Pocket, Britain, 1718-1720. Museum no. T.42-1935
Museum no. T.42-1935
This is an example of a single pocket made of linen, embroidered with silk and bearing its original linen tie. Its small size and the short length of the opening and the tie suggest that it was made for a young girl. Yellow silk thread on white linen was a popular combination in British embroideries of the early 18th century, influenced by imported Indian embroideries. The use of backstitch can also be attributed to Indian needlework, although the pattern of the flowers reflects embroidery designs found on British accessories, such as aprons and gloves.
Pair of pockets, Britain, 1700-25. Museum no. T.208&A-1970
Pair of pockets
Museum no. T.208&A-1970
These two pieces of silk embroidery on linen represent a pair of unfinished pockets. They show that the embroidery was done first, before cutting out and sewing up. The lack of space for an opening in the embroidery indicates that these were probably intended to be the backs of a pair of pockets. This is somewhat unusual, as most pocket backs were left plain.
The abstract pattern is called 'vermicelli' because it resembles worm trails. It is also found on early 18th century bedcovers and quilts, particularly worked in yellow silk. This choice of colour imitates imported Indian embroideries, which preferred the natural yellow shade of tussar silk found in Bengal. The use of backstitch can also be attributed to the influence of Indian needlework.
Pocket, Britain, 1700-25. Museum no. T.730:B-1913
A single pocket of linen is adorned with wool embroidery. This reflects the tradition of British crewel work of the late 1600s and early 1700s. However the pointed ends of the petals and leaves show the influence of Indian printed cottons. The embroidery motifs mirror each other on either side of the pocket, but are asymmetrical enough to suggest they were drawn free-hand. Around the pocket opening is a design imitating the kind of gadrooned metal scroll used for both protection and decoration on furniture of the period.
There is a slight angle to the top of the pocket implying that it might align to one or other side of the body. It is not clear from the documentation about pockets and images of women wearing them whether they were tied at the front or the back of the waist.
Pocket, Russia, 1800-30. Museum no. 492-1907
Museum no. 492-1907
This silk pocket was purchased in 1907 from a Russian dealer, along with a collection of other textiles from Russia. At the time it was thought to date from the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796). However, the style of the embroidery suggests a date in the early 19th century. The silk fabric is woven with a wide stripe of moiré (watered silk) and a narrow one of twill. A pattern of leaves and roses covers most of the pocket. A view of the back shows how bright the pink binding was originally. The front of the pocket is badly faded possibly due to overexposure to light.
Pair of pockets, Britain, 1700-25. Museum no. T.697:B&C-1913
Pair of pockets
Museum no. T.697:B&C-1913
This pair of pockets is worked in coloured wool on linen, bound with wool tape, with linen ties. The embroidery designs on each are similar but not identical, suggesting both were hand-drawn. The motif of flowers growing from pots was a popular one in British embroidery from 1700 to 1750, and can be found on aprons and petticoats. The use of wool in shaded colours evolved from crewel work (wool embroidery) of the late 1600s. This example is very simple in design and possibly the work of an amateur.
The pockets may have been passed on to another person who found them too small. Each pocket has been extended at the top by about 4 cms.
Pocket, Britain, 1870-1900. Museum no. T.346-1996
Museum no. T.346-1996
This plain cotton example demonstrates the unadorned, practical nature of pockets in the late 19th century. From patterns for pockets in The Workwoman's Guide of 1838, this one is shaped to be worn on the right with the straight side at the front. Buttonhole openings at the top allow the pocket to be easily moved along the tie when worn. However the wearer of this example sewed up one of the buttonholes to prevent any further movement.
Pocket, Britain, 1700-1725. Museum no. Circ.86-1938
Museum no. Circ.86-1938
This single surviving pocket is made of linen embroidered with silk thread and bound with silk ribbon. A yellow vermicelli ground and small floral motifs decorate the pocket, both influences of Indian embroidered and printed textiles. Similar patterns appear on furnishing fabrics, usually larger and more complex in scale.
The top of the pocket is angled, suggesting that it might help orient the pocket along the waist. This would depend on which side it was worn on and whether the ties fastened at the front or back of the waist.
Pair of pockets, Britain, 1718-20. Museum no. T.41&A-1935
Pair of pockets
Museum no. T.41&A-1935
These unfinished pieces of embroidery demonstrate the steps in making pockets. The design is drawn in ink on a piece of linen. The linen is backed with another piece and set into an embroidery frame for the needlework to be carried out. Once finished, the pocket would be cut out, lined and sewn to the back, the edges bound and ties attached. The embroidery pattern on this pocket is the same as its pair, and probably drawn free hand.
The large floral motifs with curling leaves and petals echo woven silk designs from the period 1710-1720.
Pair of pockets, Britain, about 1760. Museum no. T.175&A-1969
Pair of pockets
This pair of silk satin pockets is somewhat of a mystery as the lack of decoration makes it very hard to assign a date. The pockets were acquired with a quilted white satin petticoat and it is assumed they were worn with it. Unfortunately the donor gave no information about their origins. Completely plain, they illustrate an equally attractive alternative to the embroidered examples. Although the tie has been broken and retied, there are few other signs of wear.
Pair of pockets, France, 1800-30. Museum no. T.43&A-1909
Pair of pockets
These cotton pockets were given to the V&A in 1907 as part of a collection of dress and textiles from the Arles region of France. They formed part of the ethnic costume of that region. Unlike the other pockets in the V&A's collections, these are rectangular in shape with pleats to make them narrower at the top. The white work decoration has been tamboured, that is embroidered with a tiny hook instead of a needle. Tambouring was an Indian technique that spread to Europe in the late 18th century which allowed chain stitch to be worked more quickly. Cotton began to replace the traditional use of linen for underwear in the early 19th century.
Pair of pockets, Britain, about 1745. Museum no. T:87:A&B-1978
Pair of pockets
Museum no. T:87:A&B-1978
This pair of quilted yellow silk pockets is part of an ensemble with a matching bodice. Such a bright shade of yellow was popular for women's dress from the 1740s to the 1770s. Many bodices and aprons of the mid-1700s used the technique of quilting for both decoration and warmth. An elaborate quilted scroll adorns the pocket edges, with a plain diaper pattern in the centre.
The top edge of each pocket is angled slightly, possibly to make the pockets sit correctly over the hips. Whether these were fastened in front or behind the waist is not yet clear from documentation and images of women wearing pockets.
Pocket, Britain, 1840-50. Museum no. T.87:2-1999
Museum no. T.87:2-1999
The 1840s saw the beginning of a long transition period. Dressmakers began sewing pockets into the seams of women's dresses. But from surviving examples, paintings and literature, it is clear that many women continued to wear separate pockets. This is the type of pocket we are familiar with today, one intended to be part of a garment. It forms one piece of an unpicked dress of the 1840s. The glazed cotton pocket is lined along the opening with the green silk of the dress, so that it would show when the pocket is used.
Pocket, Britain, 1700-25. Museum no. 1411-1900
This linen pocket worked with silk thread is unfinished. The embroidery is complete and the pocket back and front sewn together. However, the outside edge and opening have not been bound, nor the tie sewn on. It may have been recycled from another textile or garment, as one of the embroidered motifs has been cut through to make the pocket opening. The design of individual small floral motifs with spiky leaves and petals indicates the influence of Indian textile patterns. The embroidered edging does not quite match the centre in colours and motifs and may have been added after the pocket had been cut.
Pair of pockets, Britain, 1850-1900. Museum no. T.198&A-1958
Pair of pockets
Museum no. T.198&A-1958
Here is an example of a very plain, utilitarian pair of pockets of the late 19th century. Their large size (about 41 cm in length) indicates that many essentials could have been stuffed into them. An ink spot on one suggests it might once have held a pen. The pockets appear to have been cut without a pattern. They are not symmetrical vertically nor do they match each other as they would if cut together. The initials 'HA' embroidered on the back of one pocket probably identify their owner when sent to the laundry.
This is the only pair in the V&A's collection to have an interior compartment. A square of cotton has been sewn into the front of each to hold particular objects separate from the rest of the pocket contents.
Pair of pockets, Britain, 1700-25. Museum no. T.281A-1910
Pair of pockets
Museum no. T.281A-1910
These pockets are made of linen and embroidered with silk thread. They are bound with green silk ribbon and have linen tape ties. Pockets of the early 18th century show a variety of influences in their embroidery designs. Some come from imported Indian textiles, others from various types of British needlework found on both dress and furnishings. The stitched pattern of overlapping circles seen here can also be found on quilted bed and cushion covers. The spiky flowers and leaves and use of small floral motifs demonstrate the influence of Indian printed cottons. Typical of pocket embroidery is the placement of a border around the edge and the pocket opening with a repeated design filling the centre.
The arrangement of the colours defining the motifs is slightly different on each pocket.
Pocket, Britain, 1760-75. Museum no. T.150-1970
Museum no. T.150-1970
Quilting by hand was a time-consuming method of decoration. The increased demand for quilted petticoats, waistcoats and pockets led to the invention of woven quilting. In this technique, an extra weft of thick thread was added to the fabric to give the raised effect of the handmade version. Robert Elsden is credited as the first inventor of woven quilting, known by the French term, matelassé.
This is an example of matelassé linen, which has been clearly woven in a pocket shape and could not be sewn into any other object. It may represent a 'ready-made' pocket, one sewn up and sold as a finished accessory, rather than made at home.
Pocket, Germany, 1840-50. Museum no. 1438-1871
Museum no. 1438-1871
Pockets were often remade from pieces of textile and dress.This example embodies several fabrics of different dates. A late 18th century motif embroidered in metal thread on silk velvet forms the pocket front. It is worked in the shape of a heart encircling a double-headed eagle, even though it is a bit too big for the pocket. A vibrant cotton print of the 1840s makes up the back and lines the horizontal opening. Coloured silk ribbon edges the pocket with a chequered cotton tie.