Today I want to show you how to modify a sewing pattern by adding the easiest possible pocket, a set-in-seam pocket. This tutorial will work for hand- and machine-sewing alike; I will assume you have a pants or skirt or tunic or coat sewing pattern that you like except for the vexing lack of pockets, and show you how to go on from there. For reference, the pants shown are made from Simplicity 2860, a pattern I can heartily recommend due to multiple fitting options and solid design, despite indeed the vexing lack of pockets.
In addition to being dead easy to make, in-seam pockets are very professional-looking, since they basically disappear into the existing seams of a garment. The downside is that they can gap open, creating an unflattering bulge at your hip or belly, but if you a) choose a seam that is not going to be strained (so, don’t do this in tight clothes) and b) limit how much stuff you put in them, it’s not a big deal—see photo at right for a well-behaved in-seam pocket. It helps, also, to take your time over the construction, and make sure everything is really lined up and pressed flat. Stiffer fabrics will do better, too.
Because my most recent project was a pair of slacks, the photos will be for setting a pocket just below the waistband of pants, but it’s mostly the same procedure for other garments and the instructions are all-inclusive. Regarding interpreting the photos, my main fabric is matte black twill, and the pocket lining is dark gray with a curlicue pattern on the right side and much lighter (kind of a black and white hash where the printing is only sometimes bleeding through) on the wrong side. As always, click for larger photos. If you have questions, please ask in the comments.
- Choose what size to make your pocket. You can judge a good size by splaying your hand out over a piece of fabric; make sure to allow for seams all around your hand. I recommend at least 8″ tall and 6″ wide for a pants pocket; shirt pockets can be shorter. Mine is nearly a foot tall and 8″ wide, including seam allowances.
- Choose a piece of fabric at least as tall as you want and double the width; fold it in half, and if necessary cut a flat edge perpendicular to the fold for the bottom edge. You can use scraps of the main project fabric, or a complementary fabric; for the most part this fabric won’t be visible but it may peek out, so don’t use anything hideous.
- Place the pattern piece that you want the pocket to rest against (usually the front or center-front piece) over your fabric such that the overlap is the size you want. Line the fold up with the vertical line of the pants—parallel to the grain line, unless it’s bias-cut, or perpendicular to the hip line or hem. This is not super important, just a good guideline.
- Cut wherever the fabric emerges from under the pattern piece, transferring markings on the side that the pocket opens on.
- If you are making a tunic/coat pocket, or anything where the upper edge will not be made by the waistband, cut a straight or downward-sloping line for the top.
- Stitch the bottom edge of the pocket closed, right-side to right-side, leaving a seam allowance width unstitched at the loose edge. Don’t turn it; right-side will face right-side in the finished piece. Finish the seam however you like.
- If you are making a tunic/coat, do the same for the top edge; if you are making pants/a skirt, leave it for now.
- Baste the section of seam that you are setting the pocket into, and stitch the rest of the seam, reinforcing the ends of the seam. Make the basted section at least 5″ long, more if you have big hands—measure the circumference of your hand at the widest part and divide by two to get the minimum length. If you are making pants/a skirt, remember that the top half-inch or so of the side seam is seam allowance for attaching the waistband, so add length accordingly. Press the basted section open (for now).
- On the inside of the basted seam, put the pocket and the seam allowance fabric right-side to right-side, matching edges and lining up markings.
- Sew each side of the pocket to the corresponding side of the garment seam, about 1/8″ inside the basted seam; sew the entire height of the pocket (not just the basted section). Finish your seams however you like.
- Press each of these seams towards the pocket and press the whole mess flat against the main-garment piece that you want the pocket to lie under. Note that the 1/8″ offset in the previous step means the top line of the pocket and garment won’t quite line up any more, but they should be close enough together that you can proceed.
- If you are making pants/a skirt, attach the waistband, holding (or pinning) the pocket together with the garment panel.
- Unpick the basted seam, opening the pocket.
Note: the 1/8″ offset means that the lining doesn’t come right up to the pocket opening (photos above). I recommend it because it gives a much more professional look, and it allows contrast linings to be suitably hidden. On the other hand, it makes it more difficult to match weirdly shaped garments or to make kangaroo pockets, and I love me a kangaroo pocket, so feel free to disregard and sew as close to the basted seam as you can without picking up the other fabric. If you are committed to the 1/8″ offset and want to make something complicated or a kangaroo pocket, just cut 1/4″ off the sides of the pocket lining before sewing it on, and measure both the cut and the offset carefully to avoid wrinkles or puckers.