HOW TO: make a three-panel skirt have pockets

by Erin on February 18, 2007

Okay, I've been putting off doing a HOWTO here because, frankly, I'm not really a great seamstress. I've never taken a formal class, and every time I read an issue of Threads I say to myself "Huh! That *would* be a better way to do that." But I figured I'd post this one, for a couple reasons. First of all, even though I'm not that great at it (nothing like Summerset, for one, or Rostitchery, for another!) I really do enjoy sewing, and so at least I can reassure people than even if you aren't couture-caliber you can make stuff that fits and have fun doing it. Secondly, I figured if I post this people will tell me what I did wrong, and that way next time I can do it faster/better/more attractively. And finally, I just HATE PATTERNS THAT DON'T HAVE POCKETS. So by posting this I can rescue one more pattern from the evils of pocketlessness.

Anyway. There it is.

So, what will you need to do this project?

  • a sewing machine
  • an iron and ironing board
  • flat space to work
  • scissors, tape measure, ruler, pencil or marking implement, etc. etc.
  • Diet Coke or similar beverage
  • music with a good beat but off-kilter or oddly nihilistic lyrics (I like Soul Coughing, They Might Be Giants, Magnetic Fields, etc.)
  • fabric (about two yards of 45" wide for the pattern shown here, 1 3/4 yards if it's 60" wide)
  • a suitable pattern (see below)


Simplicity 3961

(Okay, okay, OKAY. I know that pattern has gauchos. Ignore them. Pretend they aren't there. It's okay, we won't even be TOUCHING those pieces. Don't worry. Would I lead you into gauchos? I would not. You can trust me.)

Now, pretty much any skirt pattern with a center panel and two side panels will work for this project. I chose this Simplicity pattern because 1) I like contour waistbands and 2) it was $1 at JoAnn's on Saturday, so I could buy two. Why two? Because I'm lazy, and part of this project involves doubling a pattern piece. This way I could just use another part from the second pattern, and not have to trace it. $1 is cheap for not having to trace!

For this project I decided to use view B of this pattern, which is the blue skirt in the illustration. A, B, and C are basically the same, just differing lengths. The first thing I had to figure out is what size to make, so I could pull those pattern pieces and put them aside.

Now, I have a small waist in proportion to my hips (or a big butt in proportion to my waist, calling Sir Mix-A-Lot) so I checked those measurements, and sure enough, the size that was right in the hips would be too big in the waist. (Also, this pattern is made to be worn 1" below the waist, which I Don't Do.)

Now, I've made a lot of Simplicity skirts lately, including another one with a yoke, and so I grabbed the yoke pattern I knew fit me and laid it over the yoke pattern for this skirt. That confirmed for me that I needed a size 12 waistband but a size 14 skirt. What to do?

waistband pocket how-to

Well, I took the pieces for the size 12 waistband and cut them on the 12 line at the top edge, but at the 14 at the bottom edge, fudging between them at the sides, so that it would fit at the waist but still be able to be attached to the size 14 skirt. Then I cut out the rest of the pattern pieces from the pattern sheets, making sure to have *two* side front pieces, one from one pattern and one from the other.

That done, the next thing I had to do was to get rid of the pleats in that side front piece, cute as they are, because I thought they would interfere with putting in pockets. Now, I looked to hell and gone all over the Internet for the "right" way to do this, but I couldn't find any instructions, so this is just my usual half-assery: I took the pattern pieces and taped the pleats shut, tapering all the way down to the edge.

But this made me worry that taking that pleat out would make the hips too narrow, so I decided to measure the hips just to make sure. To do this, I put the pattern pieces together, overlapping the seam allowances, and marked where my hip is (about 9" below my waist, you can see a black mark on the center front piece where I measured this). Then I measured across to make sure there would be enough room for my hips (whew! there was).

hip measurement pocket how-to

That done, it was time to figure out where to place the pocket on the side front piece. I held up the pattern to myself, making sure to place the top of it lower than the waist (because the pattern has a waistband). Then I let my hand fall to where I would want a pocket, and marked that.

Then I cut three of the side front piece, out of a scrap I had lying around:

pocket how-to

Why three? Because the pocket in the panel has three parts. There's the part of the skirt above the pocket opening (which also includes the 'back' of the pocket), the part of the skirt below the pocket opening, and the part, not visible, that is the 'inside' of the pocket (which is like a facing on the part of the skirt below the pocket opening).

So I took these three pieces and laid them out. Unfortunately, none of these pictures turned out, and OF COURSE it's the most difficult part of making this. Ugh.

Anyway here are the three pattern pieces you end up with (the skirt, the top and underpocket, and the pocket facing). I cut the facing out of a piece of pattern tissue that I had lying around (literally, it was on the floor). You can use any kind of paper. Do write which is which on the facing piece, though, it saves a lot of heartache later. I don't know how many pocket facings I've made and then thrown away by accident!

waistband pocket how-to

So how did I get from three of the same piece to three different pieces? Well, you're cutting the bottom off the bottommost piece of the pocket sandwich (everything below the bottom of the inside pocket seam). You're cutting the top off the topmost piece of the pocket sandwich (everything above the top edge of the pattern — but DON'T FORGET to leave a seam allowance, or your pocket will be 5/8ths of a inch lower on your body than you expected). Then you cut the same top and bottom off the pocket facing (the middle part of the pocket sandwich) to make the pocket facing.

waistband pocket how-to

The darker blue is the bottommost layer, towards the top of the skirt. You can see how deep the pocket will be (the pin) and the black line shows the added seam allowance for the bottom pocket seam (yes I draw on fabric with china markers).

Here's me making sure the pocket is exactly where I want it (the floral thing there is my keychain clipped to the pocket of the skirt I'm actually wearing, as opposed to the one I'm making):

waistband pocket how-to

(This is from my point-of-view, e.g., leaning over and upside-down.)

I was happy with this, so then I figured I could make a "real" (that is, wearable) skirt! Yay! But I still didn't want to use great fabric, so I used a piece of lightweight denim I had hanging around. Here's the three back pieces all sewn together:

waistband pocket how-to

(I left the pleats in at the back.)

But the plain denim fabric seemed a little boring to me. How could I spice it up? I know! Zippers! Yellow zippers!

waistband pocket how-to

You see, when you make this kind of pocket, the top edge can be all wiggly and pulled out of shape, unless you reinforce it with twill tape. Zippers have built-in twill tape, and they make a nice design element.

So get a plastic separating zipper (like the kind that you use to make jackets with). Cut away the teeth of the zipper that would go in the seam allowance (about 1/2 inch on either side, as in the photo above) — you do NOT want the sewing machine needle to hit a zipper tooth!

Of course, the picture of sewing the zipper trim on to the skirt piece didn't come out, either, but what I did was: sew the zipper to the skirt piece, teeth facing down towards the hem. Sew the pocket facing to the skirt piece, right sides together. Then turn and topstitch, like so:

waistband pocket how-to

When you're done, it will look like this:

waistband pocket how-to

Then, to assemble, you want to attach the underpocket to the pocket facing piece, like so:

waistband pocket how-to

I seamed the bottom (this picture is fuzzy) and then double-zigzagged the edges, because this fabric is a bit ravelly.

waistband pocket how-to

Then you baste the whole sandwich together. (When you're sewing over the zipper part, even though you trimmed away the teeth in the seam allowance, you probably want to hand-crank the machine. Hitting zipper teeth at speed is Not Fun.)

waistband pocket how-to

This is what it looks like when you're done:

waistband pocket how-to

See how the stitching down the side is within the seam allowance? I used to baste at the seamline and then had to pick out the bits that showed. I'm marginally smarter now.

Then you do it all again for the other side. Here's the front assembled:

waistband pocket how-to

NOTE: Do not let your iron run over the plastic zipper teeth. They WILL melt!

Then you keep going and assemble the rest of the skirt. Here's the waistband going on — why did I sew a line of stitching around the bottom of the waistband facing?

waistband pocket how-to

This is why — it makes a nice guideline for turning it under!

waistband pocket how-to

Now, time to baste in the zipper. If I'd been thinking, I would have bought a bright yellow zipper for the side zip, too, but I wasn't thinking (and in fact the other zippers were bought more than a year ago for another project), so blue it is.

waistband pocket how-to

And actually, my first try at sewing in the zipper was completely crappy, but I offer it here to you to show you how bad a sewer I can be:

waistband pocket how-to

So I took it out and redid it (and I re-threaded the machine in blue, because no sense in drawing attention to the zipper!). But this is getting really long, so here's where we skip to the end:

waistband pocket how-to

The pockets aren't really uneven: I'm just standing funny. And the skirt is a bit too long; I think I'll shorten it by about two inches next time I make this. It's a bit dowdy at this length.

The whole process (not counting the time it took me to find & buy the pattern) was about three and a half hours. Two hours to do the measuring, planning, preliminary cutting, and prototyping, and one and a half hours to make up the whole skirt (including cutting out the new fabric and re-doing the side zipper). The skirt is hemmed with yellow bias tape, applied by machine.

I didn't prewash the plastic zipper I used for the pocket trim, because it is made of pure polyester. If I were going to use a vintage zipper (or an upholstery zipper) with metal teeth and a cotton tape, I definitely would have prewashed the zipper. If you had long enough zippers (or were okay with lapping them) you could have also inserted zippers into the long front seams between the panels. You could also use piping, braid, or rickrack to trim the pocket edges.

Okay, that's ONE WAY to make front pockets on a panel skirt. If you have a different way, do leave it in the comments! If I left out an important step (as I am wont to do), ask for clarification in the comments! (The plant to my right in the picture (your left) is lavender, so you don't have to ask about it in the comments, and my tights are from H&M, last year. Everything else, ask about it in the comments!)

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia February 18, 2007 at 4:22 pm

Thanks! This looks as if it will be really useful.Do you know of a good tutorial for putting a pocket in the side seam of a skirt? I’m making my wedding dress now, and am realizing that I really want pockets in it.

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Erin February 18, 2007 at 4:29 pm

Lydia, I am 100% behind wedding dresses with pockets. For side-seam pockets I usually cannibalize a piece from a pattern that already has them, then just follow those directions, after you figure out how far down on the skirt they should fall.

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kmkat February 18, 2007 at 5:36 pm

The skirt is nice, I’m totally in favor of pockets, but what I really like is the hose. I wish I had the guts to wear those and a job where people wouldn’t look at me really, really weird if I did.

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Nadia February 18, 2007 at 6:19 pm

I love the yellow accent! Really makes it snazzy!kmkat: You do have the guts and it really doesn’t matter how people look at you. They are just jealous that you have the guts to be as cool as you want to be!

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Rebecca February 18, 2007 at 6:29 pm

Oh, fer heaven’s sake! I forgot all about They Might Be Giants! And they would make an awesome sewing soundtrack!Great skirt and very followable directions.

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oracle February 18, 2007 at 9:05 pm

Erin, you are a nourishing soul.

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Cat February 18, 2007 at 11:58 pm

Hi,I’ve recently started a blog and I am so in awe of your writing skills Erin. I have put a method for including pockets in a side seam as part of my blog.Here is the link:http://bycat.blogspot.com/2007/02/in-seam-side-pockets.htmlMy skills are still at beginner level but I’m working on it (both sewing and blogging).Thanks for the work Erin

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Shelia February 19, 2007 at 12:30 am

Erin, I just love that you put these directions up!!! I was just trying to figure out how to put pockets on a straight skirt with 3 panels in front and here I find it on your blog. And as for those hose, I absolutely **LOVE** them!!! Where did you find them? Is there a website somewhere that I can purchase them? They are absolutely fabulous and look great with your new skirt.

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Isabelle February 19, 2007 at 12:50 am

What a useful and detailed tutorial. Thank you! I’m bookmarking it. Love your tights, too. Why do I never wear anything like that?

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enc February 19, 2007 at 7:48 am

Someone else who likes Soul Coughing. I feel like we’re best friends!That’s a great-looking skirt project, whose value is only mildly outstripped by the socks!

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Erin February 19, 2007 at 7:54 am

I *do* love Soul Coughing. I also forgot to add The Dismemberment Plan. Man, Travis and the Plan make some fine sewin’ music. The tights are from H&M, but last year, which means they’re probably not in stores now. A great site for tights is http://www.sockdreams.com.And as for wearing funny tights … I say go ahead and do it. If you do it all the time it stops being a novelty!

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Anonymous February 19, 2007 at 8:53 am

This is a fabulous tutorial! Thank you, Erin!I have to admit, I like gauchos. I think it’s some sort of holdover from my childhood. I haven’t worn them since 1982 or so, but I still like they way they look.–Lydia, but not the Lydia above who is getting married–in case you were worried.

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Kristen February 19, 2007 at 9:07 am

Well I must be dowdy! I love that skirt length! I think it’s perfect.I could play at the park with my boys without worrying if I’m going to show off my dowdy underwear by accident! :) Thanks Erin! Now off to sockdreams…

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IA February 19, 2007 at 9:11 am

Not my sort of skirt at all, but I love the zipper edging. You are a genius!And, of course, the tights.

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melissapedsrn February 19, 2007 at 10:49 am

Erin…I only comment occasionally, but since “half assery” is my middle name, I just had to say, that I adore your sewing methods, thoughts, approaches and whatnot whatever, and to tell the truth, half assery has always served me well, and NEVER interfered with my enjoyment and love of sewing. I had a best friend in college (a million years ago) that also sewed and was a pretty good seamstress, but she just never felt the joy, never, because she was just too type A to ever let herself. I always felt kinda sorry for her.Sew on, sister.

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vespabelle February 19, 2007 at 11:17 am

Gorgeous Things over at the Sewing Divas blog has a great tutorial on inserting a centered zipper. I prefer a lapped or invisible zipper, but her method makes me want to try a centered zipper.

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Anonymous February 19, 2007 at 11:27 am

You are aweseome. I love that diet Coke or similar beverage is listed as one of the things you need to make this skirt. But that’s just one of the awesome things about this website. Since I work for a living I don’t have time to list them all.

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Joni February 19, 2007 at 11:41 am

Yet another reason to love the Duro is that it’s almost ridiculously easy to add side seam pockets. Due to the empire waist, you can you can add the pockets a bit lower down the skirt and it doesn’t change anything – you can sew the whole side seam at once. You don’t even need to use a pattern – I just cut a vaguely pocket shaped thing out of paper and stuck it on.While I’m pontificating on the virtues of the Duro, I should share another fun trick. If (like me) you’re contemplating getting preggies again, it’s easy to add 1″ – 2″ of extra width to the front skirt panel and just gather the excess. I could smuggle a water buffalo in there now and no one needs to be the wiser. (Simplicity does make a Maternity Doru pattern but I don’t really like it. No contrast skirt bands? Come on!!)

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harthad February 19, 2007 at 11:45 am

I don’t know whether to be encouraged or intimidated! But it’s great to see that other people can fool with their patterns and get their stuff to turn out. I’m just now trying to alter a princess-seamed jacket and keeping my fingers crossed that it will work.BTW, does anyone have tips for sewing microsuede? I wasn’t aware that it was usually sold as upholstery fabric, because it was stuck in the rack with the regular old suitings. It was super cheap and has a nice finish, so I thought it would make a nice suit, but now I’m finding I can hardly get my pins through it to hold the pattern in place.

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Joni February 19, 2007 at 12:01 pm

Sewing With Nancy recommends that you use a fabric glue stick instead of pins when you’re sewing Ultrasuede. (I just wish I could use a glue stick for everything and then I would sew like I scrapbook, which is to say constantly.)I forgot to add, if you’re adding baby-fat-bunchies to the front of your Duro, do NOT forget to cut the skirt band wider as well. This is very important ;-)

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Kathleen Fasanella February 19, 2007 at 12:31 pm

Hi, can I suggest some zipper tutorials? No basting, pinning and praying, honest. There’s a whole list of zipper tutorials here:The zipper tutorials (lapped, centered and invisible)http://www.fashion-incubator.com/mt/archives/process_review_lapped_zipper.htmlhttp://www.fashion-incubator.com/mt/archives/lapped_zipper_template.htmlhttp://www.fashion-incubator.com/mt/archives/lapped_zipper_construction.htmlhttp://www.fashion-incubator.com/mt/archives/lapped_zipper_specs.htmlhttp://www.fashion-incubator.com/mt/archives/centered_zipper_template.htmlhttp://www.fashion-incubator.com/mt/archives/centered_zipper_construction.htmlhttp://www.fashion-incubator.com/mt/archives/invisible_zipper_tutorial_pt1.htmlhttp://www.fashion-incubator.com/mt/archives/invisible_zipper_tutorial_pt2.html Be sure to read visitor comments at the close of each posting. I didn’t write the invisible zip tutorial and plan to be updating that one (posted by a visitor).Also, consider fusing the set down of the zipper. I’m in love with that lightweight knit tricot stuff lately. Good show (and yeah, I love the tights too).

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Summerset February 19, 2007 at 2:26 pm

Love it! The yellow zips are great!Thanks for the shout-out, too, Erin!

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Moonwishes February 19, 2007 at 3:18 pm

My supply list for sewing always includes a few pieces of chocolate, preferably Hershey nuggets. I like those yellow zippers too and it is fun to see how other people sew. I’ve been sick and spent my time looking through a whole stack of Threads magazines. I love those magazines, but they can make you a bit paranoid to do anything less than couture sewing!

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oracle February 19, 2007 at 4:45 pm

Even though the only fabric “art” I engage with is to sew clothing, I loved Threads in the old days when it provided an abundance of inspiration that arose out of its coverage of many different fabric arts, with how-to’s embedded throughout. Reading it then was like visiting and being part of a creative fabric arts community. Authors’ voices came across like fellow members of said community like equals except that some folks knew more and had information to share about this or that.Threads lost me as a long-time subscriber when it changed to a garment-sewing only magazine. Not only did I miss the stimulation of seeing other fabric arts that I appreciated even though I didn’t do them myself, but I also didn’t enjoy the mag’s new tone. It’s as though it created two sets of people: authors as experts, and readers who were not experts but learners. Not everyone may feel this, but I felt talked down to by the mag’s new general tone (as opposed to by any author’s individual attitudes. This little rant is about the redesign of the magazine, not about individuals connected with it.) Reading the “new” Threads, I no longer felt like an equal in an artistic community who may want to learn something new, but more like I was being constructed as a passive reciepient of information that was being passed down from others who had a status essentially above mine (above my assigned status as “non-expert”). As if never the two could actually meet. I didn’t want to be a student in a conventional classroom; I wanted to be a participant in a creative community.In spite of the specific instructions which must be found useful by so many (or else Threads wouldn’t exist anymore) that Threads has offered since the redesign many years ago, I think I’ve only ever bought one or two issues from the newsstand. The articles just don’t draw me in enough to buy one. And I’m an obsessive sewist, and I still have a lot to learn! But not from there.I’m sure lots of folks must enjoy Threads as it is today, and either aren’t bothered by its structure or else experience it differently than I do, and that’s well and good. I just loved the original Threads so much that I still miss it, and I’ve found nothing since that satisfies me in the same way that Threads used to.Anyone else feel the same way?

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colleen February 19, 2007 at 5:36 pm

But Erin, didn’t that gaucho pattern have pockets?Colleen

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Erin February 19, 2007 at 6:47 pm

Well, yes. And I looked at maybe changing the gauchos into a skirt, since they have the same waistband. But in the end it was easier to just add the pockets to the skirt pattern!

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Debby February 19, 2007 at 8:55 pm

What a fun post. Liked all the pictures. You another great blog (and I know she reads this one, have seen her name) is Julia’s Sewing Blog at http://juliasewing.blogspot.com. She always has great pictures on to put something together.

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Diane February 19, 2007 at 10:31 pm

On music while sewing:I very much enjoy super loud noisy rock music, Like jane’s addiction, Black Sabbath, Megadeth, etc. though recently I bought Dr.Dre’s “the Chronic” and that seems to work well too. Don’t know what it is, I enjoy really much noisier music while sewing.

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ann February 20, 2007 at 12:10 am

the yellow zips are great – and the socks even better.

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Juliet Kemp February 20, 2007 at 5:07 am

Just wondering – did you use interfacing for the waistband? (I find interfacing a whole load of hassle & am wondering whether it’s possible to avoid doing it sometimes…)

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Theresa February 20, 2007 at 6:26 am

Thanks to you being such an inspiration, I finished 2 UFOs this weekend. One a-line skirt that buttons down the front and one a-line with darts and a zipper in the back. (It was the first foray into buttons for me and my second attempt at a zippper.) Oh, I also had to do belt loops. The button up skirt is a little big and will need to be taken in, but the other is just about right, maybe a little snug.Thanks to your philosphy of half-assery, I have embraced my flaws and worn my skirt – proudly — to work. Thanks Erin.

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Erin February 20, 2007 at 8:05 am

Kathleen, thanks so much for the tutorials! I saw them on your site but didn’t bookmark them then … now I have.Juliet, I didn’t use interfacing for this skirt, because the fabric was pretty firm. Unless the fabric is really flimsy or stretchy, I usually don’t, because I’m very lazy. If the fabric is very heavy (like corduroy), I’ll use a lighter-weight fabric for the facing, to reduce bulk.

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Rebecca February 20, 2007 at 9:36 am

Now, on the subject of “dowdy”. Does it, in this context, mean: “Neither long nor short so off with it’s head [so to speak]“? Or, “Not a fashionable length this year”? What is your skirt length philosophy, Erin?

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Gaile February 20, 2007 at 10:41 am

Love the tutorial. And hurray for another sewer who makes alterations to accomodate a much smaller waist then butt. Do you sew pants? I’d love to hear how you manage to make them fit. I can’t buy RTW pants without having to take them to someone else to fix the waistbands. and I love the comments about don’t sew over a zipper, and don’t iron over a plastic zipper. I’m assuming you learned those tips from experience….like me. :-)

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Erin February 20, 2007 at 11:51 am

Gaile, I have to say I almost never make pants. It’s just not worth it, as I hardly ever wear them (although I’m wearing a pair of boy’s corduroys from Target right now). Rebecca, dowdy for me is just shorthand for “a length I don’t like” I try to keep my skirts either at the kneecap or at the lower calf … in between looks weird on me, I think!

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Anonymous February 21, 2007 at 6:07 am

I loved the tutorial. I hate to admit it, but I am still crossing my fingers that the “circle skirt out of a circle table cloth” tutorial is coming! No hurry, though, given that I am scared of my sewing machine and don’t ever sew…

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jennifer. March 6, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Love the tutorial! I add pockets on my skirts as well! I’ll have to make up a tutorial.. Just wanted to let you know the you could keep the pleats if you don’t mind them coming from the pockets. Something like: tape them closed from the top to just under where the pockets will be, then make your spare pattern pieces.If you don’t mind cutting that ‘original’ pattern piece, the pleats are already marked (at least by the folds from taping). Just open them out -and remark as necessary (not swear, just use a pen to draw them, mind you). The next step would be to make the pleats in the side front panel, then make/attach the pocket(s).I’ve got to make a pair of bloomers for my daughter, so I’ll see if I can remember to add pockets to that pattern to give you an idea. I usually do the slanted jeans-style pockets on my A-line skirts, so I’ll be adding those.

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jennifer. March 8, 2007 at 4:56 pm

http://fullofstitches.com/blog/2007/03/08/whats-in-your-pockets/Let me know if any of the steps don’t make sense. I’m in a postpartem induced stupor, especially when I stay up late to finish something so I can post it next day :)

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Gowri July 4, 2008 at 4:19 pm

oh god. that’s so cute. and so retro. i’m a little bit intimidated but i think i’m going to try.

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Anonymous July 9, 2009 at 11:04 am

Love that skirt with long white sleeve shirt and those colorful leggings! The pockets should be up a little higher and make sure they are deep pockets so they cover your hand and half your lower arm when you put your hands in them. Iam fussy about this on all my pants, jackets, dresses, and skirts cause I always put my hands in my pockets and I love pockets.

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