taking one frame at a time since 1999

Hardening the fabric

Hello everybody! I've recently started to learn some dressmaking for puppets, and although I've more or less managed to modify patterns to fit my puppets and get decent results, I'm still having a problem with the stiffness of the fabric.

I know there are people who insert wires in the hems, or glue a wire mesh on the inside. I've also read that some people use much more classic sewing methods like interlining or starching to stiffen it.

I'm open to try any option, but I'd like to know how you guys do it before I take the plunge, what methods work best for you?

(Right now I'm having problems especially with wide clothes like this shirt). It's very difficult to animate it without a lot of "boiling" between frames. Whan can you recommend me?

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One way I've seen used for animating textiles is applying a layer of black wrap with textile glue or rubber cement, to the fabric. Black wrap is a thicker black aluminium foil, used in the film industry for blocking out light on the set.

Applying a grid of thin animation wire should work as well. And maybe even better. As you sort of get to define where the fabric is being pulled and the rest would follow in a more "natural" flow?!

Never tried it though.

But I've seen this technique being used by Michael Bardica. He spread and glue a fine layer of sawdust on the black wrap clothing, before painting it. To give the all puppets a similar feel.

I have tried all the methods you mention, and they all have their uses. For a large flowing cloak I have used interlining to stiffen it and wire round the edges. Interlining is also very good for collars as with your shirt. If you want control you need to use wire or black wrap.

Your costume is similar to many that I make, and yes, I know the problem!

I'm trying to get a black Dracula cape to behave at the moment.  Like most fabrics, the cotton doesn't hang down in 1:6 scale like it would in full size, but can be a bit gravity defying.  i want it to mostly hang down, but swirl out when the character spins around.  I have used wire before, and it does let you animate the cloth swirling about, or even holds it down, so I do have a wire sewn into the top edge.  But wire or foil doesn't just allow you to animate it, it means it WILL be animated every time you grab it, like it or not.  So be careful where you put it.  Too much wire everywhere leaves you nowhere to grab the puppet.  I had trouble with my Little Red Riding Hood's short cape animating when I didn't want to, it had wire all around the edge and one down the centre back, so I am trying less wire this time. 

Last time I did a long black cloak (for Death, in my rip-off of the chess scene in The Seventh Seal) it was on a beach, so I animated it deliberately rippling as if there was a breeze blowing, and that covered any unintended boiling.   But obviously that won't suit every scene. 

I see a lot of costumes on stylised puppets - like in Laika films - that are made to fit snugly, so they don't twitch when handled.  Sometimes it looks like the body is padded out so they can still have the fuller shape, but with the cloth still behaving itself.

A couple of times I have painted latex on the inside of the cloth in some spots so it tends to spring back, just like slush-cast latex clothing will.  With sculpted clothing I sculpt the typical wrinkles in, and with cloth I often wet it and scrunch it so the wrinkles are there, and remain when it dries.   A little pva glue in the water will help the wrinkles keep their shape.  The slight stiffening from the pva MAY reduce the clothing twitch, it definitely helps things like jeans look more like real ones do when they are being worn.

But mostly my clothes are very like yours.  Often they are made from cotton fabric sold in fat quarters, for quilters, and have nice small scale patterns on them - but of course the fabric is thicker in proportion.    For fast puppet movements the clothing twitch is not noticeable, but it does show up when the puppet is only barely moving.  (Maybe it is standing still, but the head is turning, and I have to hold the body somewhere to steady it while the other hand turns the head  -  there is no justification for the shirt flapping about, and it is in the same place every frame so you can't help seeing it.)  I try to watch where I touch the puppet, and sometimes when I see a sleeve or collar has popped I push it back as well as I can before taking the shot.  It is never perfect, so I continue the movement and ease it down over a few more frames so it looks smoother and maybe like something the cloth would do in response to the body moving (I hope).  But there are still some clothing twitches visible in the final film that I was not able to prevent.

The method Aardman used to avoid boiling fur on the Were-Rabbit was to have mounting points on the armature where you could insert a rod on the off-side away from the camera, and hold and move the puppet with the rods.  That could work for clothing, except with fur you don't see the hole where the rod goes in, and you would with cloth.  So probably of limited use.  

The thin felt, 1mm thick, from seems to be a nice fabric for clothing. It comes in a lot of really usable colours and doesn't have the weawing stiffness that scales down so badly. I've not ordered any yet, trying to find it locally.

Good suggestion Hans!

I had to make a tailored coat with lapels, and with normal woven fabric you need edges sewn together and turned inside out so they don't unravel.  So the lapels have 2 layers of fabric, plus the edges folded over inside which makes 4, plus at the corners it can get up to 6 or 8 layers. That can get pretty thick and lumpy in 1:6 scale!  So I bought a pack of A4 thin felt sheets at a discount store, black white and shades of grey.  They are made for crafts, and a bit stiff, but they still have the advantage of felt, that you can just have 1 layer with cut edges, so the lapels don't get thick or rounded at the points.  A softer felt like you link to (the morezmore page) would probably be better, but would mean shipping from overseas for me.  The felt at the fabric stores here is much thicker and really no good for puppet costumes, it would be like a full scale human wearing clothes made of carpet underfelt.  But the this stuff worked!  1mm is not truly in scale, if you multiply by 6 you get fabric that would be 6mm thick in real life, but it can look ok.  This particular puppet doesn't have to move a lot, so the stiffness is not a big problem. It's best for things like suits and overcoats I think, not for shirts.

My first coat (see photo) wasn't quite right for this character, but showed me that it could work, so I made another one with a modified shape and a better collar.  But I may find a use for this first one at some stage.   I used a pale grey felt (so as not to waste the darker grey on this prototype) and darkened it with watered down black paint.  I also bent and twisted it a bit while wet, which roughed up the surface so it looks hairy, and the paint probably added to the stiffness, it stands up by itself.  So for a neater job, I would use the colour I want it to be.  

That is excellent, Nick! Did you stitch the sleeve and shoulder seams? 

I think this material might be perfect for a cloak I am about to make.

Hi Simon,

Maybe I should have used the felt for the black cape i made, instead of the regular cotton fabric - it really got out of control when I animated it.  Will have to shoot again, anyway, for other reasons.  It feels counter-intuitive to have a stiff cloak, but for animation it might just be the better way to go.

The side and back seams that you can see on the inside, and the seam up the back of each sleeve, are sewn with a sewing machine.  The sleeves were turned right-side out, then sewn to the shoulders with hand stitching. The collar piece is also hand sewn onto the body.  When I remade the coat, I changed the collar so the notch doesn't go all the way in to the fold, and adjusted the pattern to change the shape of the shoulders a little, but the construction is  the same.   

Thanks for that info, Nick. I have just ordered some felt so will give it a go!

I have had some success with a cloak using two thin layers of cotton fabric with interfacing between them and a wire on the bottom edge. The fabric becomes stiff enough to take the folds and drape reasonably well. I did have to try a couple of double-sided interfacing types before getting one that worked right.

Wow, a lot of ideas!!

Thank you so much everyone!! A lot of new things to try right now. I have some "Cinefoil" at home that we used for prop making (animatable tree leaves or magazines) but never for costumes. I'll give it a try now.

Also we have loads of felt in different thickness, I'll try some of them and check the results.

Thanks people!!

Tell us what you figure out. Hope you find some of the very thin felt to test.

Arrgh.. just received a bunch of 1mm felt from China (eBay) and they are 1 mm, but stiff as the glue they are compressed with. Just a warning! If you need some either find a local store where you can touch the product. Or go to morezmore and pay the price for transport, tax and quality. 

I got a pack of felt sheets at a discount store for Au #4 (about US $3), and the different colours in the pack had different amounts of stiffness.  I couldn't tell, because the sheets were stacked all together with a card backing, in a clear cellophane bag.  Not the same thing as fabric on a roll!  The black felt was like cardboard, but that actually worked out, I made a witch's hat with a broad brim from it.  I made the coat from some grey with medium stiffness, and it will stand up by itself, but it actually works for animating.  Even the white, which is softest, has some slight stiffening.  I hoped to avoid shipping from the USA, which often costs more than the product.

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