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Before getting too far into dots, don't forget to check out the brief history of paisley too! OK ok, now snuggle up, readers. I'm about to tell you a beautiful and passion-filled story about the history of polka dots. You think you're not interested?? Oh you are. Or at least, you should be.
Once upon a time, I was having a conversation with my friend Myra while also trying to write a blog about sewing a cute clutch. I was typing "polka dot" when I rudely interrupted Myra, who was probably telling a great story, in order to ask her, "How do you pronounce polka dot?"
After a short and confused silence she said, “Poka dot.” Yes, that sounds normal. But I had another question:
“Then why is there a lurking silent L?”
Myra’s a genius, so she said, “Probably because the dance is spelled with an L.”
Hmmm... Good point...good point. But why is the dance spelled with an L and why oh WHY would a dance get its own dot motif?? It seemed pretentious to me. Plus, I kind of want my own dot motif. Where do you sign up to get your own dot motif?
Myra was pretty sick of me drilling her about dots and probably wanted to finish her great story, so she said, "You should write a blog post about the history of polka dots." Myra, you aren't a sewer, and I'm pretty positive you were just trying to shush me politely, but, you should know by now that you can't say things like that to me. I WILL research and write a blog post all about the history of polka dots. AND you better read it cause I'm doing it aaaaall for you. Even if Harvard won't be impressed that you will ace History of Polka dots, I will be.
Photo credit: David Merett
Photo cred: Town & Country
When Polka arrived on the scene (the dance, not the dot) in the mid 1800s, Europe went kind of crazy. They gave themselves the very scientific diagnosis of “Polkamania,” and created a jacket and a hat that were supposedly associated with the dance. The next logical thing in the branding process, right?
That hat and jacket had a very distinct pattern sprinkled all over it – the dot, of course! The connection between the dot and the dance is a little far-reaching (they were raving Polkamaniacs, after all), but the story goes that the polka dots reflected the short burst of energy that make the polka dance what it is.
A quick visual...
(This is where I insert a video of polk dancing, but, SHOCKER, all of the videos are really old and and pretty terrible quality...but also strangely mesmerizing and magical...Now that I'm watching it, I think I could watch it all day. At least, any time I start to feel anxious, I'll be turning this on.)
Back to our story...
Because Americans can’t stand being left out (the entire country has always had FOMO, for sure) they picked up on the polka dot craze immediately. Godey’s Lady’s Book, which was apparently the awkward name of a really great women’s magazine, featured a polka-dotted scarf in 1857. After that, American women caught the bug as well.
As the 19th century rocked the dotted scarf, the 20th century pushed this spotted pattern to new fashion heights – many of them being much more risqué. By the 1920s, you only had to look at the season's trendiest women's swimsuits to know how to wear your polka dots.
1940's Swimsuit Fashion
Photo Cred: Town & Country
Marilyn Monroe, 1951
Photo Cred: Town & Country
How Polka Dots Really Got Famous
The 1960's hit, Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini song by Brian Hyland, definitely gave the pattern more than fifteen minutes of fame, but there are some other big appearances that helped boost the polka dot’s popularity as well.
- 1962: DC Comics created the dot’s own superhero/villain, Mr. Polka-Dot.
- 1965: Bob Dylan donned a green polka dot shirt on the cover of his single “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”
- 1967: They made a museum appearance in Frédéric Bazille’s painting “Family Reunion.”
- 1979: Polka dots reached rockstar status when they appeared on Randy Rhoads' Flying V guitar.
But let’s be real. Polka dots didn’t really make it big until 2016 when they appeared on the back of my Mod Melons quilt.
I’m just kidding. Kind of.
Ready to Shop the Polka Dot Look?
If you're looking for the widest selection, Fabric.com is the best online option. Here's a direct link to their quilt-weight polka dot fabric. If you are loving my over-sized Mod Melons dots, you're in luck! They are called Pop Dots by Birch Fabrics and you can get them here – Get Pop Dots fabric!
If Fabric.com's enormous selection is a bit overwhelming (it's a bit too much for me...I could lose days.), check out The Fat Quarter Shop. They have 24 hour flash sales every day, and a great selection of polka dot prints too!
OK, Polkamaniacs, time to tell us about your favorite polka-dotted project (or swimsuit) in the comments below!