Fiber Arts Collective


All About Pockets - April Challenge

Before reading The Pocket—A Hidden History of Women’s Lives by Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux, I had given zero thought to how pockets have changed over the centuries nor to what they communicate about individual wearers and entire cultures. Having read the book, I feel both illuminated and in need of bigger, better pockets in all of my garments.

In 17th and 18th century England, women’s pockets were detached from garments and tied around the body by a string. In that time and place, pockets conveyed serious messages about one’s character and status in society. A proper set of pockets was an important symbol of feminine virtue and good housekeeping. And in keeping with the mixed messages that women have long received from society, pockets were also suggestive of the perceived furtiveness and immorality of women due to the proximity of pockets to skin and private parts. Talk about a no-win situation!  Women’s tie-on pockets were later supplanted by the reticule, which carried connotations of rebelliousness because suffragettes carried flyers about women’s rights in these pretty hand bags.  So sum it up, Twitter user Amy Rocks Out humorously wrote, “The patriarchy fears what we could do with both hands free.”  

The Pocket—A Hidden History of Women’s Lives is available for members to check out from our resource library, as are many other amazing books about fiber arts. If you don’t have time to read the book, enjoy watching this short video, which briefly summarizes the history of the pocket in the West: 

And what about pockets elsewhere in the world? Traditional Japanese garments were void of pockets. However, kimono sleeves can offer pocket-like carrying power as demonstrated in this video:

And in this article, the author describes how Japanese men dealt with a lack of pockets by using tie-on bags adorned with beautifully crafted netsuke. As a side note, a marvelous novel about netsuke is The Hare with Amber Eyes, a family memoir by British ceramicist Edmund de Waal. However, you will need to go to the public library to borrow this one.
Across the Sea of Japan in Korea, the Hanbok is also without pockets, neither in the sleeves nor anywhere else. As noted in this excerpt from  A. Henry Savage-Landor’s travelouge of Korea from the late 19th century:  “The Corean is an unfortunate being. He has no pockets. If his hands are cold he must warm them by sticking them down his belt into his trousers, and if he be in company with people, he can generate a certain amount of heat by putting each into the other arm’s sleeve. As for the money, tobacco, &c, that he wants to carry, he is compelled to provide himself with little silk bags, which he attaches to his waist-band or to the ribbon of his coat.” 
Heading further west, Indian women had a challenge carrying personal belongings in the traditional sari and salwar kameez, as these garments were also bereft of pockets. Today, however, modern Indian women are finally getting what women around the world have been wanting—beautiful garments with pockets. Vendors such as Fabindia are attempting to meet the need, although these newly added pockets still tend to be more fashionable than functional as described in this funny clip from Feminism in India.

If any dear Reader has knowledge about the use of pockets in traditional garments from the many cultures on the African continent and the Indigenous cultures of the Americas, please do reply to this email with helpful resources. Thanks in advance!

If you now feel inspired to create cool pockets for your new or upcycled garments, please pop in to the Fiber Arts Collective to pick up one of Diane Ericson’s Just Pockets patterns (See below).  Diane once held a 30-day pocket challenge, which produced an amazing array of artful pockets. Results can be viewed here:

Results can be viewed here:  While we’re not proposing a pocket a day for the next month, how about trying ONE?  We will dedicate space in the gallery in April to display your pocket creations. Please drop off your work (on temporary loan) between April 7-9 to be displayed for the remainder of April. You may also opt to email photos of your pocket creations for an online show-and-tell on social media.


Looking forward to seeing you and your pockets at the Collective!