A Diy Qipao Prom Dress With a Side of Embracing my Chinese-American Identity

Tuesday, July 23, 2019
qipao prom dress couple prom picture

I've been dreaming about making a qipao/cheongsam and western style prom dress hybrid (now that's a mouthful) since eighth grade, so it was such a rewarding experience to finally get to make it, and I wanted to share it with you all.

I struggled a lot with my Chinese heritage growing up, so making and wearing this prom dress was a way to show myself that I had completely embraced that part of me, the part of me that always made me different (I grew up in largely white communities). Overall, it just made prom a much more memorable and important experience for me, because honestly, prom wasn't that great—the music was way too loud (I sound like an old lady...) but the food was okay. Also, apparently long dresses were in this year because I was like the only one with a short dress T_T. Anyways, enjoy the video! Thank you so very much for dropping by!

Supplies Needed

  • Fabric for the main body of the dress (I used about 2 yds)
  • Tulle for extra layers on the skirt (I used about 1.5 yds)
  • 1/4 inch bias tape
  • Invisible zipper


Making the Patterns

So first we have to create the pattern. One of the best techniques for this is to trace a pre existing garment, I used a shirt that I liked the fit of. I traced it almost completely, except for its length and the neckhole. I shortened the pattern length to where I wanted the waist of the dress to hit me. You can figure out where this is by putting on the shirt and using a pin to mark your desired waist location. If you need help tracing out your pattern, a video is linked in the description. I didn’t trace the neckline from the shirt, because the pattern needs a special neckline for the mandarin collar. I don’t have footage of me drafting it out, so there is another video on how to do that linked below.

Here I am marking out a seam allowance, I usually do about a half inch, but it’s really up to what you are most comfortable with, if you’re new to sewing I would suggest a wider seam allowance.

Now we have to make the pattern for the skirt of the dress. Since it’s just a basic circle skirt pattern there’s a link below explaining how to draft one. For reference I made my skirt 17 inches long. Make sure to add a seam allowance, forgetting to include once and discovering it later is one of the worst things, trust me.

The last pattern we have to trace out is the sleeve. I used a long sleeve shirt, but I wanted my dress to be short sleeved so as with the waist, I put on the shirt and marked with a pin where I wanted the end of the sleeve to fall so I knew how long to make the pattern. Tracing out a sleeve is a bit complicated, but the video I linked on tracing a pre existing garment will guide you through it. Again, make sure to add a seam allowance.

The next step is of course to cut out the patterns. Honestly I find this to be one of the most satisfying steps of the sewing process. Also, tip: labeling your patterns before you cut them out is a great way to prevent them from getting mixed up.

Cutting on the Pieces

This next part is pretty self explanatory. Just lay or pin the patterns onto your fabric and cut them out. You’ll need two of the torso pattern. For the first one cut along the neckline on the pattern—this will be your front—but for the second ignore the pattern’s neckline and just cut straight across—this will be your back.

For the sleeves, since the pattern is technically only one half of the actual sleeve, you need to fold the fabric over and lay the top edge of the sleeve pattern on the folded edge of the fabric, so when you cut it out you can unfold the fabric to reveal a full sleeve. You need two sleeves as well.

Lastly you have to cut out the skirt. Cutting out a circle skirt is a bit complicated, so once again use the referenced linked below. I cut out three layers for my skirt. One of the red fabric and two out of tulle.

Faking that Qipao Look

So now we’re going to fake that line of buttons that runs across the chest of a qipao. First fold your front torso piece in half, bad side touching bad side, and mark the center of the neckline. Then unfold it with the marked side facing up, and mark two inches down from the right arm hole. Connect your two marks with a line and cut along that line. We’re going to take the bias tape and sew it onto the newly cut edge of the larger piece. If you don’t know to use bias tape, I’ve included a link down below.

Sorry the shot is so bad. But now that I’ve sewn the bias tape on, I’m sewing the front torso back together in its original configuration. Slightly overlap the bias tape hem of larger piece over the raw hem of the smaller piece and sew them together.

Through the process of cutting up and putting back together the front torso, the two sides have become a little uneven. To fix this, I folded it in half, and trimmed the parts that stuck out. You may also need to trim the back torso piece.

Assembling the Torso

Take the two torso pieces, good side touching good side, and pin them together. You want to sew across the two shoulder seams and two side seams.

Once finished sewing, turn the torso right side out. We are going to begin working on the mandarin collar. To create the collar pattern you need to measure out half of the circumference of the neckhole. I measured from the middle of the front to the middle of the back, which, for me, turned out to be roughly 8 inches.

Now for the collar pattern. I know, pattern drafting can be a real bore, but I promise, this is the last one we have to make. The length of the collar is going to be that measurement we just found, so in my case, it was 8 inches. The width of the collar depends on how tall you want it to be, I went with 2 inches. So basically, to start off my pattern, I created an 8 by 2 inch rectangle, the size of yours will vary based on your measurements.

If you’re going for that qipao look, the rounded collar is essential. I’ve seen people use round objects as an aid, but I just decided to sketch it by hand. What we want to do is create a quarter-circle, and we’re gonna use a square to achieve this. The width of my collar is 2 inches, so along the pattern’s length I marked out 2 inches, to create a 2 by 2 inch square. Then I used a curved line to connect the mark with the corner edge of the rectangle to create the rounded edge. Now cut out the pattern, this one doesn’t require any seam allowances.

As you can see here, you need to cut out four of the collar pattern. Place the collar pieces in pairs, good side touching good side, and pin. You want to sew from the shortest straight edge, across the top and then down along the curve, leaving the bottom open, so you can turn them inside out.

I don’t have the best footage of this part, but after sewing and turning both of the two collar pieces inside out, it’s time to sew bias tape along the long top edge with the curve, as shown. This is a bit difficult, so take your time. I find it best to not try to pin the bias tape to the fabric, but instead pause my sewing to readjust the bias tape ever so often to make sure it is sewn on correctly.

To attach the collar we have to cut the back of the torso down the middle, make sure not to cut the front with the bias tape. Then lay the torso out, good side facing up, and pin the collar pieces onto the neckline as shown. The collar pieces should meet at the bias tape running through the front of the torso. Sew the collar onto the torso.

This is optional but I also added bias tape along the edge of the sleeve to create a more cohesive look. Make sure to sew the bias tape on the longest flat edge of the sleeve that will become the arm hole. You can opt to just hem the edge if you’d like. Whatever you do, be sure to repeat with the other sleeve.

Attaching a sleeve is a bit complicated, and the quality of my footage isn’t the best due to the lighting, so I’m including a tutorial on it below. Attaching a sleeve incorrect is a bit frustrating (trust me, I know) but once done correctly, it’s very rewarding. Kind of a useless thing to point out, but just to be through, make sure to attach both sleeves.

At this point the top is basically finished, so all that’s left is to attach the zipper. With most dresses, invisible zipper are used, so I used one here. Invisible zippers usually come with instructions on their packaging, but just in case I’ll link a tutorial below. I’d attempt to explain my process, but I had to attach the zipper weirdly due to a fit issue, and I don’t want to pass on wrong information.

Assembling the Skirt

The skirt is a lot less complicated than the torso, as it’s just a simple layered circle skirt. While the tulle layers don’t need to be hemmed, the layer of red fabric does need to be hemmed, as it will fray. I did a rolled hem in this case. In short, a rolled hem is where you fold the edge of the fabric once over, and then fold it over again a second time to completely hide the raw edge. A more in- depth explanation is linked below.

It’s a bit hard to see, since the footage here is basically a mess of fabric, but I’m pinning the three layers together. With the two tulle layers on top and the red fabric layer on the bottom, line up the waists and pin them together. Now, you want to sew along where you pinned. You don’t necessarily have to do this step, but it will make it a lot easier to attach the skirt to the torso. I typically use a zigzag stitch here, as it’s stronger than a basic straight stitch.

Finishing the Dress

And finally, the home stretch. So again, the footage isn’t the greatest but I’ll do my best to explain. As you can see, I’m starting with the torso part right side out and the skirt inside out. Then I’m tucking the torso into the skirt, and lining up the waists where I want the two to connect. I marked this point out with chalk just to make sure I get the right spot. Now all that’s left to do is to sew them together, turn the dress right side out, and you’ve got your very own unique prom dress or if you don’t have a prom coming up, a nice dress for any occasion.

What's your prom story? I'd love to hear it! And if you didn't go to prom, why not?