In the 18th century, pockets were not sewn into women’s gowns as they are often sewn into garments these days. Instead women had a pair of pockets – or a single pocket – attached to some ribbon or tape which was tied around their waist. The pockets were rather voluminous and were reached through a hole in the side of the skirts of the dress.
There were a great variety in the types of pockets that were made. They could be embroidered, patchworked, and even made with plain or printed material. They could be bound with plain binding, contrasting binding, mismatched binding or patterned binding. The pocket holes were often centred and vertical, but I have seen horizontal and curved openings as well.
Once fashions changed at the end of the 18th century – with the popularity of the long, clingy dresses of the Regency – these large pockets were dispensed with in favour of the hand-held “Ridicule” or reticule. However, there is evidence to suggest that these larger pockets were still widely used, though possibly more by the older generation. I have even seen Regency “versions” of the tie-on pocket, which were smaller and easy to access through the front seams of a bib-front dress.
I have never really considered the necessity of making a pocket for my 18th century costumes before, but there are some great reasons to do it. Firstly, it gives you somewhere to hide your mobile phone and a purse! It is also fantastic for easy access to a fan while you are dancing. Secondly, it can be a really quick and easy project to whip up, especially if you are wanting a plain pocket. But it also gives some creative scope for the embroidery of a smallish project (by historical standards, anyway!).
I used the tutorial on “Make your own pocket”, by the V&A to get a sense of the manner in which pockets were constructed. There are patterns for pockets in both Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1, and Linda Baumgarten’s Costume Close-Up. I used both of these to get a sense of the dimensions of the average 18th century pocket.
The dimensions of my pocket are: height – 17.5 inches; width at bottom – 13 inches; width at top – 8 inches; and length of pocket hole – 8 inches.
I particularly wanted to embroidery my design in a monochrome colour, so I looked at a variety of extant items that used this technique.
This pocket was made with white cotton broadcloth and bound with printed cotton quilting fabric. The design was embroidered with cotton DMC thread (No. 798). The tie was made from a length of cotton tape (25mm wide), made long enough to tie around the waist. This project was hand embroidered and hand sewn. It took 2 and 1/2 weeks to do the embroidery (in my holidays) and a few days to sew it together.
Step One: First I traced the shape of the pocket, the pocket opening, and the embroidery design on the fabric with an erasable fabric pen.
Step Two – Embroidery: Then I embroidered the design.
The embroidery pattern I have drawn up is a very classic 18th century design. I modified the embroidered pocket pattern used on the pocket in Costume Close-Up, and just changed some of the flower types. It was very common for pockets to have asymmetrical designs, and even for two pockets to be similar in design but different in the details.
Embroidery Stitches used:
- Stem stitch – used for all the curvy stems.
- Chain stitch
- Satin stitch
- French knot
- Seed stitch
- Bullion knot
- Cross stitch
- Buttonhole pinwheel – used for all the “berries”.
- Blanket stitch
- Double feather stitch – done diagonally as a filling.
- Long and short stitch
- Cretan stitch – used for leaves.
- Fishbone stitch – used for leaves.
- Split stitch
- Square laid filling stitch
Step Three – Assembly:
In order to stop things catching on the back of the embroidery, it was often backed with a layer of plain material. I laid a plain piece of fabric at the back of the embroidered panel and then slashed the pocket hole through all layers. The edge of this hole was then bound with printed cotton bias binding.
Then another layer of plain fabric was laid below and all the outer edges were bound with the same binding.
Finally, a piece of cotton tape was used to bind the top edge and also act as a string, which could be tied around the waist.
And here it is all finished!
I have yet to make the second pocket, so look out for more pictures to come.
Sources and Relevant Links
Image Source: Monochrome pocket – “Pockets in the V&A Collection”
Image Source: Cotton and linen pocket – at National Trust Collections
A History of Pockets – Victoria and Albert Museum (Image Source: Unfinished pair of pockets)
Make Your Own Pocket – Victoria and Albert Museum
Pocket Research – by Sew 18th Century
An Embroidered Pocket – by American Duchess
Sarah’s Hand Embroidery Tutorials – on Rocksea and Sarah
How to bind your project – by HowToSew.com