Since dragons need no explanation, I thought the perfect compromise would be a Dany and Drogon costume from A Dance With Dragons. That idea then morphed into an ancient-Targaryen dragonlord riding a dragon when I found the green fabric at the thrift store for $2 and couldn't pass it up. (Obviously, Drogon would have to be black and red, not green.) If people get it, cool. If not, also cool. No explanation needed because I'm riding a dragon.
Fellow ASOIAF fans, I leave it to you to make a Drogon. To people who don't watch or read the series: no more obscure references in the rest of the instructions. I promise.
Step 1: Gather Supplies and Equipment
This is not a single weekend project. Paper and fabric-mache takes a while to dry, and it must be completely dry between each layer. (You don’t want your hard work to mold!) I stretched the bulk of the project over the entire month of August.
I tried to keep the cost of this costume as low as possible; most of it is made of things that I had around the house or could find at the thrift store. A quick in-my-head tally puts the total around $100, not including equipment or the things I "borrowed" from my parents' house. (Lock ties, spray paint, styrofoam pellets and seat belt material.) (Thanks, Dad.)
You could definitely make this more elaborate if you have the budget. (Taxidermy eyes, LED lighted eyes, or fake smoke from the nostrils, for example.)
1. PVC primer and cement
2. Drill (for PVC)
3. Small saw (for PVC)
4. Glue gun and glue
5. Good fabric scissors
7. Wire cutters and plyers (I used a multi-tool.)
8. Fabric glue or sewing stuff (if you're going to make your own shirt.)
Dragon (body and head)
1. PVC Pipe and fittings
3/4" pipe. I don't know how many; I had a bunch laying around. 4 should cover it.
8- three-way corners (My hardware store didn't have these; mine are two pieces.)
5- T-connectors (4 for the body, 1 for the head)
3- 45 degree connectors (2 for the wing base, 1 for the head)
2. 10 feet of chicken wire (1-inch gauge)
3. Lock ties
4. Newspaper/Ads/Phone Book
5. Old bed sheet
6. Paper Mache Paste (1 flour : 5 water)
7. Dragon eyes
Cheapest: reading glasses and paint (Step 3)
More expensive: pre-made eyes (Check Etsy or search the interwebs for taxidermy eyes.)
Most expensive: LED lighted eyes
8. Wire clothes hangers or extra wire (for horns, tongue and putting tail together)
9. Oven-bake clay (~4 oz total.)
11. ~10 feet of strap material (Seatbelt material is great. Army belt webbing would also probably work.)
1. PVC Pipe and fittings
1- 1/2" pipe (10 feet)
1- 3/4" pipe PLUS larger fittings big enough to hold 1/2" pipe.
1- 1 1/2" pipe PLUS connectors that will secure this pipe to the base of the dragon
2. Thin wire cable
3. Eyelet screws
4. Around 3 yards of fabric for wings
5. Black fabric paint (for veins)
6. Black felt sheets (or foam sheets)
7. Small piece of leftover PCV (for handle)
8. Electrical tape (for securing the ends of the wire. You might use something else.)
1. Thrift-store pants
2. Thrift-store boots (Size doesn't matter; they're going to be destroyed.)
3. Packing peanuts or other stuffing
4. Old stockings
1. Wig or Hair Extensions (Optional. See Step 10.)
2. Top (You can make one from a scarf. See Step 10.)
3. Leggings (Black or whatever color your dragon is going to be)
Step 2: Build and Paper Mache the Skeleton
See pictures for details. Keep in mind that this is going to have to fit you AND go through doors. I made my dragon out of 3/4" PVC because I already had it on hand. You could probably make it out of 1/2."
2. Attach to ceiling beams
I suspended my dragon from the beams of my garage for three reasons: (1) no flat spots in the chicken wire, (2) paper mache dries more evenly, and (3) it helped to remind me to keep the weight distributed as evenly as possible. You could skip this step, but you might end up with flat spots. I started with a chain, but it was sort of rusty and I kept running into it, so I switched to rope.
The rope is attached to four lock-ties. When you take the dragon down, don't cut these! They'll be used to attach the straps later. (They'll be under all of the layers of paper and fabric.)
3. Wrap and secure chicken-wire
Lock ties are key here. They help secure the chicken wire to the PVC without cutting the wire in too many places. This is faster than twisting wire around itself and helps avoid creating sharp pointy edges.
4. Minimize all of the sharp edges with masking tape.
This isn't critical, but it helps keep the paper mache from ripping when you're working on an area where lots of pieces meet.
5. Make paper mache paste
1:5 ratio of flour to water makes a decent paste. Whisk together the flour and cold water, heat on stove 2-3 minutes, until it's as thick as pancake batter. You can store the paste in the fridge for a few days. Over the course of the project, you're going to have to make several batches of this; don't try to make it all in one go. It only takes a few minutes.
6. Begin to paper mache
For the first layer, weave the paper strips through the wire. This is important; paper mache will not stick to the chicken wire but it will stick to itself.
Move on to the next steps while the layers of mache dry. Continue to add paper mache layers whenever you have a few extra minutes and the project is dry. I ended up with around two layers of paper mache everywhere, three in some.
Step 3: Create the Smaller Pieces of the Dragon
1. Make dragon eyes
If you don't want to spend $10-15 for a decent pair of taxidermy eyes, you can use reading glasses or the largest glass half-domes you can find. (I found a pair reading glasses for $.88.) Paint eyes on the back. I used nail polish.
The eyes will look better if the black doesn't extend to the edges. I figured this out a little too late, and I didn't want to try to strip the polish off of plastic. Also, I probably should have used golds, oranges and yellows, but at the time I was painting I was still set on a black and red dragon. By the time I found the green fabric, it was too late to change the eyes without tearing the head apart.
2. Make teeth and tiny horns
Sculpey or Fimo clay work for this. Obviously, the packages have directions for baking. Make the teeth long enough; about a third will be covered by glue and paper mache.
3. Make tongue
Make a frame with wire and fabric mache. Paint before installing in the head. It's probably a good idea to have the tongue finished before you add the lower jaw. I did not. It still works. I looped the ends of the wire to the back of the throat area. Bonus: it moves a bit.
4. Make tail
Build the tail in a couple of pieces. It's just newspaper and masking tape with a layer of fabric mache. Keeping the core solid will make it a little heavier (for balance) and stronger.
The pieces are attached by wire to the body. Poke holes through a thick part of the fabric and paper, and string wire through it t make loops. Connect the wire loops with more wire.
I realized too late that my tail was slightly too long and drags a bit when I wear the costume. Try not to do this.
Step 4: Finish Paper Layers and Begin to Assemble the Dragon
1. Attach eyes and horns
I used beer pong balls to add structure to the eyes, but you could use wadded up paper. I also added some wire to the head to make horns. I probably should have made these independently and attached them later. I didn't take a picture of the wire when I attached it. The wire is punched through the paper layer and secured to the chicken wire underneath, then wrapped in fabric. They move a bit when they're bumped but they won't break off.
2. Spray paint inside of mouth
You can wait to paint the inside of the mouth until later, but it is difficult once the teeth are glued in and secured.
3. Attach the tail
I cut small holes through the layers of fabric and tape and made hooks wire loops stick out of each side of the tail pieces. I then secured the loops with another piece of wire. The tail isn't perfectly connected (there are gaps), but it is strong and it moves a bit.
4. Attach the teeth
You can do this at any point before fabric mache is complete.
Step 5: Fabric-mache the Dragon
There are two basic cuts that you need a lot of: strips of fabric (for the belly and tail), and triangles of fabric (for the scales). The head is a different thing entirely, and you'll want to cut pieces for it separately (leave some extra uncut fabric for this purpose).
I started by cutting about half of the bed sheet into wide strips, then cut the wide strips into smaller strips. I completed all parts of the dragon I needed strips for, and then cut the extra pieces into triangles. You won't be able to fabric mache the entire dragon in one go, so don't worry about cutting all of the fabric in one sitting.
I used one full-size bed sheet for my dragon and I had enough fabric left over to make shin pieces for my legs. (Step 12.)
There is a lot of trial and error in this step if you've never done this before. (I hadn't.) If you're a perfectionist, you need to accept early in this project that no dragon is perfect. I've included as many pictures of my process as I could, but it's really all about trial and error.
Here are some of the things I learned the along the way:
(1) Soak the dry, cut fabric for a second and work the paste through with your fingers to makes sure that the fabric is completely saturated. You don't need much more paste than with normal paper mache.
(2) Always place scales from the bottom and work your way to the top. This is also true for the strips on the tail.
(3) For the best layering effect, place most of the pressure on the top of the scale, smoothing upward. Lightly press the bottom of the scale to secure, but don't smooth the entire piece out like normal paper mache.
(4) Fabric mache dries VERY slowly and can be re-positioned. As long as you have a decent layer of paper underneath, you can re-do your work many times while it's wet.
I suggest watching some of Dan Reeder's videos to learn a bit of technique. I am grateful that his site is very detailed. If I wouldn't have stumbled onto it, I would have probably tried to use latex or foam to build the dragon. Fabric mache is light, strong, and really cheap to do. (Mr. Reeder also has a book. I don't have it, but it looks like it might be helpful.)
Step 6: Paint
I started with flat camouflage colors, but that looked bad. (Also, matte spray paint is a pain to work with.) I added glossy black, but that was too shiny and looked like I built the thing out of a trash bag. Also, it looked weird with the green wings. Finally, I brushed green (and red) onto the black and then lightly brushed gold over everything. I was happiest with this.
Because of the layers of spray paint under everything, I didn't need much brushed acrylic (about a 1.5 small bottles of each color). I overbought paint and now have the desire and ability to paint everything in my house with gold.
In retrospect, I could have probably done a bit better if I would have blackwashed the matte green and then added gold details. But, I'm pretty happy with how the brushwork turned out.
Step 7: Build the Wings
1. Cut out notches in 1.5" PVC.
2. Cement all PVC except for the connector between the body and the wings.
Before you do this, make sure everything is where you want it to be. Tape the long pieces of pipe to the ends before cementing so you know where they will fall once it's cemented.
3. Drill and wire PVC
See pictures for details. In short, the ends of the wire are secured by a square knot and wrapped in electrical tape.
4. Cut and attach fabric membranes
The fabric is hot glued onto itself; it's able to move on the pipe.
5. Add veins and scales
The scales are pieces of cut felt, and glued onto the seam so that it's not visible.
6. Cement wings to body.
This was the first time I took the dragon off of the ceiling. It's a good idea to put a lot of pressure onto the joints to cement them as deeply as possible. (This is obviously the weakest part of the dragon. The wings seem secure to me; I'll update this Instructable if the wings fall off.)
7. Secure wire and create handle.
Put an eyelet screw into the neck pipe, and then string the wire through it. Tighten the knot, cover the knot in electrical tape, and then centered the (ribbon-covered) PVC pipe to hide the knot. The handle will be hidden in the neck.
8. Tape talons.
I originally covered the upper pieces of the 1/2" pipe with felt, but I didn't like how it looked. I covered the felt with tape and then painted it. I like this look a lot more.
If you're confused about any of the steps, watch this YouTube video. (It's not mine. It's what I used, and it might be more clear.)
Step 8: Make Legs
The more elaborate and convincing the fake legs are, the better the illusion.
I started by spray painting the bottom of the boots black. For the sigil, I printed out the image, coated the back of the paper with oil pastels, traced the image onto the boots and painted over the markings. You could probably use tracing paper or cut a stencil. Depends on the level of detail you want.
2. Stuff legs and cut pants
Old stockings work, but if there are holes, you may end up with lots of packing peanuts popping out. (My mistake. By the end, I had to put a second pair of stockings around the first. I should have just stuffed the hole-less ones to begin with.)
Tie a knot about where the knee should be and then stuff the thighs. Otherwise, the leg will look weird when it bends.
3. Assemble legs
Start by gluing the styrofoam-filled stockings into the boots. I used spray glue, but you can use whatever glue you have. (The boots will ultimately be lock-tied to the dragon, so you won't be relying on the glue too much.) Hot glue the edge of the pants around the top of the inside of the boots, then glue the top of the pants shut.
4. Secure legs to dragon
Drill or cut holes into the boots, then drill holes into the dragon. Use lock ties to secure the boots to the dragon (securing everything beneath the chicken wire layer).
Step 9: Make and Attach the Straps
After breaking two needles, I decided that sewing the seatbelt material was not a great option. I put a cardboard box under the material so I wouldn't drill my table, drilled 4-5 holes and then threaded a lock tie through the holes. Not my most elegant solution, but it works. (It's hidden. No one will notice.)
Attach the ends of the seatbelt to the lock ties (leftover from when the dragon was hanging in the garage) with more lock ties. (Lock ties are pretty much my answer to everything. These little things are better than duct tape.) Cross them in the back for a bit more comfort.
Don't worry too much about the seatbelt material fraying; it hasn't been a problem. (You could singe the edges with a lighter if it makes you feel better.)
Step 10: Make the Costume
1. Deal with Hair Situation (In sum, you're on your own.)
My hair is not long enough for a proper ASOIAF character, so I bought a silver wig. Two silver wigs, actually. I sewed the tops together and attempted to braid the hair. Cheap wigs are terrible to work with; the hair gets tangled, sticks to itself, and you end up with bald patches where you can see the netting underneath. To cover the bald patches, I put the sewn wig on (so it was properly stretched) and used a hot glue gun to secure the stray pieces where they needed to be. You might want to find someone who can do hair and wield a glue gun to help if you with this. My roommate was no help, so I found myself awkwardly standing in the bathroom, back to the large mirror, holding a small mirror in one hand and a glue gun in the other. Pro tip: when you glue, wear a bandanna underneath! Hot glue is a disaster to get out of real hair. (Olive oil and a curling iron is the trick to getting it out. I don't wish that evil on anyone.)
My finished product still didn't look great, so I added ribbons to hide the worst bits. Then... I stored the wig in my bedroom. Every time I looked at it, I had flashbacks to my costume from last year (I made a kidnapped mermaid costume from ModMischief's Instructable). The costume was great, but it involved a synthetic wig. By the end of the evening, my real hair was gross, my makeup was running, the wig was a tangled mess and bits of it kept getting into my beer.
So... I scrapped the wig idea and bought some extensions on eBay. Alternatively, SelkeyMoonbeam has a really great Instructable on ridiculously long hair.
2. Make Shirt
Its really hard to get a normal shirt on over the straps, so I came up with an idea to make a two-piece wrap out of a scarf I found at the thrift store. Also, it's not terrible as a cover-up and (with enough safety pins) could easily be worn for a portion of the evening where the dragon doesn't fit. (Any Halloween-night activities that involve sitting down.)
To make, sew up (or glue) the sides of scarf, leaving a hole at the top large enough for your arms to fit through.
3. Embellish Belt
I couldn't resist painting my old ugly belt. I started because I wanted the clasp to be gold, not brown, but then I got carried away and just painted the rest of it. It's really not important; with the wings and costume, it's almost impossible to see the belt anyway.
The wide belt was a good choice. I wear it over the straps and the shirt. It serves as another brace, keeps the straps from moving around and helps distribute the weight more evenly.
Step 11: Cover Legs
I wore thick sweatpants because I wanted the scales to fit comfortably over my boots without too much of a gap in the back.
2. Place one solid layer of fabric mache.
Even with a hair dryer, this takes a minute to dry. Make sure it's every layer is dry before moving on to the next. Otherwise, you might be stuck drying your legs for a very long time.
3. Fabric mache scales.
By this point, you're a pro at this.
Spray paint layer is best. If you slop on lots of wet acrylic, your legs will lose shape and you're going to have a bad time.
5. Punch holes and install laces in the back of the legs.
Step 12: Dry Run
1. The tail is too long.
Oops. I thought about shortening the straps, but I would have needed to shorten them too much and it would have messed up the illusion. (The fake legs would have been awkwardly sticking out of my chest.)
I thought about building stilts using this great tutorial on YouTube, but then realized that the some of the Halloween parties I planned on attending were in a places that required lots of stairs. I'm a complete klutz, and half of the reason I build my own costumes is the fact that most store-bought girl costumes require uncomfortable shoes. No thanks.
This costume is awkward enough without adding the possibility of falling down stairs on stilts. So... the tail will drag. It may fall off. I am at peace with that.
UPDATE: After TWO parties, including one VERY crowded nightclub where the costume kept getting stepped on and bumped into, the tail is still attached.
2. The position of the wire for the wings is a little awkward.
The wings aren't heavy, but they're not exactly light either. To make them expand, they need to be pulled back or up. Pulling back is impossible (because you're in the costume), and pulling up is a weird motion. This can't be fixed in my costume and it's not a big deal. However, if you're building this, you may want to think about putting pulleys somewhere in the dragon to make this easier.
3. This costume is nearly impossible to put on alone.
I sort of expected this, but I didn't really understand until I tried to get the dragon and the shirt on. Putting the dragon on alone is difficult, but do-able. However, if the shirt is on the floor once you are in the dragon, it may as well be in China.
With two friends, it's much easier. They just need to hold the costume high enough for you to climb under it and stand up. Once you're up, the two pieces of shirt are easy enough to position. So... plan on Halloweening in a group or making friends with strangers while in line for the bathroom. You're going to need them.
4. The costume doesn't fit in a car.
I wish I would have gotten a picture of this ordeal, but it was drizzling outside and dark when I tried to put the costume into a Honda Civic. In short, there is zero way this fits into a car. It does, however, BARELY fit into a hatchback (in our case, a Chevy Sonic). Sadly, all of the horns on the face (hot glued on) popped off. I'm going to make more before next weekend and bring super glue gel to attach them AFTER we get to our destination.
I would be happy to answer any questions and I would appreciate your vote in the Halloween Contest!