Mar 2, 2013

Milk Jug Dragon Mask

St David's Day at school went well. The kids loved the school eisteddfod and enjoyed wearing their Welsh costumes too. Ffion was happy to wear my old traditional Welsh costume from when I was a kid, but Tomboy Carys was hell bent on being a welsh dragon, so we had to make her costume.
Have you ever wanted to make a dragon mask? Sure you have. Yeah, yeah, you can say you haven't, but I know you have. You'd be mad not to want to make one. So, because you DO have a burning desire to make a dragon mask, and because you are obviously a sensible, frugal individual, and not afraid of a big old mess (because if you are afraid of a big old mess I have no idea why you are here), let me bombard you with a few too many photographs showing you how to make a kick-ass dragon mask out of two milk jugs, some tin foil and a newspaper. Has there ever been a more useful blog post in the history of the internet? No. I'm fairly sure that's what you are thinking.
 I hope that there is someone out there that might actually find this a little bit useful, because although we were sort of making it up as we went along, there are squillions of photos.

First of all, you will be needing two of the British style 4pint plastic milk jugs that you have cleaned out and dried. They look like the ones below. The reason that I used milk jugs to make the base of this is because they durable, flexible, easy to cut with scissors and get a stapler through, and they are just sat there in the recycling bin, so, Freeeeee!

We have made plenty of stuff from the US Gallon sized milk jugs while we were living in California, like the Storm trooper helmet and the batman masks. I bet you could still find a way to use the US ones to make a similar design, because they have a larger surface area, so you've actually got more plastic to work with on those.
 I started with the first milk jug by chopping off the neck (you'll need to keep this because it'll be used later), then I chopped off the base, and the handle section.
The large piece is going to be the main part of the mask (the sides and top). The smaller handle piece has to be cut and stapled to make the dragon's nostrils. The collection of photos below shows from several angles how we cut down the handle and pushed it together to staple it into a shape that looked like it would work for the nose of the dragon. I think this is the hardest bit to explain in words, hence all the pictures.
Next I used a staple or two on each side to attach the nose to the rest of the head.
Now you want to get your second milk jug, and cut off the neck again (save this one for later too). Cut off your handle, and cut off the lower half of the jug (again keep that to use later) This is the piece that you're left with.
This is going to be stapled onto the back of the mask to complete the back of the head.
 You still have the handle section from the second milk jug, and that needs to be cut right down to make a piece that can be stuck on over the tip of the nose to make a nice dragony point to it and to cover the front parts of the nostrils that you've made. Here's a series of pictures showing how I got that little bit from the handle.
And here you can see how it fits onto the end of the dragon's nose to complete his face.
You still have the bottom half of the second milk jug, and the sides of that are going to be used to make the little wingy ear bits that go on the side of the dragon's head. I'm not well up on dragon anatomy, so I don't know if these have a proper name. Anyhoooo, here's the picture of the bit you cut them from and how they look before you attach them.
Here they are tucked into the seam where the back joins the side of the head and stapled on. You can see now how useful the curve in the side of the milk jug is to make the ears stand out from the head.
The final part of the milk jug masacre is to use your two neck pieces to make sturdy places that you can have your horns coming out of. I cut the neck pieces right down and used a pen to mark on where I wanted them to go, then I used a pair of nail scissors to cut out the circles and push the neck pieces into place from the inside of the mask. A good squidge of hotglue held them securely.
So, here's what your finished underlying milk jug structure should look like. Lightweight and sturdy.
Out of the two milk jugs that you've used, all you have left are some offcuts and the two bases!
Now for some tin foil and hot glue fun! This is the least documented section of the project, because all it is really is squishing large sheets of tin foil onto your base to make the dragon have the features you want. We used the tin foil on our mask to flesh out the nostrils, to add some head ridges, to add a couple of facial horns, and to sculpt the side of the dragon's mouth. We also added a couple of spikes to the back of his head and most importantly, we twisted up some tin foil horns and stuck them through the necks of the bottles that we glued on the top of the dragon's head. We used lots of hot glue to smoosh the sections of tin foil onto each other, so that there weren't a load of loose bits sticking up when we came to add the papier mache layer. The top image is after three sheets of foil have been added, and the bottom picture is when all the foil has been added (I think we used about five or six strips from the roll that were about a foot and a half to two feet in length, so not that much foil really.

The beauty of using tin foil to do this part is that you can add volume really quickly and easily and it adds very little weight to the mask, and when the tin foil is compacted on it is very sturdy and easy peasy to papier mache over.

The kids really got stuck into the papier mache part of the project, and my job was really just ripping up the newspaper while they stuck it on. The horns would have been harder for them to do with bits of paper, so we wrapped them in crepe paper from a streamer roll and then pasted them with the flour and glue mixture instead. To make it easy for the kids to get at, we sat the mask on top of a ceramic jug, so the back of it was raised slightly off the table.

 All of the project up to here was done on a Saturday morning, but once the papier mache is on, you have to wait for it to dry, so that's going to take about 24 hours before you can get painting and decorating your mask.

Here's a few pictures of the mask with the dry papier mache, before any painting was done.

My older daughter loved the papier mache part the most, but my middle daughter was really into the painting part. I had a tester pot of red paint from a hardware store that I'd planned to paint something for Delyth with months ago and hadn't got around to, so we used that to give the dragon a base coat colour that we could decorate on top of. It gave really good coverage and you couldn't see the newspaper print through it at all, so we only needed the one coat.
Here's Mr Dragon with his snazzy paint job. You can see the structure of the mask really well with the plain paint job, so I took a few pics from a few angles.
Here's a pic of the inside of the mask (you can see that we made the papier mache go over the edges and onto the inside a bit). You can also see the tin foil smooshed ends of the horns on the inside of the mask too, which helped keep the horns anchored while you're papier macheing them.
We used another couple of bits out of the recycling bin to decorate the finished mask. For the teeth and eyes we used a bit of cardboard from a school shirt package and the white polystyrene from a pizza package.
Again everything was stuck on with hot glue. We happened to have a load of red hot glue sticks that a friend found at a charity shop in the US and gave to us last Christmas, so those were perfect for this! and we had some red heart sequins that got smooshed into the glue to add a bit of bling around the eyes.

Our mask at this point was ever so slightly front heavy, so we added a winged cape and dragon tail to the back of it, which weighted it perfectly and also meant that our costume was complete with just the one item.

Extra decorating included painting on some darker red paint and gluing more sequins on, plus hot glue and glitter scales in places. We weren't too neat about it, but the results are pretty good.

The material all came from two 60p bundles that we found outside a fabric remnants place not far from here, so this has to be one of the cheapest costumes we've made.

Here's the back of the mask where the cape is attached.
and here's how it all looks from the back with the cape and tail...
The fabric bundle also had a little bit of red fleece in it, so I lined the mask with that to make it really comfortable to wear (again it was all hot glued on).
Here's kiddo rocking the finsished mask.
She's so happy with it! And very proud that she was so involved in it's creation. I know this is is ridiculously involved and detailed tutorial, but I'm hoping that there will be some people who find the techniques we used useful in building other types of masks on the cheap, for example it wouldn't take much alteration to make this be a horse mask, or a unicorn mask, and with a change of underlying plastic milk jug structure and a bit of imagination I'm pretty sure you could make any kind of mask you want in this way. There we go, that made me feel a little less like a nutter for posting all this. We had fun making it, and I think that's the important bit!


  1. That is astonishing! I am in awe and bow to your stellar craftiness!

  2. Wonderful! I usually use posterboard and refer to paper Mask Making by Michael Grator - but milk jugs have a wonderful built in shape, and the paper mache would soften rough edges near the face beautifully.

    In case you'd like to see my masks, they are here:

    1. Love your masks! Thank you for sharing the links. Hope you have fun with trying out the milk jug construction method in the future.

  3. This absolutely ROCKS! I LOVE recycle art, it is the most creative avenue there is.

  4. The heart sequin eyelash bling! And I love the tail... What is that made of? Looks velvety and sumptuous... Dragon perfect, really. I'm so impressed with the texture, too. Great job, girls and Mom!

  5. Oh my goodness! That is totally awesome!!! Thanks for posting it - I'm a little intimidated thinking of trying it, but since I can totally imagine either of my girls wanting to be a dragon for Halloween, I think I'd better keep your tutorial in mind!

  6. Oh my goodness! That is totally awesome!!! Thanks for posting it - I'm a little intimidated thinking of trying it, but since I can totally imagine either of my girls wanting to be a dragon for Halloween, I think I'd better keep your tutorial in mind!

  7. You really are a wizard, that mask is fabulous! Glad your littles had a good time!

  8. This is the best costume ever! I'm a costume nut too so ill be keeping this tutorial for the future!!!!!!!

  9. Lindsey, once again you astound me... wizardry for sure! What a great costume.

  10. That is so cool that when my husband saw it on my computer he asked what website it was on so he could look it up! It was very fun to read too.
    Thanks for sharing!

  11. this is all kinds of cool!

  12. That's amazing, but tell me, in your spare time you are a world famous sculptor, right?
    A few years ago I made a dragon mask for my son, I'm welsh but he wanted a green dragon!! I'm afraid that I wasn't very imaginative and use a box so my dragon had a square head. I was quite pleased with my efforts but my son asked if from now on I could just buy carnival costumes like everyone else did!! cheeky monkey!

  13. I am amazed at what you can do with milk jugs! I always look forward to your posts, they always brighten my day!

  14. How creative you are! Wonderful costume and an excellent tutorial!

  15. Seriously! If you did and before and after shot no one would ever believe you. Your awesome.

  16. Julianna, the tail was made from a long bit of curtain decor that was in the 60p bag of remnants that we got from the fabric shop. It really was perfect for the job and we couldn't have got luckier with what was in those two little bags we found!

  17. So glad to see that I've got readers that are into the more epic projects. Makes me happy to know that I'm not posting detailed tutorials on things that no one is ever going to bother with. I'm encouraged to post the monumental cardboard obstruction we've put up in the girl's bedroom now!

  18. BRILLIANT! I mean really, really, genius. The talent to see those shapes in the jug *and* to bring them out just blows me away. What lucky, lucky girls!

  19. This is amazing! If I ever need to make a dragon mask in the future, I know where to come!

  20. You are an amazing mom. So much fun and wow results!!!

  21. Awesome mask and so fun to read! I will keep this in mind for the future, who knows when my two children will need a dragon mask? You are really a genius!

  22. The mask is amazing - both the texture and the structure of it. Particularly impressive given its humble beginnings. THanks for the detailed post - I'll be saving this for halloween.

  23. Fantastic tutorial! I am about to create a boarhead and this is a super basis for it! Thanks for sharing!

  24. I love your ideas but don't see the tutorial for the butterflies that were recently posted. Sounds like a wonderful and very full life at your house!l

  25. My boys have decided to be dragons for Halloween. I'm glad they gave me notice, because I'm going to need it, but your tutorial will be a great help!

  26. I hope you can answer this soon so I can start before halloween. How did you attach the cape? I fear a kid at school pulling on it and hot glue not being strong enough. Or maybe my son shutting it in a door. He loves the color red so this dragon is for him.

  27. You are a LIFE SAVER. I need to make a Hungarian Horntail dragon costume for Halloween..and I was a bit stumped. Thanks SO much!

  28. Found you on pinterest, and amazed, not only is some of it british, its Welsh!! Absolutely love the dragon! Very patriotic! your so clever! I will definitely attempt this one next March for St Davids! thank you.

  29. Of course this is amazing! I would like to try it for my sons birthday as he really wants a dragon mask for his birthday but it is only 10 days away! Wish me luck!

  30. Fantastic tutorial so easy to follow. Thank you for your inspiration i have never attempted anything like this before.I'm so happy with the finished dragon he's amazing.

  31. This is awesome! You & your daughter have wonderful imaginations & amazing talent. :) Great job!

  32. Thank you for posting this! I'm being Nessie the Loch Ness Monster for Halloween, and with a couple of modifications I used your tutorial to make just the best long neck and head. The nostrils really make it awesome. Thanks!

  33. Thank you SO much for posting this! My son wanted to be a dragon for Halloween and I had no idea how I was going to pull off the head for it. Your tutorial saved the day, and the dragon hat turned out fantastic, almost as good as yours. ;)

  34. Hi there!
    Well, your genius is going to be your legacy - here we are going on 5 years later, and I've found your page and I'm just loving your dragon head!
    This year, 2018, my granddaughter wants to be a blue-green "fairy-dragon" (yes, she says it's thing) for Hallowe'en. (Thank goodness she's given me lots of notice!)
    I have to go look for blue-green hot glue sticks, now (I hope they are a thing, too!)
    Your tutorial is fantastic - and that's coming from a retired teacher/not-retired craftsperson!
    I have saved your page so I can come back to have a closer look at more of your projects.

  35. Thanks to your genius post, we had a very happy dragon this Halloween - thanks for the inspiration and tutorial! Am I able to post a photo, or is there an email where I could send one? We'd love to share our handiwork :)

  36. Amazing! Just what I've been looking for this year's Halloween. I'll be doing the details in Eva foam, but using a milk bottle for the skeleton is genius.

  37. Working on a Nightwing (from a book series) for a ten yr old using this very genius starting point! Thank you!


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