Traditional Chinese Qipao-Inspired Apron

Backstory… The Traditional Chinese Qipao!

When we think of traditional Chinese dresses, the qipao comes to mind. Commonly believed to be adapted from the Manchu dress of the Qing Dynasty, the qipao that we recognise today (aka cheongsam, or kei-po in Cantonese) was popularised in the 1920s by celebrities and high society, especially in Shanghai.

Manchurian ladies wearing cheongsam
Trendy qipao wearers from 1930s

For my mum’s friend’s 60th birthday, I wanted to gift her with something meaningful but practical. As she has Shanghai roots, I decided to make an apron inspired by the qipao. The qipao is now mostly reserved for special occasions so what better way to wear it casually than to wear it as an apron! It would also be great to wear when hosting dinner parties so that you can serve in style.

This DIY is not strictly a Mate Make but I loved how it turned out and I had to share it. Traditionally, qipaos display intricate embroidery but I was pressed for time and have minimal embroidery skills so I chose to paint the design with acrylics.

Ain't nobody got time for that

1. You will need:

  • Apron (I chose a white canvas apron since it’s easy to draw on and I’d found some nice pictures of white qipaos as inspiration.)
  • Acrylic Paints
  • Paint brush
  • Sewing kit (sewing machine optional)

2. Deconstruct the apron to make the Mandarin collar

For the collar, I cut some newspaper to figure out how much I needed to cut into the apron to create the stiff collar. Since I wanted the collar to stand up and fit around the neck, I needed to have a U-curve on the neckline.

Mark a semi oval
Mark a semi oval along the neckline for where to cut. I did a bit of trial and error with a newspaper template beforehand to make sure I had the shape that I wanted. Then, I folded the apron in half to make the semi oval easier to cut.

Heh, excuse my Hello Kitty bedsheets… ^^”

I cut the semi oval in half to make a sort of cheese slice shape. Since my apron had a double layer of fabric on the neckline, I tidied the collars up by sewing them (right-sides together) like so:

Sew up the collar
Sew up the collar on 2 sides, right-sides together and then turn inside out.

Sewing machine is optional, this can totally be hand sewn if you want to. I got this teeny mini sewing machine from Hobbycraft during a sale and it cost me only £12! Due to its size it has mostly just basic functions but it gets the job done and I love that it’s so portable. Our old sewing machine is probably from the 80s and is decked out in heavy metal (haha rocking!) so I am always too lazy to dig it out to use.

Collar collar bills!
Collar collar bills! Once they’ve been sewn along those lines, fold inside out.

With the collars folded inside out, you will have a neat collar with the raw edges hidden. You can sew the collar onto the neckline. To get the mandarin collar shape, you need to arrange the collar pieces so that the round, tapered corners are facing together and the right angles are on outer corners (basically you’re making a McDonald’s arch). I put the raw edges of the collar and the neckline together and sewed as shown:

Attach the collars
Attach the collars to the neckline of the apron.

Once attached, the collar should look like this:

Attach the collar pieces
McDonald’s M!

3. Paint the pattern or design with acrylic paint

When searching for white qipaos, I found one with a beautiful peony design so I used that for inspiration. I started off by copying the peony design onto the apron using pencil. With the second blossom, I could freehand a bit more since I’d figured out the trick to it. I shall make a more in-depth how-to in a later post! Make sure to subscribe to the blog to get email updates on new posts!

Peony inspo
Peony inspo

I had read online that it’s best to use medium with acrylic paint on fabric but I didn’t have any and I was in a mad rush working toward my deadline (i.e. staying up until 3am because I was giving it the next day! D:) so I had to make do with water as thinner.

Note: the thinned out paint will bleed into the apron so say goodbye to your nice pristine lines. I had this problem a couple of times but I managed to hide most of it… The bleed creates a nice watercolour effect but I suggest to avoid any edges with a wet brush.

Acrylic paint is waterproof once dried so I *think* this should be washable but I would suggest hand washing just to be on the safe side. If you have fabric paint fixative, it would be a good idea to use it too (but I didn’t have any).

4. Try it on, post a pic on instagram for all the world to see!

Final product!
Final product!

I love the finished result and I think I will definitely make one for my mum as well!  One thing I would change is to use an apron which you can tie around the neck so that you can fully adjust the neckline to make it look more like a proper qipao.

This DIY would be a great gift for Mother’s Day or any other special occasion. Hope you’ll try out this DIY and if you do, I’d looove to see it, use #matemake. Subscribe for email updates for new posts and ciao until next time!


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