culture ornamentsBack in the shop is also old favorites– felt state ornaments and Ralphie from A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”).

Unless you happen to be one of those weirdos who has all their shopping done by November, there’s an excellent chance you’ve got somebody on your list who could use a finger puppet or ornament to make their life complete. So get on it! ; )

New Headshot

I’ve been in need of a new headshot for a while now. The photo that I’d been using to represent me and my business was, well, sorely out of date. It was taken back in 2009 or so, and basically everything pictured, besides me, is gone now– the apartment, the dog, the laptop, even my old studio chair. Plus, I’m not even looking at the camera, which is sort of rule number 1 for an engaging headshot.abbey studio1I’ve been scheming for close to a year to hire a photographer to come take some shots, but I’m a world class procrastinator– not to mention I never want to clean up my studio– so, down to the wire on a deadline, I had to take matters into my own hands.

Last Saturday while the kiddo was napping, I asked my boyfriend to come take photos of me. He’s no photographer, but I figured I could get everything into place and have him focus and press the shutter. When I was finally set up and went to look for him, I heard the distinctive sound of snoring coming from the living room. They tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps, and it’s clearly a habit we’ve had a hard time breaking three years in. So, I was on my own.

Not a photo of the actual nap in question, but still relevant.

Left to my own devices, I decided to see if I could rig up a photo on my own. Armed with my delayed shutter, a stack of empty Amazon boxes, and some nice afternoon light, I’m pretty happy with the results. Abbey HambrightWho needs a photographer when you can Photoshop the mess out of the background yourself ; )

Imperator Furiosa Custom Puppets

Of all the things I love about running my little business, one of my favorites has to be when people come to me with surprising, fun, and off the wall custom puppet requests. I was recently approached to create a custom Imperator Furiosa, Charlize Theron’s character from Mad Max: Fury Road.


Mad Max was one of the few movies I saw this summer, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It was great to see a badass lady at the center of an action flick, not to mention one that actually passes the Bechdel test.

The idea of an Imperator Furiosa puppet was immediately thrilling and terrifying, mostly because she had so many details that would require experimentation. Of course there would be that crazy prosthetic arm and harness, but most importantly, capturing her dark black make-up was a must to make the puppet work. After some thought and experimentation, I found that black ink applied with my fingers worked perfectly to achieve the effect I was going for. It took about three applications to get the color dark enough, but I was thrilled with the final look.Imperator Furiosa finger puppet by Abbey HambrightImperator Furiosa finger puppet by Abbey HambrightI had to pick and choose which details from her costume to include, since there were so many. The arm harness was particularly complex, but I feel like the pared-down version works well. I especially like the transition from her arm to the claw portion at the end.

Imperator Furiosa finger puppet by Abbey Hambright

Got a crazy puppet idea of your own? Get in touch— I’d love to make it happen!

Team CoCo

The shop is coming up on a big 10 year milestone next month, and given that I’ve been at this puppet game for so long, it’s probably not too surprising that sometimes I find that I’ve totally forgotten designs I did back in the day. Case in point: I stumbled upon this old Conan O’Brien design.Conan

How funny is this one, right? I’m still really into this design. If I made it today, I’m not sure it would turn out a whole lot different that this 2008-era puppet. My “drop it onto a sheet of white cardstock” photo method leaves a little to be desired, however ; )

I also found this image I mocked-up with the Late Night logo. Old school fans may remember that I did these sort of backgrounds with puppets for the first few years to give them a little context.conan-with-background

Ten years of puppets is a whole lot of puppets! Who knows what other designs I’ve forgotten and will discover later on!

The King of Finger Puppets

You’d think that in 10 years, I would’ve made a custom Elvis Presley puppet before now. I’ve talked about it with a couple of customers before, but things just never panned out– That is until earlier this month when I finally got the opportunity to create The King once and for all.

Lovely customer Judy was interested in an Elvis from either the “Jailhouse Rock” or “Aloha from Hawaii”-eras, and although that black and white striped shirt is super iconic, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to create a felt and embroidered version of that classic bedazzled white suit.It was surprisingly difficult to find good detail photos of Elvis’ white suits (of which there were multiple, I discovered), but I did figure out that the red, gold and blue rhinestones in the “Aloha from Hawaii” suit were in the shape of an eagle. Who knew, right?When I’m creating a custom puppet, I usually start with a sketch based on source photos. I keep detail photos up on my phone or computer to refer back to as I work. If the expression is key– as it obviously is with Elvis– I’ll often do a “sketch” on a piece of scrap felt to get the details just right. You can see in the photo above a few of the tests I made to get that smirky, hunch-lipped sneer just right.Once the parts are all cut to size, I’ll start piecing together the body and sewing in details. For Elvis, this meant that crazy suit. I wasn’t quite brave enough to try to do the eagle pattern with the rhinestones, but I think the dots keep the spirit of the bedazzling. And the red lei was a must, of course. When in Hawaii, right?I’ve done a few puppets with microphones before. Because they’re so tiny and have to be free-standing, it’s tough to get much detail, but I decided that the finishing touch for Elvis would be to have a black cord coming from the bottom of the mic. I had to experiment a bit to figure out how to attach it at both ends, staying taught enough without pulling the arm in. With a little finessing, I’m thrilled with how much that small detail adds to the design.So, what do you think– a puppet fit for a King? (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)


Interested in a custom puppet of your own? Get in touch— I’d love to make it happen!



Obama Puppet, Six Years Later

Barack Obama is about six and a half years into his eight years as president, but I was taken all the way back to 2008 with a post I was tagged in on Facebook the other day. That year my nephew was four and enamored with Obama (as many of us were). He decided that an Obama puppet was the one thing he really wanted for his birthday, and started lobbying me way back at Christmas to make this happen. His mom and I conspired to make him one to surprise him on his birthday in June, and he loved that thing.

She came upon the puppet while cleaning out his room last week. Barack looks pretty good for his age, don’t you think?

Barack Obama finger puppet

This was during my “fat puppet” phase, but beside the hair needing a little more gray in it, I’d say this design is still pretty accurate, wouldn’t you?


Pack It Up, Part 2

Last week I shared a bit about how I package up orders, focusing on the outside of the packages that I send. It may seem like a super micro aspect of a small biz to focus on, but when your main contact with a customer is through the mail, things like the envelope, the packing tape, heck– even the address, do really matter. In this post I’m focusing on how I package my puppets themselves, and how orders are packed up for shipping inside the envelope.I’ve always tried to make environmentally responsible choices with my business, and with that I try to avoid using materials that aren’t sustainable. This led me to avoid packaging my puppets in plastic bags for a long time. (Though I did experiment with compostable bags, I was never very happy with their durability.) I figured out quickly that in a retail setting, a plastic bag is a necessary evil for an item that can be damaged by too much handling, but for a long time I held out and didn’t use bags on puppets I sold online. For the first five years or so of running things, I sent puppets “naked,” wrapped up in a sheet of vintage pattern paper tissue, and then added baker’s twine into my shipping repertoire five or so years ago (I’m still using the same cone of it!), tying the order up in a little paper bundle.
wrapped package and envelopeBack in 2008, I happened upon a box of vintage yellow cardboard tags in a dusty fabric store, and was inspired to use them to add notes to my packages. The tags were the perfect option becasue the hole at the top was perfect for attaching with baker’s twine. The tags were a fortuitous discover in more than one way– the yellow color also helped inspire my rebranding a few years back.Online Order Packaging and BrandingEventually I decided that it was time to up package game, and having some puppets that were bagged or retail and some that were loose for online orders was taking too much time to keep straight. I decided that all puppets would be packaged, regardless of where they were sold.

Around this time, I also had a brainstorm about the tags I used in my puppet packaging. For a long time my puppets were in bag-and-topper style packs– a bag at the bottom and cardboard topper folded and stapled at the top. I used to purchase the toppers printed five or six to a page, then cut, score and staple them myself. I can tell you that this was far from my favorite job, but it got the job done.In addition to being way too labor intensive, the cardboard toppers didn’t lend themselves so well to display. Behind the puppet was a clear bag, meaning that there often wasn’t a great background to show off the puppet itself. And while the topper could hung with a clip for display, more often than not I would get puppets returned from retail shop with a hole punched through the top, which would end up getting worn, ripping, and generally looking sloppy.Old Puppet PackagingI finally had the brainstorm that the proportions of my puppets would display perfectly against a standard 4×6″ postcard, and there were bags that came with a retail-ready hang hole that could hold them both. I started sketching out ideas for a card that could serve as a background for the puppet. My original design (pictured below) allowed the name of the puppet to be written at the top, but that proved problematic since certain designs are taller than others. I eventually settled on my current layout, which features the puppet’s name written vertically along the side. This backer makes use of the negative space around the puppets, and packs them into a slick little packs, safe and secure for retail, and presenting nicely as a gift.DSCF7323I still pack up each order with baker’s twine, though the tissue paper wasn’t really necessary for protection once the puppets were enclosed in a bag with the cardstock backer. I still attach a yellow tag to each order with a hand-written note, and to the note I now also attache a 1″ button of the puppet that they purchased, or for the few that I haven’t made a button for, a few stickers.

I used to sell the buttons individually through my shop– and do still sell them at in-person events– but I decided that they worked better as freebies within online orders. Since my puppets are most often bought as gifts, I like that the button gives the buyer the option to add it onto their friend’s present, or– if the character is someone they love, too– they can keep the button for themselves. Either way, that little freebie keeps on advertising everywhere it goes, and works as a conversation starter.

So there you have it– everything you may (or may not) want to know about how I package orders. Each decision has been thought through, pros and cons weighed, and ultimately decided on to give the buyer the best experience I can possibly create when opening up their order.

So, over to you– have you gotten a package from me? What did you think? What are your favorite tips and tricks for sending online orders, or the best ones you’ve ever received? I’d love to hear!

In case you missed it, check out Part 1 of this packaging series.