Making a Chinese Dragon for the Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance in the Classroom

Dragon Dance in the Classroom

There are two kinds of dances you find at Lunar New Year.  The first is the Lion Dance, which is two people and a head that looks nothing like a lion. You can see a quick video of a lion dance here.

Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance

The second dance is the dragon dance which is much less common, in my experience, than the lion dance.  The dragon dance is done with many people holding poles that hold up the dragon.  There may be 5 – 21 people dancing the dragon dance.  And the dragon chases the sun, which is held by the smiling Buddha.  I have seen this dance at the Chinatown Parade and also at a performance at Fair Oaks Mall during their two week celebration of Chinese New Year.  But it takes a lot of people, and a lot of practice and coordination to do the dance.  Not to mention the costume is very expensive.

It is this dragon dance costume which I made for my son’s second grade class.  I wanted something simple to make; I did not make a complicated costume to be held up with poles.  I followed the instructions from Chinese New Year for Kids, by Cindy Roberts.  It is this dragon that I made.  There is a great YouTube video of a much more complicated dragon.  I did not make that one.  It looks great, but she has several teenagers helping create this costume.

The dragon dance costume I made is the costume made out of two cardboard boxes, one a regular cardboard moving box and a shoe box.  The author used plastic table cloths for the back of the dragon.  The chapter on making a dragon dance costume includes an illustration of the costume, and after reading it, I was still not sure the author ever made the costume, since there were so few details.  But then I found the Adopt Vietnam website where there are actually photos of the dragon she made.

Equipment needed:

  • 1 medium size moving box
  • shoe box
  • wrapping paper, red, gold, yellow, other
  • clear plastic packing tape
  • scotch tape
  • paper towel holders (I used 4)
  • plastic cups (red, yellow, white)
  • cellophane paper  (optional)
  • speedy sewing awl (optional)
  • glue gun  or household glue
  • poster board
  • polyester pillow filling
  • poster board
  • fusible interfacing (optional) or copier paper
  • 2-3 plastic table cloths  – I used 5 yards of cheap cotton woven fabric + 2.5 yards of felt.
  • acrylic paint (white, black, gold)

Medium box, covered with wrapping paper.


Athletic shoe box, covered with wrapping paper.

The author suggests covering both boxes with red wrapping paper and wrapping it like a present.  Well I did that, but I cut the pieces of wrapping paper up so there were a lot of places where my wrapping paper is taped onto the box.  The reason I used so many smaller pieces of wrapping paper vs, wrapping like a package, was so that the wrapping paper would be attached better and in many places.  Then you can see I cut holes in both boxes.  The child carrying the dragon head will be able to see out of the open mouth.

I tried to use a glue gun to attach the shoe box to the larger box, but that did not hold.  I suppose you could just tape it a lot.  I wasn’t sure exactly how well that was going to hold given there was a lot of wrapping paper on top of the box.  I would have had to cut away the wrapping paper, taped it directly to the box and then put wrapping paper back on the main box.


Part of the sewing of the mouth onto the head


Sewing Awl

Instead I decided to sew the shoe box onto the main box.  I have a Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl, which I had used a lifetime ago to repair some camping equipment. I couldn’t remember how to use it, but thanks to YouTube for the How-to video, I was able to learn.

dragon-head-1-webIt worked well.  I sewed the shoebox onto the main box.  And this is how my dragon stayed for a long time while I tried to find a couple of yellow Solo cups without having to buy 100 cups and spending $8.   I never did find fewer yellow cups and finally found some white paper cups and painted them with gold paint.

Before adding the cups, I added the spike on the top of the head with poster board and covered it with gold wrapping paper.  I used some wrapping paper I already had to add some stripes around the head. I covered paper towel rolls with the same wrapping paper.  I actually used two paper towel holders per horn. I cut one and put one inside the other.  I added some red  cellophane paper to the top of the horns because I had the paper.

almost-done-webOn the nose, I had to cut the gold painted cups to very short because there was not enough room below the eyes.  I taped the cups, horns and spike on with packing tape.  This picture is before I put the beard and mustache on.  I used red Solo cups and painted the eyes with acrylic paint.

I used old polyester filling.  It was not in a roll. I suppose if you had the filling from a roll, it would work better.  I think I was supposed to glue the polyester batting onto copier paper.  I had a piece of fusible interfacing and ironed the polyester onto the interfacing for the eyebrows, mustache, and beard.

For the body.  The article suggests two plastic table clothes taped together and fortified with more packing tape.  I bought my yellow plastic table cloths at a dollar store.  Those table cloths were so thin, I decided not to use them.  I had a third plastic table cloth that I bought at a party store (red).  It turns out that the party store plastic table cloth was much thicker than the dollar store table cloth.

Alas, I decided to find some cheap material.  I found some yellow woven material at Joann’s Fabric which was cheap and using my 50% off coupon, got the fabric for $2.00/ yard.  I bought red felt (also on sale).  I bought 5 yards of yellow fabric and 2.5 yards of red felt.   It wasn’t clear how the tail was supposed to look, so I improvised.  I had bought this product called “Dritz Quick Turn” and wanted to use it.  So I made three long tubes (because that is what this product does) and braided them together for the tail.

The Body

dragon-body-webAs I said before, I had 5 yards of cheap yellow woven fabric.  After making it, I though 5 yards might have been too long, until I got to class and the kids barely all got into the 4.5 yards of dragon body.  I cut off about half a yard of the yellow fabric and put it aside.  I had 2.5 yards of red felt.  I cut four pieces of felt which were 10″ wide and 2.5 yards long.  Then I sewed the felt together so I ended up with two long red pieces of felt, 10″ wide x 5 yards long.  The yellow woven material is 44-45″ wide.  I sewed the pieces of red felt to the yellow fabric along the selvage of the yellow fabric, so it was as easy as could be. This added both length to the dragon (on the sides) and the heavier felt material made the dragon sides drape better.

Using a newspaper for a template, I made an isosceles triangle out of the extra yellow woven fabric.  I had some extra red felt and cut some more 10″ pieces.  I sewed the red felt on to the bottom of my triangle of yellow fabric.  And then I sewed the triangle on to the body of the dragon to make the rear end.   After that, I sewed the sides to the back and then I sewed the tail onto the rear end of the dragon.

dragon-velcro-webThen I just had to figure out how to attach it.  In Cindy Robert’s explanation, she used packing tape (and a lot of it) to secure the plastic table cloth body to the head.  I chose to go back to Joann’s Fabric store.  And I got a yard of 1″ thick Velcro ® that had glue on one side.  After removing the wrapping paper from the flap, I glued two strips of Velcro onto the flap.  I then sewed two strips of Velcro on the other side of the dragon body.

The last thing I did was iron the fusible interfacing to the polyester fill and cut out 2 eyebrows, 2 pieces of mustache and a beard.  Then I used a hot glue gun to attach them to the dragon face.

dragon-all-webWith the Velcro on the box and on the body of the dragon, I could easily separate them and put them together.

I think we were able to squeeze 16 kids under the costume.   We used it for my class presentation and then we used it at home when we celebrated Lunar New Year with friends.

If I were to do this again, I might forget the wrapping paper and glue the cups and paper towel rolls on with a glue gun.  And then papier mâché over the whole head to keep the cups on.  And then paint the whole thing.  But then again, the last time I did papier mâché, it took a long time and was pretty messy.   So maybe this is the best and easiest way to make a dragon head.

I’m hoping to use it in years to come when we get together for Lunar New Year with our adoption friends, at school and at home.

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