My Journey as a Puppet Builder

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!

Puppet by Puppet Builder Mari JonesAfter 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.

Latest Additions

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!

Puppet by Puppet Builder




Happy 5th Birthday Picture to Puppet

Five Years as a Puppet Maker

It’s now been five years since I set myself up as a puppet maker. My business, Picture to Puppet, is a small Edinburgh puppet company making puppets and cuddly toys to order. Mostly from day to day I’m focused on the daily tasks of running the business, which is lot of fun mixed in with a fair bit of drudgery! But I thought I would take this opportunity to look back at the whole five years, and reflect on what I’ve achieved. Apparently about 90% of start up businesses fold within the first 5 years, so having made it through the first five years feels like a big achievement. The creative sector is a notoriously difficult sector in which to make a living, and the toy making sector in the UK has almost disappeared due to competition from China.

Puppet Maker in EdinburghBecause of this, people are often surprised to learn that I can make a living as a puppet maker in Scotland at all. In fact we are growing all the time. It started of as just me making puppets in my bedroom at night after I finished College. Now I work full time and have a lovely employee. We have a big sunny puppet making studio on Constitution Street.  We get orders in every day and ship all over the world. We’ve made custom puppets and toys for films, TV ads, ventriloquists, local councils, educational resource companies, parents… the list is endless.


How have we made it work?

– Starting smallPuppet maker sewing

I set myself up as a puppet maker when I was straight out of college, and used to not making much money. This helped because it’s very difficult to make a lot of money at the start of a new business.

Keeping overheads low has been a big help. For the first 4 years I ran the puppet company from my bedroom, and worked as a puppet builder online. I ran the puppet company part time for 2 years before I went full time. During this time, I took on all kinds of classy jobs, including working in the pie van at Murrayfield and altering enumerable crotches in the windowless room behind Slaters.

– Using every scrap

Thankfully that is all behind me and there is now enough work for me to be a full time puppet maker and employ someone else of top of that. We have a lovely sunny studio to work in where people can drop by if they want to, and lots of storage space for all our materials. I am still very careful to use every scrap of fabric so that nothing is wasted. We even make our pattern pieces from bits of spam that come through the door!

– Being adaptable

I think our adaptability has been a big factor in our success to date; I’m always pushing myself to learn new techniques and experiment with different materials. Usually if someone asks me if I can do something and I don’t know how to do it, I say “yes” and learn how to do it as fast as I can! I’ve always been open to trying lots of different business models and strategies, and have built the business around the ones which have worked best.

– Core valuesPuppet Maker in Scotland

Despite this, I’m careful to ensure that my key values remain central to the business. These include environmental sustainability and having a healthy, happy and engaging working environment. For example, I won’t ever decide to outsource any toys to a sweatshop in China, because I believe that would be unethical. In addition, it would risk my role shifting my role from a predominantly practical one that I love to a largely administrative one that I would dislike. For me, keeping my job as a puppet maker enjoyable and stimulating is fundamental. Many businesses fold in the early stages not because they aren’t good, but because the people running them have rubbish time and decide to stop.


Having support from amazing people

And finally, I wanted to say a huge thankyou to everyone who has contributed to making Picture to Puppet a success! To every client who has put their trust in us to make their ideas into custom plush toys and puppets. Thankyou to everyone who has sewed away with me over the years. Thanks to Rob for all his ace web advise and designing our beloved mascot Phyllis! Thanks to the folk at Launch.ed and Business Gateway for all your help and advice. Thanks to my parents for renovating this amazing workshop. And finally thanks to my family and friends for believing in me and encouraging me every step of the way.


Here’s to the next five years of glorious Puppet Making!

Personalised Soft Toys

Handmade Personalised Soft Toys

Recently we’ve been making lots of personalised soft toys for to order, so I thought I’d write a bit about them.

We make individual personalised soft toys as well as bulk orders of up to 500 cuddly toys. O

ften people order a personalised cuddly toy based on their child’s drawing, or a family member. Other times it is companies who may be ordering soft toys from their mascots or logos. Schools and local authorities sometimes run design your own toy competitions, and children draw a soft toy to enter. Recently we made some soft toys based on video game characters for a game designer. Also lately we have been making cuddly toys of pets.


Our Personalised Soft Toys:

  • Can be any size or shape you like!Banana slug custom toy
  • May be ordered in any quantity from 1 – 500
  • can be made from a photo, drawing or description.
  • From £75 (individual)
  • Or £25 apiece (bulk)

Contact me button

Contact me to order your custom soft toy now.


Would you like a soft toy made in the likeness of your pet? Check out out Custom Pet Soft Toy page!


Here are some examples of our most recent custom soft toy commissions:


Contact me now if you’re interested in our custom soft toys.

See more examples of toys and puppets we’ve made based on children’s drawings

Let’s get it moving next! Find out about our custom puppets

The Process – personalised cuddly toys

People often ask me how I go about creating personlised plush toys. Here’s how it usually works!

Customers send me the picture they’d like a toy based on, whether that’s a drawing or a photograph, and how big they want it. First of all I draw the character out at the finished side onto paper. From that drawing I work out the patter pieces and make a paper model of the character. I adjust it until it’s just right, then use this to work out the fabric pattern. Then I make it up in fabric, embroidering on all the features on.

Got an idea for a personalised soft toy? Come and visit us at our 64 Constitution Street studio.

Picture to Puppet’s Constitution Street Studio

My Constitution Street Puppet Making Workshop

All of our puppets and toys are handmade by myself and Emma in our lovely Constitution Street Studio.

Constitution Street toy shop


Toy shop Constitution Street

Toy shop window

I keep a rolling window display. Every time I make a puppet or toy commission, I stand it in the window for a few days. There are always different puppets looking out of the window. We get a lot of people stopping to look in the window, and saying “fancy there being a toy shop on Constitution Street!”. Sometimes it makes me feel self conscious, but the puppets are right prima donnas. They love all the attention! If there is a child outside looking in, the puppets might do a little show for them and start moving about!

It’s really a workshop rather and a toy shop – we don’t sell anything off the peg because all our work is made to order. If you’ve got a poorly toy that needs some TLC, or want to chat about any custom toy ideas you might have, or even if you’re just curious about what life is like in a puppet maker’s workshop – give us a knock! Or Contact us by phone or email.

The story of my Puppet Building Studio

For the first 4 years of Picture to Puppet, I ran the business from my bedroom, and worked as a puppet maker online. This was a bit of a pain because rolls of fabric, tubes of paint and blocks of foam were crammed into every nook and cranny. And there was no escaping the solvent glue fumes or the ever present fluff! When I did bulk orders, for example when I made 500 sock puppets for a B&Q advert, they had to sit on my bed in tall towers in the daytime. At night they filled the only bit floor space that made it possible to enter and leave the room. But I made it work, because I was short of options!Turquoise door constitution Street

Last Autumn I took on a beautiful but somewhat derelict Victorian flat on Constitution Street. My family and I set about turning the front room into a puppet and toy workshop and toy hospital.

The big turquoise front door is my favourite thing about the flat, and sometimes tourists stop and take selfies on my steps! It took me about ten days up a ladder to renovate the front door. It had been a bit unloved in previous times and needed lots of filling and sanding. The railings took even longer, and that way I got to meet all the local characters on Constitution Street. It is a lovely friendly street!

Railings Constitution Street




The Puppet Making Cupboards

My Dad laid beautiful oak floors and built the most amazing puppet making cupboards. They’ve got wheels inside for storing rolls of fabric and having the colour you want at the front.  There’s even a built in filing cabinet for storing all the patterns I’ve made. I even got organised and ordered all my bits of fabric in boxes according to colour and type.

built in filing cabinet Constitution Street

Fabric Cupboard constitution Street 










Snow Puppet

In collaboration with the Beast from the East, I made a snow puppet of Phyllis, the character in my logo!

Also see our Custom Puppets, our Toy Hospital and our Toys from children’s drawings: 

Likeness puppet Valentine’s day: Is it likeness or is it love?

February 2018, Leith

It was a dreary February day in Edinburgh, and I was catching up with my old friend Debbie, when she suddenly said, “You aren’t seeing anyone right now, are you?”

“No, why?”

“Well you know Valentines Day is coming up… there’s a friend of mine I want you to meet, I think you’d really get on!”

“Valentines Day is just overhyped consumerism designed to make people feel bad about being single. But who’s your friend?”

“His name is Tim, and he’s a likeness puppet too, so I just know you’ll get along! We do yoga together every week and he’s really friendly.”

“Okay… but I don’t really think being a likeness puppet is the most interesting thing about me. I’d like to have more in common than that.”

“Just tell me you’ll meet him and give him a chance!”

February 14th

So that was how I ended up sitting in a nice cafe in Leith over fancy hot chocolates, on Valentines Day. I hadn’t meant to arrange the date for that day, but as it turned out, it was the only afternoon we were both free for a while. He certainly seemed nice enough, pretty cute and clearly fit from all the yoga! But as we got talking, it didn’t seem like romance was in the air.

A likeness puppet man and woman sitting in a cafe with drinks

“So, you’re a likeness puppet too?” He said. “Who’s your lookalike person?”

“You know, I don’t really think about her. Sure, I was made to look like some woman named Elizabeth, but that’s not who I am. I go by Liz, I have my own life and interests. Don’t you?”

He looked confused. “No? I’m Tim’s puppet likeness, so I’m just him in puppet form. He does yoga, so I do yoga. This is his favourite place for hot chocolate. I can’t imagine what I would do if I wasn’t Tim.”

I didn’t know what to say. This is honestly why I’ve kind of given up on dating other likeness puppets. So many of them have no personality outside of who they were made to resemble, and that just seems so sad to me. I was willing to give this guy a chance for Debbie’s sake, but it was starting to look like a waste of an afternoon. I sighed and made another effort.

“If you could do anything, not worrying about Tim, what would you do? Anything at all?”

He stared into his whipped cream, stirring idly.

“I dunno…” he said eventually. “I’d kind of like to travel, but Tim is such a homebody. I think we both secretly love the idea of just getting on a plane and going somewhere new, but he’d never actually do that. I couldn’t do that.”

“But why not?” I lit up. “You’re not stuck being as boring as this Tim guy sounds! Where would you go if you could pick anywhere?”

He smiled, almost to himself, and it was the most genuine he had looked since we met. It was pretty cute.

“Italy maybe?” He sounded hesitant, like it might be the wrong answer. “I love the food, and there’s so much cool archaeology…”

“All the Roman ruins, just in the middle of everyday life! Did you know that Rome’s cats have been designated as part of the city’s cultural heritage?”

“Really? That’s awesome!” He was gaining enthusiasm, and his grin was contagious. “I always thought I’d like to have a cat. Tim’s more of a dog person.”

“Not this Tim!” Impulsively, I reached across the table to squeeze his hand. “You are your own person, and I like him.”

So, long story short, we have another date for next week: Roman Holiday and dinner at my place. I think I owe Debbie a thank you! And whether or not you’re a likeness puppet, remember the most attractive thing you can do is to be yourself.


Want your own likeness puppet, with or without its own personality? Check out our likeness puppets page:

Or, there are more options for custom puppets:

Cuddly Tamandua

This cuddly tamandua was handmade in Edinburgh by Picture to Puppet. He’s made of lovely soft high quality fur fabrics with felt features. He’s about 20 inches long.

Tamanduas are part of the anteater family. His long toungue is for catching ants and termites, and his bendy claws make him very good at climbing trees. He’s originally South American and likes to live in forests and grasslands. Tamanduas sleep in the day and go out and have fun at night time. They can’t see very well but have amazing senses of hearing and smell.

He is ready to add an exotic note to any soft toy collection!

All my toys are safe for children and they are hardwearing enough to withstand many years of love and hugs. I believe this so much that all of our toys and puppets come with a 5 year guarantee – if they become damaged, I will repair them free of charge.

You can buy one below!

At Picture to Puppet, we also make custom puppets to order based on any animal – it could be your favourite animal, your pet or your child’s drawing!  Contact Picture to Puppet to place your order.

Find out more about our custom soft toys

Find out more about our custom puppets based on kids’ drawings




Singing Puppets perform the Boar’s Head Carol with Castle Chorus

The Boar’s head carol, performed by a motley mixed crew of humans and singing puppets!

Edinburgh’s Legendary Castle Chorus is joined by some puppets from Picture to Puppet.

You can get tickets for Castle Chorus’s Christmas concert here:…

It is THIS SUNDAY December the 17th!

Picture to Puppet makes custom puppets to order, in quantities from 1-500! We also make custom soft toys, from your logo, mascot or children’s drawings. Some of the puppets you can see in this video are likeness lookalike puppets – people send me a photo of themself or someone else and I make it into a puppet or cuddly toy. A lot of them are for educational resources, the dancing wizards in the front are for a reading scheme.

Visit to find out more.



Facing reality with likeness puppets

If you’ve seen the likeness puppets I make, you might be curious about how I construct them and make them look like specific people. Or you might not, but I’m going to tell you a bit about it anyway. I’m going to focus on likeness hand puppets, which have three-dimensional heads, and a movable mouth that you operate with your hand. They can also have other movable features; check out the link below for some fun videos showing examples I’ve made!

Mechanisms button

The head starts as a foam base, which can be adjusted for different shaped heads. When people send me photographs to make likeness puppets, I spend a lot of time staring at the shape of their head and trying to match it in foam. This gets covered in a fabric ‘skin’. The mouth is built into the outer fabric, and is stiffened with plastic to hold its shape. The eyes, nose, ears and any other features such as facial hair are sewn on separately.

Custom hand puppets Mari and three foam heads
Heads will roll, says the Puppetmastress


Custom hand puppet face and foam heads
Insides and outsides: a face with all features attached, ready to be put on its foam base.

There are a couple different ways to make the eyes, depending on what effect I’m going for. One method is to make eyes from half ping pong balls. This makes them three-dimensional, and they can sit behind the fabric for a more realistic effect. Realism is a fine line with puppets, which can easily cross over into creepy. I use this technique for my Donald Trump likeness puppets, for whom deranged and terrifying is perfectly appropriate. However, if you’re trying to make your puppet look like a normal person, it can turn out less well. Try not to stare into those pale blank eyes for too long…

Picture to Puppet Gallery Donald Trump hand puppet
Run away


Custom hand puppets scary puppet on the shore
Run away screaming

In the above instance, I ended up replacing those eyes with two-dimensional felt ones, which I hope take the puppet out of the realm of the uncanny valley.

Custom hand puppet man in blue shirt
Much better!

A lot of the work I do involves this sort of decision making, to produce a unique likeness that my client will recognise. Even slight adjustments to the shape and placement of features can dramatically change how a puppet looks, and the choice of technique can take it from cute to caricature. Aside from the actual construction, that’s part of what makes it such a specialised skill. I’m always experimenting and trying new things in an effort to produce fun and accurate puppet likenesses.

Ever wonder what you would look like as a puppet? Why not send your photo along and order your own likeness puppet, or get one made for a friend or loved one? I promise it will be flattering, unless you’re Donald Trump!


Likeness puppets button        Custom puppets button        

Puppets of Edinburgh: Mr. Mushroom

“What can I say about myself? Well, I like to think I’m a pretty fun guy…. get it? Fungi? Sorry, that one gets me every time.

Mr mushroom 2

At the moment I’m enjoying growing in Leith community garden. I sprouted here about a month ago, in this nice sunny spot, and I really like it. The sunflowers are friendly, although these poppies here are a bit stuck up- don’t tell them I said that. Some cute flax flowers came through recently, and we had a nice chat, but they were off to Northern Ireland and couldn’t stay! I’m not quite that adventurous, but I’d like to see a bit more of the world.

In fact, I’d just put my hat on with the intention of taking a stroll around town, when you asked to take a picture. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s a pretty small hat… you could say there’s not ‘mush-room’ in it! Except that I’m wearing it. Never mind, that joke worked better in my head. As I was saying, I was just going for a walk. I’ve heard the local market might be a good place to meet some other vegetables. Maybe even a fruit, who knows?!

…Sorry, what was that? Try not to get eaten? Hahahaha, you’re a funny one. ‘Don’t get eaten,’ what a laugh. Anyway, I’ll be off. Catch you later!”


[Note: Puppets of Edinburgh returned to the garden the next day, and Mr. Mushroom had not been heard from since his departure. We fear the worst.]


Dress up your mini me for Halloween!

Happy Halloween! Many people will have big plans for dressing up tonight, but have you ever considered getting a custom made puppet or soft toy that can be dressed up however you want? We make personalized puppets and cuddly toys based on a photograph of you or someone else, and you can request whatever fantasy version of yourself you can imagine!

Paul and his girlfriend recently ordered custom ‘mini me’ soft toys, and it was a fun challenge to make their tiny selves look exactly how they wanted. He wanted to be wearing a Lotus shirt from Formula 1 Racing and she wanted to be dressed in Hogwarts robes, from Harry Potter. This is the set of inspiration pictures he provided to base the dolls on.reference pics

I made the bodies and faces using my usual technique. It always takes a bit of experimenting with the size and placement of facial features to get the puppet or toy to resemble the person as much as possible. These are soft toys, so they’re fully stuffed with no puppet mechanism. They don’t move, but this style allows for a lot of creativity in dressing and decorating. It’s also possible to make ‘mini me’ hand puppets, with movable arms and heads.

I always try to find clothing to match the image that a client sends. In this case, I had to get child-sized branded garments, and cut them down to puppet size. It’s also possible to get fabric digitally printed with a custom image, so depending on whether you want an existing design or something from your imagination, the sky’s the limit!

Here are the finished mini mes! I had a lot of fun taking pictures of them in appropriate settings- did you know Leith has its very own castle?

Finally, here are Paul and his girlfriend with their custom likeness soft toys. Don’t they look adorable?

mini mes 8

If you could have a puppet or stuffed toy version of yourself, would you want to look like a character from a book or movie? Show off your favourite band or sport? Or would you invent a completely unique persona? I’d love to hear you ideas and make them reality!

Custom Puppets Buttonclick here to find out more about Picture to Puppet’s custom puppets

Custom Soft Toys buttonclick here to find out more about Picture to Puppet’s custom soft toys

Contact Me buttonor email