Chapter 437 - Inspiration

A significant amount of time passed and by the time Jiang Siniang finished studying Yu Xiaocao’s clothes, Xiaocao felt that her muscles were going stiff. Jiang Siniang slowly let out a breath and returned to her seat, sipping the tea that had been served before she said, “Official Yu, if it’s possible, can you tell me who designed the clothes you’re wearing?” 

Yu Xiaocao also let out a deep breath, and the smile on her face was a bit stiff as she replied, “Modiste Jiang is too courteous. Please, call me by my name. It feels like someone is calling for my dad when I hear them call me ‘Official Yu’.” 

Jiang Siniang chuckled, “Alright, I won’t be courteous since Miss Yu is so easygoing. I’m only a few years older than you are, so if Miss Yu doesn’t mind, please call me Older Sister Jiang!” 

“Older Sister Jiang, let’s also forgo ‘Miss Yu’. Since I’m calling you older sister, you can call me Younger Sister Xiaocao.” Yu Xiaocao smiled sweetly and her expression was filled with joy. She did not disdain the other maiden at all even though she was an official and Modiste Jiang was just a merchant. 

Jiang Siniang’s heart had completely relaxed. Official Yu had indeed made a fortune by means of trade. She was unlike the madams and misses of other families who secretly looked down on merchants yet still wanted to get some benefits from her. Did they ever realize that  if it weren’t for the merchants in the capital, it would be extremely hard for their supposed ‘high officials’ to carry out their work... 

“Older Sister Jiang, why did you visit us twice?” Yu Xiaocao already had her own guess in her heart, but she still asked nevertheless. 

Jiang Siniang had a somewhat embarrassed smile on her face, “To be honest, Younger Sister Xiaocao, I came because of the design of your clothes. I’ve never seen the likes of the one you’re wearing right now in the capital before. Can I know where you bought it?” 

Yu Xiaocao smiled, “This outfit I’m wearing was actually paired with a pair of pants so that I can move around the fields with ease. But wearing trousers while I’m greeting guests would be a little too impolite, so I had the servants make this white, pleated skirt. Clothing that is tightly fitted at the top and loose at the bottom really accentuates a person’s figure, don’t you think?” 

Hearing this, Lady Fang laughed, “You really don’t have any shame, do you? You dare to speak as though you’re a person in this trade in front of the true master? How can you display this outfit that you blindly came up with in front of others?” 

Jiang Siniang hurriedly interjected, “Lady Fang, you’re too humble! Although Younger Sister Xiaocao’s outfit doesn’t have wide sleeves, a train, nor is it paired with fancy accessories, there is exquisiteness in its simplicity. I should’ve known that when splendor and complexity reached its limit, we should turn around and return to the basics, progressing towards the direction of simplicity and humility. Younger Sister Xiaocao has inspired me and opened a new window in fashion design for me. She is my benefactor! How did Younger Sister come up with this design?” 

Looking at the excited Jiang Siniang, Lady Fang secretly laughed, ‘Indeed the rumors weren’t false, this Jiang Siniang is quite an obsessed person, but it’s really because of her ‘obsession’ that she is able to throw herself wholly into her work and become a master, isn’t it?’ 

“You sisters keep talking, I still have other things to do, so I’ll be taking my leave.” Lady Fang noticed that the two sisters were conversing amiably, so there was no need for her to be around. She was naturally happy to see her daughter become close to Modiste Jiang and not wholly because of Jiang Siniang’s craft, but rather so that Xiaocao could widen her connections in the capital and make more friends. 

The so-called ‘well bred maidens’ of the capital were blindly arrogant and looked down upon Xiaocao, who was born into a farmer’s family. From time to time, mocking words aimed towards her daughter reached her ears and because of this, she had cut off all ties with a few other families. 

She did not understand what those pampered little misses were so arrogant about. Were their chins lifted high up into the sky just because they knew how to recite a few poems, play a few instruments, and work a needle and thread together? Even Jiang Siniang who was a merchant seemed better than them! At the very least, she used her own skills and effort to create beautiful pieces of clothing for others! What right did those little rich misses who only knew how to wait for others to serve and pamper them and never contributed anything to anyone have to look down on others?  

Lady Fang was inwardly elated when she saw her daughter chat animatedly with Jiang Siniang. Only those who could appreciate her daughter’s capabilities were worthy to interact with. As such, what importance do the words and opinions of those supposed ‘well-bred ladies’ hold? 

Jiang Siniang politely stood up with Xiaocao and waited until Madam Fang went back into the inner courtyard. Then, she held Xiaocao’s hand and asked eagerly, “Quick, tell me! Where did you get this idea from?” 

Yu Xiaocao seriously pondered about it and then said, “My aunt originally married over to the northeastern mountain region, and there’s an ethnic group called Manchu over there. Most of them wear clothes that are designed like this, and it’s called ‘Qi-style attire’, not the ‘qi’ from ‘riding a horse’, it’s ‘Qi-style attire’ from the word ‘flag’ [1]. This outfit is not only practical, but it also saves a lot of cloth!” 

Jiang Siniang drifted into a daze, seemingly mumbling to herself, “So it’s the outfits of another ethnic group! I’ve heard that the clothes of the Hu ethnic group that live towards the northwest are very special and pretty and they use a veil to cover their faces. If I have the chance, I’d really want to travel around and see the world outside, then I wouldn’t be lacking in inspiration…” 

“That’s right, it’s better to travel ten thousand kilometers than read ten thousand books. I’ve heard that the people in the southwest use silver accessories, and their clothes are dyed with a special method, it’s really marvelous…If I had the chance, I’d like to follow our Great Ming’s ships to the western sea to see it for myself. Rumors say that the people over there have white skin, golden hair, blue eyes and a head full of curly hair, isn’t it interesting?” In her two lifetimes, Yu Xiaocao had never travelled outside her country, and, though the chances were small, she still yearned to see the world for herself. 

Jiang Siniang’s eyes widened as she held her hand to her mouth in surprise, “Blue eyes, yellow hair, moreover, curly hair? It...sounds like the description of monsters from the legends. Are there really people like this?” 

“Of course! Both the emperor and Royal Prince Yang have travelled across the western sea and seen westerners before. I heard that not only do they have yellow hair, but some of them also have red hair! They look different from us, and their language is also different. I don’t know how the emperor and Royal Prince Yang were able to communicate with them! The clothes that the westerners wear are also different from ours. If the opportunity arises, we can have the fleet get us some of the clothes that the westerners wear for reference!” Yu Xiaocao said a little whimsically. 

However, the Great Ming Dynasty’s trade ships were all currently under the command of Royal Prince Yang. She would only need to ask, and Zhu Junyang would definitely be willing to bring back not only their clothes, but also even all of their rare and strange trinkets and items for her. 

“That would be wonderful! I’d really like to travel everywhere and sightsee…”Jiang Siniang’s current expression was akin to a young girl who was filled with hopes and dreams and seemed unlike that of a master of embroidery’s bearing. 

Yu Xiaocao watched her and suddenly thought that having a dream was such a wonderful feeling. ‘What is my dream? Cultivate high-yielding crops so that the civilians would never starve? This dream is too noble and should be one belonging to a person of higher authority. it doesn’t have much to do with me as I’m only a small official. Make a fortune so that my family is able to pass their lives comfortably? But I’m not lacking money, and my family’s conditions only keep improving. What exactly is my dream? I really need to seriously think about it!’ 

Jiang Siniang collected herself and returned to the more practical topic. She attentively inquired about the Qi-style attire’s concepts, but Xiaocao only knew a little and did not understand the craft of making clothes at all. 

“Can Younger Sister draw out the impression you have of the Qi-style attire for Older Sister to see?” Jiang Siniang felt that understanding the concept through sight was somewhat better in this case. 

Yu Xiaocao said somewhat embarrassingly, “I don’t know how to draw. I’m afraid that my drawings wouldn’t serve any purpose and I’ll only serve to humiliate myself. Why not let me describe while you draw? This seems much easier.” 

The two of them moved to Xiaocao’s courtyard. Servants fetched them the writing tools from the outer courtyard and Jiang Siniang’s maidservant ground the ink as Yu Xiaocao slowly introduced the designs of Qi attire that she knew to the modiste. 

Yu Xiaocao, who loved to watch shows set in the Qing Dynasty such as “Empresses in the Palace”, “Scarlet Heart” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, was more than familiar with the apparels and accessories of the Qing Dynasty. 

The length of its skirt nearly reached the feet, which was a similar design to qipao that came later. It was paired with a sleeveless jacket and had various types of the collars such as saddled-shaped, round shaped, and slightly folded. There were several different designs of the upper garment, like pipa style, buttoned-down on the right side, and buttoned-down in the middle. The matching skirt or pants had printed flower patterns, embroidery, and pleating. The edge of the lapel, collar, and sleeves were decorated with different techniques like inlay and embroidery. The sleeves were wider on the bottom and shaped like a horse hoof... 

It could be said that Jiang Siniang’s drawings were even more beautiful and exquisite than what Xiaocao had pictured. Jiang Siniang produced a few sketches of different beautiful designs. The other girl was indeed talented in clothing design, and she was able to create designs that were even better than what Xiaocao had imagined as long as Xiaocao was able to describe even just a little part of the outfit. Her maidservant’s eyes shone with pride, yet said with a little haughtiness, “Mistress, the designs would be better if you’d used our colorings to draw them.” 

There was a design where the upper garment’s length reached the knees and was decorated with inlays. It was paired with a pleated skirt. Yu Xiaocao pointed at it and smiled, “My godmother would look so good in this outfit! Since the weather is getting colder, you can sew on some fox fur on the collar and the opening of the sleeves. It’d be warm to wear and it’ll still look good at the same time…” 

The inspiration that had collected in Jiang Siniang over the past few months seemed to have found an opening and exploded. She consecutively drew more than a dozen different designs of the Qi-style attire. Some of them followed Xiaocao’s descriptions while others were innovations of her own ideas and understanding of the concept. Each design was unique in its own way and was extremely elegant and exquisite. Looking at these designs was like seeing the sets of outfits present themselves to an observer in real life. 

Jiang Siniang’s heart itched when she looked at these designs. She yearned to rush back immediately so she could start turning these sketches into stunning sets of clothing. 

Hearing Xiaocao’s words, Jiang Siniang laughed, “Younger Sister Xiaocao indeed has a good eye for things. I have created this design with Lady Fang’s figure in mind. Xiang’er, take Lady Fang’s measurements later. Two days later, Older Sister will visit you again after I’ve created the outfit according to the design. At that time, we’ll see if it’s the correct fit for Lady Fang.” 

Yu Xiaocao was aware that her godmother had long desired to own clothes that were made personally by Jiang Siniang, so she smiled and expressed her gratitude, “Then I shall trouble Older Sister!”


[1] flag - 骑 (qi) and 旗 (qi) are homonyms. The qi in qi-style is 旗.

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Translator: Vera