Sew: pockets

Hang around with many women long enough, in enough settings, and the discussion eventually turns to the lack of pockets in garments. As a result, it was a pleasure to make these for a friend of mine this weekend: a set of small and large pockets using an 18th century pattern, worn on a twill tape around the waist.

The women’s big skirts of the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and America were usually supported on a petticoat, a set of hoops or crinolines, or a framework of some kind — either a set of panniers that made the hips wider; or a bustle that gave more shape to the woman’s backside; or both. Underneath and alongside of these garments, many women wore pockets, much like these. Some panniers were built with self-contained pockets, but many other women wore these pockets: sheltered behind the panniers or the bustle or both, they were effectively unpick-able, and large enough (and deep enough) for money, keys, supplies, even a personal weapon if need be. A similar set of bags could be worn with a kind of shoulder harness, over the corset or stays but under the blouse or jacket.

The skirts and the jacket would both have a tailored slit or opening in them, so the woman could reach through her outer layers and gain access to the pockets. If a pocket needed special protection, the opening could be re-threaded on the tape or harness, so that the opening faced the body rather than the wider world. The panniers or hoop skirts or bustle preserved the woman’s shape and the lines of her dress, and kept anything bulky in the pockets from sticking out or revealing itself to casual onlookers.

Reading about this, this past week, I’m struck again by modern fashion choices, which make a genuine decision to keep women from having pockets most of the time. The reality is that women used to have quite deep pockets, and the capacity to conceal their contents quite effectively. These are deep enough for a paperback book, a stack of subversive pamphlets, even a frog.

I hope to make more of these soon. These were a special commission, but they’re a thought-expanding idea… just knowing they exist is a wonder, but making them was a real treat.

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