The Squeaking Tribe

How do you take care of your Squeaking Tribe Marionette

No matter how careful you may be when playing with or even just storing your Squeaking Tribe marionette, accidents can still occur which might result in a tangle and tangles, once started, can often get worse. Here are a few simple tips to help you make sure this doesn’t happen…

1. Have a hook around somewhere in your house, away from direct sunlight, wind and cats. Hang your marionette here when they are done playing. This is the best way to store your marionette and is a great way to show them off, too.

2. If you’re done playing and don’t have a hook convenient, you’ll need to lay the marionette down. With the crosspiece in one hand, gently spin the marionette with the other so all the strings spiral together to become one. You can then lay the marionette flat on a table or other available surface without tangling it.

3. If you are travelling with your marionette or storing it for long periods of time, spin the strings together as above. Keep spinning the marionette until the one ‘rope’ string nears the crosspiece. With the hand not holding the crosspiece, you can take the weight of the marionette by the top of the ‘rope’ string and lift it up and over one of the arms of the crosspiece. The ‘rope string can then be wound up along the arm as simply as a fishing reel! Wrap everything up together in some newspaper or a piece of cloth to prevent it from unwinding; nice and compact and ready to go with you anywhere!

(When you receive your marionette, you would have noticed that this is exactly what we have done…)

4. In the case of an accidental tangle, the problem is most likely one offending string which has come over and around the crosspiece. Hanging the marionette up and turning the puppet left and right should help you identify the problem string which can then be passed back over and around the crosspiece. Easy!

5. If there is a particularly-dramatic tangle, usually from small children or cats (see above), DO NOT FEAR! Each string has a good amount of excess string wrapped around the crosspiece that can be used as a replacement string if necessary. If you are re-stringing a marionette, always do so while it is hanging up. NEVER cut the head strings; it will always be an arm or leg string which is causing most of the trouble.

And remember… these marionettes have been made entirely by our own two hands and as such can easily be fixed by yourself if necessary. Don’t be afraid to try!

We have gone to a lot of effort to ensure our marionettes can continue enjoying a long and healthy life after leaving the nest. We use a variety of clays which are fired to 1200˚C for strength and durability. They don’t like being dropped onto concrete or swung against brick walls, so in the case that one of the clay pieces of a marionette becomes chipped, just glue it back with some simple household pva glue and put it aside to dry. The result should be more or less seamless.

We would like to thank you sincerely for adopting one (or more) of our creations; for giving them a home, a name, a story! We wish you the very best of adventures together! 

If you have any further questions or curiosities, feel free to contact us directly via email at or on our Etsy, Facebook or Instagram page. 

Yours truly… Sol and Sara-Lee of  The Squeaking Tribe


How did you start making puppets?

When I first began making marionette puppets back in 1996 (22 years young), I was living with a potter and a drum-maker in the foothills of Adelaide, South Australia. With access to a whole range of clays, I found myself one day sculpting a hollow head and face. “If I added clay hands and feet,” I thought to myself, “I’d have the basic counter balances for a puppet!” Which prompted two simple questions: a) Of what little marionettes I’d seen, why did so many of them look so cheap and crappy, and b) Why did none of them work a damn!?


My challenge clearly was to make a good looking puppet that would actually perform. As the Internet was yet to become a household fixture and Google not yet a technocrat’s pipedream, I resorted to local libraries whose resources on the subject was terribly lacking. Luckily, the process for making a marionette was a time consuming one with many separate factors; hand sculpting with clay which needed days to dry before firing, sewing and soft-sculpture creation of the ‘skeleton’, costuming and assembling of the character, construction of an appropriate crosspiece before stringing and detailing the final finished piece. In all, a process that required a good fortnight’s work, a fortnight of course which allowed a LOT of extra time for dreaming up new puppet characters to make!


Every marionette I made, I was learning and discovering new ways to make them quicker and more effective and with every idea that ensued, I was having more and more ideas of other puppets I could make. The avalanche of ideas which consumed me in that first year alone could keep me busy crafting for a decade at least; having kept that passion alive for over twenty-five years, I easily have enough ideas to fill multiple lifetimes!


From these humble beginnings, I have since developed a whole range of different interactive effigies which borrow from the traditional methods of Puppet making while at the same time improve on ideas of articulation to create marionettes which everyone can use and indeed, with a little practice, manipulate like a professional. Sharing this with others and inspiring a new generation of artists and puppeteers to reignite the tradition is probably the greatest joy in this life I have made and now share with my wife, Sara.

How do you make a marionette and how long does it take?

What a lot of people may not understand when looking at our work for the first time is how much time needs to pass before even a single puppet can eventuate. Working with clay, we hand sculpt every face, hand and foot individually over a number of weeks, building up a body of work which might represent anywhere between 80 and 180 puppets. These need to completely air dry over this time before ‘umbering’, a process which adds a natural tone to the work and allows the details to pop. 


With the size of the kiln being what it is, it’s important that a sizable amount of claywork is prepared before firing to optimise the energy involved. You wouldn’t do a load of washing for just a pair of dirty socks, would you?


The upside of all of this is that when we finally get to crack open the crucible, there’s a whole month or more of crazy, kinetic creativity screaming out to be made! The costuming can then begin in earnest, using up-cycled textiles and repurposed materials to assemble and costume each puppet in its ‘doll’ form. We generally work in editions of 6 to 12 for any one of our classic designs, changing colour combinations and working in detail individually so every one is a distinct original. Our OoaK’s (one-of-a-kind) of course take a good deal longer although we often work with them in editions according to an overarching concept or idea such as Elemental dragons or Anthropomorphic representation.


Much of our work these days are hand painted or air-brushed to varying degrees which can add another part to the process. Sara does most of this herself, having more patience and skill with the brush than I do. There are puppets which she has designed and crafted herself, especially those represented in the Menagerie section of the store, just as there are designs which I make exclusively myself from start to finish. Then there are the designs which we create together, passing them back and forth across the workbench, and perhaps it is these that are the most personally satisfying, being a shared experience between us.


Once the basic doll is devised, we use an industrial bonded nylon thread to string it to wooden dowel cross-pieces or controllers which we have previously handmade well in advance during some lull in the creative process (such as waiting for clay to dry!). Even then it might not be entirely finished and certain puppets may cry out for further detailing or additional props. In some cases, a puppet might hang around for months or more until exactly the right item or material to complete it falls into our hands.


The whole process is really such an organic experience of varying levels of inspired creativity across an amount of time that there is no real way to determine how many individual man-minutes or man-hours were afforded to any single puppet. You may as well ask “How long is a piece of string?”

What do you make them out of? Where do you get your materials?

Honestly, puppet makers are like the bottom-feeders of the artistic world, trawling through the creative detritus left from others’ creative endeavours. We obviously kick it all off with a bag of clay which provides all weight and counterbalances for a simple working marionette and is one of the very few things we buy new. The fabrics and materials we use to costume the majority of our puppets are all up-cycled from old clothes and donated textiles, broken jewellery items that people promised themselves they would fix but never got around to, random found objects we stumble over in the course of a day or while travelling, even old and forgotten toys that have lost their relevance to the modern world. It is not unheard of for me to cut the sleeve off one of my own jackets if it seems a particular puppet might need it more than I do!


 There is no good reason to buy new. Besides being unnecessarily expensive, there is no real life or experience naturally worked into the material. Puppets are essentially made to tell a story and old or discarded clothing etc. already has a hundred little tales to tell all their own. Using second-hand materials is the easiest way to to put Life into the inanimate and people will instinctively be drawn to puppets that embrace that ingrained world experience and exude it like an aura.


One of the best places to access these kinds of hand-me-downs, of course, is the Opportunity shop known colloquially here in Australia as the Op Shop (or Thrift shop to our overseas cousins). So much stuff in this world is thrown away and this is probably the last chance to reclaim it before it enters landfill. A single piece of  clothing can provide material for a multitude of marionettes but also buttons and trimmings and pre-sewn details which can add intricacy to the work. Costume jewellery, leather belts, bangles, beads, buttons and bric-a-brac; they’re all here somewhere screaming out to be repurposed. Old, forgotten stuffed toys, for example, are a cheap source of fake fur and crazy textiles but also have the added bonus of providing quantities of doll stuffing for soft-sculpture which could otherwise cost a pretty penny or two (old pillows are another excellent source!). One of our many secret joys are the hours we spend picking through the random cornucopia of unsung treasures and lost paraphernalia these places provide and dreaming up whole new ideas to accomodate them.


On the few occasions we need to buy new – for a specific order or design, for example – it’s like an admission of defeat. More often than not these materials only approximate the effect we’re looking for anyway. We would rather wait for the perfect piece to find us at the perfect time although, of course, this is not always an option. 


We might not be saving this beautiful planet just yet but we certainly aren’t doing it any further harm and we’re definitely making it a more interesting place to live!

Where do you get your inspiration from?

There isn’t any one specific thing we turn to for inspiration but rather everything everywhere all around us and all the time. Honestly, what artist isn’t  besieged daily with ideas from this crazy, colourful, wonderful world! Every story ever penned holds creatures and characters just begging to become puppets and there’s millions more being dreamed into being every second of every day. Whether it’s the old folk tales gathered by the Brothers Grimm or the latest MCU blockbuster screening fifty feet high at the local Cineplex, there is no excuse for being at a loss for ideas. In the first five years alone I must have had more ideas than I could realistically create in one lifetime and we’ve been adding to that list for another twenty years since then.


If there is perhaps a single definitive source for the magic that brought me this far, it would have to be Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal”. I was 9 or 10 when that movie first came out and literally changed the way I saw the world afterwards. It kick-started an imagination drawn to the fantastic and the miraculous and gave an even greater fervour to my already addictive fascination for storytelling. I taught myself to draw, watching and re-watching the short 5-minute interview with the creature designer Brian Froud in the “Making of…” which I had copied from tv on Betamax video cassette. The whole behind-the-scenes experience of how people could physically make a film like that with tangible, practical effects and the artists and actors and acrobats – the visionaries! – pooling their talents into a shared dream… it infected me like strange but beautiful virus or a dream you could never forget. 


It wasn’t until many, many years later when I was making puppets of my own that people started drawing associations between that movie and the humble world I was just starting to build and explore. All of a sudden I was hit with the realisation that my career as a marionette artist had not started with the first puppet I made but rather as that young boy drawing strange, mystical beings in front of a crackling old Panamax television. I didn’t explicitly make Skeksis and Gelflings and all the rest but it wasn’t difficult to draw a line to what was inspiring me. 


These days, of course, they have become a part of our own body of work along with many other familiar characters from the modern world of tv and cinema. They are all intended primarily as tributes for their contribution to my life as an artist and the thriving imagination contained within and without.

And you make a living from this?!

Ha! Yes, we do although it must be said it is quite a humble income at best. Like they say, though, when you’re doing what you love, you never work a day in your life. And it’s true!


There are so many facets to the whole, not just the process of creating itself which is continually expanding, but also travelling and touring Australia and the dynamic worlds of the festivals we attend, exhibiting and performing side-by-side with so many thousands of like-minded creatives and visionaries gathered together to celebrate the Art of Living. This vehicle for the imagination Sara and I have found in puppet making is constantly giving so much more than what it takes and the personal experiences it has brought us thus far is one of the most satisfying aspects of all.


Sharing it with others though, inspiring them with idea to pursue their dreams wholeheartedly and to carve their own lifestyle from their talents, is perhaps the greatest gift of all. So thank you!

What kind of people buy your puppets?

Look at the people here!