Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Sometimes the best project ideas come from other people. So, I must start this post off with a huge thank you to my friend Libby Quinn. This is an idea that she brought to me. She's the owner of a local Tucson business called Sign With Baby Tucson.  Among other things, she does ASL (American Sign Language) storytimes for children all around Tucson. (Locals, check out her website and Facebook page, she's awesome!)

She called me and asked if I could make a puppet and props for a series of stories based loosely on The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Okay. A puppet...and props for the be used at storytimes for kids...based on one of my (and my son's) favorite board book ever???

YES, please!!

Seriously, what is there not to love about a project like this? We talked about what she envisioned; a caterpillar puppet, a bunch of fruits and vegetables with holes through the center, a cocoon, and of course, the beautiful butterfly. And then we talked materials, deciding to do the bulk of the project with felt, it's readily available, not expensive and we both had a bunch already. And then a time frame for completion, and I was off to the races.

Right away I realized that making a hand puppet for a storyteller who uses sign language posed some interesting challenges. A regular sock style or hand puppet wouldn't work, as her hands need to be free to speak. And it would be awkward to hold any kind of rod, (my original idea for the butterfly) because "butterfly" is a 2 handed sign. Thankfully, she's the professional here and already had an idea about that; having the caterpillar strap to her forearm and having the fruits and veggies go over the caterpillar, leaving her hands free.

So, with the plan in place, I got to work. I started with the caterpillar. I used green felt strips gathered slightly to make the top of his "segmented" body and a flat piece with elastic and velcro for her to slip over her arm on the bottom. Then I stuffed the body with poly-fill and set it aside.

For his head, I cut a big red circle of polar fleece (I like the way it stretches better) and ran a gathering stitch around the outside edge, appliqued his eyes and nose on, pulled the gathering stitches partially closed and stuffed the head.

Next, I hand stitched the head onto the body and added the antennae. And there he was, one Very Hungry Caterpillar!


Next I got started on the fruits and vegetables. She chose potatoes, corn, green beans, peas, carrot, grapes, apple, peach, pear, banana, orange, watermelon, and strawberry. I wanted them to be stiff enough to stand up, but with enough flexibility to stack very close together and fold down into the cocoon. I ended up pinning 2 pieces of felt together, then drawing an outline of my fruit or veggie, stitching around the outline and cutting on the outside of the stitching line. Then I traced a circle in the center, stitched around the outline and cut out the hole.

As I went along, I added some details like leaves, stems, and some "quilting" to give them all some dimension. Next, I cut out circles slightly larger than the holes and stitched them a little ways across the top. This makes the fruit or veggie look "whole" before the caterpillar eats through it. (And as an added bonus, these can be used in other stories.)

Here are a few of my favorites finished--




green beans

A group photo of everything finished.

To see more photos of the individual fruits and veggies, check out my flickr photostream here: NoBusinessLikeSewBusinessFlickr

Now that I had the caterpillar and the fruits and veggies, I had an idea of how big the cocoon was going to have to be. Pretty big. And I have to admit, at this point, I was stumped. At first, I thought I could just use 1/4 inch upholstery foam as a base, sew fabric onto it, maybe add a little batting for some extra dimension and somehow make that into a tube. So, using a variety of brown fabrics, I came up with this.

Which I really liked. And it worked great. Right up to the "make it into a tube" part.  Where I got stumped. I spent most of a day trying to make an idea work, when I accidentally found the perfect solution. 

Large embroidery hoops. Seriously. They're big, round circles with holes in the center. Already made. So, using a combination of hot glue and staples, I put the largest hoop in the center and two slightly smaller ones at either end. And this is one of those great times where the more imperfect something is, the better it looks. I was loving it!

And then it rolled off the table.  So I added a straight piece along the bottom as a "cocoon stop". And then it was perfect!

Here it is finished from the front. I love all the different textures and layers of fabric it has.

And now for the butterfly. I wanted him to be able to stand up a bit more than everything else, so I started with a stiff felt as a base. I drew the outline of the butterfly on in pencil, then added some inner lines as a guide. Then I chose some lightweight silks, tulle and some extra felt and started applying them onto the base in layers.

I really wanted the butterfly to have a little something special, so I added some sparkly tulle and organza on top of the plain fabrics as I went along.

Again, I just love the texture and dimension the layered effect gives the butterfly.

And then I added the head and body.  And he was---A Beautiful Butterfly! (missing his antennae in this photo, oops!)

So, here's the caterpillar,

eating his way through a peach,

to go into his cocoon, and emerge as; 

A beautiful butterfly!!  How awesome it that?! Even though there were moments I really struggled with this project, I could not be happier with how it all came together in the end. 

It was really, really hard to let these guys go. But, watching her daughter's face light up when they came to pick them up, and imagining all the other kids who are going to see them when she brings them to life with her storytelling....what could be better than that?

The cast of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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  1. Absolutely stunning! I'm a children's librarian and would love this prop story. You've got to link up with Flannel Friday... all the librarians will go nuts! Cate is hosting this week, but visit our FB page so she can add your link!

  2. Thanks so much for the lovely compliment and the invitation! I will look you up!

  3. This is beautiful! It really looks just like the illustrations! And your cocoon solution *is* perfect!

  4. Gorgeous! Thanks for joining us at Flannel Friday. Hope you will be back sometime! :)

  5. This is amazing!! Absolutely gorgeous!! I love it when a project turns out even better than we imagined it (and I can imagine quite a bit sometimes!). =)

    Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and commenting on my Yoda t-shirt. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!


  6. Blown away. What else can I say???


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