Tutorial: Anatomy of a Cheongsam

The Cheongsam is a very simple dress but it sure isn’t the easiest to make. Its clean lines and fitted silhouette require more than the usual attention to detail and that’s probably why I was excited yet at the same time terrified to start this project. But I was determined, and there’s a lot to be said for a determined woman with a sewing machine. Armed with it and my trusty overlocker, I set out to sew myself a cheongsam.

Project: The Cheongsam

Materials

  • Fabric: Silk/Polyester blend, 2 metres (a slippery eel of a fabric but I loved the colours and the texture)
  • Cotton Bias Tape Fold: Navy Blue, 1/2 inch x 3 yards (I used this to make the decorative frog buttons)
  • Cotton Bias Tape Piping: Navy Blue, 3/8 inch x 3 yards
  • Rustproof Spring Press Studs: Silver, 5 pairs
  • Matching thread
  • Fusible Interlining

Pattern: Downloaded from this website, adjusted to my measurements with a few modifications. This is my final working drawing:

Final working drawing

Construction:

Step 1.

Transfer pattern to fabric, including all notches, darts, and all alterations done.Cut out fabric very carefully – it’s crucial that notches on both the front and back parts meet to ensure a good fit.

As my fabric of choice was very soft and slippery, I decided to line it with fusible interlining to give it form and reinforcement. But really, it was just to make my life easier.

Fabric cuttings ready for sewing

Step 2.

Sew all darts on the front, back, and bust. Press darts towards the center back and front, the bust dart facing downward. If you have a serger/overlocker, now is a good time to serge the edges.

Tip: For easy dart sewing, fold along the center line and press before stitching your dart marks. This way, your dart is straighter and less prone to pucker.


Darts sewn and pressed

Step 3.

Align center back and stitch together.

Center back stitched together

Step 4.

Join the front and back panels at the shoulders.

Shoulders joined

Step 5. (Optional)

I wanted to emphasize the collar so I added piping to the neckline. Using  a zipper foot, stitch the cotton bias tape piping starting at one edge of the neckline all the way to the center front. Carefully snip at the curved areas so it lays flat.

Tip: One thing I learned about piping is NOT to cut it to length before stitching because I usually end up a centimeter or two short. Stitch the piping to the garment first THEN cut.

Neckline with piping

Step 6.

Finish the curved front panels and armholes. I decided to use bias tape piping instead of fold so I continued to stitch piping along the curved front (top and bottom).  I made facings for the curved front panels and armholes, stitched them on using a zipper foot, turned the panels right side out and pressed. The results are neatly finished front panels and armholes.

Tip: Facings on the curved front panels will also provide support for the press studs that you will attach later. Don’t forget to carefully snip the curved edges to reduce bulk when you turn them right side out.

Curved front panels finished with piping and facings
Armholes neatly finished

Step 7.

Attach invisible zipper to the sides. Position the zip at least an inch from the underarms as it is easier to achieve a neat armhole finish without the bulky zipper teeth. For a short but concise tutorial on how to attach an invisible zip invisibly  please visit the tutorial page.

Now you see it, now you don’t

Step 8.

Now that the zip is in place, we can close the side seams. Match up the notches (waist, hips, and slits) along the sides of both the front and back dress parts and pin in place. Make sure that the top and bottom curved front panels are lying flat, otherwise they will gape open upon wearing. Stitch the sides together from the underarms all the way to the slit mark. When you get to the zipper, take care to stitch as close to the top and bottom ends as possible.

Step 9. (Piping optional)

Make the collar. Again, I opted to add piping to my collar. On the right side of  one collar piece, stitch the piping starting at one bottom corner and work your way to the other end. Use the zipper foot to get as close to the raised cording as possible. Then, place the two collar pieces right sides together and stitch along the edge with the piping sandwiched in between. Snip at the curved edges then turn the collar right side out. Press the seams flat.

The finished collar

Step 10.

Attach collar to the neckline. First, match the notches on the outer collar to the neckline seams (two shoulder seams and the center back seam) and pin in place. If you got the measurements right, your collar and neckline should more or less be the same length. Remember the neckline piping? Make sure you don’t stitch over it so use the zipper foot and feel the cording as you go along. When finished, check your work and press the seam upward towards the collar. Next, fold the inner collar seam inwards and baste it to the neckline, as shown in the rightmost photo. Stitch in place.

From left to right, steps in attaching collar to the neckline

Step 11.

Sew in the press studs. Put on your almost-finished cheongsam,  pull the open front panels close, and mark where you want the press studs to go. When sewing, be careful not to stitch through to the right side of the fabric. This is where those facings become useful.


Press studs sewn in

Step 12.

Finish the slits and hem. I found the tip on the original pattern very useful, though the instruction was a bit vague. Let’s do the right side slit first. Fold the hem towards the right side of the dress an inch or so depending on your preferred length and stitch vertically one centimeter from the side. Do the same to the opposite hem. Now turn the hems right side out and press the seams.By doing this, you now have a folded side slit seam ready for stitching. Stitch the slit seams in place. Repeat these steps on the left side slit.

The hem turned up to the right side and stitched at the side
The finished hemline and side slit

Step 13 

A cheongsam is incomplete without those decorative frog buttons, isn’t it? My local haberdashery didn’t do one in navy blue so I decided to make my own. I used the bias tape fold, folded it in half and made shapes similar to the ‘infinity’ symbol. I don’t really know what I was doing here but they ended up okay (I suppose) so I’m just thankful I didn’t need another trip to the haberdashery.

They look more like bugs but ‘Butterflies’ has a nicer ring to it

Attach these to your cheongsam and you’re done!

The finished dress

——————————————————–END OF TUTORIAL——————————————————————————-

I hope this helps you take the cheongsam plunge :-). Till the next tutorial!

You may also like:

Handmade and Fabulous: The Cheongsam

5 thoughts on “Tutorial: Anatomy of a Cheongsam

    1. Hi Deborah, I just downloaded it as it is, printed it out as .pdf (choose Poster as paper size/handling), cut out the patterns and taped them together to form the whole dress.

      Hope this helps, and thanks for visiting!

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