At the end of a Children’s staff meeting last November, department head Rita Christensen mentioned her long-time dream of hanging a giant Chinese parade dragon for Lunar New Year. Enter me: Mary Jensen, brand new Assistant Children’s Librarian. Eager to prove myself and excited by a large-scale project with an awesome end result, I volunteered to start researching methods for dragon construction. I quickly determined that hula hoops would make up the dragon’s skeleton, and after watching a few videos online, I decided on a framing method for the head. We started construction of the head and body in December, but as we got into January, I realized I was running out of time. Enter Belinda: super-volunteer with experience in making props for high school productions. She saved both me and the dragon! She spent more than 50 hours working on this project, and it would not have been possible without her. Thank you, Belinda! So how to make a dragon for Lunar New Year? Let me tell you how we made ours!

Constructing the Dragon Head

How to Make a Dragon | Lunar New Year

I framed the head with cardboard, then stuffed it with crumpled up pieces of paper. To secure the paper, I wrapped the entire thing with masking tape and covered it with felt. Then, I added a piece of cardboard for the bottom jaw. At this point, Belinda took the dragon home and started adding teeth, flames, horns, and hanging wire. We continued to add details like the eyes and beard up until the last moment. The head was my favorite piece to construct, as it required a lot of creativity and problem solving. With the exception of the eyes, we didn’t buy anything for the head, relying on materials the library or Belinda had on hand.

Building the Body

How to Make a Dragon | Lunar New Year

The body is constructed of hula hoops connected with irrigation tubing. The scales were attached to long pieces of butcher paper that we wrapped and taped around the hula hoops. We knew we wanted kids to feel involved in the construction of the dragon, so the January Any Time Activity in the Children’s department was dedicated to kids designing their own individual dragon scale. We needed thousands of scales to cover a 50-foot dragon, so we also had the Children’s staff cutting out scales at the desk. In the end, we used approximately 3,600 scales to cover the dragon, plus the 500 scales designed by our little patrons.

Final Construction and Hanging Day

How to Make a Dragon | Lunar New Year

The Saturday before the dragon was hung, Belinda and I started assembling the body in three separate parts. By Monday, it was finished and ready for hanging. Huge shoutout to Nathan, Holly, and Jordan in the Outreach Department for helping with this key part! Since hanging the dragon, we have experienced trouble with our tail, as the tape continually rips apart from the paper. After re-hanging the tail twice, it has ripped once more, but it remains secure. This tail will probably haunt my dreams until the dragon is taken down in March, but it’s a reminder that we tried something new. And even if it’s not perfect, it is still magical. Seeing our kid’s reactions of wonder and excitement make every hour of work worth it.

A million thanks to the Children’s staff, the Outreach department, and Belinda for all their help, and a special shoutout to Rita for her original vision and unwavering support.

Written by Mary, Assistant Children’s Librarian