Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

First day of the lunar new year today. Back home, we call it Chinese New Year, although it's more than just Chinese folks who observe it. There are some pretty standard things we associate with CNY, like red packets filled with money, mandarin oranges exchanged in pairs (even numbers are auspicious; odd numbers aren't, not that I care much about auspiciousness), and new clothes (another custom at which I usually fail). In Singapore and Malaysia, there are also pineapple tarts. 

These are buttery, melt-in-the-mouth cookies filled with pineapple jam that's made from scratch. So yes, we buy a couple of Costco pineapples, then skin, core, de-eye, chop them up and cook them into a jam. 

The girls all helped make them. 

Some of us remembered to make appropriately-sized ones for special friends.
Like Bunny (of course).

This is not a food blog, so I'm just going to show you pictures - those were especially for fellow Southeast Asian readers who might be feeling slightly homesick now - and then move on, okay?

In the spirit of the new year, I thought I'd do my bit and share Asian culture with you. Specifically, traditional and modernized Chinese garments from the girls' own closets (that were store-bought). First, because I don't see this much on blogs, and it's always exciting to see the unusual, right? Second, because Asian-inspired design can be uber hip if one dares to go beyond the extremely old-fashioned while preserving its more charming elements. Third, because it's pure fun to dissect genres and discover both the variations and common elements within as a way to fully understand them (so as to be able to replicate and, later, adapt them).

So, first, some traditional Chinese garments in equally-traditional brocade (and these are all kid-sized) !

These are the blouse-halves of the blouse-and-pants suit called the "sam-fu" to which I introduced you in the last post. They are not closely fitted like the qipao top I sewed; these have darts to lightly shape the waist but otherwise sit loose in the chest and around the hips, like a short tunic. The sleeves are regular set-in shirt sleeves. They have a front wrap panel that fastens at one side seam along a snap/press-stud placket rather than with a zipper. The bottom hem is angular, with side slits.

In addition to the edges being bias-bound, there is also an accent hem facing around the sleeves, bottom edge and collar, extending along the edge of the wrap front. 

Here is another variation on the loose top - it has three-quarter slight-bell sleeves, 

an asymmetrical vertical overlap wrap front and its bottom hem is curved, as are the sleeve hems. Instead of accent faced hems, this one has a double row of bias tape (the inner row is simply topstitched on).

Some real qipaos now - full dresses (with impeccable workmanship, incidentally). These are made of cotton rather than the traditional brocade, which immediately modernizes the look without changing any of the traditional style elements. 

Anyway, I love this little dress - it's a size 2T/3T and just the cutest thing ever, especially on Kate when she was tiny enough to squeeze into it. Again, because it is for a child, it was cut loose in an A-line style. It has piping (be still, my heart) rather than bias binding, and a faced invisible zipper down the back. So the faux front wrap panel and frog buttons are entirely decorative.

Another qipao. Except for the shape of the bottom hem,

the style is the same as the one before.

Slightly different style - fitted waist and slightly flared skirt, 

with half-cap sleeves.

So quite a few variations on the classic Chinese top. But also quite a few common features - and these are the ones that make it the classic Chinese garment, after all - the stand collar, the curved front wrap panel (it is straight in men's tops), the frog buttons, the slits (or curves) in the bottom hem. This is to say that if you want to introduce Asian style elements in your garments, just incorporate these features. Easy, right?

Now let's talk about frogs.

Again, don't be fooled by the simple loopy thingamajigs you can buy off the notions wall in JoAnn Fabrics. Frog buttons come in an insane variety, and are made from all kinds of materials, including cotton bias tape, satin bias tape, woven trim, cord and piping. The most important thing to remember is that frogs come in pairs -

one half has a loop, and the other has a knot that fits in the loop.

This is the knot - it is very similar to a Turk's Head knot. It is always this ball knot. 

Beyond the knot-and-loop tips are the "frogs"- the non-essential but pretty part of the clasp.

Here's what I mean by "non-essential" - the one below is as simple as a "frog" button gets - in fact, I hesitate to even call it a frog because there isn't any frog part- it's just the knot-and-loop system. Men's shirts use this style of button a lot, because it isn't especially feminine or pretty.

Here is another simple style - just swirls of satin tape.

Here is another design - swirls again, with a fancy flat knot. Incidentally, that is also the same knot as the ball knot is, except flattened out.

This is a simple variation with loops and a contrasting double-strand of woven trim,

the same kind I used in my frogs:

A variation in cord:

and some in satin bias tape - swirls and loops;

and rose buds. 

When we meet again, I'll be deconstructing the qipao draft and then we'll learn how to make these frogs. And if you're suddenly inspired to sew a Chinese-style dress for your kid, my friend Jen has a pattern for a cute little dress for sale on her blog here.


  1. How did you make the cookie part of the tart so perfect?

  2. Oh wow. Those outfits are adorable. My mum bought my eldest daughter a little quipao in a pretty floral cotton fabric in Beijing many years ago. Unfortunately both my girls have outgrown it now, but it was so beautiful.

    I fondly remember pineapple tarts from our Singapore days. We may be moving back there, so perhaps I can enjoy really good ones again. If ever you feel like sharing your recipe, I'd love to make my own.

  3. Oohh... it's all so pretty! Thanks for letting us see all of that! Happy New Year to you!

  4. Those are beautiful. I have one garment that a friend from university (we are both French) who now lives in Hong-Kong sent to my daughter a few years ago. The top is very similar to those dresses. She (my daughter) ripped one of the frogs, and I was not really sure how to reattach them. Thanks to your pictures, now I think I see how it works. Thank you !

  5. The blog 'Japanese Sewing Books' has a kids Qi Pao sew-along going on right now with video tutorials and a free pattern: Japanese Sewing Books

  6. I love these clothes. So elegant!

    Are the tarts the food that inspired your tart pattern from a few years back?

  7. I loved seeing those clothes in close up with details, and the frogs are beutiful. Will you be showing how to work 'that' knot ? (please x) I feel it is so important for you to educate your girls in their heritage and customs (and clothes) Enjoyed your post (and ALL your posts) very much. Thanks

  8. This is a random comment, but the top photos of the tarts are fantastic! Love all the color.

  9. So interesting and adorable! I have a top in this style that my uncle brought back for my daughter from a sizing newest on to China. It was so cute, but she never wore it...years later, my younger daughter found it in the dress up bin and put it on and it's the cutest little a bolero with sleeves to her elbows. Looked so trendy and stylish. Thanks for sharing those beautiful tops/dresses!


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