How to Cut Puppet Patterns from Foam

This technique for cutting foam ensures your pattern pieces are precise and clean. Obviously, accurate pattern shapes are important. Those shapes are what make the pattern work. It is also a good practice to keep marks on the foam to a minimum. Heavy outlines, registration marks, or index numbers can bleed through some fabric coverings and become visible on the finished puppet. Let's avoid that disaster!

Here is an overview of the process. Please find more detailed instructions below. As a reminder, click here for a word about safety.

 

Tools

  • Foam cutting mat
  • Hobby knife and plenty of blades
  • Straight pins

Step 1

The Cutting Mat

The key to this method is the cutting mat. You will need a piece of sheet foam preferably larger than your biggest paper pattern piece and at least one inch (25mm) thick. The mat shown here is 12 in. x 18 in. x 1.5 in. (300mm x 450mm x 38mm). This is a sacrificial piece of foam, so any scrap foam you may have lying around that is large enough will work. Gluing two thinner sheets together to get the right thickness is also an option.

Foam cutting mat for cutting foam puppet patterns


Step 2

Prepare for Cutting

2-1
Place the cutting mat on a flat surface with your puppet foam of choice on top. (We recommend using reticulated foam for most classic hand puppet designs.)

2-2
Place the paper pattern on the foam. You may choose to position several pattern pieces at a time to maximize the number per sheet.

2-3
Use straight pins to pierce the paper pattern. Push the pins through the puppet foam into the cutting mat. Pin the corners of the pattern and along the edges where necessary. The goal is to ensure the edges of the paper pattern lay flat against the puppet foam and the pattern does not shift.

Pin paper pattern to the foam


Step 3

Cut the Foam

Use a hobby knife with a sharp blade. Foam will dull the blade more quickly than you might expect, so have a good supply available. Generally, be prepared to change the blade after every two or three pattern pieces. Here are some guidelines for cutting:

  • Hold the blade perpendicular to the foam's top surface.
  • Move the knife along the edge of the paper pattern using an up-and-down sawing motion.
  • For darts, first cut along one side of the dart working toward the corner. When you reach the corner, stop. Remove the knife and cut along the other side of the dart, again working toward and stopping at the corner to complete the cut.

Cut foam with a hobby knife

Tip: Oil the knife blade on each side with a drop of sewing machine or cooking oil. This will allow it to cut through the foam more smoothly and will lengthen the life of the blade. 

Step 4

Mark the Foam

At times, it is necessary to add registration marks to the foam to ensure pieces are lining up during assembly. When possible, mark the edge instead of the top. The marks will serve the same purpose, but will not be visible once the foam shape is completed.

Mark the foam on the edge when possible


Note: After cutting many, many patterns using your foam mat, it may become worse for wear and need to be replaced.

In the photo, the mat on the left is well-used and will soon be replaced by the mat on the right.

After use the old foam mat will need to be replaced.

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