Introduction: Charizard -Partial Dragon Costume

About: I am Michelle "Riley" Carbaugh, a current animation student at the Art Institute of Colorado. I make creature costumes!
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Introduction | Overview | Materials and Tools | The Construction | Project Videos


This was my very first costume project I ever attempted. I was 17, had never touched a sewing machine, never thought about working with fabric or sculpting with foam, and basically had no idea what I was even doing. There were very few tutorials that were available at the time so for the most part I just winged it. It ended up being well received costume at all the events I brought it to. However the most important aspect of the project is that it unlocked a hidden passion to allow me continue to build projects such as this one for years to come.

I credit this single project as the most useful and single best learning experience I've ever had- nothing else comes as close as far as exercising a wide variety of talents in my skillset: visualizing 3D space, working with textiles, using power tools, designing aesthetically, drafting/planning practically, sculpting, drawing, project and time management, budgeting, and most importantly having a blast doing it!

Now that may sound like a lot, and maybe you haven't developed any one of these skills beforehand- but everyone, including myself, has to start somewhere. I highly encourage beginners to give it a shot as I've even seen much more successfully executed projects than my out come from a first-timer. This particular instructable will be showing an overview of the process, but my future submissions will break down the steps more easily for you. You can see my second costume project, Aerodactyl, here.


The basics of the process is to start with a design, drawing it out on paper (or the computer in my case) is ideal and usually better than keeping it in your head. For the head, the most important things you will need to include into the design is a way to have vision in the mask and a way to breathe. Comfortability, heat regulation, and weight are going to be the three main factors that effect creature costume design. When designing, you will need to determine what would be the most appropriate and practical application for a character's design to be transformed into a wearable costume in regards to size and proportion. Structural integrity and costs may also come into play and most of these aspects you will come to understand naturally once you've gotten the hang of working with the materials and tools.

Materials and Tools

Primarily, this costume is made of hot glue, upholstery foam, and fleece. There are a number of other fabrics I can recommend for using in costumes like this, the most popular/common being faux furs and minkys. Knit fabrics are also nice if you can make use of their stretchy qualities. Fleece is very warm however, but has some stretch and I think is an easy fabric to work with. It's usually $5-$15 dollars a yard. I used approximately 3 yards for this project.

-You will need a sewing machine and thread (or at least a hand-stitching needle).

-Duct tape and cling wrap

-Stuffing (poly-fil)

-A yard or 2 of knitted elastic

-Metal crafting or copper wire (I recommend about a 5 foot piece 16 gauge wire for the tail and a about 15 feet of a 6 gauge for the wings)

-Hot glue and glue sticks- lots of them. I recommend an industrial glue gun (with large multi-temp sticks) because it ensures you always have glue at the ready. But small craft mini guns work fine. Buy a pack of a hundred mini sticks in that case.

-An electric kitchen knife is extremely handy for working with foam but not necessary. I do not recommend cutting foam with a hot wire as the fumes can be dangerous. Your best friend in this case is a pair of nice scissors. I prefer the spring-loaded Friskers to keep my hands from getting sore, but not everyone can get used to these. Multi-purpose scissors are great. Don't use nice fabric scissors, you'll ruin them. An exacto knife is handy as well.

-Upholstery foam, the kind you find in couch cushions and and fabric or hobby stores. I prefer high density (often comes in a green color) and 1/2", 1" or 2" thicknesses. Any thicker and you may have a hard time cutting it. I suggest going with 1" and getting about a yard of it. It typically comes in about 24" wide.

-Sharpie marker and/or fabric marking pen

-Specifically for this project I bought some feathery boa trim for the end of the tail, a plastic bowel for the eyes, aida cloth for the eyes, a sweat-whicking balaclava, a styrofoam mannequin head, old shoes, and a zip up hoodie.

The Construction

Hands: The hands are basic gloves. I traced my hands on a piece of paper, drew an outline around them significantly larger (about an inch around my hand) and cut it out. I traced the paper template onto my fabric, cut out two halves and sewed them together. Turn them inside out and test-fit. I had to make the hands 4 separate times until I got a good fit- adjusting the pattern each time. For the claws I made a cone shape of fleece, cut off the ends of the gloves, and glued in the claws to the inside edge.

Feet: The feet are built off of an old tennis shoe. I traced the front of my shoe onto the upholstery foam and drew an outline of my dragon toes. You will need to duplicate this on the opposite foot every step of the way. I cut the toes out and hotglued them to the front of the shoe. Using scissors, I carved out each of the toes.

To get a pattern for the fabric covering, I used masking tape but I highly highly recommend duct tape: place out a layer of cling wrap over your form. Take small strips of duct tape and carefully cover the surface, being careful not to compress the foam too much. It helps to also stuff the inside of the shoe. What you are doing here is duplicating the surface area of your form by placing down a "skin" of duct tape that will be replaced by fabric later. You can then cut off the tape and make your pattern. The goal is to cut it in as few pieces as possible, but for each piece to be able to lay flat. Transfer your tape pattern onto the fabric. It is recommended you sew the pieces together but I simply glued mine.

Tail: The tail is simply 2 long triangle shaped pieces of fabric sewn together on the edges and turned inside out. There is a piece of copper wire through the tail to give it some support, specifically for the flame. I simply wrapped a feather boa around the wire (sticks out of the tip of the tail about a foot) and glued it in place. The rest of the wire runs up the length of the tail. Stuff with polyfil and sew an elastic belt loop.

Head: I built the head off of a balaclava. This mask has a moving jaw, so when I open and close my mouth, so does the character's mouth. Do get this effect I sewed pieces of elastic to the balaclava as shown. To point of this is to ensure the balaclava is tight on my face to better read my jaw movements: the elastic stretches when my mouth opens and helps pull the character's bottom jaw back up when I close my mouth. The elastic should be snug but not too tight- I get the best results by making it under the most tension on the back of my head, neutral tension under my chin, and a medium tension across the top of my head.

From here it is all about additive and subtractive foam sculpting with scissors. You will glue the foam directly onto the balaclava. It helps to have a head base supporting your work, I used a styrofoam head/wig stand, but this head is smaller than my own so I suggest bulking it up a bit. Otherwise ensure that it's comfortable and fits well without being too tight by constantly trying it on as you're working. I always start with the eyes so I know where my vision will be and how large the eyes are going to be in comparison to the rest of the head to help balance proportions. I make an eye template out of paper for this. I build up around the eyes first.

I attach the top of the muzzle next: this is done by drawing out on the foam what I want the profile view of the muzzle to look like. I duplicate this 3 times, cut out the pieces, and glue them together. I attach them to the foam under the eyes and begin to carve out their shape. I do this for the bottom jaw as well. For a moving jaw it's recommended to keep the top and bottom jaws separate pieces to allow more freedom of movement. Don't forget details like the eyebrows, horns, and cheeks. I also made my teeth out of foam but you could also use clay or another casted material.

Covering the head in tape and then fabric is the same method as explained with the feet. I ended up gluing the fabric onto the end but the seams are ugly and full of glue chunks. I highly recommend sewing when working with a short or no-pile fabric.

Eyes: The eyes are made out of a cheap plastic bowl for the shiny white parts- heat up the bowl by running it under hot water and you can more easily cut it with scissors. Or use a Dremel tool. For the part you'll be seeing through this is a cross-stitch fabric with tiny holes in it called aida cloth. I also recommend trying buckram as it is stiffer. I used Prismacolor markers to color the eyes though paint will work (long as you don't clog up the holes) but I recommend staying away from washable marker. With heat from the mask, moisture may build up and cause your colors to run. The eyes are simply glued in place.

Wings: The wings are built off of a backpack made out of cardboard with elastic straps. I would recommend a more durable material than cardboard honestly. I drew out the shape of my wings on the fabric and cut them out. I took the 6 gauge wire and bent it into the shape along the top edge of the wings. It is one continuous piece from wing tip to wing tip. Upon reaching the cardboard backpack, I ran it along the outside edge and along the bottom to give more support on my lower back. The fabric was sewn together along the bottom edges of the wings. For the top edge, the wire was glued onto the fabric. I made the outline of the orange fabric bigger than the teal fabric on the top edge- this was so I could fold over the top edge of the orange to cover up the wire.

That is the basic process with a brief explanation of the photos provided. If you are interested in seeing an expanded image gallery of this project, I keep an archive of my work on my flickr gallery which can be found here:

Project Videos

Thank you for taking the time to check out this instructable! This project was originally completed in 2007 by Michelle "Riley' Carbaugh of CanineHybrid Creations. Don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions!