Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Handless Maiden Puppet

I have finally completed my puppet. She is a representation of the Handless Maiden, a story which resonates with me for various reasons. 
My puppet belongs in the segment of the story just after things have started to go wrong - again - for the heroine. She has given birth to a beautiful baby whilst her husband, the king, is away fighting battles. But through a trick played by the villain of the story (sometimes the devil, sometimes an evil female relative), the Handless Maiden (though she is a maid no longer in this chapter of the story) has been thrown out of the palace and set to wondering the forests once more. 

Her clothes become torn and caked with mud. Her child, tied around her by a kindly servant, grows hungry as she struggles to feed him with her handless arms...

Here is the baby - 

I made him as a simple doll. He isn't really a puppet in that he cannot move. His head is fimo and his body is foam. 

I added hair to the maiden - tangled fake fur. 

And she is ready to come alive. 
There are several design problems with this puppet. Firstly I failed to add a rod for her head, and so I must grip her neck to hold and move her. I think the proximity of my hand interrupts the imagery a little. 
I also made her arm rods a little too short meaning that, again, my body is a little close and disruptive as I move her. I can easily lengthen them when I get some time. 

Clive told me that female Banraku puppets have no legs. I was pleased that my intentional omission has presedence, although I have yet to figure out quite how the japanese puppeteers create the illusion of feet walking. This puppet does really require two people to move her properly. 

I feel like I have learnt a great deal by taking part in the challenge - not only about puppets but about creative practise. I thought my making days were behind me for the time being, as my daughter takes up almost every waking (and attempted sleeping) moment I have. But I found ways to snatch ten minutes here, half and hour there, and have completed my first ever rod puppet. 

I can't wait to make more and improve my designs...


  1. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! She's really gorgeous, is this is what you can do for your first ever puppet I can't wait to see what happens next!

  2. Beautiful and strange....

  3. Obviously the handless maiden is where I'm at, so much resonance, but her face, nomi - she's haunting and wonderful. Quite beautiful. And such a commitment to your own creativity - I know how hard it is using those minutes for art instead of house or slump.

  4. She is gorgeous. I love this story, it can be read on so many levels. I taught it to my Year 6 class and it provoked some amazing responses. I love the way she needs other hands to bring her to life.

  5. You shouldn't worry about operator proximity to the puppet. It isn't a distraction when the puppeteer is 'in the right place'. My own puppet of Jane Seyes for 'The Mare's Tale last year was worked with the puppeteer's hands holding the sides of her head, and it worked beautifully. It is not the Japanese tradition, where the head is worked from a rod in the chest cavity, but it is a tabletop-puppet tradition, and you shouldn't worry about it.

    In Bunraku the puppets are worked by three operators: One for the head and right hand, a second for the left hand and a third for the feet. Check the video at the bottom of the page I've linked here, and all will be revealed. Your puppet can be worked by you alone, but when you have another puppeteer you like working with… perhaps Rima… then she can have operational feet! (-;


  6. Thank you so much Clive :) I enjoyed this process so much that I am currently drawing sketches for my next puppet - the devil from this same story....

    1. I can't wait to see where you take this next, it is one of my favourite tales. Pictures please.

  7. One of the most beautiful things I've seen recently.

  8. Just beautiful, Nomi, and so much story in her face alone. I'm afraid I've not got any further on my puppet, it's good to see the solutions you've come up with, as mine is similar, and I'm not sure how to go ahead with it. She's sitting forlornly (or rather scarily actually!) on my desk, just a bald head, waiting for me to stop being distracted by other things and finish her.