How to Make A Traditional Chinese Dress & Mask

Written by tiana pyer-pereira
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Identifying just one style of Chinese dress is almost impossible, since China plays home to more than 50 ethnic groups, each with its own customs, traditions and ways of dressing. The outfit most Westerners remember when it comes to Chinese fashion, however, is the qipao, or cheongsam. A cheongsam is a silk dress worn by women that features a high neckline fastened with decorative clasps. You may have seen a cheongsam worn by a waitress at your favourite Chinese restaurant, or at the medal-bearing ceremonies in the Beijing Olympics. Elaborate opera masks are also a recognisable symbol of traditional Chinese culture. Their colours and designs represent a complex system of meanings. The use of opera masks goes back thousands of years, and mask painters are considered to be leading artists in the Chinese theatre community.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Cheongsam sewing pattern
  • Silk or satin fabric
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine
  • Bias tape
  • Braided frog enclosures
  • Blank ceramic mask
  • Ceramic paints
  • Paint brush
  • Pencil

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    Making Your Cheongsam

  1. 1

    Locate the pattern you wish to use. Patterns are listed online and stocked at your local craft shop. The pattern may be called a cheongsam or a qipao.

  2. 2

    Purchase your fabric, as well as any additional fixtures called for by the pattern (such as zippers or buttons), at a local fabric store.

  3. 3

    Cut the pattern according to the instructions, and pin the paper to the fabric.

  4. 4

    Cut the fabric. You should have anywhere between two and six fabric pieces to work with.

  5. 5

    Follow the instructions to sew the panels together.

  6. 6

    Finish the edges with bias tape; then baste and topstitch at the bias.

  7. 7

    Serge the hems of your piece to hold them closed.

  8. 8

    Attach braided enclosures and other fixtures as the pattern instructs.

    Making Your Opera Mask

  1. 1

    Buy a blank ceramic mask. These can be found online or at a craft or costume shop.

  2. 2

    Buy paint and paint brushes specifically designed for use with ceramics. Other paints will not show up as well against the material.

  3. 3

    Research traditional colour schemes and patterns used in traditional opera masks. Each colour has a special meaning and history. Choose one that resonates with you.

  4. 4

    Lightly pencil your chosen design onto the ceramic to provide a guideline for future painting.

  5. 5

    Paint your design on the mask. Let the mask dry overnight.

Tips and warnings

  • Pay attention when choosing fabrics. A traditional cheongsam is made from silk, satin or brocaded fabrics. These slippery cloths can be more difficult to work with when cutting and sewing. Less experienced sewers should try making their garment from cotton first, then graduate to more difficult fabrics.
  • Set out newspapers before painting your opera mask to prevent staining your furniture.

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