There are four traditional techniques to qipao (cheongsam) edgings: 滚 gun，镶 xiang，嵌 qian and宕 dang. These can be used alone, or in combination with each other as the qipao above to create a wide range of effects. (Image source: MET Museum collection)
There are several features of the qipao which are unique to the dress. I have written about some of the most obvious already: the pankou (traditional Chinese knot buttons, and the namesake of this website), the front with the diagonal opening at the chest area; and then there’s also the specifics of the Shanghai-style fit vs Beijing-style fit. This post is another in this series, and will be talking about qipao’s various edgings.
Traditionally, all visible edges of a qipao are finished with at least one of the special edging techniques. This includes the sleeve ends, the hem line along with the inner two sides of the slits, the collar’s upper edge and the diagonal opening at the chest area (extending all the way down the side to the hem for a qipao which is fastened by pankous). The only slight exception from the rule is that a piping is also sometimes used at the base of the collar, so that it can naturally extend down to the edging of the diagonal opening.
The edging is typically in a single colour or two colours. On some qipaos you may see a wider band of decorative material next to the edging, or several bands of materials in various widths. Each of these is made with one of four specific techniques, summarised succinctly in Chinese by a single syllable character. There are four techniques in total, and here I will try to explain each one in some detail.
Qipao edging technique 1: 滚 ／滾 gun
滚 ／滾gun (pronounced gwen) is the most commonly used of the four techniques, and is used for creating a narrow edging.
“Gun” literally means “to roll” in Chinese, and essentially involves using a narrow piece of 45 degree bias cut fabric to roll around the raw edge of the fabric, creating a gun-edge (滚边／滾邊). The narrow piece of material is first stitched onto the front face of the fabric along the edge, then wrapped around and hand-stitched on the reverse side. A good seamstress will be able to place 9 stitches or more per Chinese-inch (1 and 1/3 English Inch, or 3.3cm), and create an edging that is even in width all around, smooth on round corners, and clean at sharp corners.
The gun-edge is typically 5-8mm in width (1/5 to 1/3 inch), although sometimes it can be as narrow as 2-3mm (1/10 inch).
In 1950s and 60s Hong Kong, a very narrow, voluminous version was popular. This looked almost like piping, where a thin cord was placed into the roll so that the edging had a plump appearance.
As I already mentioned at the beginning of the post, gun-edge can be single coloured, double coloured, or in rare instances, triple coloured. But technically a double coloured gun-edge is only considered as such if both colours were rolled on individually with the same “gun” technique, that is, each is stitched on, wrapped around the edge and then stitched at the back to finish. As you can imagine this is quite a cumbersome process, so most often when you see a two-colour edging, it uses a somewhat simpler process, a combination of the “gun” technique and the “qian” technique. I will describe this in more detail below.
Qipao edging technique 2: 镶／鑲 xiang
镶／鑲 xiang (pronounced sh-young) is a technique for stitching wide strips of (often elaborate) decorative materials to the bottom of sleeves, the hemline, or the diagonal edge of the front. The width of the fabric used is usually around 5-10cm (2-4 inches), and it is often a brocade or embroidered material in a contrasting colour to the main body of the qipao.
Multiple bands of fabrics can be stitched next to each other for a grand, courtly appearance. In fact, the technique of “xiang” dates from the earliest qipao, or banner robes, brought into China by the Manchu people. Royal Qing dynasty robes worn by the Manchu emperors almost always had multiple bands of elaborate fabrics at the at the sleeves, chest and hems. But this is of course quite rare today, and qipaos that use this technique will only use a single band of material, most often around the base of the neck and along the diagonal opening in the chest area.
Qipao edging technique 3: 嵌 qian
嵌 qian (pronounced ch-yan) is a technique where a narrow piece of material, called a qian-strip （嵌条）, is used as a join between two other materials. The most common place where this is used is in the double-coloured edge that I mentioned above in the gun section.
The typical double-coloured edge uses the “gun” and the “qian” techniques together, in Chinese called 一滚一嵌／一滾一嵌, literally translated to “one-gun-one-qian”. The “qian” strip is narrower than the “gun” strip, about half the width. The two are first joined together, and then the entire combined strip is rolled onto the edge of the qipao using the “gun” technique. Once completed, the narrow qian-strip sits between the main fabric of the qipao and the gun-edge. Appearance-wise, a double gun-edge will have two uniformly wide edges, whereas a one-gun-one-qian-edge has a narrow strip with a wider edge.
Other combinations of “gun” and “qian” are also possible, for example “two-gun-one-qian”, “two-gun-two-qian”, etc.
Qipao edging technique 4: 宕 dang
宕 dang (pronounced dung) is in fact a specific “xiang” technique, where a narrow strip of material is stitched onto the main body of the qipao, as opposed to the wider materials generally used in “xiang”. The material is called a dang-strip (宕条).
A typical way to use the dang-strip is as a pair with the gun-edge. They two are usually made in the same width and colour, running 2-5cm (or 1-2 inches) apart.
The dang-strip may run in complete parallel to the gun-edge, or it can take on a life of its own and be used to create intricate patterns.
The four techniques described here can be used on their own, or in many different combinations. For example, in this famous photo of the renowned Chinese author Eileen Chang, her qipao top uses various combinations of xiang (see the wide black strip on the front, and also contrasting strips on the sleeve ends), gun (see the wide black edge on the top of the collar), and dang (see the narrow strips running in parallel to the wider black strips on the collar and front).
And finally, it has to be mentioned that many qipaos today do away with edgings all together. In fact, you may have noticed already that many of the dresses from the famous In the Mood for Love do not have edgings, and it is the same for some of my own dresses, especially the more casual ones. A qipao without edging can have a more fitted silhouette, and better join of patterns at the chest area.
What do you like? Edging or no edging, and if edging, what combination of them? I would love to hear what you think.