Tai Chi Y2D242: ‘Chinese’ Sleeves

The sleeves of this robe/tunic/shirt thing I made yesterday don’t have enough stretch in the armholes for a really long reach upward without tugging the jacket upward.  So there’s fault #1.  Fault #2 is that I sewed the thing with the wrong colors of thread, so the seams really stand out in bright light.  Whoops. Fault #2. And I could have been more careful with the seams and hems.  Fault #3.

But you know what? The ‘Chinese’ sleeves on this are awesome.  What do I mean by that? Long ago, I had a Chinese-style martial arts tunic — black with white frog-closures down the front, and white counterfacing on the sleeves.  It was awesome to do tai chi in, because the garment signaled to you when your arms were at the right height during ward-off left and ward-off right, and other arm movements.  How?  Because opening for the hand at the end of the sleeve just hung a certain way, and your arm slid through the sleeve a certain way.  It just looked right.  And it felt right.

And this tunic has exactly the same drape.  Well, not exactly the same drape.  The vertical reaches are not ideal.  But the horizontal reaches are, or are as close to ideal as an amateur tailor like me is likely to get.   It’s nice.  It’s better than nice.  The cut of the jacket helped me focus enough to cause a 12-minute tai chi routine to slow down to about 27 minutes… better than a 2-to-1 ratio of speed decrease.  And largely by paying attention to the way the tunic moved on me.  Just having the belt on my waist, as opposed to my hips, was a huge benefit: “Oh, here’s where the twist is supposed to be!”

Jason Miller has a recent piece about DIY sorcery up, and he points out the counterargument to DIY, which is the value of working within a tradition. Maybe I was too harsh on him in my follow-up comment: it turns out that sometimes the right clothing can make working within the tradition much easier.  I wonder if I should get a traditional tunic for my tai chi?

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4 comments

  1. I think their are two practices going on here.

    1- making your own tunic rope is a great idea. The process is similar to your tai-chi practice. You start of stumbling and bumbling bit slowly develop comfort and mastery. The DIY tunic represents this process regarding sewing. The more you make, the more you discover, explore and learn.

    2- Wearing a professionally made tunic would help with the comfort and flow of your tai-chi. It’s like when a child is fitted with a adult-sized fireman’s hat. It gives the child a sense of what is out there, what the role requires and what considerations were made for that tool for that job.

    So I guess it’s the to dress for the role as you also learn how to make the tools as well.

    • I would agree, Topher. The making of the coat has given me real benefits, in terms of understanding the methods and means of sewing; and doing tai chi in the coat actually increased my sense of chi flowing through me. But I think that doing tai chi in a ‘genuine’ tai chi tunic has advantages of its own. It’s what Jason Miller said in his recent column about DIY magic — sometimes it’s better to follow the tradition, and work with objects and materials and technology and prayers written in the traditional way.

  2. You might look to see if you can reduce the lack of stretch in your sleeves by opening up the bottom of the arm hole and maybe the side seam a bit like a kimono. I don’t know if it would work, but it might… and since you sewed it in the first place, you can sew it again if you don’t like it.

    • Yeah, I think that’s not going to be possible. As a costume piece, this pattern has precious little give in terms of extra material. To do as you suggest means adjusting the pattern and trying some new things to get it to fit properly.

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