Textile Spotlight: Surprisingly Sophisticated Polka Dots

Polka dot fabric has been in use since the mid-19th century and popular for almost a century now, including use in home decorating.  While original prints consisted of  equally sized filled circles with equal spacing, modern twist on this print include random sized dots with unequal spacing in a variety of colors.  The term “polka” itself derives from the Polish for “Polish woman” and in Czech, it translates to “little woman or girl.”  As such, polka dots are typically thought of a feminine, whimsical and sometimes, even childish.  They are often used in casual or playful environments, rarely transitioning to a formal situation…but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done!



A Brief History

According to Slate’s Jude Stewart, once upon a time, the print was referred to by several other names.  “Dotted-Swiss referred to raised dots on transparent tulle,” and in France, “quinconce described the diagonal arrangement of dots seen on the 5-side of dice.” Meanwhile, “[t]he large coin-sized dots on fabric, called Thalertupfen in German, got their name from Thaler, the currency of German-speaking Europe until the late 1800s.”

Some theorize that the term “polka dot” is related to the mid 19th century popularity of the polka dance.  Whether the connection is because the dots reflect short bursts of energy similar to those required in the polka, or to the fact that both the dance and the pattern became popular around the same time, is unclear; however, it is known that the term first appeared in 1857 in Godey’s Lady’s Book.


From Playful…

Polka dot fabrics are commonly seen in nurseries and kids’ rooms with their playful and energetic patterns.  Bright, multi-colored patterns lends themselves to a more modern design flair, whereas more muted, or subtle patterns tend to look more traditional.




…to Surprisingly Sophisticated

You might be surprised, though, that polka dots can also make their way into the grown-up spaces of a home, too.


It’s also interesting to note that a polka dot pattern that could look whimsical or “young” in a room can also look sophisticated depending on the furnishings and other fabrics that it is paired with, as shown below.


When using polka dots, I find that a little goes a long way.  For a more sophisticated look, consider limited multicolored patterns to a small space (such as pillows or art) so that the pattern doesn’t overwhelm the space.  More subtle versions of polka dots can blend into their surroundings and can be used in larger doses, like rugs, upholstered accent pieces, and curtains.


Do you polka???

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6 comments on Textile Spotlight: Surprisingly Sophisticated Polka Dots

  1. Marty@A Stroll Thru Life
    June 9, 2014 at 1:07 PM (3 years ago)

    Oh I love all the polka dots, so pretty. My favorite is the last pic dining room. Stunning.

    • Tidbits&Twine
      June 11, 2014 at 4:28 PM (3 years ago)

      I never would have thought to use polka dots in a formal dining room, and yet, they work beautifully in that room, don’t they?!

  2. Patricia Krank
    June 12, 2014 at 6:47 AM (3 years ago)

    I love the way you think! Surprisingly elegant!

    • Tidbits&Twine
      June 18, 2014 at 7:39 AM (3 years ago)

      Thank you so much, Patricia!

  3. Ambika
    June 26, 2014 at 2:33 AM (3 years ago)

    I Love polka. I am planning to tape some gold polka dots on our bathroom wall. I was unsure how it look. But by seeing your post I am more confident now.

    • Tidbits&Twine
      June 26, 2014 at 8:24 AM (3 years ago)

      Gold polka dots in the bathroom sounds lovely! :)


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