Introduction: Hand Sew a Pocket Into a Dress
"Oh, hey I love your dress!"
"Thanks, I got it on sale! But the best part is, IT HAS POCKETS"
You have probably heard this exact exchange, possibly dozens of times.
Every person I've ever met who wears dresses is enamored with the ones that have pockets, and buys them in every color when we find a good one.
When we find a great dress that we love the color and fit, but there are no pockets, it is always a dilemma of is this worth it?
Well, stress no more!
Every dress and skirt you own can now have pockets.
True, true, there are dozens if not hundreds of tutorials out there.
But tell me, do they require a sewing machine? They sure do. Do you own or know how to use a sewing machine? You sure don't!
(If you do, you can still do this too, just for funzies!)
Do you have hands? And a needle and thread*? Yes? Then this tutorial is for you!
*Plus a few other supplies, possibly optional. Read on for the deets.
A dress or skirt that doesn't have pockets, that you wish did
Some extra fabric, roughly the size of your hand, 4 pieces
Lots of thread
Needles, sewing needles
Optional but helps: pins, seam ripper, thimble
Step 1: Measure Your Desired Pockets
This is really two steps, but you can do them in either order, whichever first makes sense to you.
One step is to measure where you want your pockets placed on the dress. Put the dress on, and figure out roughly where you want the pockets to be. This is usually right around your hips, but you're the boss now, they can be higher or lower, or in the front and back instead of sides. (Probably don't do that though. For a lot of reasons.)
The other step is to measure the size of your pockets. There are a few options.
One, you can use a dress that already has pockets, and trace that shape. Give yourself an extra 1/4 to 1/2 inch on all sides for seams.
Two, you can just measure your hand. It really depends on how much fabric you have, and how much you want these pockets to be able to hold. Bigger pockets will comfortably fit a phone plus credit cards and chapstick, but might be more noticeable.
Whatever method you choose, be sure one side is flat, and that it tapers towards one end. This longer, rounded part is the bottom of the pocket, and you want it to be deep and tapered so things will stay at the bottom rather than easily fall out. That's asking for a big chapstick line item in your budget.
You should also always err on the side of making the pocket bigger rather than smaller, because you can always trim excess fabric or change the shape a bit later on. But once it's cut, you're all in.
Once you have your template, trace it or cut around it on your fabric. If you're super fancy you can outline in chalk. But I just cut around the paper template, leaving an extra little bit on all sides.
Cut out FOUR total pieces of fabric in the same shape.
Step 2: Lining Up Your Pockets
Remember a moment ago when you figured out where on the dress the pockets should go?
Hopefully you marked that spot, top and bottom. If not, do it again now! You can use chalk, sewing pins, safety pins, or as long as it's on the inside of the dress a pen/pencil/marker.
You need the top and bottom parts marked so you know where to center your pocket, I'd suggest marking 4 fingers or a whole hand width.
Then, flip the dress inside out (you should no longer be wearing it FYI). Make sure you can see both marked spots. Fold it over so the two seams are together, and line up the bottom. Now mark the opposite side seam too.
Your two marked areas should line up, so your pockets will ultimately be at the same height on both sides.
Now choose one side to start with.
Take your fabric, and line it up so the flat side is against the seam, and the pointed/tapered side points towards the bottom of the dress. See if your marked areas are wider or narrower than the pocket and adjust to its width, making sure to adjust the other side the same way.
Now you're ready for the "no turning back" step!
Step 3: Rip the Seam Where Your Pocket Will Go
This is it, the moment of final decision.
If you want to put this down and walk away to think about it, I won't judge you. But you are about to jump in with both feet, and I'm proud.
Using scissors, or a seam ripper if you have it, carefully tear out the seam in the side of the dress between the places you pinned. This will create a nice big hole, through which you will soon be able to insert all manner of treasures for your pocket to hold.
Continue ripping about a half inch to an inch beyond both marked spots as well, but leave the pins in place.
Step 4: Start Sewing One Side of Your Pocket
Now you have a hole in the seam, and a piece of pocket sized fabric. Thread your needle with whatever color you like, and prepare yourself. Make sure you have a good light source.
The dress should still be inside out, so the interior is facing you.
Put the pocket fabric inside the hole, with the flat side lined up with the former stitched area you just ripped out. You are essentially re-sewing that seam, but with a new fabric in between. And then when you flip it back right side out, the pocket seam and the pocket will be inside the dress!
Line up the flat side of the pocket with the open seam. Use safety pins or sewing pins to keep the edges aligned so that your pocket is straight.
Thread the needle through both the dress fabric and the pocket fabric, just at the corner of your template. Don't pull the thread all the way through. Use the loose end to tie a nice double knot, to keep the end of the thread in place.
Now you have two choices.
One, you can loop the string through both fabrics, over the top, and through the other side. This creates a slightly tighter seam, but uses a lot more thread (2-3x).
Two, you can just go in-an-out on each side of the dress and pocket fabric. This creates a looser seam, which is less strong, but uses not as much thread.
I just did a simple back and forth stitch. I know this pocket does not need to hold a large volume of "stuff" or very heavy things. If you need extra pocket reinforcement, maybe you should consider a sewing machine after all.
Anyways, just continue all the way straight across the flat side of the pocket. When you reach the end, wrap the string around itself again, and tie off with a double knot.
Congratulations, you have finished slightly less than a quarter of your project!
Step 5: Sew the Other Side of the Pocket
Now you have one half of your pocket sewn in place, good job!
Take your other half of the pocket, and line it up. Make sure that they point the same direction, and the shapes line up. Align the flat edge with the seam you just ripped on the other side, and flip back inside out.
Use the same technique as before, create a double knot at one end to secure your thread. Sew along the seam with a loop or back and forth stitch, until the whole flat side of the pocket is attached.
You can see that a thimble is an optional tool, if you are similarly disposed to accidentally stabbing yourself and don't want blood stains on the finished product. But you can definitely complete this project without one.
Once the whole side is sewn, tie off the other end of the thread.
Whew! Nearly halfway there.
Step 6: Sew the Two Pocket Sides Together, and Finish the Seam
Now, pull both your pieces of pocket fabric back through the seam hole. Now the entire pocket will be on the inside of the dress with you.
Take a third piece of thread, a very very large piece. Knot one end in place, just a bit above where you ripped the seams out. We are going to secure the corners, so you want to make sure to knot it tight.
Thread the needle thorugh and pull it back several times, at least 3 or more, for good measure. Then use the loop over move to make tiny stitches back along the seam.
If you can see the tiny holes left by the former thread, great, use that as a guide. If not, just try to make your stitches roughly the same depth into the fabric as the previous stitching.
When you reach the area where the pockets begin, now you need to thread the needle through all four pieces of fabric. This will solidify your pockets alignment in the dress seam. Pull that through 2 or 3 times.
Now, adjust course and start sewing the pocket fabric together. If you want to make it easier on yourself and get them to align better, use pins to pin them in place first.
Sew all along the pocket border, until you get back to the dress fabric again.
Use the same technique of passing the needle through all four layers of fabric a few times. Then move back up the dress seam you ripped, until you are a few stitches past the hole. Thread through a few times, then tie it off with a double knot!
Step 7: Enjoy Your Pocket! and Do It Again.
And that's all there is to it! You've done it.
You've made dreams come true, and added a pocket to a formerly pocket-less garment.
All without a sewing machine.
Flip your dress back right side out, and test out your new pocket. Try sticking your hand in it, your phone, some gum, a candy bar. If something is not quite right, like you can feel a hole, you can go in a spot-sew any weak spots.
If it is not quite in the right spot, or you wish the pocket was bigger or smaller, well... you can rip your own seams out and start over?
Speaking of starting over, repeat the whole process on the other side!
But once that is all done, you are truly done, and have a dress with both pockets. What a treat. Well done, you.
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