Monday, January 16, 2012

Sewing My Own Qipao: The Saga Begins

I panicked when I realized that Chinese New Year is next Monday. I had grand plans to make a vintage 50s-styled shirtwaist dress for this week's Sew Weekly buttons challenge, but I guess frog buttons will have to do as a substitute! So here I am trying to make a nowhere-near-authentic qipao, aka a cheongsam in Cantonese. When I told my husband, he was skeptical (are you sensing a theme here?) -- where will I wear it, and you're making it out of that fabric? To be perfectly honest, I'm skeptical too. Here are the reasons why:

1) I don't have a pattern. Or even a RTW garment to work off of. All I have are these two diagrams that I found when I googled "qipao sewing pattern." There's also this free pattern, but I didn't feel like printing it out and taping all the pieces together, so I decided I would draft my own based on the aforementioned diagrams and my own measurements. Yup, this is a prime example of how, in being lazy, my "shortcut" takes more time than if I had done it properly. So I measured myself and some of my more form-fitting patterns, and drew out my pattern pieces on some wrapping paper. But hey, it's okay, because this extremely trustworthy article promises that "Qipao dresses can be made in a variety of fabrics and look good with or without patterns." Emphasis mine, of course. Actually, now that I think about it, they probably mean fabrics-that-have-printed-motifs kind of patterns, not sewing patterns. Which is good, because...

2) The fabric I chose is not the typical silk brocade. I don't have anywhere to wear an "ethnic" silk brocade dress, nor do I have the money for silk brocade. So I contented myself with this cotton from my stash. I was hoping that the crazy florals would distract from any egregious errors...only I realized that I would have to try to match the dark and light portions. Oops. Did I also mention that it's only 38" wide and I have only two yards of it and I bought it in England so I can't get more? Yeah. Also, it's super lightweight, about as thin as cotton muslin, so I had to underline it. Thank goodness for Tasia the Sewaholic's super helpful post about it! Oh, and it's a beast to iron. That's right, Cindy, go ahead and make things as hard as possible for yourself.

All underlined in cotton muslin (pre-washed, of course!).

3) I don't know what I'm doing. I'm scared of making such a form-fitting dress. I'm really afraid of the first time I try to sit down in this. Also I'm undecided about how I'm finishing the side. Zipper? Snaps? Tape? Maybe I'll end up investing several hours into an unwearable piece of clothing. But in cases like this, I think I need to stop wibbling and just start sewing, or else I'll scare myself into having a UFO. Here goes nothing...

Unrelated: I am seriously tempted by these. Would anyone like to get me a very very early birthday present? I can't just wait for CNY anymore; since I'm married I'm technically no longer eligible for red envelopes. Boo.


  1. Ah, that fabric's so beautiful. I think this project is definitely worth a try. Charge ahead! Can't wait to see the end result.

  2. That's beautiful fabric! I've been planning one of these for ages now (OK, basically since I gave away the one I bought when I was 17 after I started having kids and my weight was all over the place... these things don't cope well with weight fluctuation ;) ). The Sew Convert has some nice posts on them (I think under the name cheongsam) from earlier last year, including lots of movie stills of versions in non-standard fabrics---yummy!

    I actually found a qipao-esque pattern at the thrift store over christmas ( you can see the photo here: ) but it's an 80s knockoff and when I checked the finished measurements it has like 8" of ease at the bust. WTF?

    Good luck! In the ones I've seen, there is usually a side zipper. Can't wait to see how it turns out.

    PS I actually have a really ratty traditional one in the basement that I salvaged at some point. Let me know if there's any construction points you'd like me to check out... :)

    1. Thanks for the rec to Adey's blog! I've been reading her blog since the latter part of last year, but didn't know about that earlier project. I do know there's a side zipper, but I may be emailing you about some other construction points...

  3. @Tanit-Isis: I had a red-and-blue shot silk ao dai made for me years ago in Vietnam that no longer fits due to the hazards of baby making, so I feel your pain. The bust points now hover weirdly about 1 inch above my new improved bust THAT'S a nice look...

    Cation: I love the idea of making a qipao in a non-traditional fabric. You'll be the hippest one during CNY and you can gloat when people ask you where you got it by saying, "Oh, this old thing? I whipped it up one evening." ;)

    If all else fails, you can always use staples. Mena did it.

    1. Haha I don't think it will be a whipped up in one evening project! But I do love the idea of staples as a last minute solution.


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