A course in troll sockpuppets/Introduction to trolling

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A basic troll sockpuppet.
Troll illustration by John Bauer, 1915.

When beginning any creative endeavor, one of the most important things is to choose a clear inspiration. John Bauer illustrated Norwegian folk tales during the early twentieth century. The example at left is representative of his work and contains several trolls in various poses.

Although a sockpuppet cannot reproduce all the elements of a detailed illustration, important preparatory work to designing a new sockpuppet includes analysis of distinctive features. The head dominates a sockpuppet so particular interest goes to upper features. The hand is also of interest for this course because several of the puppets carry a prop.

This lesson designs a basic troll with head and neck. Lesson 2 builds a hand for the puppet.

Noteworthy features[edit]

  • Large bulbous nose
  • Closely set eyes
  • Marks underneath the eyes
  • Long thin ears that curl outward at the top
  • Low forehead
  • Long stringy hair
  • Lower jaw that meets the underside of the nose
  • Muted colors
  • Thick hands
  • Pointed fingernails

Puppet construction[edit]

Early construction: hemming the mouth.

Basic material for the troll is a brown cotton men's sock. Exact measurement depends on the size of the puppeteer's hand. The end of the sock may project beyond the puppeteer's fingers, but the mouth itself should not curl with the puppeteer's hand. The cut for the mouth begins from the toe seam.

Hemming is necessary in order to prevent knitted fabric from unraveling. To hem the sock, roll fabric inward and secure with an overhand stitch. The completed mouth should resemble the mouth of a Bauer troll: shorter than the nose yet closing directly into the nose.

Black felt makes an unobtrusive mouth liner.

The hemmed cut may curl naturally. Flatten sock when sizing black felt for the mouth liner. Cut slightly large, then trim as appropriate. Liner should fit within the hem and bend at the base of the thumb. Secure with overhand stitches.

Felt mouth liner, cut and sized.
Button eyes.

After completing the mouth, begin work on the eyes. Preparatory work with buttons has the advantage of stabilizing googly eyes. A button base provides a more stable surface for plastic eyes than knitted sock fabric, since the eyes can only be secured with glue. Stitch the buttons close together high on the fingers, leaving a shallow forehead for troll hair. Glue eyes on afterward. Allow at least one hour for glue to dry.

For good results, size the troll on the puppeteer's hand frequently when deciding where to place puppet features.

Ears are the next important feature. Ears should go at the outer edge of the head slightly forward of the bend of the hand and above the mouth crease. A single green pipe cleaner cut in two and folded double is sufficient for both ears. Twist the halves for structural integrity and splay the open ends. Then crimp the folded end with a pair of pliers. un each ear up the body of the sock and into position, then pull through fabric. Curl the ends after both ears are in place. Bend the remaining base beneath the sock into a triangular or es-shaped configuration.

Adding hair.

In order to recreate the bulbous appearance of the noses in the original artwork, insert synthetic pillow filler into the end of the nose. Then, using the puppeteer's fingers as a sizing indicator, create a set of loose quilting stitches within the upper forelip to delineate a nose. Then add semicircles of green fabric paint beneath the eyes. Wait for paint to dry.

The trolls in Bauer's artwork appear to have a part running down the middle of their foreheads. To imitate that effect, select an appropriate yarn and cut a number of equal lengths to approximate the over-the-shoulders effect of Bauer's trolls. Then lay across the puppet head behind the ears and secure with tight backstitches. Trim ends of hair as appropriate.

Felt backing helps stabilize the ears and protects the puppeteer's hand from scratches.

To complete the basic puppet, cut small sections of felt in a neutral color and glue to the base of the ears. Allow plenty of time to dry.