Completing a 1950s Patio Dress


I have had a long love affair with a particular vintage outfit, known variously as a  patio, fiesta, or squaw dress (or set). This distinctive outfit dates to the late 1940s and early 1950s, when southwestern styles were popular in American fashion.  They were typically made in small workshops in Tucson, Arizona, and were worn by a wide cross-section of society.

The dress draws influences from a combination of three similar types, all with a big tiered skirt: a slightly gathered skirt based on Navajo dress, a "broomstick" or pleated skirt based on Navajo and Mexican attire, and a fully gathered, three-tiered skirt based on contemporary Western Apache camp dresses or Navajo attire, according to an article by Parezo and Angelina R. Jones, "What's in a Name? The 1940s-1950's Squaw Dress."

These dresses are comprised of two pieces, a heavily embellished skirt and a matching blouse.  Rickrack and metallic trim are typical trimmings for these garments.

A while back, I bought a lovely vintage patio skirt.  It was clearly a home-made garment, with some idiosyncratic construction methods.  I loved it.

But it needed a matching blouse.

I found an appropriate vintage pattern.

I also located fabric and trim that coordinated nicely. The fabric was from Stonemountain and Daughter (purchased prior to the pandemic lockdown) and the trim was from Lacis (purchased via sidewalk service).  I am so unbelievably lucky to have such great sewing resources in my community.

Because I had reservations about my ability to pin my trim to the fabric neatly, I basted guidelines onto the blouse.  (At some point, I'm going to need to have my sewing machine serviced, because the way the thread feeds from the bobbin has been unreliable.)

I started at the center back, and ran the trim inside of the sewn lines.  If I were to do this again, I'd open up the center back seam and bury the ends of the trim inside the seam.  This will solve the problem of what to do with the unattractive ends of rickrack.

I would also sew the neck facing on before all the trim, despite what the pattern instructions say.  Sewing the facing on after all the trim was a huge pain in the neck.

I practiced sewing my trim on a coordinating mask before I embarked on the blouse.  I'm really pleased with how the entire project turned out.  And I suspect this won't be the last patio set I make.

If you're interested in learning more about these outfits, I recommend this article, and this one, and this one, and this one.


Sweetsnstitches said…
Hi Lisa,
This might sound kind of strange but I think a co-worker/friend of mine may have found something that once belonged to you. Back in 2014 around December he was in San Diego and found this little Altoids tin that had been painted black with a hand-carved rubber stamp inside, along with a little booklet of stamped images. The stamp inside is of 2 eyes and it's named "double vision" and the booklet says it was "carved by cherry on top." We were talking about rubber stamps yesterday and he told me about it and brought it in to work to show me today. So, I've been searching the internet all morning to see if I could find the owner and I think it might be you. There is an entry in the booklet that says "Doublesaj & Old Blue." When I googled that a photo came up on Flikr from 2006 and that lead me to your blog here. I know this is a strange forum with which to reach out to you but it is the only means that I could find. Anyway, if it sounds like something that belongs to you and you would to have it back please contact me at My name is Lonnie. We are in the Sacramento area.

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