Gong xi fa cai! A cheongsam for Chinese New Year


Happy New Year, everyone!

I love Chinese New Year. Being ethnically half-Chinese (Singaporean) but culturally pretty English, I take it as an opportunity for me to think about and celebrate my ‘other’ heritage, family and home. Since the death of my father this has become, perhaps ironically but unsurprisingly, even more significant.

Wearing a cheongsam (also known as qipao) is another way for me to express this connection, and one I don’t restrict to New Year season. The cheongsam is a supremely elegant style of dress, and I’ve been making my own simplistic versions using McCalls M4369 (now out of print, I think) for some years now. This pattern doesn’t have the (seemingly) more common raglan-style sleeves or the seam running from the neckline across one half of the chest; it’s a very simple make, ideal for showcasing fabulous fabrics such as this orange and gold brocade from Broadwick Silks in Soho.



My sewing machine went in for a service last week after a major tension nightmare, so I hotfooted it up to my ‘reserve’ machine at my mother’s house (ok, so it’s actually her machine) in Suffolk. As well as taking these pics in her rather Asian-influenced dining room, I also took out the photo albums of my Chinese grandmother, Louise Lee. We have these amazing albums filled with pictures of her, her friends and family in Shanghai in the mid-1930s. What I love about them is how much I can relate to the people in the photos – my grandmother and her friends were snapped messing about in parks, posing at beauty spots, laughing and hugging; in general just being young, carefree people behaving in much the same way we behave today.



It’s especially poignant because a few years after the majority of the photos, the Second World War hit China, and Louise was imprisoned by the Japanese. The next photos we have of her are after the birth of my father in 1946; she is then so painfully thin as to be almost unrecognisable as the same woman. But in all the photos we have, before and after the War, she is wearing cheongsam.

We never met; she died before my father came to England. And so although I hate to sound sentimental and cheesy, there’s no denying that by wearing cheongsam myself I feel I’m somehow paying respect to her memory, and that of all my Chinese ancestors. I hope they’d approve!



Anyway, I wish you all a very happy year of the monkey – I’m off to celebrate traditionally – with a tasty takeaway!! x





8 thoughts on “Gong xi fa cai! A cheongsam for Chinese New Year

    1. Thank you! This McCalls pattern is really very simple; it’s just like an extended sloper with a Mandarin collar. I’ve actually never tried to buy one; although I see lots for sale when I go to Singapore I imagine they wouldn’t fit me either!


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