Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Astounding Magic Puppet Shirt

Introducing an innovative technique for upcycling shirts, and this is a twist that packs a lot of punch. At first glance, the shirt below looks absolutely normal—a stylish, over-size, black linen shirt with vintage wine-colored Bakelite buttons. This wouldn't gain a second-glass during a stroll through an airport or international film festival other than, perhaps, the comment, "Nice shirt!"

The shirt in undercover, "Clark Kent mode," with sleeves rolled up

But hark! Do we hear the cry of a fractious toddler or the grating whine of a bored child? Unroll the right sleeve and the shirt reveals its magic super powers, transforming into a mesmerizing interactive entertainment system.

Magic shirt with right sleeve unrolled to reveal puppet

Close-up of the puppet

The human operator wearing the shirt manipulates the puppet, cocking its head, opening and closing its mouth, using its felt tongue to lick anything in sight. The human operator also provides the puppet voice, engaging any children in the vicinity in conversation, jokes, and song. The children are stunned and amazed but depending on their age, not as amazed as one might think. They have not yet learned that all adults are not walking around with a hidden puppet up their sleeve.

The shirt  was upcycled from a very large Indian man's shirt (called a kurta - google it). A friend gives me these oversize kurtas, which come all the way down to mid-calf and have unusually long sleeves. I cut off the bottom of the shirt, making it tunic length, and used some of the salvaged material to sew an inside flap on the right sleeve (think of it as a reverse cuff, on the inside rather than the outside).

Revamping the shirt (click to enlarge)

I also switched out the buttons on the original shirt, substituting the vintage Bakelite buttons.

For the puppet, I used felt to create the ears, tongue, nose, and whiskers, and two vintage buttons to create the eyes.

Once I slid my hand inside the concealed flap and tried to manipulate the sleeve like a puppet, I realized it was too wide and floppy, and needed to be brought in more closely to the size of my hand to work. However, I still wanted to be able to roll up the sleeve so that it would look just like the other rolled-up sleeve. The solution? Two sets of snaps, strategically sewn in place.

View underneath the sleeve, with the two sets of snaps securely shut

How the snaps are placed

View underneath sleeve with both snaps unsnapped

To operate the puppet, you unroll the sleeve, snap the two sets of snaps in place, and insert your hand into the inner flap, with fingers on top and thumb on the bottom.

The puppet

The mild-mannered shirt, sleeves rolled up, ready to head out into the world to stun an unsuspecting public

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