First Cheongsam Jumpsuit; First Blog As A Minerva Maker
Updated: Sep 29
It's been a mega exciting week of many firsts for me. Besides the two that are listed in the title, I will highlight more first-time experiences of the week as I go along.
As part of my odyssey into cheongsam-making, I've made a detour creating a cheongsam jumpsuit. This is an inevitable move as I'm a jumpsuit junkie. This jumpsuit is probably the 22nd one to add to my collection. And I'm pretty sure that there will be more cheongsam-jumpsuits in my sewing destiny.
I am contributing this make as my first blog post to Minerva (@minervadotcom on Instagram) as a Minerva Maker, and I am honoured and thrilled to be part of this team of creative crafters. Look out for a blog post on this cheongsam jumpsuit when they launch their new website in October. A big thank you to Minerva for gifting me this lovely Madras Check Cotton Lawn Dress Fabric (product code: MadrasD2-Green). I’ve been on the prowl for the right checked fabric for my cheongsam jumpsuit, and when I saw this as one of their offerings, my eye latched onto it. It is THE ONE. This beautiful Madras cotton lawn arrived as an answered prayer from the craft gods (literally speaking since Minerva is the Roman goddess of arts and crafts).
Allow me a moment to wax lyrical about this fabric. There is a palette of colours in this check pattern named “Green-Multi”, with varying shades of green, pink, yellow, purple, and orange. As expected in a cotton lawn, the hand is light and soft. Wearing this fabric is like wearing air. And yet it has enough structure to be easily handled when cutting it; and stable enough for a trouble-free sew on the machine. In addition, the fabric drapes really well. Another plus is that the weave of the check is double-sided and reversible. So this makes it perfect for projects which reveal the underside of the fabric, like a high-low hemline. The colours and weight of this cotton make it the perfect fabric for summer garments. Two nights ago, the first rain ushering in the cold season arrived in my part of the world, and this sewing project is my way of saying goodbye to the warmer months of 2020. This summery fabric is the perfect material for my first cheongsam jumpsuit.
The sewing pattern is a half-breed: the top half is self-drafted, and the bottom half is a modified pants portion from the New Look #6446, which can also be purchased from the library of sewing patterns from Minerva. In addition, the top is reminiscent of gingham cheongsams worn in 1930s Shanghai. By converting it to a jumpsuit, the juxtaposition with the pant bottoms ushers it into the current decade - half old; half new.
For this particular project, I had several goals. The first was to create a bodice with grown-on cap sleeves and a faux-front opening, and to connect this bodice with jumpsuit bottoms. This was accomplished by redrafting the sleeves from my bodice block, and choosing the New Look #6446 as the bottoms. But first, I made a muslin to test out the shape of the cap sleeves:
Then I made a full wearable toile to check out if the design would work. It did! I am super happy about the shape of the sleeves around the shoulder caps. I sewed up the bottoms in a size 12, which gave enough ease for me to make minor adjustments so that the finished waist measurement is 71cm for my 67cm waist. This gives enough room for me to sit and comfortably eat a 10-course dinner. One problem of the the traditional shape of a cheongsam is that it fits so closely to the curves of the female form that it makes it challenging to eat heartily without bursting the seams. I have made a decision that all my cheongsam creations will always be spacious enough to accommodate expanding bellies while banqueting.
This wearable toile took about 4 days to finish making. With so much time and effort put into it, I definitely wanted this to be wearable. It turned out a little rough on a couple of details and I didn't line it at all, but basically this test run was essential for fine tuning the actual cheongsam jumpsuit I had in mind. The main adjustments after making this toile is changing the width of the collar from 4.5cm to 4cm. Even though I love the look of the extra high mandarin collar, it is less functional for a jumpsuit. When sitting down, the high collar tugs around the neck and creates a slight asphyxiating effect. Like eating, breathing is also high on the list of priorities, so I had to compromise the beauty of form for function. In addition, I widened the neck opening circumference by 1.5cm so that the collar will be less restrictive. But I still consider this toile quite wearable. I simply would refrain from prolonged periods of sitting when wearing it. The suffering will be endured. I love the print. It is an Indonesian batik print gifted to me by my sweet cousin. And now, I have a cheongsam jumpsuit in summer colours, and another in fall colours.
The second goal is to use bias-binding as a way to finish the sleeve openings and the edges of the collar and front flaps. The aforementioned wearable toile allowed me the chance to practise this skill of inserting bias binding around curves and corners. Indispensable to the success of this task is a pair of angled tweezers to guide the slender tape to line up with the edge of the fabric. Here's another first: for the first time ever, even though I've installed bias binding before, I finally figured out that I can manoeuvre the fabric as well to shape it to the binding. Duh! I've been struggling to force the binding around tricky corners but there's a way to shift and angle the fabric itself so that its edge lines up with the binding's edge. It takes some eye-hand coordination, but this simple trick did it for me. It is also helpful to release the use of pins for this task because easy movement of fabric and binding is needed for this to happen. Another tip: go extra slow with the machine to line this up right. Around the sharp curves, I sometimes used only the hand wheel of my machine for better stitching precision. That's how slow I was going to get this right.
Third goal: to install an invisible zipper in the centre back seam as the main closure instead of the traditional front flap opening to the right side. This is an essential adjustment for easy access in and out of the garment when I have to go to the powder room. The Chinese frog buttons that I made myself (yet another first undertaking!) are fully functional, but I didn’t want to fiddle with them and half a dozen metal snaps on a front opening when nature calls. Installing an invisible zipper is not new to me, but fully lining a garment with an invisible zipper is a completely new challenge.
The fabric for the lining is a pink cotton voile. The fuchsia fabric used for the right front flap on the bodice, the collar and the pants pockets is a Belgian linen. Both of these fabrics were already in my stash. The fuchsia linen is a great contrast to the Madras check cotton to set off the latter’s vibrance. The mint-green bias binding and the frog buttons also helped to make the green shades pop on the checked weave. The Madras check cotton has only very slight translucency, and placing the pink voile under it didn’t change how it looks. Actually, lining for this fabric is not necessary for translucency issues at all.
However, I chose to line the full garment (another thing that I did for the first time) mainly because most traditional cheongsams are lined to give it that extra luxe factor.
My guess is that this is also done to give more foundation to support the standing high collar, and potential weak spots in the overlapping left front bodice and the right front flap. I wanted to have a go at lining the garment simply because I have little experience doing this task. To be honest, I almost bust a blood vessel in my brain trying to figure out the order of piecing the garment together to make it work with the lining. I’m glad I did it, even though I didn't full succeed (please see confession below). It definitely developed some sewing muscles for me. It is a skill that is required for cheongsams, and other projects that are lined up on my list like blazers and coats.
Another challenge that I tackled while working with this checked fabric is pattern matching. I chose to use the dominant purple stripes to run through the vertical line connecting the high point of the shoulder to the bust apex. With this as the guide, the rest of the pattern matching went rather smoothly without a hitch. Pattern matching is always a little mind-boggling for me, but the results are immensely gratifying. What I learned from this experience is that drawing in the lines of the seam allowances onto the paper pattern, and then tracing those lines onto the fabric is absolutely crucial for more accurate pattern matching. Translucent tracing paper is required when getting this job done, and I am quite satisfied with the pattern-matching that I managed to do on this garment.
One valuable discovery that I made in this project: the New Look #6446 bottoms have great hacking potential. I only had to make small adjustments in the front pleats, and the side seam of the pocket piece to fit it to the top that I drafted. I envision many other patterns for tops that can be paired up with these bottoms to become jumpsuits.
Confession: The only thing that I couldn’t fully figure out was how to attach the side seams of the lining separately from the side seams of the main fabric. So I did something cheeky: I just sewed up the side seams of the garment as one single seam instead of 2 seams (lining and fabric) independent of each other. I’ve figured out how to do it for dresses, but can’t quite wrap my head around it for jumpsuits yet. It probably requires some inside-out or outside-in contortionist manoeuvres. Anyhoo, I’m not about to get my undies twisted in a bunch because of this. In fact, I am pretty chuffed about how my cheongsam jumpsuit turned out. And to celebrate, I’m rewarding myself with a few jumps of joy.