Boy did this project take over my life! Here are the very basic, scattered instructions on how to make a DIY puppet theatre.
I had a dilemma: I wanted a puppet theatre for the Princess’ birthday. Everything I could find was either super expensive or too small. We have 3 little kids who were going to fight over this thing – I needed room for all three, or we would have a world war going on at our house!
After hours and hours of scouring Pinterest and Google, I decided that I could make one myself. Nope, I didn’t find instructions anywhere. All I found was one, forlorn photograph on another blog talking about how they converted an IKEA art easel into a puppet theatre. One panel, a stand-alone job for one kid.
It was a seed in my bleary mind. I bet we could do 3 panels if I put hinges on it, right? And this project was born.
You will need:
- A drill with assorted drill bits and screwdriver apparatus
- A box cutter
- Clips (RIKTIG from IKEA, but any small curtain clips will do)
- Picture hanging wire
- Eye-screw hooks
- Hinges (amount depends on the size you use, at least 3 per side)
- An extra set of screws if the hinge screws are too long
- Metal duct tape or electrical tape
- 2 sets of IKEA MALA art easels
- Decorations or paint
- Modge Podge (glossy)
- Fabric for curtains
- Plenty of patience
- About 2 days of your life that you will never get back
- Easels: 2 @ $20
- Paper: 12 packs @ $1
- Modge Podge: $7
- Hinges: 4 @ about $2
- Screws and hooks: about $4
- Wire: $3
- Fabric: 1.5 yards about $10
- Clips: 1 @ $3
Total cost: about $87 (of which I had one dead easel and fabric already)
Lucky you, you benefit from my screw-ups and mistakes. You won’t make the same mistakes that I did because I’m going to share all the gory details.
Step 1: Take the easels apart.
Easier said than done. The tray part unhooks fairly easily, but the pegs for the tray are more difficult. Be careful – the wood is soft pine and it’s easy to mangle it with pliers.
The pegs are glued in. Don’t try to pull them out, it will just drive you nuts and damage your hands. Instead, use the pliers to wiggle them out enough to reach the box cutter blade behind them and sheer them off. A sharp blade, a steady hand, and careful attention to safety are required.
Keep in mind that your puppet theatre will be upside-down compared to the easel.
Step 2: Decorate the panels.
I decided to cut out this really cool sparkly glitter paper with adhesive backs that we got from the dollar store. It worked great until I layered it. In hindsight, I should have glued it all down as I worked.
I also considered painting it with dramatic stripes, circles, or similar designs, but the Princess is all about castles, glitter, and drama. So I didn’t paint it.
Instead, I painstakingly cut out shapes that I had printed out or drawn, and applied them to a background to make a picture. Yes, I cut out all those &*&$^%$ trees. Never again!
I have plans in the works to make more panels out of foam core board for different scenes, or kid decorated designs. If cut to fit tightly, the foam core will slide in and hold (until pulled on by a toddler. Still working on that.)
Step 3: Seal the panels
If you have a toddler around like I do, sparkly paper with fun sticker edges are an enticing challenge to dismantle it. After a bad attempt at spray sealing it I ended up using Modge Podge. Which worked, mostly. The colors didn’t run and it’s holding the edges down. It did nothing to fix the bad spray job though.
Step 4: Add the hardware
I wanted sturdy hinges, so I bought 2.5″ gate hinges. Sturdy, but the screws that came with them were too long. So off I went back to the hardware store to find screws that were short enough, but wide enough to work with the hinges. Ours have 3 hinges per joint – top, middle, and bottom.
Add the eye screw hooks to the inside of each “leg” of the easel panels. Make sure they’re securely screwed in and tight.
Once the theatre is hinged together, add the picture wire. Loop it through the eye hooks and pull it tight, wrap it tightly around itself until it holds without slipping. The edges of the wire are sharp and prickly: wrap the metal duct tape or electrical tape around the ends to seal it.
Step 5: Add the curtains
Because I had leftover fabric, I sewed the curtains to fit. You could also use felt cut to size, or even a curtain valance. For the center panel I split the curtains in half, and for the side panels I did one long panel that wrapped around the ends.
The RIKTIK clips from IKEA work well, but I had to clamp them together with the pliers because they come with the clip and hook separate. Opening and closing the curtains caused the hooks to fly off. All I had to do was squeeze the hook with the pliers until it closed.
Step 6: Add puppets and children
IKEA has a decent set of finger puppets and a few hand puppets. We scoured Amazon for a few more. Sock puppets are also in the works for a later kid project.
The final product has a tendency to tip forward if pushed by the puppeteers. We solved this problem by attaching one side to a gate in the play area. If it needs to be free-standing, we will have to add some sort of “foot” to the front to keep it from falling over on unsuspecting spectators.
Because it’s a double hinged panel, only 1 panel will actually fold flat. It can be stored under a bed or flat against a wall: in this picture I folded one panel flat and pushed it over to the side to make more room in the play area.
It’s a hit!