Stiffening for arms

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Stiffening for arms

Postby martinpunch » 16 Apr 2015, 12:29

Hi ya ll

I am now at the point of making some costumes (yes myself :oops: ) and I am following the instructions set out on this site with the pictures. But I cannot work out if each arm needs one or two bits of stiffening in it?

If it is one piece; should it be on the back of the arm or the front?

Also what material is suiable for the stiffening?

Please comment as soon as you can as I have sewing machine at the ready :D
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby Chris » 17 Apr 2015, 11:20

Why would you want to stiffen the arms? Your finger, or thumb is inside the arm and any stiffening wold restrict the movement. Sometimes a cuff is attached to the wooden hand into which the finger or thumb is inserted. With commercially produced puppets this is sometimes omitted and a sort of spatular carved onto the hand, the idea being to accomodate different lengths of fingers and avoid the hand hanging loose when fingers are short. But when you are making puppets for yourself you can make them fit like a glove!

I've just checked and now understand why you ask about stiffening in the arms. I see that Chris vdC ssuggests it in his design for a costume. I don't know why he says that, but I suggest that you ignore it. Sleeves with a lining are stiff enough, particularly with a finger inside. Possibly puppets not being used (ie on display) may look better with stiffened arms. Chris did those drawings a long time ago, perhaps before he had performed many shows. We all alter our views with experience.
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby martinpunch » 18 Apr 2015, 12:42

Thank you for the advice, I have already added some stiffening to the cosumes in production when I wrote this , I have to say it does feel OK, but I can always remove it if I find it annoying to rattle the dolls with.

Chris's design also calls for a silk style lining which I have used, but your comment made me consider if I should just be using cotton instead.

I think I shall be redressing the whole gang in Novemeber as my dressmaking skils will have improved by then as will my ideas on how I want the overall look to be. Hopefully I can find a seamstress to help me with jackets etc.

Thanks Martin
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby Chris » 18 Apr 2015, 19:21

I think Chris advised a silky lining because he thought it would ease slipping the figure on and off your hand. I agree that it is nice to line your costumes - but I wouldn't insist on any particulaar material. I tend to use what I have to hand. As for getting puppets on and off quickly, this depends on a fairly full body garment (to get in quickly) with well fitting arms (sleeves) so that they don't slip off during action.

The only problem I have come across with linings is that some materials become clinging in humid weather. I had to re-line my previous Judy garment because in my second or third show in the Summer gala shows I was finding it very difficult to get my hand into the costume. My hands were probably slightly swollen with the heat, and doubtless sweaty, and the loose silky lining was clinging and bunching. Actually I just ripped out the lining and used the puppet unlined until such a time as I made a new costues. To replace a lining means pulling the original to pieces anyway.

But whether cotton or man made fibres are best for linings I wouldn't know. Perhaps someone more analytic will have more definite information. I wonder what Miraiker or Geoff recommend?
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby CvdC » 18 Apr 2015, 23:01

I wouldn't recommend silky. Especially not the synthetic silk like satin. I think what I was referring to back then was polished poplin. It has a wonderful feel but I don't know where to get it now so I use poly pop.
The stickiness in humidity is a real problem. The only way to avoid this would be to sew the lining onto the costume before making the glove. Sew the lining to the glove around the arm openings and around the waste for instance. If I have used "silky" in those instructions please delete it Chris as it would be totally wrong, synthetic silk is far too sticky.

I continue to use stiffening. Canvas, 12 or 10 oz. Not cardboard. Old puppets use canvas (Roselia's for instance) or, I have read, leather. Don't get the idea that stiff means rigid. It is just that with time the arms can become too loose and you lose the ability to control the semaphore that a puppet needs with which to communicate. Not that I am against flappy hands mind you. There'd be less a requirement for it if you use upholstery fabric or heavy serge for the costumes as some puppets do.
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby Chris » 18 Apr 2015, 23:42

I wonder if by stiffening you are confusing this with the leather finger stalls often added too the wrists of carved hands?
By the way semaphore is just what you don't want.
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby CvdC » 19 Apr 2015, 03:35

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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby Chris » 19 Apr 2015, 10:11

Perhaps because it suggests poorly designed puppets and bad manipulation. I would make an exception for certain characters - scarecrows and robots come to mind.
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby Miraiker » 19 Apr 2015, 11:52

Chris, like you I wouldn't buy any particular material for linings.
The material I use varies according to what is to hand and how thick the costume material is. A thinner costume material wanting a thicker lining.
When I go to my regular fabric shops they often have a few metres of cotton curtain material left on a roll that is reduced because it isn't enough for a pair of curtains. That'll do nicely.
I wouldn't go for silky either. It just isn't practical.
I wouldn't add stiffening in the sleeves either.
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby CvdC » 19 Apr 2015, 21:57

"Scarecorws and robots" - very droll. You have such a wicked sense of humour Chris.
My interpretation of semaphore is distinct arm movements that can be clearly seen and interpreted by the audience.

Do you think that moving the arms(fingers) of the puppet helps the performance of the puppets in any way?

I have found that stiffening the arms of the costume adds to the shape and helps support the weight of the hand. It makes the arm more distinct in its movement rather than a blur of fabric folds. As the puppets I make have evolved I always make the arms of the costume separately and sew them in, rather than cut out the costume in one single piece, and I sew in canvas to strengthen or stiffen the arms. This I believe makes for a good costume. I got the idea of using canvas when examining the Roselia puppets which have canvas in the costume. Because I find it improves the puppet I feel obliged to recommend it to anyone not yet stuck in their ways. At least it doesn't make it any worse and it is not that difficult to do. If I were a perfectionist I would sew canvas into the whole costume to give it shape and strength.

Martin when you read books on puppet making they tend to give advice assuming you are a school child. What puppet book tells you to put lining in your costumes, let alone the fabric that is most suitable? Now I have had a close look at the construction of many of puppets, old and recent, and have made quite a few now myself, and indeed have educated myself through this board over the many years, I realise that an adult glove puppet is more a dolled up gardening glove rather than a delicate kid glove.
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby Chris » 19 Apr 2015, 22:49

Roselia puppets are from another age. Though beautifully carved they are very large and heavy. But in their day they needed to be large playing, on occasion to huge crowds.
Large heads necessitate longer arms, longer than a puppeteers thumb or finger, and therefore extentions are required. Unfortunately this does make for semaphore gestures, but that is a price you pay for having very large puppets. They are not necessary for today's general performing conditions.
But you are, of course, at liberty to make your puppets as stiff as you like. Most of us go for flexibility.

Do you think that moving the arms(fingers) of the puppet helps the performance of the puppets in any way?

What a very peculiar thing to ask?

There is a range of beautifully designed fabric puppets made by The Puppet Company. Folkmanis make similarly fabulous looking puppets. Most of them are pretty useless for professional work because they are padded and stiffened to make them look good. It's as you say, "it makes for a good costume" -but unfortunately it also makes for a less responsive puppet. It's the difference between ornamental toys and puppets that work.
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby martinpunch » 19 Apr 2015, 23:20

Wow that sparked a debate!

I have already made two puppets with the silky lining stuff and have to report that indeed even after a few mins of practice the insides feel sticky so I can imagine how it going to feel like if I do a whole show.
Luckily I followed the instructions to just sew at the college cuffs and seam, so untacking should be easyish

I have made 8 linings but hay ho good practice with the sewing machine :)

I will now try source some poplin cotton PDQ

I need to get the show sorted v soon, so I can do some actual puppetting rattan contructing.

Will you guys be at the Covent Garden event? I hope so
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby Chris » 19 Apr 2015, 23:43

I don't think Poplin is a material, isn't it a weave giving a ribbed or bumpy surface. Not especially good for lining I would have thought. I remember cotton poplin shirts were the in thing at one time, they had a sort of raised pattern woven in, perhaps the same thing as what was also called "white-on-white". Why not follow Miraiker's suggestion and use curtaining material, cheap and cheerful and readily available.
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby CvdC » 20 Apr 2015, 06:57

Sorry I meant Chintz. I now use a thing called poly pop which I thought was a short form of poplin.
It was fabric I happened to find years ago. It was smooth and slippery and not at all sweaty.
But I wouldn't bother to look for it especially, even though it is a curtain fabric, it is expensive. Thus the poly pop.

Chris you are exaggerating the stiffness I am talking about. I am not referring to arms out straight as if they are waving the flags. By "semphore" I meant clear gestures that are readable by the audience (as indeed I wrote). If you use sloppy costumes the arms are not under control and look confusing. (Remember the show we both saw when first I went to the May Fayre?) Canvas adds body to the arm, it keeps it open for when you want to slip the puppet on your hand and it supports the hands. But it certainly has enough flexibility to move it as you would want and most importantly still allows the finger to grip props.
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Re: Stiffening for arms

Postby Chris » 20 Apr 2015, 12:38

I thought Poly Pop was a soft drink. I suppose in your case it would have been polyester poplin. Polyester, like other man made fabrics do not soak up moisture like cotton or wool (remember drip-dry shirts?) so probably are indeed a good choice for linings. The worst material I ever used was something like T shirt material.

If I were a perfectionist I would sew canvas into the whole costume to give it shape and strength.

No I don't think I am exagerating the stiffness you advocate.
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