principles of fabric selection: look for updated versions of traditional prints

When you read the words “traditional print,” do you think boring, dark, and dull?

Actually, a lot of contemporary prints are based on traditional prints, and they aren’t necessarily boring or dull at all. In fact many designers start their creative process by taking a traditional print and altering it in some subtle way. These updated versions of classic prints make great fabrics for garment sewing because they tend to be sophisticated and understated. As a result, they allow you to see the child before the outfit.

I thought it would be fun to show you a few traditional prints, updated to look current and new for today, that work especially well for children’s clothing. As with the other posts in this series, all photos come from the Oliver + S Flickr group. Click on the hyperlinked text in the description of the garment to see the original Flickr photo and to leave feedback for the talented seamstresses who created them.

Polka dots have been around forever, right? Personally, I never get tired of them. Today polka dots are printed in a variety of scales and colors that look fresh, young, and contemporary. I like the small dot in this 2+2 blouse, combined with the printed plaid. (Note that the plaid is also a traditional pattern, and this one is printed to look like it’s cut on bias, which is especially fun!) Polka dots are easy to mix with other prints as you can see from this photo:

Polka dots can also look good on their own, as you can see from this classic Lazy Days Skirt:

Polka dots can be re-designed, too, like this dot with an outline. Nice for a summery-feeling Birthday Party Dress, yes? And notice that printed plaid tab that complements the dot.

This star print used for this Birthday Party Dress maintains the feel of a well-spaced polka dot but switches things around a bit. The print has a traditional style, reminding me of the Betsy Ross craze that happened in 1976 when the U.S. celebrated our bicentennial. But it looks completely current in large part because of all the white space between the stars. Such a fun summer dress!

Also traditional are simple, classic floral prints that are not overly bold, bright, and busy. I like the clear colors and simple designs of these two printed floral Birthday Party dresses (first and second).

Geometric patterns have been around forever, but with a little updating they can always look new and refreshing, like this Jump Rope Dress in a foulard print:

And I’ve been admiring this Lazy Days Skirt for quite a while now. The print reminds me of traditional blue and white Scandinavian (Royal Copenhagen) or Dutch Delft pottery, but the print itself is new and clean.

Classic prints, updated for today’s sensibilities, make a great choice for children’s clothing. Have examples of your own work with prints of this type? By all means, upload them to the Flickr group for all to see.




  1. I never tire of seeing that geometric print Jump Rope dress – it is heavenly to look at over and over again. The seamstress did a fabulous job at fabric selection on that!

  2. Thank you so much for choosing one of my dresses for this series. It is such an honor to be included in a collection of beautiful creations. I love the geometric print jump rope dress. I would not ordinarily choose yellow, but that is beautiful.

  3. They are beautiful. I want to make some=)

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