Inspired by traditional Chinese costume (“cheongsam” for both women and men in the Cantonese dialect, or more accurately “qipao” for just the woman’s dress) this design has been a pet project of mine since childhood. In her trousseau my mother had several dresses that had been custom-made for her at the time of her engagement to my dad, when she was a mere 90 pounds. Here’s my favorite. That’s Mom, standing, with her bridesmaids at her engagement party, 1953. The dress is apricot silk shot with gold thread.

There were few Asian women to serve as role models for me, growing up Chinese American in the 60’s. When the film “Flower Drum Song”, based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical, came out, I immediately knew I didn’t want to be like HER (Myoshi Umeki as Mei Li, the good daughter):

I wanted to be like HER (Nancy Kwan as Linda Low, the showgirl):

Hey, not so awful as stereotypes go. Those dresses were part of the package.

It was a romantic and impractical idea to have such a dress tailored for me. The more I thought about it over the years, the less I wanted to actually wear one. Although the original 17th century qipao was loose fitting and concealing, the modern Shanghai style is form fitting, with a high, tight, stiff collar. Trust me, you can’t breathe, walk, sit or (gasp) eat in it. And I was never going to have the figure for it.

The only way it was ever going to happen was if I designed a baby-boomer stretchy crocheted one. A couple of years ago I decided I had enough skills and experience to tackle the project; this early prototype in worsted weight cotton/acrylic was the result:

When Kim Werker, editor of Interweave Crochet, and I were discussing a garment design to illustrate my take on crochet shaping, I think I squealed (I know I squealed) as I offered this one. I chose Filatura Di Crosa “Brillante”, an absolutely gorgeous sportweight blend of cotton/viscose with a subtle shimmer and crisp drape, a yarn that was WAY out of my league at the time of the above prototype. I was knocked off my butt thrilled when it made the cover:

This week I am crocheting my own China Doll to wear at TNNA in Columbus. With two weeks to go, there’s plenty of time to get it done. But, sigh, there will never be enough time to get myself to the point where it looks good on me. Aw hell, I’m wearing it anyway, belly fat be damned!


8 thoughts on “BACKSTORY: China Doll

  1. >Doris, you will look amazing in China Doll; I can’t wait to see you in it. I’ll force you to take a picture with me (don’t use that as an excuse not to wear it)! I’m so glad you wrote this up; I hated having to boil your inspiration down to a couple of sentences in the magazine.

  2. >That is one of my favorite patterns of yours! I about drooled all over my magazine when I got it! It is definately on my “to do” list of crocheting for myself, LOL!! But, like you, I’m not going to look like a model in it!!

  3. Love the photo of your mom! You really need to write a book devoted solely to your crochet memories and your mom. You have a gift for memoir … as well as great crochet design! Definitely get a photo.

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