I finished this cheongsam top a week ago!
In actual fact the bodice and shoulders were mostly stitched together already, but the project was left abandoned for a couple of weeks to focus on schoolwork. It’s always frustrating for me – I love to get things done all in one go, straightaway, so I often avoid preventative or proper measures like pre-washing fabric for minimal shrinkage, using the proper colour bobbin thread, and using the right facings like the plague. My utter lack of patience coupled with the desire to make the finished “look” is terrifying, I know!
Anyway, I made this one out of some old vintage deadstock fabric from my grandma (“婆婆” pronounced “poh-poh” in Cantonese, which is the title used to address your maternal granny). She had a big stock of fabric at home stashed away, all from when my grandpa used to buy them for her a long time ago. My mom said that my grandma is “hou mm seh tuk yong”. Ever get the feeling after your significant other, friend or you treat yourself with purchases that you wouldn’t usually buy, and you don’t want to use them because they’re so dear and precious? (Insert GIF of Gollum saying “my preciousss”) I get the same feeling when I buy my own fabrics, so now I have a huge cupboard stash which is beautiful but sadly unused. Perhaps you feel the same way about art materials, freshly purchased MUJI stationery, new notebooks, or a crisp new set of cuff links. It’s probably universal.
Returning from that slight tangent, it was a bit of a challenge because I had a template of a qipao dress (traditional style Chinese clothing that hardly anyone wears anymore on a daily basis, probably due to its slight impracticality, the influence of pervasive western culture, colonialism in Hong Kong, and modernism). The original dress was too small though, and didn’t have the quintessentially Chinese high Mandarin collar that I wanted. The inspiration for this came from a sudden daydream about the costumes in “In the Mood for Love”, Wong Kar Wai’s acclaimed film about, well, just watch the film! Its film stills are particularly Instagram-worthy due to the framing of each shot and the spectacular colour. In the film, the female protagonist Maggie Cheung wears over twenty different qipao/cheongsam dresses featuring fabrics ranging from rainbow stripes to watercolour florals and geometric checker prints.
This was actually intended as a toile for the real shirt, which I planned on making out of proper Chinese brocade. I haven’t gotten round to doing the real thing just yet, but I wanted to make it the equivalent of a T-shirt for myself. Usually I feel a little underdressed in T-shirts, quite honestly having never mastered the art of dressing down. So I just thought I could pay homage to my Chinese roots. This shirt surprisingly garnered a few compliments and some double takes during its first official wearing-out-in-an-actual-public-highly-scrutinised-area = Central district, renowned for its business and luxury shopping. The collar was reinforced in the middle with a scrap piece of white cotton drill. There is usually a split at the side of a traditional garment for ladies, but I decided not to add one here because I wanted the T-shirt effect. (That’s what I use to justify my decision… when in reality I was admittedly too lazy to add the gaps 🙂 ) I stayed pretty safe with this one – no majorly funky designer additions – because I wanted to practice doing the basics first. I still think it could be more modern, but I’m pretty happy with the outcome – it makes my grandma and my mom happy.
In particular, my mom says that it’s nice to see a teenager (ha, me) wear traditional dress on a normal basis. My grandma said that it breathed new life into the fabric, so I’m happy that I was able to put it to some good use and that she liked it. The shoulders are a little too narrow though, and the bodice could do with some extra fabric round the seams for a better fit. My grandma also taught me how to properly sew the collar so that ALL the seam allowances are hidden out of sight for a proper, saleable finish, so that’s what I plan to do for my next one.
What do you guys think of this? What should I do next? Do you have any tips to sew traditional garments or how to finish garments?