In 2013, I set myself up as a puppet builder in Edinburgh. Now that it’s been five years, I thought I would write up the story of my journey as a puppet builder, from where I started to where I’m at so far.
I started Picture to Puppet when I was still in college. I had a year out after my third year and I started Puppet making in the evenings after coming home from my various uninspiring temp jobs seamstressing and waitressing. It was just a bit of fun and money on the side and I would have been very surprised to learn that that was to be my career. If you’d told me, I would probably have had a similar reaction to a lot of people when I tell them I’m a puppet maker – “is that an actual job?”
My Journey as a Puppet Builder
Oddly enough puppets have not been a lifelong love of mine. Although I am very into them these days, until five years ago they were not something I had given much thought to. I just took a random commission making a puppet for a friend’s nephew and enjoyed it, and that’s where it all started. Here was the first Picture to Puppet Puppet, a scary but cuddly seamonster (left).
I had a website for my dressmaking and stuck a picture up there. I also made some puppets based on drawings that children in my mum’s class had done, and stuck those up too. That first year, odd jobs came through in drips and drabs, although definitely not enough to get excited about.
Just as my gap year came to an end and I was preparing to return to college, a language school got in touch. They said that they were looking for a regular supplier or glove puppets. To begin with, they were looking for a hundred! That was what first got me thinking, maybe I could be a puppet builder for a living!
Finally when I went back to college and entered the throws of my final year, the whole thing took off and I got orders all the time! It wasn’t great timing. I would work in college all day doing coursework, then go home and work on bulk orders of toys made to order all night in my bedroom. I took on some second years from my course who used to come and help in the evenings. Somehow we got through it!
After I finished college I worked part time for a year in all kinds of classy jobs including working in the pie van at Murray field and altering enumerable crotches in the windowless room behind slaters.
I’ve been a full time puppet builder now since 2015. It’s a lot simpler than juggling a whole lot of crappy jobs, and a lot more fun. It never gets boring. Every commission is inherently different and I’m always learning new things. We have a really nice mix of bulk orders and custom builds. We’re also always diversifying into different types of puppet and toy.
The latest addition to our portfolio is Leith Toy Hospital in Edinburgh. Anyone who has a poorly or broken teddy can bring it in to our Constitution Street toy shop for some bear repairs or toy mending. We love doing it and seeing the children’s faces when their teddies are all mended!
Now we offer hand puppets, talking puppets, muppet style puppets, glove puppets, sock puppets, finger puppets, soft toys, jack in the boxes and a toy hospital. We also offer moving eyebrows, blinking eyes, arm rods, moving fingers, moving brows, twitching noses, wiggling ears, moving eyeballs… and who knows what next! I am currently learning about marionettes and and hoping that this will be the next addition to our repertoire!
Who knows where we’ll be in five years time!