Creating a Caterpillar Puppet

The upcoming Uncommon Loons/Grand Rapids Showboat production of ‘Ziibi’ involves a large caterpillar puppet. As with most of the costumes, props and puppets in this show, we hope each element will be its own piece of art. The caterpillar will be a type of marionette with its skin dyed with batik techniques. Here is a log of our process. I’m not experienced in batik or puppet construction, so we are learning as we go. Here’s to trial and error augmented by rigorous research!

Step 1: Cutting the fabric to size and stretching it on a temporary frame. image(3)

Step 2: Drawing a pattern out on paper. Inked in black marker so that it can be seen through the fabric when we flip the frame over onto it.

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Step 3: Flip the stretched fabric onto the pattern. Trace the lines in wax. This took three tries to get it right. The first two attempts were not perfect, as the wax didn’t soak through the fabric entirely in some spots. This allowed dye colors to bleed into each other later in the process. The lesson learned: keep the wax hot and move slowly so it can soak through. Straight lines are tempting to do quickly, but the end quality will suffer for it.

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Step 4: Brush the dye onto the fabric within the wax outlines.
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Step 5: The wax was removed with an iron and newspaper. At this point I should have put the fabric in hot water bath to get rid of the rest of the wax, but with a test wash another piece dyed the same way had bled into one piece of gray fabric blah. So we left it as-is and water-proofed it with clear silicone spray.

After this, I didn’t keep detailed photos of the process, but then the fabric was stitched lengthwise and gave it ribs and form with 7″ metal rings stitched in. The front and back were made from recycled milk jugs cut down, antennae made from foam backer rod.

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Photo from the show in August 2015:

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Caterpillar in performance. Photo credit: Jennifer Mariano

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Caterpillar in performance. Photo credit: Jennifer Mariano

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