Oriental style – Cheongsam

Oriental styles are fashionably ‘ethnic’ this season (2011). My previous post was on the Japanese kimono, rather a long post as it’s a popular shape. The second trendy oriental shape is the Chinese cheongsam (qi pao), which I’ve found less about.

And (mid 2020) the number of patterns available has been getting smaller and smaller. The big pattern companies have been sadly over-rationalising their pattern collections. Many slightly different versions of some costume possibilities, and none of others.

The cheongsam is a western influenced version of traditional Chinese dress, a sheath dress with mandarin collar and side angled neck opening.

Many different style details in the designs here : whether the opening goes into or below the armhole, the darting, whether and where there’s a zip, and the sleeves.

Here are a couple of dress patterns. Burda 8438 (left) and New Look 6812 are both now out of print. (The Burda dress has a centre back zip, the New Look dress has no zip.)


Here’s a pattern for a vintage style cheongsam : Simplicity 8244, also now discontinued. It has short cut-on sleeves, opening to below armhole, vertical waist darts only, and side seam zipper.

New Look 6203 was a pattern for a top (no zip) with skirt and pants. Oh dear, that went to being available only as a download pattern, and now is also discontinued.


The Great British Sewing Bee book – From Stitch to Style includes a pattern for sleeveless qi pao inspired top, with opening to below armhole, angled darts, and side seam zip.

Folkwear has patterns for a cheongsam, Folkwear 122 (left) (no zip) and for a jacket with similar side opening Folkwear 114 (right).


There is a free download sleeveless cheongsam pattern here (side seam zip). Swap the right and left front pattern pieces to get the opening towards the left side, as in the other patterns.


The cheongsam is not a wrap style. Here’s a Chinese diagram of the pattern piece shapes. Could you use that as a guide to adapting your favourite sheath dress pattern ?

Notice the Chinese diagram of the pattern pieces has the opening to below the armhole, and angled darts (‘french’ darts up from below bust level). Some of the other patterns have the opening into the armhole, and horizontal bust darts. I suspect the free non-Chinese pattern, with opening to below armhole and no dart that side, may be difficult to get to lay neatly against the body.

For a beautiful book, there’s Cheongsam by Pepin van Roojen, which includes a CD of dress and fabric images.

Japanese company Clover had templates to make the traditional Asian Knot buttons from cord or bias rouleaux, but even those seem to be discontinued.

If you look good in a more fitted shape, this may be a much better oriental style for you than the straight kimono. Use a border print or a brocade. It’s a challenge to find a pattern, but have fun making something exotic 😀

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Originally written February 2011.
Patterns and links revised September 2020.

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4 Comments on “Oriental style – Cheongsam”

  1. Marie-Christine Says:

    There’s also a good Japanese pattern book called “Chinese style”. Usually available from pomadour, but with the earthquake and all.. Still, you can see examples of its patterns done up at http://japancouture.canalblog.com/archives/livre_119/index.html it’s book no 119 on the left-side list.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks for the suggestion, Marie Christine.

      Happily Simply Pretty Pomadour is unaffected by the earthquake, and she says the Japanese postal service is still working.

      Sadly the Chinese Style book you mention is not currently available from her. Worth looking out for !

  2. Natasha Connor Says:

    I am looking for a cheongsam style dress in a U.S. woman’s size 28 to buy or make myself by my birthday on Sept 20,13

    • sewingplums Says:

      Take your own measurements and check the size charts, Natasha. Pattern sizes and RTW sizes are not the same. I don’t know what your measurements are, but the Folkwear and free patterns both go up to generous sizes. Best Wishes for your birthday 😀

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