As a designer, I am constantly in search of inspiration for new patterns. Often, I find ideas in nature. Other times, I’m drawn to simple geometric shapes—such as circles or dots—and how they interact with one another. Polka dots, with their equal size and relative spacing, create a classic pattern on a garment. In fact, polka dots have quite an interesting history throughout fashion.
The spotted design gained popularity in the mid to late-19th century, as the polka dance came into fashion. Martha Stewart describes the origins of the term in her book, Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts:
“To capitalize on the popularity of the polka in the late nineteenth century, one enterprising American textile manufacturer coined the term “polka dot” to describe the dots on one of his fabrics. The name stuck, and today the term refers to round, evenly spaced dots of identical size.”
The expression was first printed in the magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1857, to describe the pattern on a scarf. In the 1920s, Coco Chanel embraced polka dots in her designs. Dots added femininity to dresses, blouses, skirts, and accessories. Popularity surged in the 1950s, as the polka dot pattern was embraced by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Lucille Ball, and Marilyn Monroe.
Because polka dots were so closely associated with the 50s and 60s, the pattern often garners nostalgia. Of course, what one associates with a certain design is purely subjective.
Here at Alabama Chanin, our polka dot stencils have been a part of our collections for years, and now we are introducing them as open-sourced stencils for our DIY customers. As a stencil, the filled circles create a simple design, but one that can easily become more intricate with beading or embroidery. I’m a firm believer that dots need not be purely feminine; a tone-on-tone color palette can add a touch of masculinity to a polka dot.
We are offering three different stencil variations of our Alabama Polka Dot—small, medium, and large. Large polka dots are easy to work up with beads and sequins (measuring 2 inches in diameter), and medium-sized dots are the perfect size for basic reverse appliqué work. Our small dots pattern looks great whether it is embellished—as in a backstitched reverse appliqué version—or simply stenciled onto our 100% organic cotton jersey fabric.
Purchase our polka dot stencils from our online store.