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Patch Pockets

Patch pockets may seem to be pretty simple, but in fact, their construction illustrates several of the basic techniques familiar to experienced sewers, such as: using interfacing; "inside-out" construction; how to start stitching a seam; staystitching; directional stitching; turning corners right side out; clipping and trimming seam allowances; accurate pressing; edgestitching; and reinforcement stitching.

Constructing Patch Pockets

Photos are of samples created for my beginners' sewing class at Durham College. Their pocket pattern is cut with 5/8-inch seam allowances, which we trim to 1/4 inch later, after pressing them to the inside. I used contrasting thread for clarity on the samples. A real pocket would, of course, be stitched with matching thread.

interface Step 1. Interface the pocket facing.
  • cut a strip of interfacing on the lengthwise grain
  • the interfacing should be as wide as the pocket and as deep as the pocket facing minus 1/4 inch
  • fuse the interfacing to the wrong side of the pocket, one long edge aligned on the pattern's foldline
Step 2. Hem the upper edge
Most instructions eliminate this step but I find it helps to keep everything aligned, and it only takes a few seconds, so why not?
  • fold and press a 1/4 inch hem down to the wrong side
  • stitch on the right side (it's impossible to keep a 1/4 inch hem lying flat if you stitch with the hem side facing up)
Step 3. Stitch the facing and staystitch the pocket edges, using directional stitching
By stitching directionally, with the same side facing up, you assure that the pocket won't be pushed out of alignment by the machine's feed dogs or the pressure of the presser foot.
  • fold the facing to the right side of the pocket, on the foldline
  • starting a few stitch lengths down from the top (folded) edge on one side, align the raw edge with your seam allowance guideline, lower the needle into the fabric, then lower the presser foot
  • grasp the thread ends and hold firmly while you turn the balance wheel to take one stitch
  • let go of the thread ends, backstitch to the fold, then stitch forward, stitching the facing down
  • continue stitching down and around the curve of the pocket, stopping at the centre of the pocket bottom

To stitch the other side, follow the same procedure, starting from the top (folded) edge and stitching down to meet the first staystitch line at the centre of the bottom edge. Do this stitching with the same side facing up.

Step 4. Turn the facing right side out, and press the pocket seam allowances in
  • use a point turner to shape the corner as you turn the facing to the inside of the pocket
    do not clip across this corner -- it is needed for support
  • press the facing side seams so that the seam will not be visible from the right side of the pocket
  • continue pressing the pocket seam allowances in to the wrong side, turning them so that the pressed edge is just outside the staystitching [you don't want the staystitching to be visible on the outside of the pocket]

If your pocket has a more complicated shape than a simple rectangle, using a template can be really helpful here -- you can buy pocket templates, but I prefer to make my own from old file folders or Bristol board.
If your staystitching is less than perfectly symmetrical, press to get the shape you want and then remove the offending stitches.

Step 5. Clip and trim the pocket seam allowance
We press first, then turn the facing wrong side out again to clip and trim for 2 reasons: it is very hard to press in a 1/4-inch seam allowance; and, it is easier to adjust the pocket's finished shape with the wider seam allowance.
  • on curved pockets, the curves must have the excess fabric cut away with v-shaped notches
  • on rectangular pockets, the bottom corners should be mitred

Only after these steps are completed, should you trim the seam allowances to half their width (about 1/4 inch).
If you have a pair of pinking shears, both notching and trimming can be done in one step, as shown on the far side of the photo.

Step 6. Topstitch the pocket facing hem.
  • turn the pocket facing back to the inside and stitch the facing hem to the pocket
  • you can stitch this from either side, but I find it easiest to stitch on the wrong side, following the stitchline done in Step 2.
  • do NOT backstitch at either end of this seam; the stitches will be locked when the pocket is attached

And there you are -- a completed pocket, ready to be attached to the garment.

Attaching Patch Pockets

Step 1. Position the pocket on the garment
  • there is no need to trace the pattern's entire pocket position on the garment -- all you need are two dots to mark where the upper corners should go
  • if the pattern's pocket placement doesn't look right to you, use your completed pocket or your template to reposition the pocket markings
  • fasten the completed pocket in position on the right side of the garment -- pins work, but here is another task at which Wondertape® excels. You only need an inch or so on each side and on the bottom of the pocket, and the tape will allow you to stitch all the way around without having the pocket shift position
Step 2. Edgestitch the pocket to the garment and reinforce the upper corners at the same time
  • with the top of the pocket closest to you, put the needle down halfway between the facing hem and the pocket top, no more than 1/8 inch from the side edge
  • stitch to the top of the pocket (do NOT backstitch); pivot and take 2 stitches along the top edge; pivot again and stitch on the angle that will take you back to where you started
  • pivot to straighten and continue stitching 1/8 inch from the edge, all the way around the pocket to the top of the other side
  • pivot and take two stitches along the top edge; pivot again and stitch on the angle that will take you to halfway between the top and the facing hem

<-- The reinforced upper corner

To lock the stitching on a topstitched seam, you can:

"tie-off" by pulling the needle thread to the wrong side and tying the needle and bobbin threads in a knot, or

"fix" the first and last stitches by turning the stitch length to zero and taking two or three stitches in place before beginning and ending the seam (some sewing machines have this automatic feature)

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