A puppet technique that’s often forgotten is the method of creating arm beads for your puppet. This method has been popularized in the world of puppetry by one of the videos on Tested (Adam Savage’s YouTube channel). In the video, the MythBuster vetran Adam Savage, visits Rick Lyon’s puppet studio. Rick Lyon is the creator of the puppets for the Broadway Award winning musical Avenue Q. He also played a role in the original cast. Among many of the awesome behind the scenes looks we get at puppet building in this video, one of the biggest takeaways budding puppet builders took away was Rick’s use of wooden beads in the puppets arms.
Why Use Arm Beads?
There’re a few reasons why you should and shouldn’t use arm beads in your puppet. To start, arm beads add a nice, natural weight to your puppet’s arms, allowing for gravity to make a natural droop in the arm. Depending on your puppet, this natural look can be a good or bad thing.
The arm bead technique should only really be used when creating a fur covered character. The thick pile of the fur hides and bumps that are created by the beads in the arms.
However, if you are creating a fleece covered character, the fleece is too thin to cover up these imperfections. Every bump and bulge that the arm bead makes will show up in a fleece covered arm.
Steps to Make Arm Beads
1. Gather the Materials
There are just a few things you need to create the arm beads. Find a durable string that is not too stiff. Here is a link to one that works well for me. Then you will also need the wooden beads. I recommend beads no bigger than 1 inch. You don’t want unnecessary weight added to your puppet. Here is a link to the ones I use.
2. Prep the String and Beads
Lay out string that exceeds the length of your puppet’s arm. Then, you’ll want to cover one end with tape to keep the string from unravelling and make the process of sliding the beads on much smoother. Also, Knot the other end of the string so the beads don’t fall off. For the beads, lay out how many will be needed to fit the length of the arm.
3. Stringing the Beads
Start sliding the beads on. In between each bead, tie a small knot so that the beads don’t bump right into each other. Each bead should have a cushion of about an eight inch to move slightly. The separating knots allow for flexibility.
4. Attach to the Hand of the Puppet
Now that you have the string of beads, it’s time to attach! Attach one end of the bead string to the hand of the puppet and arm rod. Click Here to learn hoe to make arm rods and armature wire fingers.
5. Finish the Hand
Create the rest of the hand following your puppets design.
6. Insert the Beads
Next, thread the end of the string through the arm hole. Then pull the line of beads through. Then, secure the other end of the arm by sewing the top knot into the fabric of the fur and stitch the top of the arm closed. Then, sew the end of the arm closed to finish off the arm.
8. Attach the Arms to the Puppet
Now you can have study, flexible arms that express the character of your puppet perfectly.
Would it be easier to follow these instructions in a video? Well here is the full tutorial!