Wednesday, January 29, 2014



First, let me clarify that this is not really a qipao (pronounced chi-pow). A true qipao is a gown. This is more like a sam-fu, which is a blouse-and-pants sort of suit, with the "sam" (pronounced "sum") being the top and the "fu" (pronounced "foo") being the pants. However, the sam-fu is a more casual, everyday outfit, whereas this is more a special-occasion garment. Besides, imagine if I'd titled this post "Sam", no one would know what I was talking about, right?

So . . .  let's just rationalize the slightly misleading name by explaining that it is half a qipao. And that a true qipao would be drafted and sewn in exactly the same way, except with the hem extended downward into a skirt to become a full dress. Okay?


Right, so we've finally got pictures. Here are my frogs.
And my three bust darts, the crazy things.

Emily took photos of me actually wearing the thing.

Which I thought were not half-bad, considering it was her first time behind the lens.

And just as well, because look what sort of stuff I shot when I tried to do it myself.

Cute, but idiotic.

Much better with someone else doing the shooting, so I could concentrate on making faces.

Like this smirk.

"Zoom in on these buttons, Emily."
"What's 'zoom in'?"

She learns fast . . .  and well.

My turn now - with Fleur. 

Here's the front of the blouse. Notice how those sleeves stick out. 

I'll deconstruct this draft later but since we're looking at this shot, let me say that
  1. brocade is a bit like paper. It's cool and silky and hangs nicely but it drapes like paper. Actually, more like cardstock.
  2. the angle of those sleeves is what makes the shoulders sit the way they do even when I'm capering about. Did you know that you can draft sleeves to stick out from the armscyes at different angles? Coat sleeves, for instance, are drafted to hang more vertically, because that's how one's arms are usually oriented when wearing coats - still and hanging vertically next to the body. T-shirt sleeves, on the other hand, stick out more horizontally, because we wear T-shirts to move our arms about a lot. But I'm meandering; let's come back to that in another post.
Moving on now - here's the back:

The separating zipper

that allows the entire front panel to separate for dressing and undressing (this is a fitted garment after all).

And the frogs, of course. Notice there are also supplementary snaps (aka press-studs). They are always present, because the frogs, being partly decorative, are very seldom sufficient in number and spacing to secure the opening.

I'm planning to do a couple of follow-up posts next. One is to deconstruct the qipao top for you, since I'm guessing that this is a more unusual garment for most. Then we can talk about sleeves and angles and curved darts and asymmetry and whatever else I think might be interesting to dissect. The second is to teach you to make the frogs. If you have any particular requests, leave a comment to let me know.

P.S. Because I know you might ask, the fabric is from JoAnn. See - JoAnn has some good stuff, right? 


  1. Wow, that looks gorgeous!
    A lot of work but worth the time and effort.
    Looking forward to reading how you made this and the frogs :)
    Good pictures Emily.

  2. Just one comment to make - WOW ! Pls, pls teach us how to draft something as formfitting as this. Yes , I do know sleeves can fit at various angles in the armscye- because mine are always at the wrong angle ! Can you do a series on sleeves and necks. I would be ever so grateful!

    All the way from India- Shireen.

  3. It looks absolutely wonderful! I love the fabric, it seems to glow. I think you did a fantastic job with difficult fabric. I had a great deal of trouble with my daughter's formal dress (for year six, sheesh) which was of stiff satin with netting over the top. I ended up with two bust darts, and wasn't happy with it. I look forward to seeing your deconstruction and learning those frogs! :)

  4. I've done a fair bit of dressmaking in my time, including pattern drafting but I never read any books on pattern drafting theory that explained sleeve angles so thanks for the insight! I look forward to your future posts on the subject.

  5. I'm excited to learn about making frogs! Multiple bust darts, not so much.

  6. Hi, I am Eugenia From Argentina, I would really enjoy learning to do the frogs clousures!!! Lovely garment!! (red_nala(at)yahoo(dot)com)

  7. This is so very pretty.. How did you make it ?? I actually have read many referring this as the cheongsam or something ?!? Looking forward for the turotials:D - Diya TheHobbyHarbor

  8. Beautiful. An incredible fit too.

  9. Wow, so complicated! But you finished it, and beautifully so! Hey, that fabric is pretty on the inside, too! :)

  10. So excited to learn how to make frogs! Wish my kids had something so lovely to wear for CNY. Maybe next year when I'm NOT 36 weeks pregnant I'll make them something. :)

  11. I'd have given my right arm for this AWESOME post before Christmas! You do such beautiful and FUN work...such a joy to read! Such a talented lady and mother (with 3 adorable girls!). I look forward to your tutorials which reveal information I haven't been able to find anywhere else on the web. Thanks for sharing! Now, to make this same top in for American Girl Dolls...what a challenge....

  12. Let me just say, you continue to make my mind explode. Your work is fun, unique, and excellently executed. Awesome.

  13. LOVE this, especially the separating zipper. QiPaos ARE rather difficult to put on and remove without it. Looking forward to future posts.

  14. Yes, cheongsam (long-shirt) is the Cantonese term (and pronounciation) for Qipao (robe of the Qi people - prominent royals of the Qing Dynasty, pronounced in Mandarin). Sam-fu would mean "shirt and pants" in Cantonese.
    Please, please, do the frogs first!! I never made another shirt with collar and sleeves beyond 7th grad Home Ec class. No patience for them. But the frogs! I can do hundreds of them now that I have grand kids to dress and play with!!
    Thank you so much for all the inspiration and beautiful ideas throughout your blog!!
    -May from CA, red1070 at hotmail dot com

  15. This is absolutely stunning, LiEr! Beautifully constructed! I'm impressed you found the fabric at JoAnn, too. Very curious to learn how you made it.

  16. wow love it show us how now it is amazing

  17. Ah! I kind of missed the days when I used to wear qipaos/cheongsams made from these material on the first day of CNY. "Cool and silky" texture ;)
    Ps. Happy CNY (in advance) to you!

  18. Yes please, please show us the flat patterns on brown paper with all your scribbles and arrows and scissors slashes. So fun to learn! I'm drafting myself a bag with goofy angles right now and the other day I think I had more paper scraps in a pile on the floor than I used to actual produce the paper mock up.

  19. This looks beautiful, and you, stunning. I bought one similar garment for a little girl from Hong Kong, but it wasn't long enough to be a dress, nor short enough to be a top for jeans etc. So, paired with some leggings, it still looked great. It'd be lovely to be able to actually make something of that sort now!

  20. Beautiful -- both the sewing, fit, finished product and model! So looking forward to learning more from you. Happy CNY!

  21. That is beautiful- absolutely gorgeous. It's only in my dreams I'd be able to sew something that fit that well and was that- absolutely gorgeous:):)

  22. Stunning. Both garment and model!

  23. I reallllllllllly want to know more about sleeves. I recently had a big wrangle with a sleeve, where I had to raise an armscye to give myself more movement, and then draft a new sleeve. After several false starts I ended up back here and used your sleeve drafting lesson. I should have known to come here first! (All my sleeve drafting in books was based on using your bodice block, which I didn't have). It's so much better but still... not quite right. Very acceptable but I just know I'm missing something.

    Sleeve are mysterious, is what I'm saying, and I want to know more about them!

    That is such a beautiful garment. And some lovely photos of it! It's lovely to see more of you. :)

  24. Happy New Year! The qipao photoshoot is darling! I have a few qipao dresses and tops from Hong Kong, but they are not nearly as beautiful as yours.

  25. I just ran across your post about the first fitting of this, and clicked through to see the finished piece. All I can say is, WOW! Your tailoring is absolutely gorgeous. I'm off to read more of your blog as soon as I post this.

  26. estoy armando el mio, espero poder compartirle el trabaho final de alguna manera, gracias, gracias !!


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