Toothpick people make great gifts, since they can be customized to look like whoever you choose. You can even modify the same process to make the toothpick person walking a dog, riding a horse, or riding a dragon (with some tissue paper for the wings). They’re good for dioramas, Christmas decorations, worry dolls, voodoo dolls, you name it. They can even be put on necklaces, if they’re posed so that they don’t catch on the clothing too much. The possibilities are infinite, and they’re a great deal of fun!
Here I’ll be showing you how to make the simplest kind of toothpick person, in a basic pose, wearing pants and a sweater. Once you’ve learned this, you can put your creativity to work and make them as fancy as you want.
So, to begin: for each toothpick person, you will need:
*embroidery floss: in colors for the pants, shirt, and face
(you can find embroidery floss at craft stores; it’s extra-thick thread)
*scissors (nail clippers work just as well if not better, since they come with a nail file for rough edges)
*fine-tip pens (for the face)
*tape (optional, but recommended)
First, lay out the paper towel under everything. It’s good for catching glue and keeping toothpicks from rolling too far.
Then pick up your toothpicks and the scissors/clippers.
Cut one toothpick in half, to make the head and the middle of the torso. (You’ll only need one of these halves; you can use the other for spreading glue.)
Cut the tapered ends off of two toothpicks, for the legs and the sides of the torso.
Cut the last toothpick in half to make the arms. If it’s broken exactly in half, it will be slightly too long for a human arm, so you’ll want to arrange all the pieces on the paper towel and hold the arm piece up to see how long you want it. Then trim both arm pieces, and you’re ready to start gluing.
Spread glue on the torso pieces, stick them together, and smear glue all over the front and back for stability. It’s a little messy, but it makes sure that the toothpick person won’t come apart in your hands while you’re putting clothes on it.
The part of this whole process that takes the longest is the drying of the glue; if you want to speed up the process a bit, you can hold the toothpick person and blow on it (or apply a hair dryer if you’re really in a hurry). But otherwise, stick some tape to the paper towel to make a surface that will peel away from the dried glue, and set your toothpick skeleton on that. You don’t want to put it right on the paper towel, since that will leave you with a nice sheet of plasticky paper on the back of your toothpick person, which will need to be cut off before you can add any clothes.
Go ahead and attach the arms while it dries on the tape: put a drop of glue on the shoulder and another on the arm piece, then stick them together, and repeat the process for the other arm.
You can go do something else while the glue dries, though you may want to check back and see if you need to add more glue. The downside of the leaving-it-on-the-tape method is that gravity will pull the glue away from where it needs to be.
When it’s all dry and solid (and any extra glue has been snipped off), you’re ready to begin with the clothing. Unwind some string in whichever color you want the pants to be, and put a dab of glue on one end.
Apply this to one ankle, and wind upwards. Winding one way will make it smoother than the other, since the embroidery floss is made of six thin strings wound together in a spiral. If you want the pant legs to look a little more like cloth than like twisted string, watch for the direction of the spiral.
When you reach the top of the leg, skip upwards to the waistline (leaving blank spots), then wind carefully downward, covering everything and ending at the other ankle. Snip the thread and glue it in place.
While that dries, repeat the process for the shirt. You can start at one wrist or at the waist; if you’re making sleeves, you’ll have to skip over something either way. (Or you’ll have to cut and glue the string an extra time, but the skipping is easier.)
When the shirt is done, all that remains is the head. Put glue on the tip of the white (or otherwise face-colored) thread, and begin winding. Go until you’ve made a satisfying head shape. The toothpick for the head should be longer than necessary, since it’s hard to wind a good head shape around the exact end of a toothpick. It is easy, though, to cut off the extra bit then apply a small dab of glue to hold the threads in place at the top of the head.
Now all that’s left is the face and the hair. The face can be drawn with a fine-tip pen of whichever color(s) you prefer; just check first to see how much the ink spreads when you use it. You don’t want two lovely blue eye-dots to turn into one solid blue thread where the eyes should be.
The hair can be done the easy way, which is by pen (this only works for short hair), or the better-looking but more difficult way, which involves more thread and glue (this works best for long hair). The pen method needs no explaining (but again, watch for ink spreading), and the thread method is nearly as straightforward. Pick a thread color, measure the length you want the hair to be, and start cutting off pieces of that length. Cut as many as you need to make the hair as thick as you want it to be. You can cut them as you go, just make sure you always have one to measure the next one with. Glue them in place; you can separate the individual threads in each strand to make it look more like brushed hair instead of dreadlocks.
Let it dry, and you’re done!
As I said, this is the simplest style of toothpick person you can make. With patience and steady hands, you can make them in an infinite variety of poses and styles. Try it out! You’re sure to think up something great.