Tuesday, May 12

How to turn a Cardboard Castle into a Puppet Theater

Sophie wanted to play puppets, which we can certainly do without a puppet theater. But oh, wouldn’t it be nicer with one? I’ve seen some really nice (and portable) tension-rod-in-doorway versions (LiEr@ikatbag made a cute one). And I’d love to get a wooden one like I had when I was a kid.

But I wanted something now so I used what I had on hand:
   a cardboard castle that’s about puppet theater height,
   some bamboo stakes leftover from last year’s garden,
   some fabric from my stash (recognize the hula girls?),
   and a few bits of hook-and-loop tape (a.k.a. Velcro).


(For those who want to try this but don’t have a cardboard castle lying around, you could do something similar with any large box. In fact, we found the box our grill came in when cleaning out our shed this weekend. I’m thinking I might try transforming that one too. I’ll let you know…)

Anyway, I tried to keep things quick and easy with this project. You know, before Sophie had moved on from puppets.

IMG_2847First I poked three holes into each end of the castle: one for the curtain stake, one for the backdrop, and one for the bottom panel. I had Sophie kneel and hold her hands up so I knew how high to put the bottom hole. Here’s a photo after the stakes were inserted. (They’re 4 feet long.)

Next, the curtains. I didn’t want them to be gathered when closed otherwise they’d be really gathered when open and might bunch up too much to open fully. So I held the fabric up to the opening, made a small scissors snip at one end, ripped the fabric (faster than cutting, and oh was Sophie impressed!), folded this new piece in half, snipped and ripped again. Two curtain pieces, each half as wide as the opening. Similarly, I snipped and ripped a bottom panel but made it one-and-a-half times the width of the opening, so it would be nicely gathered.

As for the length, rather than cutting the fabric, I just folded it as needed when held up to the stakes (which happened to be right at the middle of the fabric).

I sewed a line about an inch from the fold to make a casing for the fabric; Sophie really wanted to help so I taught her how to operate the foot control. She did surprisingly well at gauging the speed and knowing when to stop. (My frantic “Stop stop stop!!” might have helped too.) Then she helped insert the stakes into the casing…


…and into the holes again. (Got a little harder to do with socks “puppets” on her hands. But she persevered.)

 IMG_2854 IMG_2856

For the backdrop, I used a piece of blue fabric – thought it looked quite sky-ish. It’s not as wide as I would’ve liked but it’s what I had. I considered adding some appliquéd landscape, sun, trees, etc, but decided not to. (More on that in a moment.)

Thinking I might make more backdrops, I wanted it to be easily exchangeable. So instead of a casing along the top like before, I sewed on some hook-and-loop tape at each end and in the middle: one piece along the top edge, the other piece about an inch below that.


Then I did sew a casing along the bottom edge and inserted a shorter piece of bamboo to weigh down the bottom of the backdrop. (If you watch the video below, you can see it near the end when Sophie lifts up the backdrop.) In the future, I might just weigh it down with heavy washers on clips or something; I’m afraid the bamboo stake will poke someone’s eye out…

We affixed the backdrop fabric to the back top stake and there you go, Sophie had her theater. (And she’d found new socks puppets to use. Wonder what happened to the khaki green ones?)  IMG_2862

Further thoughts on backdrops: the theater I had when I was a child had four (I think?) different painted scenes; I only remember the image on one of them but I do remember that changing out the backdrops was one of my favorite parts of my puppet theater experience. As I was contemplating what shapes to put on the sky, it occurred to me that rather than sewing anything in place, I could cut out various shapes that could then be moved about to create unlimited numbers of scenery. (Hmm, where have I seen this before? Here, of course—the ikatbag felt boards.) Not sure how well all the pieces would stay up with moving puppets possibly grazing them, but I think it’s worth a try…

To finish up this post, here’s a clip from one of Sophie’s first presentations. I added subtitles but wasn’t sure about a phrase near the end, so surrounded it with questions marks. The movie makes me laugh every time, but then again, I am her mama…  


  1. I loved, really LOVED the puppet show! Give her (and her mummy for making it) a big round of applause from me!

    Love Wendy

    ps. you totally got me into Square Foot Gardening, I'm gonna build one this weekend :D

  2. Thanks, Wendy. Judging by the videos you find to put on your site, clearly you have good taste in videos! : ) (Just watched the wolf and pig stop motion today. Amazing!!! And the sheep one from a while back. How cool was that?!?)

    How fun to hear you're trying out SFG. Let me know how it goes. Will you post about it on your blog?



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