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Making Your Own Shadow Puppets

July 5, 2016

At NPL’s recent International Puppet Festival, we offered a shadow puppet craft and set up a shadow room for children to play with the puppets that they made.  The question we were asked repeatedly was, “How can I do this at home?”

The answer…easy!  You can hang a bed sheet from the door frame and put a light behind it, which is by far the cheapest way to go.  But with a small budget, you can put together a lovely shadow puppet theatre that can be stored flat and brought out for shadow puppet performances any time you like. 

What you will need:  A tri-fold display board (also called a "science fair board"),  a cutting mat and box cutter or pocket knife, a piece of translucent paper or velum, some strong tape (we use duct tape), and either a standing lamp or a clip-on lamp.   You can purchase all the things you need at most art or craft supply stores. 

Find a large sheet of velum and figure out how large you want your stage to be.  Mark out an area in the center of your board, leaving the two sides alone to support your stage, and cut out the shape you want.   Tape velum to the back of the board completely covering the opening, and light it from behind. 

This small theatre doesn’t even need electric lights--you can place it in front of a window and let natural light do the trick.  A regular box or a large pizza box will also work as a shadow puppet stage.  Again, use translucent paper or thin fabric to cover the opening.

From there you can cut shapes from black paper using stencils, shadow puppet designs, or simply draw and cut-out your own design.   We taped clear drinking straws on the back to hold our puppets, but you can also use wooden skewers.

If you want a puppet to move, just make the parts separately and attach them with metal brads so that they can move an arm, mouth or leg.  Each moving part will need a control mechanism or rod. 

Want to learn more about making shadow puppets?  Check out these books!