Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What is a nonya kebaya?

Recent inquiries had prompted me to blog about this topic.

As recently as about 15 years ago, traditional nonya kebaya(s) are created in the following steps:
  • Measurements are taken from the upper body of the nonya.
  • Paper patterns of the front, back, sleeves and lapels are created from the measurements.
  • The materials (plain colored or with floral print) are then cut out according to the paper pattern(fig. Ia,Ib and Ic). Extra allowance of about 1" all around the edges of the blouse are given(use for joining scrap material so that the embroiderer can frame the material when she embroiders the motifs).
  • All the tailored portions of the material are then join up to form a plain blouse, all the seams are french seams. We provide extra allowance at both sides of the waist as well as underside of the sleeve. By unpicking the side seams, you can easily get an extra 2 inches around your waist.
  • The outer edges of the kebaya blouse are then measured and marked with chalk(fig II). The embroidery pattern chosen will then be traced along the edges (using the chalk line as guide and going inward) on the blouse.    
  • For the left and right front (from neck panel down to the bottom corner, then side way towards both side seams), the pattern traced has to be symmetrical. Similarly the pattern at the bottom of the two sleeves are symmetrical as well.
  • Different embroidery threads are then pick out for the embroidery to be done. this usually depends on the complexity of the motifs. The yellow phoenix design in the earlier post requires more than 16 different colors.
  • The embroiderer has to make sure that the top threads and the bobbin threads are always the same color, i.e. upon completion, especially with dark color material, the kebaya might be worn inside out without the wearer being aware of it. To save time during embroidery work, the worker has to prepare many bobbins with the different color threads used.
  • Once embroideries are completed, all the excess edges are then trimmed off, the opened sleeves are sewn up.
  • Finally, the french seams around the arm holes, neck joint to shoulder, as well as at the two fronts and around the neck are all strengthened and beautified by applying "kotok lobang" (fig IIIa, IIIb &IIIc), this is done by a dual needles machine that have the ability to create a series of small holes right along the stitches.

fig Ia,Ib & Ic
fig IIa

fig II 
fig IIIa IIIb & IIIc
As can be seen from the explanations and illustrations above, both the front left and right panels are not flat pieces of material. The joints from neck through nipple points and down to the hips and the bottom edges are actually from two pieces of the material cut on the bias (fig Ia). This type of cutting ensures that when it is tailored correctly, the wearer of the kebaya will feel that the blouse actually wrap around her torso from the hip all the way up to the shoulder. The back (fig IIa) generally doesn't require any dart to be sewn.

The "kotok lobang" shown in fig III is an integral part of the traditional nonya kebaya. Back in 1950s thru 1970s, the nonyas in South East Asia utilized the sewing machine that can sew long line of holes for curtains and lacy fabrics. The sewing head(fig IVa & IVb) consists of a punch, two threaded needles and another punch that create the tiny round holes right next to the french seam. My late mum (whom I inherited the art of making nonya kebaya as well as the machine), once demonstrated to me how the holes actually strengthened the seams by forcefully trying to pull the seams apart and failed. Much later I found out that the first punch actually push the yarns apart, the two needles then stictched the yarns sideway creating a hole, the second punch will then make sure that the threaded holes are round in shape.

Fig IVa and IVb

The following photos will show typical nonya kebaya and how it should be worn,

(a) The baba will wear shirt of batik print whereas the nonya's wears sarong skirt with batik print together with colorful matching kebaya blouse with full embroideries.
(b) Three generations of nonyas in full sarong kebaya attires and posing during a wedding ceremony.

(c) fuchsia pink kebaya with matching batik sarong.

(d) Black base multicolored floral kebaya with matching sarong.
(e) black base kebaya with red floral design to match with red base batik sarong.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Re-activated blogs

Due to personal reasons, this blog has stayed dormant for quite sometime. Any one interested in the kebaya shown can contact me at

I am a Malaysian kebaya tailor residing in Kuala Lumpur, I worked as a freelance and is not related to any Kebaya shop.

The sample shown are mainly my stock on hand, if interested you can email me for description and measurement details as well as the price. If the size is not suitable, we can tailor and embroider the whole piece from the plain material of your choice. A time frame of 2 months is required for any newly embroidered piece.

Steven Ong.

Friday, July 4, 2008

more antique kebayas

Nice antique designs

These are some samples shown to me recently by a good friends of my mum, they were tailored about 20 odd years ago...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New kebayas for viewing

Here are pictures of new kebaya for various sizes.........

Monday, June 9, 2008

Baju Kebaya for Sale

All photograghs shown are actual kebayas that are for sale. Please email me to get more details for each piece. If measurement provided is not the right size, you can order similar piece with your size.