Tang Garment Construction

This page was first published in June 2015, and is in need of some updates. We all learn new things in the span of four years! <3

The Hezi

(historical notes)

To make my prototype hezi, I measured around my chest (40″) and from the top of my bust to a little below the underbust line. I then cut out a piece of muslin on the bias and sewed up the side seams. I tried it on inside out and adjusted the fit so that it was snug, but so I could still take it off and put it on with relative ease. My finished pieces ended up being 17″ wide by 9″ tall. I cut a curve on the front piece and lowered the back so it would fit more smoothly. My finished pieces were 17″ wide, with a 9″ tall front and 7.5″ tall sides and back.

Cutting fabric on the bias is key, so that the fabric is stretchy enough to go on without a closure and to hold you in. I’m not sure if the hezi was intended to be a breast-binding garment, since breast-binding in China supposedly began in the Song Dynasty (right after Tang) along with foot-binding (Wu, 2010, p. 104). Much like the geometrically constructed European kirtle, I think that squishing the breasts down was a way to secure them.

I used left over silk and white linen to make my hezi – the silk will be the fashion layer and the linen the lining. I chose to line my hezi both to protect the silk from skin oils and wear, and also because later undergarments and undergarments were lined for warmth and durability. I finished the seams separately and then finished the top and bottom seams together in order to attach the lining to the silk. The only issue I have had with my hezi has been some gapping at the underbust. My plan is to evaluate this during it’s first “event-wear test” and see if it is really a problem.

I have yet to embroider my hezi, but I think I will make sure the embroidery goes through to the lining, so that the lining serves as an interfacing. I’m not sure how this will affect the stretchiness of the silk.  As I try on my hezi and contemplate the qixiong ruqun (shirt and skirt), it makes sense that this foundation layer helped smooth out curves to make the skirt sit more securely above the breast.

The Shirt

(historical notes)

Measurements and Drafting

A: Bust at fullest point – 40”

B: Shoulder to Hip (over bust) – 24”

C: Back of neck to Hip – 20.5”

D: Shoulder point to Shoulder point – 17”

E: Neckline (where you want it to sit) – 19”

F: Shoulder to Knuckles – 27”

G: Shoulder to underbust, over the bust – 17”

Above are my measurements for the shirt along with a basic diagram of how it is put together. Additionally, you will need a strip of fabric long enough to go around the neckline and at least 3 inches wide and two lengths of ribbon. Alternatively, you could use short strips of fabric also double-folded so they have no exposed edges (this is the same way you make the binding for the neckline).  I was able to get a shirt made out of 2 yards of 44” fabric with some sizeable scraps left over.

The shirt has no underarm gusset or gores, so the sleeve must be wide enough at the shoulder to accommodate movement. I accomplished this by adding 3” to my G measurement. I ended up cutting a shallow taper on my sleeves. The period depictions vary when it comes to sleeve width at the wrists for women. In early Tang, it would appear that the fashion was for narrow sleeves that were long enough to completely hide the hand. In later Tang paintings, the sleeves of the women’s robes were as voluminous as the men’s.

From left to right, you can see the evolution of sleeve width in period depictions.

From left to right: Standing Female Attendant, Court Lady with High Chignon, Detail of Ladies Preparing Silk, Figure of a Seated Court Lady, Detail of Bodhisattva as a guide of souls

Construction

Finish your seams as you go – it makes things easier. I folded my seams twice, like a rolled hem, and did a blind whipstitch. I pressed all my seams toward their respective cuffs.

Pin the sleeves to the body, centering them on the body panel. The center of the body panel should also be the back of your neckline. Sew the shoulder seams, then press and finish them as well as your cuffs. Pin and sew the sleeves and side seams, then press and finish them. Press and finish the hem.

Fold the longer strip of fabric in half and press. Open it up, then fold the edges into the middle and press again.

Try on the shirt and decide where you want the ties to be. I chose to put mine about halfway between my underbust and the bottom of the shirt. Remember – these ties hold the shirt onto you, but they are also intended to be hidden by the skirt (which also helps keep your shirt on). Pin the ribbons in place, matching the edge to the raw edge of the neckline.

Line this newly made edging up with the neckline and open front of the shirt so that the raw edge sits against the inner fold of the binding. The ribbons should stick out. Fold them over the neckline so that they are pointing inward. Stitch using your favorite invisible hand-sewing technique. You could alternatively sew down one side and then the other – whichever you’d prefer!

The Skirt

(historical notes)

The Tang Dynasty skirt is made up of two panels, sewn most of the way up the sides, and tied above the breast with ribbons attached through the band. The primary feature of the skirt is a series of knife pleats, which give the skirt its fullness.

Measurements and Determining How Much Fabric You Need

To begin, measure the circumference of your bust at the top, where you’d like the skirt band to be – not the middle (A). If you’ve already made a hezi, it’s not a bad idea to compare this measurement to one made while wearing it. You can simulate the hezi by putting on a sports bra that squishes you down about the same. Then, measure from this point on your bust to the floor, making sure the fabric goes over your bust (B).

My measurements were:

A – 40

B – 51

You will need to do a bit of math before you start. For A, divide it in half and then add 2. This is the total width of each side of your skirt at the band. This is measurement C.

40 ÷ 2 = 20; 20 + 2 = 22

Take your band width and multiply it by three. For one inch pleats, this is the total fabric width you will need. This will be measurement D.

22 x 3 = 66.

If your fabric isn’t wide enough, don’t worry – I’ve made skirts with 45” wide fabric before. Make sure you pleat from the middle so you don’t over-pleat, and know that your skirt won’t be as voluminous.

For the length, take measurement B and add 2 to make up for the hem and what will disappear inside the band. We’ll call this measurement E.

51 + 2 = 53.

You want your band to be about 8 inches wide, because you’ll be folding in fourths. Take the band into account when calculating how much fabric you will need for your skirt – you should only need to worry about the width of the band, since the length should be well within the width of your fabric. This is what my math looked like, working with a 70” wide fabric.

(53 x 2) + 16 = 122; 122 ÷ 36 = 3.3888 → 4 yards

Your ribbon will be shorter for the back panel than the front panel. The back only needs go around your bust circumference once, with enough left over to tie. The front needs to go around twice, with enough left over to tie, wrap around itself, and then hand decoratively.

For me, I need 1 ½ – 2 yards for the back and 4 yards for the front. I use 1 ½ -2” ribbon. Woven silk ribbon is VERY slippy – polysatin ribbon has a better grip, and does the job better.

Cutting and Pleating

Cut your fabric into your two skirt panels using the width of the fabric and measurement D. Then cut the two skirt bands. Mine were 22” x 8” each.

Take a skirt panel, fold it in half lengthwise, and press to create a guideline crease. Using a ruler, make small hash marks with your favorite fabric marking pen at 1” intervals, starting from the center and moving out.

Fold your pleats from the middle outward, pressing and pinning them (vertical pins) as you go. Any knife-pleating tutorial on the web will help you with this, if you’re not sure how to do it. If you’re fudging your pleats, I found that it is helpful to put pins in your ironing board marking the middle of the skirt and the outer edges you’re aiming for – so long as your skirt stays lined up, you won’t over-pleat.  When I did this, I ended up with a little more than I needed when attaching the band, but I did a quick pleat without ironing to bring everything together nicely.

Tack down your pleats with a straight stitch, or baste them if you’re doing it by hand. Repeat for the second panel.

Construction

Take a skirt band, fold it in half lengthwise, and press. Open the fold and then fold the long edges in to the middle. Press again. Finally, fold the skirt in half once more lengthwise and press. This is similar to the binding you made for the shirt.

Fold each band in half width-wise to mark the middle with a light crease. Fold the short edges into a ½” rolled hem (¼”, then ¼” again) and press.

Open the binding again so that you can see the lengthwise middle. Lay the pleated skirt panel in the band, lining it up with the center of the band. Close up the sandwich and pin it. Sew down a short edges, then the length, then back up the short edge. Repeat for the second panel.

Measure 6” down from the bottom of the binding along the side of the skirt and place a pin. Do this on each side for each panel. Line up your panels, right sides together and pin them starting at this 6” pin. Sew up the side seams.

Finish the side seams and bottom hem, and you’re done! Yay, you have a skirt!

To put it on, step into it or slip it on over your head. I have to lean forward a bit to tie on the back panel, as I’m going to guess most busty girls will. Otherwise, the weight of the fabric fights you. Tie on the back panel with just an overhand bow. Then pull up the front panel, cross the ribbon in the back, then tie an overhand knot in the front. Take each side of the ribbon and loop it around what is cinched about your bustline a few times.

This is a great video that describes how to put on the skirt, starting at 58 seconds:

The Jacket

(historical notes)

To make the jacket, use the same measurements you took for your shirt. I made the bottom hem of my jacket about 6 inches shorter than my shirt, so that it hit me just below my natural waist. You want the ties on the jacket to nip the garment in at your natural waist, or just above it. Use the period images as a guide. I used about 1 1/4 yards for mine – this is a guess. I purchased 2 yards to do my mock-up, failed at one cut out, then did the second. So 1 1/4-1 1/2 yards is a liberal estimate. You might play it safe and get 2 (if you’re roughly my size), then you’ll have extra to make trims for other stuff.

Rough diagram of the jacket piece.

This is a very rough diagram for your jacket. Unlike the shirt, the sleeves, back, and front are all cut out of the same piece of fabric. The only new measurements are from your shoulder to elbow and your shoulder to waist hem. You can take a new measurement from your shoulder to midbust if you want to, for the width of your sleeve. You may also chose to line your jacket.

In addition to your jacket, you will need a length of binding made from the same material, approximately 3-4 inches wide. You will press this the same way you did for the shirt’s binding: fold the strip in half lengthwise and press; open the strip and fold each edge into the middle and press; fold the strip in half lengthwise again and press. I ended up sewing two lengths of fabric together in order to get the length I needed.

The finished jacket

Sew the sleeves and side seams together and finish them. If you’re sewing a lining, sew the sleeves and side seams together of the lining and finish them as well, then put the lining fabric with the jacket fabric, right sides together, and sew their necklines together. Turn the jacket and lining so that the right sides are facing out, then turn and press your sleeve and bottom hems. Next, try on the jacket to determine where you want the ribbon ties to be and mark this with a pin. Place the ribbon (I used woven silk ribbon from Dharma Trading Company) at this point and pin it about an inch from the edge. Open the binding you made and place it on the neckline. Be careful when pinning the ribbon, jacket, and binding together. You can sew this all in one go, or sew down one side and then the other.

Congrats, you have a jacket!

The Large-Sleeved Gown

(historical notes)

My pattern for the large sleeved gown. It should not have an underarm gusset – the arm hole, like the shirt, should just extend down to at least the bustline.

Use the shirt pattern as your basis for the large-sleeved gown pattern. My research indicated that the sleeves of the large-sleeved gown could exceed four feet (Zhou & Gao 1987, p. 94), so I made my sleeves four feet wide from the upper fold to the seam along the cuff edge. I pinned the pattern pieces to the gauze and cut with pinking shears. The gauze was difficult to cut, and in future, I will experiment with using spray-on, wash-out starches to stabilize it.

Also, there should not be an underarm gusset – like the shirt, the armhole should simply be large enough to hit at least the bustline.

Once the pattern pieces were cut, I finished all the cut edges with a veil stitch. Once the edges were finished, I laid the pieces out on a protective surface and printed them with the stamp I had carved, re-inking the stamp between each print. I staggered the print using the length and width of my hand to measure. To set the ink, I placed the pieces ink-side down on a towel and ironed them from the back. I then put them in the dryer on a low setting for approximately 15 minutes.

I then sewed the pieces together using a backstitch and the white silk thread. Again, this was difficult to do with the silk gauze. In the future, stabilizing the gauze with starch may be helpful in order to get straighter, more even stitches.

My large-sleeved gown on my dress form, before it’s completely sewn together.

References

(Full reference list)

Wu, X. (2010). China’s disappearing clothing. Shandong, China: Shandong Publishing Group.

Zhou, X. & Gao, C. (1987). 5000 Years of Chinese costume. Tsui-Yee Tang (Ed.) Hong Kong: China Books and Periodicals.

6 thoughts on “Tang Garment Construction”

  1. What type of materials did you use? And how many yards? This was really useful! Thank you for sharing! I’ve been searching for a pattern or anything at all about construction of the Qixiong Ruqun.

    1. I used habotai silk, in various weights. My skirt is 10mm, and I want to say my shirt is 12 or 14.

      For yardage, figure out how big your pieces need to be with the math and some patterning fabric, and then lay it out based on how wide your fashion fabric is.

      <3!

  2. Could i use cotton fabric to make this?
    Im not really looking for aunthenticity as i DO plan on wearing it as an every day item if i can make it work. But i need to know if i can make it out of cotton

    1. Hi! You definitely can. I would use a lighter weight, like a voile, for the shirt, and a quilting weight for the skirt.

    1. I don’t have any in-progress pics of the shirt being made, and I have updated my pattern since this page was written.

      I can point you to a couple of places – The Toronto Guqin Society has a translation of an article about the mathematics for curves in hanfu, including the neckline. This is what I use now for my necklines, as opposed to 90 degree angles. I feel it is more accurate, based on comparisons of how the shirt sits on the body and what we see in extant art.

      Secondly, this spring I started a project to try and recreate the shirt based on period fabric widths. Included in my short write up for the proof of concept I made is a layout of my pattern pieces, which will hopefully help. This has some of my research notes for the larger documentation (which isn’t done, since the project isn’t completed), which includes some links to extant garments. Not all of these are shirts – some are half-sleeve jackets, but the construction in terms of center back seam, sleeve seams, etc. is similar.

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