Saturday, July 20, 2013

Historical Sew Fortnightly: Eastern Influence

Oh my ears and whiskers, how late my HSF projects are getting! In this particular challenge, we were supposed to make a historical garment with inspiration taken from the East; although I started planning for it months ago, I wasn't able to finish sewing until yesterday. Blame the chaos of packing. And of course, now that I go back to look at The Dreamstress' guidelines for this challenge, I only just now discover that the point was to make an Eastern-inspired Western garment! Oops. I just made a straight-up Eastern garment. Ummm, it doesn't get more Chinoiserie than an actual Chinese 漢服 (hanfu), right?

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I re-watched Disney's Mulan earlier this year when it came out on Netflix, and since I'm participating in the HSF, I got curious about actual historical Chinese clothing. After extensive research, I discovered that the fashions in the Disney movie span oh, 5000 years of Chinese clothing.

In Mulan 2, she wears a Warring States period/early Han dynasty spiral-shaped garment, while Li Shang's garments throughout the movie are from much, much later, more like Ming and Qing dynasties.
From the book 5000 Years of Chinese Costume.
Mulan's matchmaking outfit is most similar to the Tang dynasty fashion of having the skirt pulled up to above the bust, with long trailing sleeves and flowing ribbons. 
In Mulan 2, she shows a bunch of neighborhood children how to do some basic martial arts. Their clothing is kind of "generic peasant," with a basic jacket/top and short pants.  
They look very similar to this Han dynasty sculpture. The 5000 Years book shows paintings of common people from the Han through Song dynasties all wearing similar outfits. 

In wanting to make my own somewhat historically accurate hanfu, I ran into a significant and unexpected roadblock: while Western historical fashion only goes back a few hundred years, and therefore it's much easier to find well-preserved extant garments, Chinese history is much, much longer.   Most of the well-documented extant garments and paintings date from the Qing dynasty, which spans all the time from before the Restoration, through the Georgian, Regency, Romantic, Victorian, and finally Edwardian periods. Unfortunately, the Qing dynasty is not even a native Han Chinese dynasty; the Qing were actually Manchurians, and therefore the costume of that time period doesn't "count" as true Chinese clothing. Even the iconic qipao/cheongsam is a more modern derivative of the Manchurian style of clothing. Anyway, I wanted to look at actual Han Chinese clothing, but I only found a few examples, none of which had all the information and photographs that I would have wanted. Between library books and teh interwebs, I was able to find a few shenyi from the Mawangdui tomb (c. 168 BC, Han dynasty), a beizi and a pleated skirt from the Song Dynasty, and another jacket and skirt set from the Ming Dynasty.

Women's jacket and pleated skirt. 


Paintings and statues, however, were slightly more plentiful/helpful. While it's more difficult to find representations of women (there are lots of of royalty, male court officials, and soldiers), thankfully there are enough empresses, concubines, musicians, and attendants to get an idea of the general fashions of the various dynasties. If I can boil down hours of research and 5000 years of costume history: when it comes to the general population (i.e. not royalty or dancers) there's a basic uniform of a top and a skirt, with just the changes in sleeve length and width, skirt height, and jacket openness to indicate the dynasty.

Han Dynasty mural: jacket with moderately huge sleeves, overskirt with a tie belt.
Wei Dynasty court attendant: jacket with huge sleeves, pleated skirt and overskirt open at the front.
Detail from the Tang Dynasty painting "Night Revels" shows lady musicians with narrow-sleeved jackets, overskirts, sash belts. 
"Dinner Party" painting from the Five Dynasties period shows outfits very similar to the Tang Dynasty one above.  The overskirt is clearly pleated. 
This Liao Dynasty painting also shows an overskirt with a voluminous jacket, with an underskirt/shirt  inside. Also, a cat!
This Song Dynasty painting shows a lady wearing a jacket+skirt+overskirt+tie belt combo again, with a cape-type thing as well. 
This Ming Dynasty painting of women playing ball shows extra long-sleeved kackets with at least two layers of skirts, and surprise! pants underneath it all!
Qing Dynasty painting showing guess what, a jacket/skirt/tie-belt ensemble again!

(All the sources for the above images are collected on my Pinterest board for this costume.)

As you can see, not much changes when it comes to this basic outfit! Rather than aiming for one specific era, I decided to make a generic jacket with moderate width sleeves and rely on the skirt placement to change the look. I'll make the skirts for the separates challenge later in the year. To make the jacket, I mostly used the diagrams put out by the various groups dedicated to the revival of the hanfu:



I started with (what else?) a twin flat sheet, took my measurements, and cut out the basic shape. From there, it was just a matter of sewing up the side seams (my fabric was wide enough to not require a center back seam), cutting the curve in the front (not historically accurate, but I like that it gives the impression of a spiral-shaped garment when it's worn over the skirt), and adding the contrast binding. When I make the wrap skirt, the inaccurate front curves will be hidden.

Walnut helped. 
It looks like a muumuu without a belt, but then a lot of the historical jackets were pretty oversized. The sleeves are much longer than my arm, as extant garments and paintings both seem to dictate. There is no shaping to speak of, unlike modern, costume-y hanfu made from chiffon and satin. 

And here's what it looked like on Cecily!

With a totally anachronistic black elastic belt and gold drapery tie, over a thrifted green silk charmeuse skirt. 
From the back: it's pretty bulky with all the excess fabric. I'm tempted to redo the skirt portion to be more flattering, historical accuracy be darned, but am loath to give up even the tiny modicum of accuracy that I can claim.
Side view...pretty boring. It was getting pretty dark when I took these pictures, so they're also not the sharpest.

Like the pirate coat, I'm waiting until I make the whole ensemble to do a proper photo shoot of it on me. I still need to make the long wrap skirt (probably in black), the shorter overskirt (hoping for gold), and the tie belt (need to find a suitable large jade pendant). And in case you couldn't tell from my Pinterest board, I'm planning to make this into a Mulan/Loki mashup (for no good reason other than that both have a green color scheme and are defying social expectations because of some father-related issue), so I'll eventually up adding a black leather over-jacket thing like these Tang Dynasty dancers and making a staff.

Summary:
Fabric: A thrifted 100% cotton twin flat sheet for the body, and 2/3 yard of floral print green and gold quilting cotton for the binding (purchased at Michael Levine Loft).
It's vaguely Asian-looking, right? Sandra helped me choose it (and find enough scraps in the Loft bins to make up the 2/3 yard that I needed). I'm really pleased with how the two greens look together. 

Notions: Anachronistic seam binding for the insides.
Year: No specific dynasty, but probably fits the Ming Dynasty best. Incidentally, that's the dynasty where the tale of Hua Mulan was turned into a full-length novel (though the original story dates back to the Wei Dynasty, and the Hun antagonists of the Disney version date back to the Han Dynasty).
Hours: 10, not counting all the research! The nice thing about early historical garments is that the basic pattern is so shapeless and easy. The binding probably took the longest, what with cutting, pressing, and sewing all the strips of fabric.
How historically accurate is it? Not very! Early Chinese garments were usually made of hemp or silk, depending on social status, and there were certain prescribed colors, and dark green was not one of the options for anyone. Cotton didn't become popular as a textile for clothing until the Ming Dynasty. Plus, I sewed this all on machine, and as I mentioned above, the shape of the hem is not accurate. Goodness knows how all of that research still managed to yield such an inaccurate final product!
Will you make it again? I want to make another strictly costume-y hanfu at some point in my life, just because they're pretty, but who knows when that will actually happen.
Total cost: $5 ($3 sheet, less than $2 for the binding)
Final thoughts: I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. I'll hold off on making concludions until I make the rest of the outfit, but for now, the excessive green reminds me of one of my favorite Chinese movies, 十面埋伏

The whole movie is beautifully colored, but I especially love the vivid, almost neon green scenes in the bamboo forest. 

38 comments:

  1. That looks pretty good! I'm no historical expert but it definitely looks "right" to me :) Also, I'm SOOOO GLAD you brought up qipao/cheongsams. I've never thought of qipaos as the representative dress of "my country" because, growing up in Beijing, the types of historical dress I was exposed to were usually based on historical art like the examples you posted here. They were fairly prevalent on TV, whether in documentaries, costume dramas, or children's animated programs based on Chinese folk myths. And I have to say you did a really great job capturing what I perceive as the essence of the ancient Chinese style of dress!

    I get a bit miffed when people hold up the qipao as the iconic Chinese costume because it doesn't mesh with the images I acquired from my cultural surroundings when I was growing up in China, and so it feels inauthentic. Mulan may not have been able to constrain its fashions to a single millennium, but at least the characters weren't all wearing qipaos!

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    1. I totally remember my parents watching those dramas when I was little, so it never occurred to me that people who don't do the same might not know that qipao are not the traditional Chinese clothing. It wasn't until I started doing research for this project that I found out there were hanfu revival groups!

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  2. oh I really like the green and a mulan/loki mash up sounds really fun!

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    1. I'm discovering that I really like shades of green. Until my Eowyn dress, I hadn't ever really worn that color much!

      When I told my sister about the mashup, she was skeptical...

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  3. I think it looks really good, it definitely needs a belt, though possibly not the elastic with gold trim version, lol. It is hard to tell from some of the pictures what sort of belt/tie they used back then though. From what I can see there seems to be a wide underbelt and then a narrow tie that's quite long over the top.
    I need to get back onto my project which is running significantly later than yours did.

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    1. Hahaha no worries, that belt combo will be replaced with something more authentic! I just needed something to hold it closed so I could see what it would look like.

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  4. Wow, what a gorgeous ensemble! Great job! The different shades of green blend beautifully together. :)

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    1. Thanks! I had to go to quite a few thrift stores before I found greens that would compliment each other.

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  5. It's so beautiful and elegant! The colours are just delicious. You've inspired me to have a go at making one too. :)

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    1. Oh, I hope you do! There need to be more people making costumes from all over the world!

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  6. What fun! I must admit the shapelessness of most "traditional" style clothes (and I think this is true of most parts of the world) really puts me off a lot of historical sewing. Something to do with having to weave all that fabric by hand, I think. I love all your research! And I especially love that you know exactly wear you're opting out of historical accuracy. (Which, given the lack of extant comparisons is pretty darn justified, I would say.) have fun with the skirt(s)! :D

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    1. Agreed! My kirtle-making research made me feel similarly, and even the conical torsos of a few hundred years ago strike me as not the most flattering...but that's just my modern eye! It certainly makes things easier to sew, though.

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  7. I love that movie! In English I think it's called House of Flying Daggers - I have no idea if that comes close to the original title. I have to say though, Zhang Ziyi is not my favorite actress, even though she does a good job.

    Sorry I got all excited about the movie - your hanfu is amazing - I love the greens!

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    1. Thanks, and yes, I saw that translation, which has nothing to do with the Chinese movie title! Pronounced "Shi Mian Mai Fu," it roughly translates to "Ambushed from Ten Sides."

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  8. It looks good, and I really enjoyed your overview of Chinese historical fashion through the lens of Mulan! (Which I just re-watched recently. And now I have the "I'll Make A Man Out of You" song stuck in my head. Including the LotR scenes paired with it for this "Eomer's Bootcamp" video I stumbled across on YouTube this one time--which is hilarious, if you haven't seen it.)

    I also enjoyed seeing the painting with the musicians--it was interesting to me how much the flute in the middle resembles western flutes.

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    1. "I'll Make a Man Out of You" is one of my favorite "get to work" songs ever! I need to look up that video!

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  9. It's lovely! I love green. When I first read saw what the theme for this challenge was going to be I started thinking of making an Ottoman woman's outfit but then read it was supposed to be 'eastern-inspired-western clothing' so I passed...also because I had no time.
    I don't know if I've ever seen Mulan...strange...I should rent it when we get netflix...

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    1. Of course, after I finish this costume piece I see that an upcoming HSF theme is the color green! And hey, at least you read the description carefully!

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  10. I love the colors you used! I can only imagine how challenging it must be to pick an era for a historical Chinese garment inspiration. One of my pals from freshman year of college was a Chinese student who'd come for college. We went on an art history field trip to NYC and wound up at the Met at a huge traveling China exhibit -- I was SHOCKED that she knew something about everything in the exhibit! I barely know anything about American history and there's so so much less of it to know. Good on you for diving into all that research headfirst. :)

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    1. It's funny, I know I had to learn all of this history for Chinese school as a teenager, but I didn't remember any of it before I started this project! Just goes to show, if you find something of interest to hang all the other knowledge on, learning gets so much easier!

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  11. mulan-loki? you are a genius. can. not. wait. to. see. final. version. period. exclamation point.

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    1. Thanks! I hope it turns out as fabulously as it has in my head :)

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  12. Oh, wow, this looks very authentic! If you had just included it as a historic pic, I would not have challenged you. How does it look on?

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    1. It looks very much like it does on Cecily! Since I was packing up the apartment and super sweaty, I decided to forgo a shoot and just threw everything on her instead.

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  13. I adore the research you did and will be keeping this just in case! I love the outfit you're making and I can't wait to see the final version!

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    1. I'm glad you found the research interesting! I wasn't sure about including all of it, but figured that if I wished that someone else had done this, someone else might appreciate mine :)

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  14. Looks good. Nice to not have to deal with curved seams, eh? Different dynasties favored different body types--"燕瘦环肥," so pick a dynasty that flatters you: http://costumecommunityservice.tumblr.com/post/55184899330/nannaia-evolution-of-chinese-clothing-and

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    1. Well, I still had curved seams in the hem, but yes, no darts for fitting the bodice was nice! I borrowed the book that that timeline references most heavily, so that was helpful, but I think my biggest problem was that I couldn't just settle down and pick a single era!

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  15. I'm always impressed by the research you do and the results of it. It looks lovely!

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  16. This is lovely! And great research.

    I'm really fascinated by traditional Chinese clothing but as a white person feel really weird about appropriating things from a culture that's not mine in any sense. But it looks like lots of fun to make!

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    1. I understand that that can be a sketchy area for some people, but I think as long as it's done respectfully (and not like those sexified geisha costumes!) it's fine...but then if you aren't sure about it, I guess it's better to err on the side of caution. I'm all about appropriating historical English fashion, though ;)

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  17. YEA MULAN!!! It is one of our family favorites! Especially my Dad. It definitely reads asian so that's a win in my book. I really enjoy your HF posts! I always learn something new about history!

    Ps. I'll have to check out your movie. My Dad and I like watching them subbed together.

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    1. It's always good to hear that other people love Mulan! Even with its inaccuracies, I love it since it's an actual Chinese Disney princess!

      As for the other movie, just keep in mind that he was going for "artsy" more than plot-driven :P

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  18. Oh I loved House of Flying Daggers for the visual pleasure (that scene in the snow!!)

    Beautiful hanfu! I can see how the green would inspire you.

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  19. This is so lovely! And an impressive amount of research- I had no idea the degree of difference!

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  20. It's lovely, and since what I hoped (most of all) would happen with the HSF was sewing that we might otherwise put aside, and research, so I think this qualifies. Besides, with all the ways in which the West has borrowed from the East, if you look hard enough you'll probably find that Poiret did something *exactly* like this in 1917 ;-)

    When I lived in the Bay Area I did most of my research and work with Asian textiles. I lost most of my notes in a move, and I haven't had the opportunity since then (NZ museums being rather sparse on good Japanese & Chinese examples), but I do remember a stunning 19th century Han Chinese jacket & skirt that were the more recent versions of the Song dynasty pair you posted (it was blue & black and white, and the memory of it was partly the inspiration for my Eastern Influence item), and writing a paper discussing the intersections between Han & Manchu fashions, where the Han borrowed the occasional horse-shoe cuff, and Manchu women wore platform shoes with teeny platforms to imitate the Han bound foot.

    Good memories, thanks for bringing them back!

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  21. Wow, the amount of research you did is mind boggling! And the result is beautiful. I can't wait to see the Mulan/Loki mashup, that's so enticing!

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