Yesa and Tieli for Dummies: Compiling all Hanfu-making techniques into one robe

The embroidered Tieli is most famously known as the outfit of the "Dongchuang secret agents" of the Ming government. However, the design itself is worn by men of all trades.

The Yesa (read Yeh-sah, written 曳撒) is a distinctive Hanfu design which stood out particular as Ming-era fashion. As a Sinicized version of the Mongolian Jisun (banquet) robe, the function of this robe changed greatly as it changed hands to the Han. Rather than formal wear, yesa are worn by Imperial eunuchs, servants and street-running pages, as well as martial and military parade regalia. The large pleated skirt in front greatly enhances the hip and thigh profile, and with the robe sometimes worn short enough to expose the entire boot, it exemplifies the masculine prowess of the wearer.

The distinctive feature of the yesa is the construction of the outfit itself – while looking from the front it consists of a cross-collared top sewn together to a pleated skirt, the back is a straight long robe. The skirt is not sewn shut to the back piece, but rather use two large outward-extending “flaps” or “ears” to cover the side slits. While not as “protective” as a daopao’s flap design which ties to the insides of the back panel, it creates a unique side and back profile that allows unrestrained leg movement and access to the inner layer of clothing, making it convenient, for example, reaching to trouser pockets.

The Tieli (read [ti-eh]-lee, written 貼里) is a variant design of the yesa, but instead of its unique bottom design, it is a pleated skirt attached to the top and worn in a classic manner similar to any long robe or shenyi. Both the yesa and tieli serve similar functions and offer similar freedom of movement, and hence are loved by commoners and elite alike. Moreover, tieli are often seen as the outer clothing of young boys and servants of pre-adolescent age, making the unclumsy design suitable for all ages.

The Yesa, in essential outlines.

The yesa is probably the most complex single-piece design in the entire Hanfu system (arguably alongside with the Quju shenyi). We will combine our knowledge of Hanfu-making from all previous tutorials into this exercise, including how to cut long robes and short tops, measuring the width of each piece, measuring the curve of the collar and fitting the collar strip on, and creating wrap-skirts with pleats.

It is preferable to find and work with cloth with 150cm (60″) for this exercise, as narrower widths may require more seams to extend the length required for the skirt portion.

2 suggested layouts for cutting. The red outline on the right diagram indicate choice to use different fabric.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the cutting layout:

Shown on the right are two methods of laying out the pieces to be cut out on a 150cm width broadcloth. Remembering that each piece has a width equivalent to 1/4 of the wearer’s height (or total armspan), the Qianyun Guan layout may produce a problem where when the back piece is flaring out, there may not be enough space to fit the sleeve piece properly, and a straight back panel may cause problems with the side slits being covered properly. Hence, in my redraw of the diagrams, I suggest using a fresh section of cloth to cut out the sleeves separately, allowing more sleeve choice rather than only up to approximately a wrist-length cover.

If the same material is to be used for the bottom skirt as the top, Qianyun Guan’s layout presents a second problem of confusing the warp and woom of the fabric, which may lead to material tensile problems when sewing or after washing, as well as potential pattern incompatability. My revised diagram on the right has fixed this, as well further conserving material from removing pleats in the right (inner) skirt that will be invisible outside, as well as the extra fabric needed for pulling the material into a gather stitch before pleating, thereby removing excess weight and sharpening the features of the design.

Layout of the outer skirt and flap on the left side.

The skirt’s pleats can be “improvised” by folding them one by one and checking whether enough fabric is left (30cm) for the flaps by the end. As the diagram shows, 5 pleats is ideal before the front large panel on the right side, connecting to the end of outer lapel on the top. Remember to double-check the pleating in the right direction, so that they brush along to the back. Align the centre of the large “face” with the front centre meridian, or offset it by about 2cm towards the (armpit) side. The front face should be 20-25cm wide, depending on preference.

The side flaps are created by folding the extra 30cm of fabric into halves, flip it inside out, and sew along the diagonal line as shown (and then flip it back). The improvised way to check whether this diagonal angle is correct is by folding in the outer corner of the rectangle to form a triangle until the skirt no longer sags down. DO NOT sew the bottom of this flap, as the seam will pull the wing outward and work against its function of covering the side slits. Let it hang naturally.

The side "flap" of the yesa's skirt should be folded in naturally, and allow it to extend without sagging.

As for the inner skirt (connected to the inner lapel and flap extending to the right), reduce fabric as needed as pleats are unneeded until near the side seam for the top, where you can fit 2 to 3 pleats before extending to the flap. This way, there should be 6~8 pleats visible on either side, giving a balanced look.

A yesa, from the front.

Here are a few extra tips for making the robe, which can also be applied to other designs:

  • The armpit position should preferably be generous (9″ each side of the shoulder), and front edge should be 1/2 to 1″ longer (further down) than the back edge, in order to shift the seam further back into the underarm.
  • Never forget extra room on the fabric for seam edges.
  • Instead of having a perfectly equal width on all pieces, try adding an extra 1 to 2″ to the body while removing the same amount on the lapel piece to shift the front meridian – since the human body is not 2D, body thickness will move the front seam to the sides – especially evident on a stocky person.
  • Shorten the front lapels so that they fall short about 2~3″ with the other side of the robe. This helps the collar from warping (going into the underarm) and stand straight, as well making the tying of the sash a much easier task by moving the knot forward a bit instead of reaching and pulling sideways to achieve a tight fit.
  • The back of the yesa.

    A tieli is simply a yesa without the long back, same way as you make a regular top yi, and a long pleated skirt wrapping around. You don’t need pleats on the skirt attached to the inner lapel.

  • Traditionally the tieli is male apparel. However, objectively speaking it is a perfect dress. With the right matching of colours and materials, as well as relocating the waistline from the lower waist to mid-waist, it could become very suitable office-wear for ladies.
  • Being “business” or “semi-formal/work” wear, a leather or similar belt adds to the sharp touch.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hong Ming
    Aug 08, 2014 @ 05:42:01

    hello I’m very interesting in Yesa you know where I can buy it and have international shipping I found many store in Taobao but I don’t know how I get information about size
    thank you 😀


  2. Crissy
    Oct 15, 2014 @ 16:08:48

    Hello! I am interested in making a traditional yesa for my boyfriend. Can you recommend the best material? I was thinking of a tan, natural linen?


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