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  • Writer's picturesarahvonthronlaver17

Rockin' Robins and wobbly legged lambs.

How to transform a swimming woggle into a squirrel!

Or should it be called a squoggel!

I'm a very lucky person in that I get asked to work on such a variety of different projects.

Most of them I can't share due to IP agreements and NDA's, but sometimes I get to work on something that I can share just to prove that I'm not just lounging about doodling in my jim jams.

2 - 3 weeks ago I was asked by a friend if I could help them create some rod puppets for an upcoming production of 'The Secret Garden' they were working on with some year 7's & 8's at QEH!

She came over for a very small glass of wine or 3 and a chat about what she wanted..

4 x rod puppets, 3 of which had to be operated by one puppeteer each, and the 4th could be operated by 2 puppeteers. Then we got mostly over excited about what we could make them do, if only we had Heath Robinson on hand to help, and before the bottle of wine was finished I'd committed to creating a robin that could flap his wings and turn his head, operated by only one puppeteer, a lamb who could walk (in a wobbly fashion) but also be held in the arms of one of the main actors without rods sticking out everywhere, a mouse who would quiver, and a squirrel - who would - well just be squirrelly really.

So after a bit of sketching on an A4 sheet of lined paper, much thinking, and discussion with my OH, I went out a bought a bunch of random stuff to start making these creatures.

I thought It best to make some simple prototypes first to make sure that the materials I was working with would do what I wanted, and be strong and light enough. So out came the glue gun, wooden dowels, scrap fabric, lots of garden wire, and after one day of chaos in the house - I had put together these!

After deciding what I did and didn't like about the prototypes, I sent off for more materials, paid a visit to the local DIY store and then gave myself one week to make all 4 puppets.

One thing I did know was that I wanted the animals to look very lovable, and had previously agreed with my friend that they should be needle felted, as I had shown her some samples of needle felted animals I had done a while back.

Trouble is with my work, that it's a bit 'feast and famine-y' and low and behold, loads of other work piled up for me as well as this job, and I know that a project like this will ALWAYS take longer than I imagine. so, I set aside a week, where I refused all other commissions and got the woggles out!

It turns out that swimming woggles are a fantastic base which can be carved with a coping saw, glued back together and covered in needle felt - and it sticks!

I won't show you all the animals being carved and glued together, and the Robin had to be constructed differently as I had to have a mechanism inside him, whereby he needed to have a hollow body. But this is what the squirrel looked like as he morphed from a yellow blob into something a bit more rodenty!

I think the squirrel is my favourite, but he was the quickest and easiest to make - at just under a day. The Robin on the other hand was a bit trickier, as we had to get his wings flapping, and head turning. The wings we decided (that's me and my OH - he was technical advisor and mechanism expert) should be operated by a trigger mech, and so I invested in a beautiful litter picker, which we fed into the back of the Robin's body and my OH rigged up a simple pulley system by which we could pull the trigger and it would create tension therefore lifting the Robin's wings. All housed in a plastic decorative easter egg from a well know Craft shop!

So after wrestling with the Robin to get him covered in needle felt - a tricky thing to attached needle felt to plastic, but I have a secret method, also getting the mechanism working and strong enough to withstand a bit of bashing - but not too much, and making the head turn without interfering with the flapping mech.. he was a triumph of avian engineering.

After the fiddling about with the Robin, the Mouse was easy, although I did get a bit over involved in his legs and feet!

The last to be completed was the Lamb, and even though I'd started on this before the squirrel, I definitely needed more thinking time.

I had to get the head to turn, using a removable rod, but also to turn without the rod, and I needed to get the legs to move, but the mechanism for this had to be detachable so that the lamb could lay in the arms of one of the actors.

So after much punching holes in woggles, glueing wooden dowels at strategic angles, and fiddling about making tiny metal links for legs to attach to a cross frame contraption which linked to rods to move the legs, the lamb was born. Admittedly the leg movement is well over the wobbly end of the spectrum, but let's remember he is a new born!

I worked right up to the deadline - and delivered the animals 10 minutes after checking them over for one last time, videoing them and taking a few pictures.

If you want to see them perform they'll be at QEH's performance of 'The Secret Garden'

on the 29th, 30th June and 1st of July 2022!

I might see you there.



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