In the summer of 2020, we asked dress history enthusiasts from across the globe to get crafty (18th century style!) with “The Pocket” Design Competition. Authors Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux were faced with the almost impossible – but hugely enjoyable – challenge of selecting the winners from a plethora of wonderful, original creations; including a bee-themed knitted mobile phone pocket, a beautiful pair of white pockets embellished with intricate beading, and a hand-drawn floral design from our youngest entrant—Ilsa, aged 9.
Many of you asked to see the winning designs, so we’re delighted to share them in this blog, alongside a little more about their inspiration and creation from the designers themselves. Find out more about the enthralling story of the tie-on pocket in The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women’s Lives, 1660-1900.
The Overall Winner
Barbara & Ariane say:
There was a wonderfully impressive and inventive show of designs, and it was very hard to choose between them, but in the end we chose Tracy Gorman as the winner because it’s such a topical, as well as a cleverly thought-through, design. It says a lot in the limited space available and conveys the possibility of overcoming adversity. It makes an important health point, whilst creating something beautiful and uplifting, an optimistic piece to keep our spirits up despite Covid-19’s dire impact.
My work involves creating historic 19th century reproduction costumes for museums in Toronto and I am also a textile artist with a love of embroidery. I was familiar with women’s pockets but, given my time period parameters, haven’t been able to indulge in the fancier pockets from the 18th century. So, this competition was a real treat.
When I learned about “The Pocket” Design Competition, I immediately read the blog post on ‘How to Decorate an 18th Century Pocket‘. The 1786 design of the hot air balloon immediately drew me in. The design could be aesthetically pleasing and mark an important event or period in time. Although I tried to visualise a design incorporating all of the shifts we are going through today, the pandemic was unavoidable. It is a global phenomenon and affects absolutely everyone. I had found my theme.
Much time was spent looking at extant pockets in various online museum collections. Flowers were the most oft seen decorative elements. I then dove into online images of the coronavirus and was struck by how flower-like and pretty it appeared. One particular drawing, illustrating how soap works to battle the virus, really hit home1. It was from all of these images and ideas that I created my basic design. It represents not only ‘the now’ with a ‘coronavirus flower’, but to add a dose of positivity in a way that it can be controlled. All the while being aesthetically pleasing.
I drew out the virus and soap ‘flowers’, staying close to their chemical structures so as to keep the message. Once all of the proportions and placements were figured out, the completed design was traced in pencil onto the linen. The colours chosen were deliberate. Fire colours for the virus, representing its strength and the danger it poses. The soap is green and purple. Green for the safety it brings when we use it. Purple for the power soap has and the wisdom we need to use it. The blue is, of course, water but also represents truth (that soap and water really do work), stability (will return if we keep washing our hands) and calm (when Covid-19 is under control).
Many hours (20+) were spent embroidering the design, using primarily the stem stitch and some satin stitching. It is shocking how time consuming it can be! Admittedly, I enjoy every moment of it. I am so thrilled to have been chosen the winner of “The Pocket” Design Competition and cannot wait to read the book!
The pocket design is inspired by my interest in 18th century gown styles and my love of costume design. I knew I had to feature a period figure on the pocket, especially with the fabulous wig styles of the 18th century that transforms into the beautiful floral embroidery that you typically find on period pockets.
During the research process, I kept coming back to a simple, light-coloured Robe à la Française from the MET collection, which reminded me of the white embroidered pockets you typically see from the period. I used images of gowns from the period and pocket embroideries for inspiration, and combined those ideas into the pocket design. I started with simple black line embroidery, but then I just had to add some colour!
Pockets (or lack thereof) in certain types of clothing have become a bit of a pop culture meme in recent years, so I started wondering if there were any well-known quotes about pockets (I really like including text in my embroidered work). It may not be a modern piece of pop culture, but The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien is a well-known and much-loved book, and was one of my favourites as a child. My Dad read it to me, and I remember him hissing “what has it got in its pocketses?” (in a voice not unlike the one Andy Serkiss used in the films) as Bilbo hides his discovery of The One Ring from Gollum.
I liked the idea of actually making a pocket, as I had been lamenting the lack of anywhere to put my phone and keys when I wore a summer dress, and thought it would make a fun and unusual accessory. I made the pocket from an off-cut of fabric I had left over from making a dress. The mountain design either side of the quote is a tribute to the beautiful wraparound cover of the first edition of The Hobbit, which was painted by Tolkien himself.
I am fond of and fascinated by the scope of the visual riches one can find on 18th century ladies’ pockets! The design I have done draws from, but does not copy, heritage motifs in both English and American examples. The main inspiration of the design is my herb garden, and I have portrayed some of the more beloved plants that graced 18th century herb gardens, and which I enjoy in our own garden.
The design features a trailing vine, from which ‘sprout’ a variety of leaves and flowers depicting the following: chamomile, flowers and leaves; bee balm, flowers and leaves; calendula, flowers and buds; roses, flowers and buds. More ‘greenery’ at the bottom of the design includes a large costmary leaf, and a sprig of lemon verbena. An outside border depicts rosemary sprigs, and the border of the centre opening depicts lavender flowers and leaves.
The plant ‘urn’ is similar to one I own; and the intertwined hearts with initials (meant to be done in herringbone and cross stitch) are initials for myself, and my husband, John – who is actually the gardener in our family.
Thank you to everyone who submitted a design!
We really hope you enjoyed taking part in the competition and creating your own original pocket design. The overall standard of the entries was truly fantastic and we appreciate how much time and effort went into each and every one.
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1Illustration by Jonathan Corum and Ferris Jabr, NY Times, seen in various publications including here.