“The Dressmaker” Explained: Summary and Analysis

This post includes a brief plot summary, an analysis and an explanation about the ending of The Dressmaker (2015). Beware of spoilers.

Note: The 2015 film “The Dressmaker” is based on a novel of the same name written by Rosalie Ham.

Imagine a place where sewing machines hum with secrets, and every stitch tells a story of love, loss, and revenge. In the 2015 revenge comedy-drama by director Jocelyn Moorhouse, Kate Winslet shines as Tilly Dunnage, a woman with a talent for fashion and a hidden agenda.

“The Dressmaker” crafts a story that perfectly blends mystery and revenge together with a sprinkle of haute couture.

An accomplished dressmaker, Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, returns to her origins, a small town in Australia named Dungatar. Tilly left the place when she was only ten because of the mysterious death of a fellow classmate, Stewart Pettyman. At the time, the whole town blamed Tilly for the tragic incident.

Interestingly, Tilly has no recollection of what happened, not even her mother (Molly). Meanwhile, the ladies of Dungatar are trying really hard to befriend Tilly because of her beautiful dresses. And she even catches some male eyeballs, a man named Teddy is interested in her.

While everybody in town seems to be in “love” with Tilly, there is someone who really hates her: Evan Pettyman, the father of the boy who died. He even hired another dressmaker to steal Tilly’s clientele, but it didn’t really work. Then, some shocking revelations come to light: Evan is actually Tilly’s biological father.

The truth behind Stewart’s death is rather simple: he was trying to “punch” Tilly in the stomach with his head. The boy cornered her into a wall and charged in her direction. But at the very last second, Tilly moved, which led Stewart to hit his head into the hard brick wall. This broke his neck, which, subsequently, caused his death.

Just when Tilly started to feel a hint of happiness, she suffered two major losses: Teddy and Molly. The first died after jumping into a silo trying to prove that Tilly is not cursed, while the other died from a stroke.

Molly’s death triggers Tilly’s desire to get revenge on those who have wronged her. There are a couple of people on her “black list”. And Tilly saved the best for last: Evan. The only thing she had to do was tell Marygold, Evan’s wife, about his dirty little deeds. This was enough to make the woman cut his Achilles tendons and leave him bleeding to death.

The ending of “The Dressmaker” shows Tilly rolling a red carpet from her house and setting it on fire. As the flames spread around the town, everything in Dungatar succumbed to the fire. When the townspeople return from the competition, they see nothing but ashes. After executing her revenge, Tilly leaves by train.

One of the puzzling scenes in “The Dressmaker” would be Teddy’s death.

Why did Teddy die? He jumped into a silo full of sorghum. In other words, Teddy sank into the grain, which caused him to asphyxiate to death. The first time, Teddy jumped into the silo, it was full of wheat, which is harmless. However, he wasn’t so lucky the second time.


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Everyone on Tilly Dunnage’s revenge list deserved their place there. Their “punishment” is simply a result of their own actions.

Gertrude. For telling Stewart where Tilly was hiding in order to save herself. Although Gertrude’s childhood missteps are forgivable, her selfishness as an adult is less so. Despite Tilly’s instrumental role in her marriage to William—crafting the mesmerizing dress and the radiant wedding gown—Gertrude never reciprocated the kindness.

Beulah. For being negligent, biased and a liar. The teacher failed to see that Stewart was constantly bullying Myrtle because he was her favourite. Her actions really raise questions about her suitability as an educator. Moreover, her attitude, coupled with her untruthful witness report, paints the picture of a bitter woman who needs a reality check.

Percival Almanac is also another disgusting character in Dungatar. Underneath the seemingly innocuous hunchback lies a wife beater and a heartless person. When Tilly was younger, she witnessed Percival badmouthing her mother in front of her. Then, when Molly suffered a stroke, he refused to help her.

Evan Pettyman is perhaps one of the biggest villains in this story. His crimes range from the heinous—drugging Marygold and exploiting her vulnerability—to the despicable—impregnating Molly only to leave her. Also, he is a terrible father: raised a little brat (Stewart) and sent his other kid (Tilly) away out of spite.

Note: Although Tilly didn’t kill Stewart, the troublemaker had it coming.

Stewart Pettyman’s demise was self-inflicted, a classic case of reaping what one sows. His intent to harm Tilly backfired spectacularly, leading to his own death. His audacity to threaten Tilly, even hinting at harming Molly, was a dangerous game. Had he survived, Tilly’s mother might have given him a taste of his own medicine.

“The Dressmaker” reaches its climax with a cathartic ending. Burning Dungatar was Tilly’s ultimate revenge on the townspeople.

Whether Tilly’s reaction was excessive or not, it’s up to the viewer to decide. Leaving Dungatar would’ve been enough to get away from the toxicity. However, burning it makes a way more powerful statement.

Just a reminder: these are not some innocent folks who suddenly lost everything because a “crazy lady” decided to burn their town. They pushed Tilly to the limit, and now they are paying the price for it. When Stewart died, everyone wrongfully accused Tilly of a crime she did not commit. Now, they too need to experience the loss and pain she felt at the time.

Final Thoughts

“The Dressmaker” is a delightful revenge tale that blends mystery, drama and comedy. The only thing that bothered me was Teddy’s death. He and Tilly deserved a better ending. Teddy jumped into the silo to prove Tilly was not cursed. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, which fueled Tilly’s anger towards the townspeople.

Kate Winslet’s performance in “The Dressmaker” is more than amazing. She is totally believable and captivating as Tilly. There are some questionable casting choices, though. Tilly, Teddy and Gertrude are supposed to be around the same age, but Kate Winslet is clearly older than her co-stars. Age differences aside, both actors gave very solid performances.

Overall, “The Dressmaker” is a compelling story about pettiness, small-minded people and the importance of staying true to oneself. Initially, Tilly sought approval from the townspeople, crafting beautiful dresses in a subconscious bid for their sympathy. Ultimately, everything turned out to be hopeless because those people were just despicable.