• Kat Zimmermann

How to Add In-Seam Pockets to Anything


A white woman with brown hair and glasses wearing a floral print dress with an empire waistline. Her hands are in pockets added to the side seams.

Pockets make the world go round. Whether I'm driving to the store for a quick errand or taking the dog around the block, lack of pockets in whatever I'm wearing is a near constant problem. If you wear clothing designed for women, you know exactly what I mean.


The solution: make your own pockets and add them to everything you make and everything you own.


Today we'll be working on in-seam pockets. These are the kind of pockets that are most commonly seen in skirts and dresses. The type of pockets sewn into most pants (like jeans) are called hip pockets and we'll look at those another time. Pockets on shirt fronts are an example of patch pockets which I addressed in my apron making post here.


In this post, we'll look at how to make your own in-seam pocket pattern (which I highly recommend using in place of any patterns that include pockets already), then how to add pockets to garments you already own as well as how to add pockets to a garment in-progress.



Q: What do I need in order to add pockets to a garment?

A: To add pockets, you will need:

  • A pocket pattern (see below to make your own)

  • Enough fabric to cut out 4 pockets with seam allowance (see recommendations on fabric below)

  • Fabric scissors or a rotary cutter with cutting mat

  • Matching thread

  • Sewing machine

  • Snips

  • Iron and ironing board

  • Straight pins or hem clips

  • Seam ripper (for adding pockets to existing garments)


Q: Is adding pockets difficult?

A: Nope! If you can sew around a curve, you can add pockets. Actually, if you can't sew around a curve just yet, you can make rectangular pockets instead. This is a great project for beginners.



Q: How long does it take to add pockets to a garment?

A: Once you have your pattern, it takes about 1 hour (or less) to add pockets to a garment that already exists and about 30 minutes to add pockets to a garment in progress. Bonus: when adding pockets to an in progress garment, you'll also complete the side seams.



 

Making a Pocket Pattern

To make a pocket pattern, I recommend using a piece of cardboard so the pattern will hold up over time. Poster board also works well.


Before beginning to outline your pattern, decide what will be the largest object you plan to put in your pockets. A cellphone? A paperback book? An iPad? A bottle of wine? These are your pockets, you get to decide how big they are!


You will also need your front waist measurement. To get this, measure across your waist from side seam to side seam. You can also take your full waist measurement and divide it in half to get an approximation of this measure.



Note: Do not start your rectangle in the corner of your paper - you'll need to add seam allowance at the end!



A rectangle. The top line is labeled top and its dimension labeled width. The side line is labeled side and its dimension height.

(Step 1) Make a rectangle with the width of no more than one half of your front waist measurement. For example, if my front waist measure was 16 inches, my rectangle should be no larger than 8 inches across. Decide how wide to make the rectangle using your largest object. Label the top line "top."


The height of the rectangle should also be based on the size of the largest object. Be sure it has enough space to rest comfortably without falling out. Label this height "side."


Note: If the rectangle is not wide enough to house your largest object, you can make it wider. Just be aware that the pockets will overlap at the center front.




A pocket pattern sketch. A mark has been added partway down the side of the rectangle. The dimension from top to the mark is labeled hand plus 2 inches. A curve has been drawn a little ways into the pocket from the mark at a 90 degree angle, then goes down to make a swooping curve that touches the bottom of the rectangle before rising up to the other side.

(Step 2) Use the width of your hand plus about 2 inches to measure down one side of the rectangle's length and make a mark. This is the size of the opening for your hand. Check to make sure your largest object will fit through the opening; adjust if needed.


(Step 3) Make a smooth curve from the mark in step 2 moving into the rest of the pocket and down around the bottom to make a sort of bean shape. The angle from the side moving into the curve should be 90°. I find it easiest to work along a curve and also that fewer crumbs get stuck in curved pockets. If you prefer the rectangle, skip this step.


(Step 4) Add seam allowance around the outside of the pocket and write down the amount used on the pattern. I like 1/2 inch seam allowance personally. To do this, measure 1/2 inch all around the outside of the pattern, then connect the dots.


A completed pocket pattern made out of cardboard.

(Step 5) Label the pattern as an in-seam pocket and write "Cut 2 inverted pairs" or "Cut 4" on the pattern. Remember to write the amount of seam allowance if you haven't already.


Make a BIG NOTE to sew along the opening (the short side) with only 1/4 inch seam allowance!



Done! Now you have a pocket pattern you can use forever that will actually fit what you need!




 

Notes on Adding Pockets

A white woman with brown hair and glasses wearing a floral print dress with an empire waistline. Her hands have pulled out the side seam pockets to show their placement just below the waistline.

(Fabric selection) When choosing fabric for pockets, the most important thing is the amount of stretch. This should be determined by the rest of the garment but also by personal preference. Generally speaking, you don't really want the pocket to stretch too much as it makes carrying items awkward and can stretch out the side seams (this is also part of the reason why our pocket pattern will be sewn into the waistband itself).


For any garment you are making from start to finish, your best bet is to use the same fabric as the rest of the garment. The exception is if you're working with very thick fabric, in which case, choose something lighter but sturdy to avoid adding too much bulk at the seams.


For garments with little or no stretch, you can really choose any woven fabric for the pockets. I typically choose something that's a similar weight and drape to the garment fabric. For stretch garments, I recommend choosing fabric with a little less stretch that the garment itself or cutting the pockets so that the stretch goes across the pocket but NOT vertically.


Whatever you choose, remember that pockets are a great opportunity to have fun because no one else will see the fabric. Choose something that will make you smile when you wear the garment.




A blue skirt with multi-colored dinosaur skeleton printed fabric. The left side of the skirt is significantly longer than the right side due to stretching from the weight of objects in the pocket.

(Stitching into the Waistband) There are many tutorials out there on how to add pockets to existing garments and many of them (commercial patterns included) let the pockets hang directly from the side seam with no support from the waistband. This creates a problem if you want to carry anything substantial in your pockets and especially if the garment is made of stretchy fabric as the seam will permanently stretch out with use. RIP my dinosaur skirt which taught me this lesson.


Historically, pockets that were sewn like this would have had a small piece of garment tape stitched from the pocket up into the waistband to provide extra support. Unfortunately, modern garments do not take this extra step. The only reason to avoid stitching a pocket fully into the waistband is the small amount of extra bulk it will add. As long as you choose a sufficiently light fabric, this is not a problem.


I personally make the choice to stitch into the waistband every time I add pockets because I find my items are more supported while I carry them. This method also keeps things from moving around too much which can be a very annoying feature of pockets sewn into modern skirts and dresses.



(Seam ripping) Do it carefully. If you're adding pockets into an existing garment, chances are high that it was sewn with a serger or coverstitch machine. This means there are four threads instead of one that need to be ripped out along the seam line. You may find it easiest to turn the garment inside out and work along the side of the seam where you can see all of the threads.



 

How to Add In-Seam Pockets to an Existing Garment

The process of adding in-seam pockets to an existing garment is essentially the same as adding them to an in progress garment. However, this is a little trickier as you have to work around more fabric and be sure not to catch the rest of the garment in your seams.


I recommend having a piece of cardboard or a tailor's ham on hand to insert between the layers to help keep everything separate when pinning.



A pocket pattern. On either side are two pieces of white fabric cut in the pattern shape. A rotary cutter sits below.

(Step 1) With your fabric folded right sides together, cut out two pockets (four total pieces) using your pocket pattern. If your fabric has no right side, just make sure you have four pieces.


Note: Make sure the pattern lines up along the fabric's grain and NOT along the bias!




A ripped side seam. The seam ripper sits on the fabric. A pin marks the stopping point.

(Step 2) Lay the pocket pattern along the side seam of the garment and mark its length plus about an extra inch with a straight pin. Carefully use a seam ripper to open the seam from the waistband down to this point. Repeat at the other side seam. Do your best to remove all the loose threads.






Two pocket pieces pinned on either side of the pocket opening. The short sides of the pocket are pinned along the opening.

(Step 3) With your garment right side out, lay it down with the pocket opening facing up. Insert a piece of cardboard or tailor's ham underneath the pocket opening to keep the garment layers separate.


At the top of the pocket opening on one side, lay down a pocket piece with the right side facing the garment. The shorter side of the pocket should be along the side seam of the garment piece and top of the pocket piece should sit very close to the waist seam.


Pin along the short side of the pocket only. Repeat on the other side of the pocket opening, again matching the short side of the pocket piece to the pocket opening with right sides together.


Repeat at the other pocket opening.



Pressing a pocket piece over its new seam.



(Step 3) Stitch along your pocket's short seams with a 1/4 inch seam allowance or as small as the existing seam allows. Open and press from the right side of the fabric, keeping the garment's fabric flat but folding the pocket piece over the new seam.








A floral dress turned inside out with its pocket pieces pulled out to the side. The pieces are pinned to each other across the top and all around the sides. The short sides which are already stitched to the dress are not pinned.

(Step 4) Turn the garment inside out and pull the pocket pieces through the pocket openings. With right sides together, line up the two pocket pieces which will stick out from the sides. Beginning at the top, pin across, then down and around the pocket and into the side seam, pinning it shut along the existing seam line.





(Step 5) Stitch along the top and side seams of the pocket and down into the side seam of the garment in one long seam. Check to see if there is a gap above the pocket near the waistband. If you find a gap, stitch it shut.


(Step 5.5 - optional) Turn the garment right side out, then press and top stitch around the pocket opening, being very careful not to catch any extra layers. This step will help keep the pocket from showing or sticking out while wearing the garment and is completely optional. Personally, I usually skip it.


Fully installed pockets from the inside. The top of the pockets have been sewn into the waistband.

(Step 6) Still with the garment inside out, line up the top of the pocket to the waist seam and pin. If your waistband has elastic in it, as mine did, be sure to stretch it out all the way while pinning. Your piece of cardboard will again come in handy here to keep the layers separate.




(Step 7) Stitch the top of the pocket to the waistband. Trim any rough edges - I like to use pinking shears for fabric that can fray.


Voilà, pockets!



 

How to Add In-Seam Pockets to an In Progress Garment

Regardless of whether the pattern I'm sewing came with pockets or not, I will always substitute in my own pocket pattern. On occasion, I've though, "it can't make that big of a difference." Wrong. Your own pocket pattern is the best pocket pattern. Stick with it and your pockets will always be exactly the way you want.



(Step 1) When cutting out the other pieces of your garment, cut out two sets of pocket patterns. That is, with the fabric folded right sides together, cut out two pockets (four total pieces). If your fabric has no right side, just make sure you have four pieces.


Note: Make sure the pattern lines up along the fabric's grain and NOT along the bias!


A pocket piece is laid on top of the right side of a pants piece pattern with the top and edge meeting the top and short side of the pocket piece. Both are made of a planetary space print cotton.

(Step 2) Before stitching the side seams of the skirt, dress, or pants, begin to install the pockets. With the right side of your fabric facing up, lay down the garment piece. At the top waist corner, lay down a pocket piece. The shorter side of the pocket should be along the side seam of the garment piece and the waist lines should match up.


Pin along the short side of the pocket only. Repeat on the other side of the same garment piece and then on the other half of the garment (e.g. if you started with the skirt front, now do the skirt back). You should have two pocket pieces stitched to each half of the garment.



The pocket piece has been flipped over its new seam and is being pressed into place.




(Step 3) Stitch along your pocket's short seams with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Open and press from the right side of the fabric.










Two pants pieces with pockets attached to their sides have been laid right sides together so that the pockets line up. The side seam and outside of the pocket pieces are pinned together.

(Step 4) With right sides together, line up the front and back garment pieces, including the pockets which will stick out from the sides. Beginning at the top of the long side of the pocket, pin down and around the pocket, then down the side of the garment.


This should be one long seam from pocket top to garment hem with no interruptions. Do not stitch along the short side of the pocket or you will stitch the pocket shut.


(Step 5) Stitch along the side seam of the pocket and down to the hem of the garment in one long seam. Trim and snip the seam as needed, then press.


(Step 5.5 - optional) If the pocket hanging open from the top makes you nervous, now is the time to baste across the top of the pockets only.


Adding the waistband to a pair of shorts. The pocket is pinned into place along the front of the shorts before the waistband is pinned into place.


(Step 6) When you get to waistband assembly, fold and pin the pockets to the front of the garment along the inside. Complete the waistband normally, making sure the pocket tops are stitched in with the rest of the seam.


Voilà, pockets!



 

A white woman with brown hair and glasses models a pair of space shorts with a bright pink elastic belly band. Her hands show that the shorts have in seam pockets.

Will you be adding pockets to everything you own? Let me know in the comments!


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That's all for now, enjoy your new pockets!

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