How To Cut A Plastic Puppet

It occurred to me a while back that any of you crafty people reading this blog at home might be wanting to try and make a few of these puppets yourself.  It’s impossible to get the translucent leather in the states (unless you process it yourself) – so what would the alternative be?

Luckily, during my visit to Hubei, I got my answer.

Master Qin is currently the ONLY master I’ve seen using plastic to create puppets.  When I asked him about his reasons, he simply said the color is truer on clear plastic and they’re easier to perform with and store.  The former is certainly true, but I have yet to be convinced about the latter.  Still, Master Qin is a fantastic designer and his puppets suffer little from the change in materials.


Tools & Materials

Your design

A Linoleum or Rubber Cutting Mat

Translucent Plastic Sheeting, 1/16” – 1/8” thick

A set of hand blades, curved and flat

A fine sharpening stone and awl

Bottle of water for sharpening knives

{Use a plastic that is flexible but firm.  Nothing too shiny.  Acetate is a good choice)

Begin by printing your design onto paper.  Lay this design under your piece of plastic and tape to secure.  There is no tracing of the pattern onto the plastic, instead you keep the design underneath as cutting guide.

The set of cutting knives are long handled blades in an array of straight and curved shapes.  From what I could see, Master Qin mostly uses a flat blade that is about 1/3” wide and a slightly curved blade around a 1/8” diameter circle.   These blades are handmade, but I’m sure you could find an adequate set for use or revision in your local wood carving shop or art store.

<These cutters are all right handed, flip this if you’re a lefty.>

With a small hand blade in your right hand, place the tip of your knife onto your design for the initial cut.  Use your left hand to brace the work and your cutting mat.  Simply press down with the blade, directly perpendicular through the plastic and into your mat.  Move the blade slightly alone the line of your design and repeat.

For smaller, more intricate designs, Master Qin often started with the smaller curved cuts and finished with the straight cuts – almost assembly line in progression.

I tried cutting for a while and while it certainly takes a lot of strength, it takes the least skill of all that I’ve studied so far.  It’s a slow and simple process of cutting the design out as you see it.  The blade only moves in a cookie cutter like fashion – up to down, punching out the unwanted excess.

The paint Master Qin uses on his plastic puppets is directly translated as ‘Lacquer’ or ‘Oil Paints’.  I couldn’t tell which one just from looking at his palette, but I’d go with lacquer or enamel paints for durability.

Once your design is finished, the pieces are connected together with small pieces of wire or string.   Add control rods and you’re ready to entertain your family, school, best friends and Broadway.

Happy cutting!

Thanks for reading~


2 responses to “How To Cut A Plastic Puppet

  1. Alison Buttenheim

    Thanks, Annie! Maybe Claire and Julia will give it a go!

  2. You my dear, are an excellent teacher.

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