A step-by-step guide to making a shadow puppet from templates

In this tutorial you will learn how to make a shadow puppet using the “mix-and-match” templates in our Printable Library. These templates are designed to make puppets in 19th clothes, but can easily be adjusted to other time periods by doing Google image research.

Using templates from the Printable Library

Selection of head, body parts, and bonnet to make a Quaker woman

For this tutorial I chose to make a Quaker woman to help students act out stories from the Underground Railroad. Quakers dressed a little plain so I selected the head and body parts that are circled in red and the plainest bonnet.

  1. Tracing templates on poster board

    Cut out all parts and trace them with a white or light-colored pencil on black poster board .

  2. Use the point of a sharp scissor to mark where you will need to connect body parts (shown as black dots) and mark the places on the poster board with your pencil.
  3. Make sure you have two arms. If you don’t need bending arms just trace one arm twice. If you want an arm to bend at the elbow, cut out the upper arm circled in blue and adjust the sleeved arm by cutting it off above the elbow (give it plenty of space for the metal brad to connect the parts–see example on the right).
  4. To cut out the eye you will need sharp scissors or a hole puncher. You can make an iris by taping a little piece of black paper behind the eye socket (see example below).
  5. Attach the bonnet to the head with tape (use velcro if you want to be able to take it off). Do the same with hats for male puppets. In the example below I decided to trim the bonnet in the middle to make it a bit more modest for the Quaker puppet.
  6. You can let puppets hold luggage, a baby, or a walking stick by attaching the items with velcro.
Example how to tape a piece of paper behind an eye to make an iris (left) and how to attach a bonnet to the hat

How to put the puppet together

Upper body with connecting points
  1. Make little holes with sharp scissors on the places that you marked with pencil where the body parts connect.
  2. If you chose for bendable arms connect upper and lower arms with a metal brad.
  3. Connect head, upper arm and upper body. They all connect at the same spot at the shoulder. Move the head forward and backward and cut away any extra paper that sticks above the neck and chest.
  4. Connect upper and lower body at the waist. The Harriet Tubman puppet in in the Printable Library has an upper, middle, and lower body part, so that she can hide and row a boat.
  5. If you are making a male puppet you have the option to make a leg bend, which will allow you to walk or run.

Adjusting body shapes and faces

It is quite likely that your puppet ends up a little different from the template because tracing and cutting out the parts precisely is difficult. That is totally okay–it gives the puppet personality, and the templates are only meant to be examples.

You can make adjustments by cutting away paper, or adjust the drawings on the poster board. The more you can make a puppet your own, the better it is!

Adjusting the clothes

Glasses of beading wire

If you would like to have more options to dress up your puppet you can always do image research.

  • If you google “19th century fashion” and choose “Images” underneath the search bar you get these results.
  • An image search for runaway slaves gives you options to dress your puppets for Underground Railroad stories. You will see that women often wore head wraps, which you can imitate by wrapping a thin piece of tissue paper around the head.

To make a bow for a fancy woman you can use a thin piece of string. For glasses you can use thin beading or “memory” wire.

Holding and moving the puppets

To hold and move puppets you use rods, made of barbecue skewers, which you attach to the puppets with velcro (clip off the sharp point first). You only need one holding rod and one moving rod, since you only have two hands! It is easiest to attach the velcro to the side of the puppet that is not held against the screen.

  • Moving rod: attach a small piece of bristly velcro to the piece of the puppet that you will want to move. Most likely that will be an arm. Put a soft piece of velcro around the tip of your moving rod and connect with the moving part of the puppet. You will see that you can bend the puppet by the waist just by using the arm rod. If you want to move a leg to walk or run, also put a piece of bristly velcro on the lower leg.
  • Holding rod: attach a piece of soft velcro to the top of skewer and a piece of bristly velcro to a a free spot in the middle of the puppet, where it will not be in the way of a moving arm. If you need to attach the puppet to the back of the screen, you will need bristly velcro at the bottom of the holding rod too, as seen in the image below.
Puppeteer’s side of a desk top theater with 2″ wide velcro strip below the screen