Monday, February 8, 2016

Traditional Chinese Qipao

Happy Chinese New Year to those who are celebrating. The last time I sat at a dinner table celebrating the new year with my small familly in Shanghai was 10 years ago. How time flies. Both my parents have 2 siblings each and everyone (with extended family members) lives in the same city, but the only time we saw each other was during the new year's holidays, if there's no emergency family affair to attend. We are just not one of those tight-knitted families.... Even with my own parents, we had never shared emotional feelings within our little family of three. My parents could go on years without speaking a word to each other. It was horrible growing up in that family. I guess that's one of the reasons I chose to move to Cape Town, just so I can get away from all of that as far away as possible. Not long after I moved, my parents divorced, which really untrapped them both.

Apart from my weak family background, I still had some good memories celebrating the new year as a young child. It was about new outfit, red envelope and fireworks. My father used to be the main cooking force so we always hosted the year-end family get-together. When we talk about a traditional new year's eve meal, it's no joke. He'd stay in the kitchen cooking for 10 people, and we ate one after the other warm dishes almost till mid-night. My mom was the one that took over with the dumplings. It's hardwork to keep every single dish served steamy hot. Then as people got richer and lazier, they move new-year's-eve dinner to restaurants. Usually restaurants run dinner service three times that night to accomodate as many people as they can. But I much prefer a homecooked meal especially time like this, even though it means I have to do the cooking myself.
We are not celebrating the new year except for this dress I made for C. The pattern is for free from Japanese Sewing Books. China still has traditional things besides the mass manufactering and being westernized. And I'd really like to remember and explore those old and beautiful things with my daughter. When I look at old pictures of my late grandma, I see her in elegant Qipao. I think this dress form really suits the conservative Chinese women well --- we are not talking about comfort here. The material is not silk, but plain cotton (can you believe that?) I found it in a quilting shop called Stitch 'n Stuff. Getting a knotted Chinese button was a mission and a half. Eventually I found the one and only at Cape Town Sewing Center, and I just had to leave out the others. There's an invisible zip closure on the side. Sewing zips really only sound scarier than sewing itself. Let your zipper foot do the work. 
I believe these fortune telling chi-chi sticks in the pictures were from a flea market. No one is into superstition here but I thought having items that have some kind of relation to the good old beautiful China is essential. Each of these sticks has a number inscribed in Chinese characters. This method of fortune telling involves shaking a box of them in such a manner that just one number would mysteriously jump out the cylinder bucket. This number would then be your fortune and an interpreter would read it to you from his book. Well in our modern household, C has strategically allocated some numbers to certain treat. Number one, ice cream; number five, chocolate; number ten, a piece of cake....
Or shake them all out to get all of the treats. Whatever works for you, right?


  1. This is stunning, and your daughter is so beautiful! I made the same qipao a couple of years back for R (we have no Chinese background, but I'm up for any celebration that involves pretty clothes!). I found the design a bit fiddly - next time I'd eliminate the front opening altogether, I think - but R adored the dress. I used synthetic brocade fabric but I bet plain cotton like yours is a lot nicer. Happy to post you a bunch of knotted buttons if you make another next year!

  2. Thank you, Marisa. You are right. I think without the front opening, it would totally work too. Next time if I ever make it again, I will haunt you for those buttons. :-D