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Cotton: Patch Pockets


Last week I briefly mentioned interfacing my Archer Button Up Shirt, and the five pages on the subject I found in Susan Khalje’s book Linen and Cotton.  Well, after interfacing the cuffs and collars and plackets and such, one of the next big things to do was add the patch pockets.  Susan’s book has quite a lot of information on pockets, including nearly three pages devoted to patch pockets.  Now, I’ll confess up front that I didn’t follow all of her advice.  Actually, I’m embarrassed to admit that I ignored most of it!  She clearly states that “pockets need to be interfaced as well as lined to help them maintain their shape and to preserve the line of their upper edge.”  Her example patch pockets were on the skirt section of a dress, where I could imagine structure would be necessary.  But, I didn’t want my pockets to be structured, so I skipped all of that.  I later realized that Jen from Grainline interfaced her silk Archer pockets with an ultra lightweight fusible interfacing that didn’t seem to add any structure whatsoever.  So, in the future I’ll know that there’s probably always a way to start off right and follow Susan’s advice!

Susan also states that “if the pocket is cut on the bias, make sure that it’s been stretched thoroughly before applying interfacing and staystitching.”  I considered this idea for some time since I had cut my pockets on the bias.  I wasn’t planning on adding interfacing, so would stretching the fabric help or hurt?  If I stretched the fabric, wold I throw off the grain entirely?  At first I decided I was going to ignore her advice here, too.  Instead, I chose to do my best to keep the pattern pieces from stretching, though I figured a little bit of stretching wouldn’t be so bad since loose pockets on a shirt like this one would still look okay.  To keep stretching to a minimum, I kept the pocket pieces pinned to the pattern piece until it was time to use them.  When it was time, the first step was to fold the top of the pocket over twice and topstitch, as instructed during the Sew-Along.  And, would you believe that just that little manipulation s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d those pockets out, mocking my attempts at careful handling?!

I figured it was worth a shot seeing if the stretched out pockets would actually behave well once sewn on the shirt.  The answer, from my limited experience at least, was no.  Despite my careful pinning and stitching, there were weird drag marks coming from the lower side seams up to the pockets.  Perhaps things would have been different had the pockets been interfaced after stretching?  Perhaps I didn’t stretch “thoroughly”?  Regardless, the seam ripper came out, and the pockets came off.

Now I had two stretched out pocket pieces.  To get both back into their original shape while taking care to make sure they were identical to each other, I finally started listening to Susan’s advice.  She says,

It’s critical that matching pockets be exactly the same.  The easiest way to guarantee uniformity is to use a template of the pocket.  Templates are essential, both to match one side of the pocket to the other and to match one pocket to another.

I made the simplest template imaginable by folding the seam allowances in on my taped together paper pattern piece.    Susan suggests tracing or basting, but I needed to get my pockets back into shape, so I carefully pinned the fabric onto the paper pattern, folding the side seams around the back, and steamed the fabric like mad.  Miraculously, it shrank back to its original shape.


This time when I carefully stitched the pockets into place on the front of the shirt, the drag lines were gone.  Hooray!  The pockets do have a wee bit of fullness, but I don’t think it’s anything anyone but me would ever notice.

I think I was saved by working with a very forgiving fabric and pattern. Next time I might not be so lucky, which is why I’m going to try to more closely follow Susan’s advice from the start.  I know better than to think I know better!

What about you?  Any stories to share about working with patch pockets?  I know I’m not alone since there was a whole challenge dedicated to patch pockets in the second episode of The Great British Sewing Bee!

2 thoughts on “Cotton: Patch Pockets

  1. Thanks for this! I struggled with getting my Archer pockets perfect and they cut on the straight grain and have a busy print, so I admit I had a moment of disbelief when you showed your matching, plaid, bias-cut patch pockets. Despite their simplicity, I find patch pockets to be one of the most stressful things to sew – they have to be so perfect!

  2. I watched Pam Howard’s tailored shirt technique class on Craftsy to help me with my Archers and I was fine (all straight grain though). She is such a great teacher. Since watching her I love doing patch pockets.

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