Sunday, April 13, 2014

How I Made a Dragon Costume

I recently worked on a high school musical production of Shrek.  I worked within a team of 4 volunteer costume designers (a true luxury as each member is both talented and ambitious).
Dragon Costume

The Dragon Head

We were able to borrow a dragon head from another theater.  This dragon head was made of paper mache', and wire mesh over a baseball cap.  The horns on the sides were made from craft foam hot glued onto the sides of the paper mache'.  I sewed on a chin-strap of elastic (to the baseball cap) to keep the head secure while dancing on stage.

Dress Assembly

I volunteered for the task of assembling the dress, wings and tail for the dragon costume. The director had provided me with two red dresses she wanted me to piece together.  Dress 1 was purchased at a thrift store for $20.  Dress 2 was her old Halloween costume.

Dress 1 of the Dragon Costume - thrift store purchase - $20Dress 2 of the Dragon Costume - old Halloween costume

Remove the skirt to make the dragon wings

I removed the skirt of the Halloween costume and hand sewed the top half of the Halloween costume to the bodice of dress 1.

The Dragon Wings

Our Dragon had two sets of wings, the small set shown here as well as cape-like wings described below.  
Small Dragon Wings

I donated a small pair of red wings from a Halloween costume. I removed the elastic straps and cut the wings in half along the center piece.  I then serged the raw edges and sewed these wings directly to the dress on either side of the back zipper.

The Dragon Cape

For the cape-like wings, I used the fabric from the bottom half of the Halloween costume dress and some matching red fabric which I just happened to have on hand from another Halloween costume.  I found some pink tulle fabric from storage and used it along with the skirt fabric to piece together wings. I used my serger machine to piece together the wings and finish the edges at the same time. Here are the approximate measurements of the wing sections.  As you can see from the picture below, I used 8 wing sections, 4 on each side for this dragon costume.

Dragon Wing Pattern
Dragon Wing Dimensions

Using a zig-zag stitch on my sewing machine, I sewed the cape-wings directly to the sleeves of the dress along the sleeve seam.  The wing sections were joined together along a center back seam, but were not attached to the back of dress.  This allowed full-range of motion while dancing on stage. 

Dragon Wing Detail
Cape-wings are serged together at center back

Adding the Dragon Belly Fabric

When we received the dragon head from the other theater, we discovered that we needed to add some purple to the dress to create a more cohesive looking costume.  To be honest, I just did not see color combination working, but somehow, it really did.  I purchased some purple sequined fabric and stitched it to the center panel of the dress. I machine sewed from the bottom of the dress up to about the waistline and then had to hand sew the rest.
Dragon Costume
Cape-wing detail

The Dragon Tail

The actress playing the Dragon, requested a large tail and I was happy to create one for her.  This one received lots of laughs!  The tail was made of the same purple sequined fabric.  I cut three triangular pieces and sewed them together. I stuffed the tail with batting, using every bit of batting I had on hand (luckily, I get much of it donated).

Side view of Dragon Costume
The dragon costume on stage

Dragon Tail Attached to the dress
The tail was secured to the dress with snaps
dragon tail base
Snaps are added to the felt base of the tail
I used a piece of felt at the base of the tail and attached the largest snaps I could buy.  I then attached the snaps to the back of the dress, underneath the large cape-like wings.  This tail was quick and easy to make.  Here is a diagram of the tail pattern.  Note, the bottom piece of the triangular tail is slightly larger than the sides.

Dragon Tail Pattern
Dragon Tail Dimensions

Snaps attached to the back of the dragon dress
Snaps were added to the back of the dress
Side view of the dragon dress and tail
Side view of the dress and tail

The Cost

In all, we spent $40 on this costume.  ($20 for the thrift store dress and another $20 for the purple fabric and snaps to attach the tail.)

Lessons Learned

  • Even though the tail was not heavy, the weight was too much for the snaps and I ended up having to safety pin the tail to the dress.  So, if you decide to take on this project, save yourself some time and skip the snaps!  Large safety pins held the tail securely through all three performances.
  • If I had more time, I would have also covered the little red wings in purple sequin fabric as well.  In all though, I was pleased with how this costume turned out.

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