“Pockets” Liberation and Rebellion


I wasn’t thinking about pockets as a symbol of rebellion and liberation when I started making the quilt for Linda.

It’s a Christmas gift for her friends and from what she told me about the couple I knew the quilt should be made with solid colors and plaids.  Looking through my shelves I found the dark blue fabric with the pockets and interesting stitching.

It was around that time I read the article in the The New Yorker by Hua Hsu about Hannah Carson’s book “Pockets: An Intimate History of How We Keep Things Close.

Reading about the history of pockets was enough in itself, but I was also hoping to find something out about those stings with… well… pockets on them, that women used to wear under their long skirts. They had to reach under their skirts to access them.   Was that how pockets originated I wondered.

Turns out it was not.  Men had pockets long before women did.

What I learned is that starting in the 16th century  pockets were something that men had in their clothes and women didn’t.

It was thought that men had to have pockets because they were busy and important and needed to carry things often associated with their work.  But women were discouraged from working outside the home and so didn’t need pockets in their clothing.

Women carried small purses on their wrists called reticules that were just big enough to carry a few coins.  Carson writes, “The more women carried, the more freedom they had to act.”

Because pockets don’t only allow us to carry things, they let us hide things too.  Hsu writes that  in the late 1800s  US Legislators tried to ban back pockets on mens trousers because that is where they carried their guns.  These pockets were known as “pistol pockets.”

I had no idea pockets were so political.

In 1910 the “Suffragette Suit” was designed by women and boasted having “plenty of pockets.”

It’s still true today that most women clothes have less and smaller pockets than mens clothing and often have decorative pockets that don’t work at all.

I have those decorative pockets on the three pairs of skinny pants I bought at the thrift store two years ago.  Every time I wear them I still try to put my hand in my front pocket.

Which was something else I learned about pockets.  A  man putting his hands in his pocket was bad manners.

You know that famous picture of Walt Whitman with his hat jauntily placed on his head and his hand in his pocket, from his first publication of Leaves of Grass?  Whitman was widely criticized for it and loved the attention, even though he was seen as “rough, uncouth and vulgar.”

And later  James Dean did his famous pose with his thumbs hooked in pocket of his jeans.  We know only  “bad boys” did that.

We have progressed somewhat when it comes to clothing.   Some men now wear dresses and skirts and women wear pants without a second thought.

The pockets that inspired this quilt came from the Dickies Scrubs that Hannah gave me.  They were her favorite pants and when they wore out she sent what was left to me. (She has several more pairs that she wears all the time. They are comfortable and have plenty of pockets)

It was as much the pockets as the stitching around and on them that made me want to make a quilt out of them.   I framed each one of them as if they were an abstract drawing.  Then I joined them together with other sold colors and a little bit of plaid.

I will think about pockets differently from now on.  Maybe I’ll even collect “fake” pockets and make something out of them.

At least they’d be useful then.

The back of “Pockets”
Pocket from “Pockets
Pocket from Pockets
Stitching from Pockets


12 thoughts on ““Pockets” Liberation and Rebellion

  1. Maria – that quilt is stunning. The colors are so vibrant and the design you created needs no further embellishment. It would be a distraction from its elegant, gorgeous simplicity.

  2. Talking about girls not having pockets – my best friend in kindergarten, Julie, was terribly upset about having to wear a dress to school, in part because a dress didn’t have pockets. So her artistic mom cut out animal shapes, like frogs, from felt and sewed them onto Julie’s dresses for pockets! I adored her mother.

    1. Oh that is so sweet LoisJean! I can just picture those animal pockets. I have a good friend who will no wear pants without a good number of pockets. I bet Julie and my friend Margaret would have gotten along. 🙂

  3. Fascinating stuff Maria! So thrilled you found such a creative way to use my trousers. I love following your creative process – and am quite excited when I see something I wondered if you could use, that I set aside and then sent to you, appear in one of your projects.
    I just did a search for ‘pockets’ and reread all the posts in order from when you started on the quilt earlier this month. I would have tried to reuse the parts that weren’t worn so thin they’d ripped, but probably as something boring like cleaning rags, so to see how you took advantage of the little darts, seams and pockets as part of a bigger project is great.

    1. I’m so glad you got to see your treasured pants become a quilt Hannah. They were just right! I’m glad you didn’t decide to use them as rags instead of sending them to me. 🙂

  4. Maria, your quilt is very striking! That bright red border just pulls you in & invites a closer look at what’s inside. Love the interesting story that goes along with it too.

  5. Maria,
    I’m sure you know that many of those pockets on our jean’s or slacks look like pockets, but don’t act like pockets, but many times if you use your seem ripper on the edge, magically they really are pockets. Just sayin… I didn’t realize this for a long time and am happy I have had more pockets than I thought I did. Before I read this this morning I was contemplating using the back waist seem zipper pocket on my yoga pants to carry some cash, but didn’t have to, as I used my small Baggallini bag instead. Jean

    1. I’d forgotten that I’d had that experience with pockets too. what a strange thing that is, right, to have to open your pockets with a seam ripper. Unfortunately the pockets on my pants are really fake, There is a tiny one, just big enough to hold a penny or dime. 🙂 I love how your solution is the one women have used throughout history. Thanks for you message !

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