How to Make Chinese Shirts

Written by gail cohen
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How to Make Chinese Shirts
In place of zippers, traditional Chinese shirts use frog closures (©

Whether you're a man or a woman, need a traditional Chinese shirt as a costume for an event or you're aiming for an exotic, ethnic look atop trousers or a skirt, there are plenty of ways to accomplish your aim. Authentic Chinese clothing is usually made from natural fabric, so if your sewing skills and pocketbook can afford them, opt for silks, satins and brocades or thickly-woven 100% cotton to replicate the strong cloth worn by Chinese workers. Accessorise your shirt with a flirty fan and plan to use it. Even if it's not hot, a little mystery never hurts.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Pattern
  • Sewing machine
  • Fabric
  • Sewing notions
  • Scissors/Pinking shears
  • Frogs and buttons
  • Tape measure
  • Iron

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  1. 1

    Determine exactly what type of Chinese shirt you wish to make. From the traditional coolie tunic to the romantic cheongsam with fitted lines and shoulder-style closures, there are many looks that fit comfortably within the category of Chinese shirt. Find all types of inspiration by visiting the Chinese Moods or Bitablue websites (find the links in the resource section of this article) to cement your decision.

  2. 2

    Search for a pattern that best reflects the diversity found in Chinese shirt styles. Peruse Simplicity®, Vogue®, Butterick® and McCalls® pattern books; pay particular attention to the section that features costumes if you can't find a shirt style in the men's or women's separates section. Alternately, visit Fabric and Art's website (link below) for a few pattern options.

  3. 3

    Select fabric that suits the design you've chosen. Colour selection is particularly crucial to authentic Chinese clothing. White is worn at funerals. Red is such a sacred colour Chinese wedding dresses and festival garb are made of embroidered cloth in shades of ruby and scarlet. Gold and purple are associated with emperors and other royalty. Inspect silks and silk-like blends plus brocades, satins and 100% cotton. Don't discount ornate patterns sprinkled with dragons and other stylised Chinese art forms on the materials you consider.

  4. 4

    Iron the fabric you've chosen on a low setting if the cloth has wrinkles or needs a touch up after you've brought it home. Place the material on a large surface and use straight pins to fasten the pattern pieces to the cloth. If you have chosen silk or satin, keep the pins to a minimum as these delicate fabrics are easily damaged. Cut all of the Chinese shirt pieces out using a very sharp scissors or pinking shears.

  5. 5

    Fill your bobbin, and then thread your sewing machine, matching the thread type and colour to the fabric. If you find that the material is sliding around on the platen of your machine when you begin sewing sections together, place strips of paper behind the fabric, stitch the seams and then rip the paper away. If you don't mind sacrificing the pattern, you can stitch up the Chinese shirt's sections with the pattern sections in place, then tear them away when the seams are done.

  6. 6

    Use strips of bias tape, braid and other embellishments to add authentic touches to your Chinese shirt. When you've completed the exterior shell, tack on facings and turn them inside. Complete sleeve and tunic hems and add a few stitches at seam junctures to secure interior facings to the body of the shirt. Use very tiny stitches if your fabric is delicate.

  7. 7

    Add touches unique to Chinese fashion. Cover buttons with leftover cloth. Create cloth loops to match the buttons by hemming 4" x 3" sections of cloth, turning them inside out and tacking them to the shirt's opening. Buttonholes and zippers aren't found on traditional Chinese shirts, so if covered buttons and loops don't meet your design criteria, peruse trim shops for "frogs," pairs of tightly woven fabric clusters that imitate the function of a hook and eye when attached to the bodices of Chinese costumes.

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