Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Get Crafty: Doorway Puppet Theater

Last year, my sister-in-law made a beautiful doorway puppet theater for my nieces using this article from Country Living. I loved it so much I had taken a stab at it and made one as a gift for a friend's daughter's birthday. I had always meant to make one for H, but never got around to it. Now that it's finally gotten cold here in Boston and we're stuck inside, I decided it was time to make a new one - but I wanted to make it the easiest and cheapest way possible.

If you google "DIY doorway puppet theater" there are a lot of great tutorials out there, some with lots of sewing and others just using pressure curtain rods and curtains. I like the curtain rods as a no-sew option, but I had two issues with it: the doorway I'm using is fairly narrow, so there would be a lot of bunching of fabric, and I would need multiple curtains. Even at discount stores, curtains are just one of those things that cost more than you think they will.

So based mostly on the Country Living tutorial, I put together the following super cheap, pretty fast (this took about an hour), no sew (ok, a small amount of hand sewing!) tutorial for making a doorway puppet theater.

You'll need:
  • A cotton curtain - mine was $7 from Christmas Tree Shoppes
  • A pre-cut quilting square (1/4 yard) - $2.99 at A.C. Moore - for the curtains
  • 1" wide sturdy ribbon
  • Stitch witchery fabric bonding tape - around $3 a roll. Mine was 5/6" wide
  • Needle, threads, and pins
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Optional: additional coordinating fabric

Before I start, just a quick note about Stitch Witchery. It should be called Stitch Awesomery. Before I learned how to use my sewing machine and when I was too poor to go to a tailor, I hemmed all of my pants using Stitch Witchery. It's "a fusible web that bonds two layers of fabric together when activated by a steam iron." You can wash it and take to the dry cleaners and it stays in place - and even if it eventually starts to fall you just whip out the iron and put in a new strip. It takes seconds. Obviously anywhere I've said to use the Stitch Witchery you can sew instead - if you want to make sure it lasts longer or want to give as a gift. Unlike other projects where the act of making something is the fun with your kid, this is pretty much an adults only craft, so I wanted to make it quick and simple so you can get it up and start the performances!

Step one: Cut the window for the stage

No measuring required! Just open up your quilt square, iron out the creases and eyeball where you want it on the curtain. I made the top of the window about 12" from the top of the curtain, but you have some leeway with this. When you hang the curtain in the doorway you can always adjust how high the window is by how high you hang the curtain

For cutting, the best way is to fold the curtain in half lengthwise and then fold the fabric "square" in half, shorter ends together. Position the fabric where you want the window and line up the folded edges. Pin down the fabric piece to the curtain and then cut the curtain along the edge of the fabric.

Now you have your stage!

Step 2: Frame the stage
To keep the cut edges from fraying and the make the frame of the stage a bit sturdier, you're going to attach the ribbon around the outside edge of the stage window.

Cut 4 pieces of ribbon the length of each side of the window. Then cut 4 pieces of Stitch Witchery the same length.

Move the curtain over to your ironing board. Lay the top edge of your window on the board flat, then line up a piece of Stitch Witchery along that edge.

Align one of the lengths of ribbon on top of the Stitch Witchery so that it's sandwiched between the curtain and the ribbon. Let the bottom edge of the ribbon hang slightly over the edge of the window. Use the iron to fuse the ribbon to the curtain - make sure it's hot and steamy! Repeat for the remaining 3 sides.

Step 3: Attaching the curtains
Remove the pins and the cut out piece of curtain from the fabric but keep it folded.

Cut along the folded edge of the fabric to create 2 curtain pieces. An optional additional step is to cut some triangles in a coordinating fabric (or from your discarded window piece) to line the top of the stage. I had a leftover piece of blue fabric that matched the curtain so I used that for the triangles.

On the ironing board, flip the curtain over so you are looking at the backside of the top of the stage window. Use the Stitch Witchery to attach the triangles, then use another length of Stitch Witchery to attach the top of the curtains.

Step 4: A small amount of hand sewing to finish

I sewed a little x on each of the top corners of the curtains for added durability.

Then cut 2 lengths of ribbon - enough to make two bows. Fold them in half and sew the folded edge onto the inside right side of the stage - around 3/4 of the way down. Repeat on the left side. Use the ribbons to tie back your curtains (this is easier to do with the curtain already hung up).

Cut 4 smaller bits of ribbon and fold in half. sew two of the ribbon pieces to both top corners - these will hook onto nails or pushpins to hang your stage.
Sew the remaining two pieces on the outside edge in line with the bottom of your stage. These will also hook onto nails or pushpins and will keep the bottom edge of your stage from sagging.

And that's it! Your theater is ready for it's first performance!

H and I set up some of her dolls and stuffed animals on some chairs and invited daddy in for a performance. We used a reading light as a spotlight and wowed the audience with our riveting performance of "Little Bunny Foo Foo", followed by the lengthy and rambling saga of "Doggy, Mermaid, and Baby Penguin Go to Preschool."

Now we just need to make some more puppets....