Upcycled linen pocket

A while ago I stumbled upon a vintage handmade embroidered linen purse on Swedish eBay. I immediately fell for the fabric and the embroidery. In this post I take you through my process of turning the purse into an upcycled linen pocket.

The purse was a bit too large for my taste and I have never understood the purpose of a bag that is meant to be held in the hand. How are you supposed to be able to craft if your hands are busy holding a bag?

The purse was beautifully made. The ad said hand woven and I have no reason to argue with that. The embroidery is very sweet in its simplicity and the two subtle colours. Both the front and the back of the purse were lined and all seams hand sewn.

British vs Swedish pockets

When I saw the ad I was reading the beautiful book The Pocket: A hidden history of women’s lives, by Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux where all known secrets of tie-on pockets between the 17th and late 19th centuries are revealed. So naturally my mind went to a pocket when I played with ideas for the purse fabric.

If you make a search on the Swedish digital museum for kjolsäck, the Swedish word for tie-on pocket (literally meaning skirt sack) you find lots of embroidered and embellished pockets (and some plain) with a horizontal opening. In the book The Pocket, though, covering only British pockets, nearly all the samples have vertical lined openings and basically the same design throughout the the book, in both samples and artwork picturing pockets.

My first pocket was inspired by the traditional Swedish pocket design – in a rounded shape and with a horizontal opening.

I made my first pocket with more of a Swedish design with a horizontal opening. So why not make this one like the British model I had spent so much time reading about?

A pocket pattern

When I published pictures of my first pocket in social media I got a response from Anne/Hamblemouse who wants us to revolt and take tie-on pockets into the 21st century fashion. And why not – when there finally are pockets in women’s clothes they are usually too small and simple. And mobile phones usually too large and too heavy for said pockets.

Anne makes and sells tie-on pockets inspired by old patterns such as the ones in the book mentioned above. She also sells kits for making your own pocket, and patterns. I wanted to make a pocket the British style and figured a proper pattern would be perfect, so I bought Anne’s pocket pattern.

Anne’s pattern is very easy to follow and paves the way for a beautiful and sturdy pocket.

The pattern has very clear instructions with a thorough and sensible process. While the pattern is made for hand sewing nothing will stop you from machine sewing your pocket. I chose to hand sew mine. I mean, why bring out a 17 kilo sewing machine from the -60’s when you can enjoy some peace and quiet with needle, thread and some sweet hand sewing?

Anne’s pattern suggests lining the front piece. The lining peeks through the opening and strengthens it in the smartest way. My eBayed bag was lined in both front and back piece, so I used the lining for the back piece as well.

Basting!

The pocket pattern calls for basting/tacking in nearly all the seams. And what a beautiful invention basting is! I haven’t reflected much about basting before (and I used to sew a lot), but this pattern really opened my eyes for basting. It may take a little longer, but it will also give you more time with a lovely fabric in your hands. And once basted the main seam is a breeze to sew.

A woven band

I needed a band for the pocket and I wanted to weave it. I turned to Kerstin Neumüller who sells lovely linen weaving yarn for her band weaving workshops. She didn’t have the exact colours to match the embroidery on the bag, so I went with two shades of blueish grey to at least match the subtle shine from the combination of two colours on the bag.

At the time I had a migraine and stayed home from work. Weaving a band on the balcony may not take the migraine away, but it did take my mind off it for a while.

The yarn was so smooth to weave with, the shed opened itself and I just lifted my heddle strings and let the weft yarn sing its way through the warp.

Round braids to finish the warp ends in a tassel-like fashion.

Since the ends of the band would be visible I chose to make them fancy – I made round braids of the warp ends for a tassel look. The braids are fiddly to make and takes a bit of time (seven minutes per braid and there were 24 of them), but it was definitely worth the effort.

Upcycled linen pocket

After having braided until my hands couldn’t move anymore I was finally finished. I basted and attached the band to the bag and wove in all ends.

I do love this pocket, it turned out even better than I had imagined. It’s sturdy, strong and does its thing. I can choose to wear it when my pockets are non-existent, too small or too weak for whatever I want to carry in them.

I’m not finished with tie-on pockets. I have ideas for at least three more in different materials, techniques and styles. And it’s just that – there is so much you can do with a small project like a pocket. You can make it in different materials, styles, with or without embellishments. You can embroider, try out new techniques or combinations or just enjoy a moment with a small sewing project. And you get to weave a band! There is room for so much more than physical objects in a pocket.

By the way – Does anybody have use for a bagless bag handle?

Happy spinning!


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10 Replies to “Upcycled linen pocket”

  1. Ah, Basting. It is the sewing equivalent of swatching in knitting. It allows you to make adjustments before they become mistakes. I’m a big fan!

  2. Wow, there is so much in this post — I’m giving you a “stream of consciousness” response which will not cover all my thoughts on this (for the sake of brevity).

    I absolutely love what you did with the purse, including the woven band in a different colorway (it totally works!), with awesome fringes. I love the idea of “bringing pockets into the 21st century,” as I think being able to have one’s hands free is very empowering and liberating.

    Your comments on basting are most helpful. And thank you for the links to Kerstin and Anne, two fiber people I hadn’t heard of before. I have too many projects in queue, but this is definitely something I want to pursue when I can get to it, and I will include them as resources.

  3. Lovely pocket. The horizontal opening of the Swedish pockets seems more practical though. Have you used them both enough to have a preference?

    1. They have different qualities. The horizontal is easier to put things in and out of the pocket but it may be a little flabby. The vertical one is sturdy but a bit more fiddly to use.

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