Thursday, June 27, 2013

Focus on: Pockets

By Sherri of Sew Betty and Dot

This is the first in a series of blog posts focusing on a particular aspect of a garment's design.

Today we look at pockets, those oh-so-handy (pun intended) applied elements that began as a practical solution to carrying around necessities and then began to take on a design or decorative purpose over the ages. The pockets below are clearly just decorative! (Or maybe a small lipstick and one house key will fit?)
Vintage Butterick 7445 Sewing Pattern, 1950s Suit Pattern, Bust 30 Inches, Midcentury Suit, Full Skirted Suit, 1950s Sewing Pattern
Butterick 7445: Sew Betty and Dot

The word "pocket" is derived from the Anglo-Norman word "pokete," which means small bag or pouch. And the first pockets were indeed small bags sewn onto a thin band that was then tied around a woman's waist, usually over her shift and under her petticoats (men's pockets were sewn right into seams and linings)--women's dresses did not have pockets as we know them, sewn into/onto a garment, until the eighteenth century. Remember, dresses were full and wide-shirted, with petticoats and/or panniers and hoops under them. A pocket could be worn with no interruption to the line of the dress itself.

And these tied-on pockets seemed to have held quite a lot: handkerchiefs, needle kits, combs, pocket-books (small diaries), snuff cases, scent bottles (often held up to the nose to block out some of the unpleasant odors associated with urban living), and sometimes even small food items (!). Pockets were often hand made and frequently made by friends as gifts.
Image courtesy
 The Duchess of Devonshire's Gossip Guide to the Eighteenth Century,
who I believe got the image from Victoria and Albert online (see below).

When fashions changed to the more straight up-and-down form familiar from the Regency period (Jane Austen, anyone?), the tied-on pockets, which added bulk, no longer worked: voila, the reticule (a very small, often drawstring bag) was born.
Image courtesy

By the 1840s, as fashion changed again and dresses and skirts became full again, they began to have pockets sewn into the seams. (All of the pocket history comes from the Victoria and Albert Museum, which, in addition to being one of my very favorite museums,  is a fabulous fashion/costume resource online.) But enough history: let's look at some gorgeous vintage sewing patterns where the pocket is prominent.
Butterick 3918:
Dresses from the 1920s--again, with straight up-and-down lines, for the most part--didn't lend themselves to pockets. The dress above (late twenties/early thirties) has small diagonal patch pockets, not terribly noticeable. In the 1930s:

1920s Flapper Era Dress Pattern Butterick 3918 Delineator Bust 40 Womens Vintage Sewing Pattern Pullover Frock Scalloped Hem V Neck
Butterick 3918: 

Late 1930's Dress Pattern New York 971 Ladies' and Misses' Two-Piece Dress and Hat Vintage Sewing Pattern Bust 32
New York 971:  GreyDogVintage

Patch pockets, often relatively small...

1930s Misses Coat Dress Vintage Sewing Pattern, Simplicity 1562 Bust 32"
Simplicity 1562: MissBettysAttic

1930s Vintage Plunge Back Dress & Jacket Pattern  DuBarry 1184B Bust  32
DuBarry 1184B: All the Precious Things

1930s Evening Dress Pattern McCall 9451 Plunging Neck Puff Sleeve Evening Gown with Train Womens Vintage Sewing Pattern Bust 36
McCall 9451: PaneenJerez

And an evening dress with tiny decorative pockets!

Pockets became more decorative in the 1940s; you often see contrasting colors or bias pockets, or designs where the pocket is a feature of the garment.
Vintage 1940s Simplicity 2075 Sewing Pattern V Neck Dress Bishop Sleeve Plus Size 18 Bust 36
Simplicity 2075: PeoplePackages

Original 1940's Pattern Featuring a Blouse, Skirt or Jumper Size 14 Bust 32 Simplicity 4496
Simplicity 4496: FaithfulFabrics

1940s Simplicity 2903 Dress with Kimono Sleeved Bodice, Flared skirt and Great Looking Pocket  - Size 18, Bust 36
Simplicity 2903: DesignRewindFashions

Vintage 1940s McCall 7544 Rockabilly Pencil Skirt Sewing Pattern Waist 24
McCall 7544: Sandritocat

Vintage 40s McCall's 7735 - Button Front Shirtwaist Dress BIG Pockets Sewing Pattern -  Bust 38 - FF
McCall's  7735: Anne 8865

Enormous pockets!!! And then the 1950s:
50s Misses Halter Dress Sewing Pattern Oversize Pockets Size 14 Bust 32  Simplicity 4354 UNCUT FACTORY FOLDED
Simplicity 4354: RetroMonkeys
1951 Vintage Sewing Pattern Size 16 1/2 Bust 37 McCall's 8731 Misses Dress with notched v neckline and pockets
McCall's 8731: Vienna's Grace
CLEARANCE SALE Vogue 553 Vintage 1950s Asymmetrical Bodice Sheath Dress Sewing Pattern Sz 16
Vogue 553: DejaVuPatterns
Vintage 1950s Butterick 6125 Misses Winged Collar Day Dress with Large Patch Pockets Sewing Pattern Size 14
Butterick 6125: RomasMaison
Vintage 1950s Zip Front Shirtwaist Dress Elongated Front Pockets...Modes Royale D-154 Bust 32 UNCUT
Modes Royale D-154: SydCam
1950s Pattern Pedal Pushers Capris Pattern Shorts Pattern Waist 26 Simplicity 4680 UNCUT Vintage Sewing Pattern
Simplicity 4680: Cherry Corners
 And some Swingin' Sixties pockets:
1960s Vintage Sewing Pattern Skirt Top and Cigarette Pants - Floral Applique - Butterick 9550 / Size 12 UNCUT
Butterick 9550: SelvedgeShop
1962 Sleeveless Beach Dress with Ruffle at Hem or Ten Shaped Butterick 2288 Quick and Easy Size 14
Butterick 2288: RedCurlz
FREE SHIPPING Vintage 1963 Butterick 2938 Sewing Pattern Juniors' and Misses' A-Line Dress Size 12 Bust 32
 Butterick 2938: SewUniqueClassique
Federico Forquet Sleeveless Inset Dress with Pockets Women's Vintage 1960s Vogue Couturier Design Sewing Pattern 2187 Bust 36 with Label
 Vogue 1867: SewBohemian
   Finally, 1970s pattern pandemonium:

Vintage 1970s TRIANGLE POCKET DRESS Pattern - 34 Bust - Size 12 - Simplicity 8778
Simplicity 8778: Sewing With Miss Dandy

Retro 1970's Amazing Flared Leg Contrasting Pants, Butterick Sewing Pattern 6548,Smock Top, Micro-Mini Dress, Pants and Shorts, Bust 36
Butterick 6548: GrandmaMadeWithLove

1970s Laura Ashley Sundress Pattern Bust 32.5 McCalls 5058 Misses Size 10 Front Buttoned, Patch Pockets
McCall's 5058: QuiltCitySue

Simplicity 7311 1970s Misses  Shirt and Back Wrap Skirt Pattern Womens Vintage Sewing Pattern Size 12  Bust 34 Uncut
Simplicity 7311: MBChills

Butterick Pattern No 6243 UNCUT VIntage 1970s SIze 9 Bust 32" Blouse Top Pants Shorts Designer Mary Quant London
Butterick 6243: CaliforniaSunset

Pockets! Pockets!! Pockets!!! It's a Pocket-Palooza!

Tell us in the comments: which pocket-centric pattern would YOU be most likely to wear?


  1. My many great examples! I never even gave pockets a second thought, now I see them in a whole new way. Love this post and all the information and, of course, the illustrative pics. THANKS! I shared.

  2. I love this new series! Can't wait for the next installment!
    I would probably most likely wear McCall's 7735: Anne 8865. I love the HUGE pockets!

    The Middle Sister and Singer

  3. Love the cute novelty pockets!

    Another great post :-))


  4. What a great new series idea! You have provided a ton of information and some fantastic ideas. I love this!

  5. Great info on pockets! Like Susan I never gave them much thought. I love how you showed them through the ages. Thanks for another great post!
    Anne, Stitching By Numbers

  6. Fun article! I didn't realize that suspender skirt with the patch pockets #4496 came in an adult size! I had it in a girls size #4484. Too cute!

  7. Very Nice Patterns and Great Information!

  8. So many fun patterns! I love those Georgian pockets - all that embroidery for something no one else would ever see!