If you've ever made a 19th century vest or frock coat, or some modern styles, you've come up against the dreaded welt pocket. These pockets look nice, and naturally you want lots of pockets to hold your gadgets, but boy are they a pain in the ass! It doesn't help that the instructions that come with the patterns are so confusing and vague as to be totally useless.
When I made my first vest, I spent 4 days straight trying to get the damn pocket to work. And then I gave up and left it for 4 months. Finally I managed something close to a welt pocket. Well now it's been a year and I'm working on my sixth vest. It was on my fourth vest that I finally GOT the welt pocket. I could make one with a minimum of frustration and without having to reference the internet or any sewing books. It's still a long, complicated process, but it doesn't have to be impossible.
So here is my method of making welt pockets. (This is for a pocket with one welt on the bottom. If you want two welts, you can add another to the top of the pocket.) I apologize for the quality of some of these photos. It's hard to take pictures one-handed.
Welt Pocket Tutorial
The pieces you should have from your pattern are the piece into which you will insert the pocket, a welt (with interfacing), one pocket lining piece made from face fabric and one from lining fabric. In this example, I am making the pocket out of contrasting fabric.
1. Fold your welt piece in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. Stitch or baste about 1/4" away from the raw edge. (Your pattern may designate a different width.) Carefully place the welt on your vest front, aligning it with pocket placement markings. You want your stitching line to match up with the bottom of the pocket.
Stitch welt in place along your previous stitching line, leaving at least a 1/2" unstitched at either end. Do not backstitch because you may need to remove some of the stitches when you flip your welt through to the other side. You essentially only want to stitch the welt down between the sides of the pocket.
2. Place your lining pocket over the welt, matching the bottom of the pocket marking with the stitching line on the welt. The lining should be the same width as the welt, make sure these are aligned. This is the only piece I really bother chalking the pocket guide onto, but it is important to do so.
Baste along the top and bottom marks on the guide. Check to make sure your stitching is in the right place. It should be along your previous welt stitching line. Your pocket should be bigger than your welt when the welt is flipped up. If not, bring the top line of stitching up. You can adjust how much space you want between the welt and the top of the pocket opening in this way. You'll notice my basting is not perfect at all.
Stitch the lining in place, fixing anything you got wrong in the basting.
3. Cut your pocket opening. This can be tricky and you need to be careful. If you just grab your seam ripper and start slashing, you may put a huge gash in your vest front. Ask me how I know... So what I do now is start my hole with the seam ripper, making an opening large enough to get my scissors in there, then I carefully cut the rest with my shears.
You want to cut just the center line between the triangles, then carefully clip to the corners to make the triangles on the sides. Don't cut through the stitching at the corners.
4. Now here is my secret step. I work with a lot of poly brocades and other poly home decor fabrics. These tend to fray, and there's nothing worse than working with these little edges and triangle and trying to get them to stay in the right place and all the time they are getting smaller because they are fraying. So my next step on poly brocade is that I take a lighter to the edges of the pocket opening. This melts the edges so they will not fray. I do this before doing ANYTHING else because any handling will increase fraying, which will cause headaches.
Now before you set your vest on fire and blame me for it, please test this method on a scrap. Not all poly fabrics will melt neatly like brocade. Some just catch on fire and disappear, so you don't want to use flame with them. For these and any non-meltable fabrics, apply fray-check to the edges of the pocket and let dry before continuing. Or use clear nail polish. I like the instant satisfaction of fire, but this will work, too.
5. Once your edges are unfrayable, flip the pocket lining through the opening to the inside. You will also be flipping the welt up and into place.
The next part is IMPORTANT. You want to take the ends of the welt that are not sewn down and insert them through the side of the pocket between the vest front and the lining.
When you pull them through, your welt should sit nice and flat. If it doesn't or it's pulling the vest fabric up, you need to pull out or cut some of the stitching holding the welt to the vest. As I said earlier, the ends of the welt should not be stitched to anything. If this line of stitches is too long, it can cause fabric bunching, so pick out a few stitches until everything lies flat.
6. Once everything is flipped, pin everything in place as pictured above. This may be overkill, but I like to prevent any of these little pieces from getting in the way and getting stitched where they don't belong.
Edgestitch right below the welt, stitching through all layers. You only want to stitch one line right under the welt.
7. Now take your pocket piece that's made of your face or fashion fabric. On the inside, place this pocket piece over the lining piece, with the right side facing the front of the vest. This will show through the opening of the pocket. Pin all around, only catching the two pocket pieces, not the vest front.
Stitch all the way around the pocket. I like the catch the ends of the welt into this stitching for extra security, but if they are too small, don't worry about it. Just do not stitch through the front of the vest anywhere. (I don't worry about catching the ends of the tiny triangles at the sides of the pocket. They are kept in place by the ends of the welt and the final stitching step.
Notice my totally-not-neat stitching. Eh, no one will see this part. (Except everyone on the internet.)
8. (LAST STEP!!) - Turn the vest with the front up. Pin everything into place, all around the pocket opening. I also pin the pocket itself down so it doesn't get in my way. Topstitch around the three sides not previously stitched through all layers (i.e. the sides and top.)
Don't stitch under the welt. If you do this, you won't be able to open the pocket (Ask me how I know!) (You know when you buy expensive tailored clothes and the pockets are temporarily sewn shut? If you basted under the welt, you would get this effect, but that seems like a pain for the recipient of the vest.)
TA DA! Your pocket is (finally) finished!
Hopefully this demystifies the process for making these pockets. Once you make a few, you should be good to go with these. This past week I made four of these on one vest, and two on some 19th century pants I'm making for my husband. So if you're making period men's clothing, you have to learn to tolerate, if not love, the welt pocket.