Adding pockets to pocketless skirts and dresses

Here at Ecofrugals we are all about that make do and mend attitude. To use what you have and reduce our overall consumption. But what about when a garment simply does not have the functionality we need and expect?

I am, of course, talking about skirts and dresses without pockets. But you don’t need to donate it to a second-hand shop or tearing it up into rags just yet. Adding pockets is a relatively simple procedure that only requires some basic sewing tools and a bit of fabric in a suitable material. Some skirts/dresses are more suitable than others too. More on that below.

We demand pockets! Come join us in the #pocketrevolution!


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Assessing your garment

First things first, while this simple method works for a lot of skirts and dresses, it will not work for all. Pencil skirts/dresses would get very visible bulk with a pocket like this and may not even fit after you put items in the pocket and add bulk to the garment that way. You’ll get the best result with this tutorial on flaring A-line skirts and dresses with side seams that are not too fitted at the hips.

If you have a skirt or dress with a side zipper, it is still possible to add a pocket if you want to, but I would consider that a more advanced technique for someone who has worked with zippers before and know where you need to place the seam to avoid snagging the zipper. You could still add a pocket to the other side though, and one pocket is better than none!

Cutting out your pocket

Pockets have a fairly simple shape. A bit like a bean with straight edges near the opening. The most important thing to remember is that you need enough of an opening to easily get your hand in and out (remember seam allowance), and that they can comfortably contain what you want them to. Below is a picture of the approximate size I find comfortable:

Sewing the pocket

Pockets can carry many things and see a lot of use, so I prefer to pin and stitch up the whole thing with a backstitch and about 1 cm / 1/2 inch seam allowance.

And because pockets are on the inside of the garment and I have all these spools I was given with tiny amounts of thread, I get to both use them up and give you a better visual at the same time! Frugal and educational win!

Once I have the whole thing stitched up, I go in with sharp scissors and cut away about 2/3 of the seam allowance on one of the seams. After that, because pockets are very curved, I go through and cut a slit in the other seam allowance at regular intervals for the edge to curve better around all the extra fabric. I do a slit about every inch or so in the most curvaceous areas.

Then I go in and fold the longer seam allowance over the shorter one. One pin per section so they are pinned fairly densely around the pocket. Folding both seam allowances in on each other like this means you only need to stitch one seam instead of two.

And then stitch in place with a hemming AKA casting stitch.

After doing this for both pockets (if adding two pockets) and we’re ready to attach the pockets to our garment!

Attaching the pocket

Now for the exciting, or maybe intimidating, part – attaching our pocket to our desired garment!

First, accept the risk that you might do some damage to the garment. If that risk is unacceptable, I greatly recommend practicing on something else first.

Once that is out of the way, put the garment on and establish how far down the side seam you want your pocket. Perhaps it isn’t all the way up against the waist seam? Measure against the length of your pocket opening and pin where you want the pocket to sit, both top and bottom.

Double check again that you really have pinned the right seam before you turn the garment inside out and carefully remove the stitching between your two seams. If the seam allowance is overlocked together (a wide seam that uses lots of thread), I have also had success removing it as a continuous thread, giving you a matching thread to work with if you don’t have any at hand. Remove old thread as much as possible.

The crucial step

Now for the step with the highest potential of messing up, so I hope I’ll be able to explain it well.

  1. Turn your pocket inside out
  2. From the outside of the garment, attach just the opening of the pocket to the skirt panel we just opened. Make sure the large part of the pocket faces down towards the bottom of the skirt.
  3. Pin in place. It should look something like this from the inside of the skirt.
  4. Backstitch in place. Try to follow the old stitch lines, especially towards the top and bottom. Add backstiches in the skirt seam too, anywhere the seam continues to fray or where we opened the seam a little too far. I recommend sewing up 1 cm / 1/2 inch into the seam after the first stitch still in place.

If you’ve come this far, the worst is over! Now for cleanup, because we do things properly.

Usually, I would go for a felling/hemming stitch and method similar to what we did on the pocket itself, cut, fold and stitch the seam allowance. But because this is a garment with an overlock seam, that would give me lots of additional work or just not look very good.

Instead, I go for a stitch called a blanket stitch or buttonhole stitch, which is a hand-seam version of overlock. It keeps fabric from fraying and will match up to what we already have. You do it by passing your needle through the loop of a felling stitch, creating what looks like a row of box-like stitches. You can also see, that while my backstitch actually attaching the pocket is a matching thread, I am back to using up leftovers here, as we are inside the garment and this won’t show.

And that’s it! If you have access to an iron, this is where you would press the seams flat from the outside to get that crisp look of tailored garments.

If you plan on putting heavier items in your pocket, I would also recommend stitching the top of your pocket to the waist seam, either directly if it is right next to the pocket, or with a piece of twill tape or leftover fabric if it’s further down. This helps spread the weight of the pocket out and reduces how much the stuff you carry affect the look of that seam in particular.

But with that, we have pockets in our erstwhile pocketless clothes! Yay!

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