Category Archives: 1830s pair of pockets in calico with piecing

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,

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

end of excerpt

Further Resources:

Intro: 1837-1839 fashion plate ensemble

(Updated May 2, 2011.)

Back during my first semester at Hampshire, in fall 2009, I went on a field trip to Old Sturbridge Village, and while dawdling in the clothing exhibit, I rather fell in love with the late 1830s styles displayed in the fashion plates on the walls. It’s a very interesting transitional style, without the absurdly enormous sleeves of earlier 1830s fashion, or the stiff gothic lines of the 1840s. Waistlines were briefly hovering around the natural waist, and sleeve shapes were neither huge nor tight, with an interesting variety in shapes and details.

I parlayed my fascination with late 1830s fashion into an independent study in spring 2010, and really dove into the period. I had never studied the romantic period in particular, but I had a substantial background in mid-19th century clothing (specifically 1860s), which gave me somewhere to start. There are two interesting technological differences that make studying and reproducing clothing of the 1830s more difficult than clothing of the 1860s: the lack of photography, which leaves a significant gap in the materials to study, and the lack of sewing machines, which renders a great deal of hand-sewing necessary for true authenticity. For the independent study, I hand-stitched all of the pieces I made. For the 1830s pieces that I am making now, in the portion of my Div III that is a continuation of that project, I am fully hand-stitching three pieces–the shift, the stays, and the bonnet–and using a combination of machine-stitching and hand-stitching on the other pieces. On the gown, all visible stitches will be done by hand. But for the sake of time, I’m using the machine for portions of the project.

My big goal with this project is to be able to wear a full ensemble of 1830s clothing to Commencement (otherwise known as graduation) on May 21st. I’ll need a gown and a bonnet, a chemisette to full in the neckline of the gown, a pair of gloves (I have some I can use), some sort of shoes (I plan to buy a simple pair of ballet flats), and stockings (I have some that will work) – and those are just the parts that show! Under all that, I’ll need a shift, probably a pair of drawers, a set of stays, a corded petticoat to create base fluff, another petticoat for additional fluff, a bodiced petticoat to cover all the other layers tidily since my gown fabric is semi-sheer, and probably the ruffled bustle from the independent study, so as to achieve the proper silhouette.  I’ll most likely use the pockets from my independent study as well. I probably won’t worry about making cuffs just yet. All told, there is still much to do, but it’s coming along. The most alarming part is that I have not yet been able to dye the fabric for my gown.

From a February 1838 Fashion Plate in Godey's Lady's Book

The gown at left is the one I originally chose as my inspiration piece, during the independent study. I love the crossover bodice style, especially with the stripes cut on the bias. I also love the bias stripes on the skirt ruffle, set against the vertical stripes of the skirt. However, I’ve never been entirely enamored of the sleeves, I don’t like how the ruffle is set to leave a gap of plain skirt at the hem, and I find myself getting distracted by the astonishingly hideous headdress whenever I look at the picture. So, at this point, I’m not planning to do an exact copy of the fashion plate, but rather to combine elements of several fashion plates, along with details from extant gowns, to create a just-right late 1830s gown style for me.

The bodice for my gown will be cut like the February 1838 fashion plate at left, which seems to have been a popular style. The Workwoman’s Guide even has instructions for the style. I may have to adapt the bodice design slightly, because I think that with my rather well-endowed figure, I’ll probably need darts at the waistline to control the fullness of the fabric needed to go around my bosom, even with the stretch of the bias cut. Fortunately, I’ve seen various examples of just such a bodice style, including the left figure in the following fashion plate at right. I’m also partial to the sleeve shape in the following fashion plate – but not the precise way that the fullness is fixed down at the top. I think I’d rather use little controlled pleats than bands with buttons.

Pretty Gowns from an April 1840 Fashion Plate in Godey's Lady's Book

I’m also rather partial to the plethora of ruffles at the hem. I might do that, but I think more likely I’ll just do one ruffle, only set so that it goes all the way to the hem, or possibly two ruffles, the lower one deeper than the upper, as in the pink dress in the fashion plate below center.  The fabric I’m using for the gown would most likely be termed a muslin in 19th century terminology. It’s a smooth, long-staple cotton fabric that is semi-sheer, but with opaque stripes of satin-weave, which have a bit of openwork stitching along either side of each stripe. It’s absolutely beautiful, and perfect for the period. I bought it at Delectable Mountain Cloth in Brattleboro, Vermont – a wonderful little shop that’s well worth an excursion. I believe that the owner said that my fabric was of Italisn manufacture. The only difficulty is that solid white dresses, especially in cotton, do not seem to have been very common by the late 1830s. I am solving this problem with a few bottles of cerulean blue dye, and the help of a friend who has a lot of experience dyeing cotton.

I think that my bonnet will probably give a similar impression to those in the plate above at right – large but not too terribly ridiculous, and really rather pretty, in that slightly silly way. A chemisette will definitely be needed in order to keep things suitably modest, and by the same token, I’ll also need a bodiced petticoat like this extant one to provide a tidy, opaque underlay for the somewhat see-through dress. I just hope I can find the time and the patience to sew enough cords into my corded petticoat, and then track down down enough starch, in order to achieve satisfactory fluffiness. I’m also concerned that a mere three petticoats (over a long chemise, with a ruffled bustle) might not really be enough fluff, but for the time being, I’ll just have to live with whatever level of fluff those combined garments can achieve.

A figure from a November 1838 Godey's Lady's Book Fashion Plate

Here is the full list of garments involved in this ensemble:

For details and resources, click on individual garment links to go to the introductory base posts for those garments.

Intro: 1830s Independent Study Spring 2010

In the spring of 2010, during my second of four semesters at Hampshire, I did an independent study for credit, essentially a pilot study for the research and work I wanted to do for my thesis project. I focused on clothing of a very specific time period, the late 1830s, which had a very distinct aesthetic, transitioning between the Romantic Era 1820s-30s, and the Crinoline Era 1840s-1860s. This is the very beginning of the era of photography, on the cusp of it, really, so the difference in evidence between researching this period and researching even a decade or two later is incredible – more guesswork and extrapolation is required.

But, as I found during my independent study, there is a great deal of information available about the period, it just requires sifting and evaluation and analysis to use. During the independent study, I created the annotated bibliography which grew into the many-tentacled beast currently residing on this site, and I spent a lot of time looking at the strengths, weaknesses, and biases of various kinds of primary and secondary sources, discussing how to use those various sources together to create a full and nuanced picture of a particular period of clothing.

In addition to writing a paper for that independent study, I also sewed several garments and sewing kit tools, constructing everything by hand and as accurately as possible, using natural fibers and primary source instructions. I made a quilted petticoat, a ruffled bustle, a pair of pockets, and for my work box, a velvet pincushion and needle book.