The Shanghai Tailor….

Suzanne with some of her many cheongsams…

From as far back as the mid 1940s when I started to wear cheongsams (or qipaos), I was made to understand that the most experienced and skilled tailors were from Shanghai.

I soon found this to be true when I discovered this Shanghai gentleman who tailored for the customers of the then Seremban Silk Store. A truly rare and precious find (especially in Malaysia, in those days).

The store stocked beautiful fabric from brocades to silk, and laces of all types and textures, probably from Switzerland and France. I remember the Shanghai tailor as a rather lean and quiet man with graying hair, who spoke Cantonese with an interesting accent.

He only popped out from the back of the store to measure the lady customers for their outfits or to bring the clothes out for fittings. As I made only cheongsams, he would take down the measurements with each order – just to be sure the outfit was perfectly fitted when made. Oh – it has to be emphasized that it took a good few weeks before the first fitting – as he stitched everything by hand. As to be expected, the cheongsams fit like a glove, and one could never find a fault anywhere. He hardly looked up or smiled, except when the customer praised and thanked him for his perfect stitching.

That was my first encounter with a truly skilled Shanghai tailor. Decades later, when we visited Beijing, we were told of a fantastic husband and wife team who tailored beautifully. The husband had the best hand for drawing the paper pattern and cutting – and of course, they hailed from Shanghai. When asked how many Shanghainese were amongst their team of tailoring assistants, she replied that they were ALL from the surrounds of Shanghai, as the skill seemed to be dying down amongst the Shanghainese. That was in the 90s.

A few years later, we befriended a gentle but good tailor in Shanghai (who moved there from another province). The polite, clean cut Mr Zhu soon became our favourite tailor across the miles for the longest time. He made most of the cheongsams in my batik collection.

Today, Shanghai is still well-known for tailoring and here are tips on the best qipao or cheongsam tailors there….. please click onto cnngo.com’s article here.

To read more about how the cheongsam is appreciated in China and Malaysia, click onto the following links: The return of the cheongsam, Cheongsam culture booms in Shanghai and Decades of the cheongsam.

Thank the good Lord for tailors…from Shanghai or otherwise!

Tizzy About Tea-Time

At our home, tea time has always been an important occasion.   It starts at 4pm and lasts till about 5 or 6pm, depending on how many friends have joined the ‘happy tea hour’.  Over the years, we have progressed through all the stages of tea-time formalities.  From a full silver-serviced tea complete with cucumber finger sandwiches, laid out on a (now antique) silver trolley, to a very informal gathering of friends who know it’s an ‘open house’ time, and drop by bearing treats for tea, in true Malaysian style.

My sister is all for a whimsical tea with cups and saucers like those shown here, as well as in this, which gives us all something to oooh and aaah about.  Perhaps it harks back to the days when she used to serve tea very formally to her dolls in a garden setting!

Nowadays, our tea is served in an assortment of colourful mugs, with a mini spread of Malaysian tea-time cakes and treats.  Sometimes when there are more friends who arrive with a wider assortment of food, it turns into high tea and everyone moves on to the dining table when seating around the usual living room coffee table runs short.

Whatever the occasion, the camaraderie is what draws our friends to drop by.  Everyone has a different preference of beverage. Apart from the traditional western tea, it could be Chinese tea, an herbal concoction or even a ‘teh tarik’  (Malaysian/ Singaporean ‘pulled tea’).

Traditionally, the ‘teh tarik’ is best prepared by the ‘mamak’ (Indian Muslim) vendor but now a similar version is available in sachets – just put it in a cup and pour in hot water from a higher point to create the mandatory ‘froth’.

Incidentally, we have stumbled upon this fabulous website which collates recipes beautifully illustrated by artists, and here are a few recipes for a variety of teas which caught our attention…Pulled Tea (Teh Tarik – by a Malaysian illustrator) , Iced Tea, Honey Milk Tea and Chai Tea.

It is time to put on the kettle and bring out the pineapple tarts I made for tea! Toodles….

Mary