1830s pair of pockets in calico with piecing

Updated January 12, 2012 – finished object pictures coming soon

This garment was created as part of my 1830s clothing independent study during the spring semester of 2010, and was documented using Chicago style footnoted citations in my research paper “Reproducing and Documenting 1830s Women’s Clothing.” The relevant section has been copied here, complete with footnotes. It has been formatted for this site and hyperlinks have been added, but otherwise it has been left intact, and is therefore written in a more formal and academic style than much of this site, which is designed to be more readily accessible to the public.


(Excerpted from pages 15-17 of my research paper, “Reproducing and Documenting 1830s Women’s Clothing.”)

The second garment, and fourth item, that I reproduced was a pair of pockets, a type of garment common in the eighteenth century, which fell out of use during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, when narrow skirts were in fashion, and which came into use again once skirts regained fullness around the 1820s. A pocket or pair of pockets were worn under the gown, and under at least the outermost petticoat. Referencing the eighteenth century but still relevant later, Linda Baumgarten states that “Pockets fastened around women’s waists with narrow ties made of linen or cotton. Although pockets were hidden beneath the skirt and petticoats, women often decorated them with needlework or piecing.”1 I drew from several sources to create my pair of pockets: the illustrations and directions in The Workwoman’s Guide2, the illustration of and accompanying notes about an extant pair of pair of pockets in Nancy Bradfield’s Costume in Detail: 1730-19303, and the photograph of and information about an extant pieced pocket on the Old Sturbridge Village collection website4. For my fabric, I ordered quilting-weight printed cotton from a reproduction fabric collection, the Pennock Album, circa 1840, available from Windham Fabrics in association with the Chester County Pennsylvania Historical Association. My fabric had a dotted warm tan ground with small, evenly spaced bouquets of burgundy and plum roses. Because I did not have quite enough fabric for the four pieces that needed to be cut out for the pockets, I made the decision to piece one pocket, patchwork-style, similar to the example on the Old Sturbridge Village collection website. For the other pieces, I used a plain light pink-brown cotton cloth, which I also used for the small interior pockets which I added, similar to those in the pocket depicted by Bradfield.

I based my pocket primarily on the directions given in The Workwoman’s Guide:
“Take a doubled piece [of cloth] of six nails [13-1/2”] width-way [on the cross-grain], and seven nails [15-3/4”] selvage-way when doubled, and cut according to Fig. 10. For this purpose, double the folded piece in half width-way, and close off from A to B one nail [2-1/4”]. The hole in the pocket is slit down about four nails [9”], beginning at three-quarters of a nail [1-11/16”] from the top. Cut the slit in the shape of an I, in order to allow of a deep hem being made on each side. The two pieces of the pocket are run firmly together all round, at a little distance from the edge, on the wrong side. It is then turned inside out, the seam well-flattened, and back-stitched all round with white silk, about a quarter of an inch from the edge. The top is set into a broad piece of tape, which is doubled over it and forms the strings also. The slit is hemmed or back-stitched neatly down. Sometimes an inner pocket or pockets are made for a watch &c. [etc.], and this is done by sewing a square piece of the material inside the pocket. The top is left open, but the sides and bottom of it are firmly sewed down.”1

Unfortunately, I failed to keep in mind that the illustrations in The Workwoman’s Guide are not to scale, and thus ended up cutting the I-shape for the slit far too wide, resulting in a slit that is more of a wide open rectangle, which is definitely not representative of the period pockets I was later able to examine personally in the Old Sturbridge Village collection. However, the “slit” in the pocket shown by Bradfield also appears to be an open rectangle, so perhaps this is not an unknown variation for the period. In any case, the experience was certainly a valuable lesson in the importance of using as many sources as possible to corroborate hard-to-understand sources. My pockets are top-stitched in burgundy cotton thread, and each pocket has two interior pockets to hold loose items. The tops of the pockets are bound with 1” wide, off-white cotton twill tape, with 1/2” twill tape attached to form the ties and connect the pockets, per Bradfield and The Workwoman’s Guide. In order to use the pockets, they are worn tied around the waist, over base petticoats but preferably under the uppermost petticoat as well as the gown. There are slits finished into the side seams of the uppermost petticoat and the gown so that the pockets can be accessed.

1   Linda Baumgarten, What Clothes Reveal, 59

2   A Lady, The Workwoman’s Guide, plate 10 (following page 64) figs. 10 and 14; 73-74.

3   Nancy Bradfield, Costume in Detail, 167.

4   Old Sturbridge Village, “Pieced Pocket – Printed Cottons (Collection No. 26.67.15),” OSV Collection Viewer, Old Sturbridge Village, http://www.osv.org/explore_learn/collection_viewer.php?N=26.67.15.

 5   A Lady, The Workwoman’s Guide, 73.

end of excerpt

Further Resources:

2 responses to “1830s pair of pockets in calico with piecing

  1. I am working on garments for Lincoln’s New Salem at Petersburg, Illinois. I am doing research on pockets. I have copied the scale drawing from WWG, but would like to have some thoughts on this from you. Thanks Susan Dierker

    • Hi Susan! The Workwoman’s Guide has some great information, but be careful – the drawing isn’t actually to scale! When I drafted mine, I treated the pattern as if it was to scale, and I ended up with a slightly enormous rectangular opening instead of a tidy slit. So – the general drawing-up instructions work well, but make sure you make the capital “I” shaped cuts for the slit much narrower than the drawing seems to indicate, or it will look peculiar (like mine do – they’re functional, but a little odd looking). If it would be helpful, I can try to get some photographs of my pockets and post them with some links to other information online. I have plenty bookmarked, I just didn’t get around to posting all of it before I went and graduated. 🙂

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