Conquering the Welt

Learn how to sew single and double welts, plus common variations. By David Page Coffin.

A welt is a strip of fabric used to cover or bind one or both edges of a pocket opening. There are two common types of pockets that use welts. In one, the welt sits like a door over the entire pocket opening, like this:

You’ll see these often on tailored suits and coats, but that’s the last time we’ll see that type in this article. Instead, we’re looking at the second, much more common type, the one that sits inside the pocket opening or flush with it, more like a window in a frame than a door, like these:

There are many methods for making these, and we will start by looking closely at variations on some very basic examples, so that the folding structure is perfectly clear. That will help us learn how to adapt the basics to different garment types and fabric weights, which will make us more confident about resizing and redesigning the pieces to suit many different projects.

Single Welts

Learn the basics of welts by making a single welt.

Step | 01

Here’s the most basic welt structure, a single welt opening in which the whole welt is formed out of the same fabric as the garment. There are only two pieces, but all the ingredients are there. On a lightweight garment, this might be all you need.

Mark the opening of the pocket mouth on the right side of the garment with a single horizontal line and two end marks. The horizontal line should be the width of the desired pocket mouth. Place two rectangles of garment fabric face down, with edges aligned and butted together, over the pocket mouth marking. Transfer the lines for the pocket mouth opening and end marks onto the wrong sides of the rectangles. The distance between the pocket mouth opening and the edge of the fabric should be half the height of the final pocket opening. Stitch the garment fabric in place along the long edges only.

Step | 02

Take a good long look at this step, since it’s one you will see over and over as you make all sorts of welt pockets. Note particularly the little triangles created by cutting at each end. When you stitch and clip, it’s critical to stop exactly at the marked corners.

Fold the seam allowances of the pocket rectangle out of the way. Cut through the pocket opening lengthwise, stopping just short of the ends, and angling out to cut exactly to the ends of each line of stitching. This will create two little triangles, one at each end. It’s important to be accurate here. You only want to cut to the stitch line but no further, so use small, sharp scissors.

Step | 03

Tuck the upper rectangle into the pocket opening, including the free edges that lie beyond the stitching (if this is not easy to do, then you have not clipped far enough into the corners, so go back and fix that), and press. All the seam allowances should be pressed up and away from the pocket opening, so that nothing is visible from the right side.

Step | 04

Tuck the lower rectangle inside the pocket opening, folding the fabric at the top so that the fold fills the pocket opening and creates a “window.” Take some time to get a clean straight edge at the top of the window. The free edges should lay flat and smooth inside the garment, but should not be visible from the right side, just like the top rectangle. Pin or baste to the garment layer only to hold everything in place.

Step | 05

Lift the garment below the opening so you can see the seam allowances at the lower opening edge, between the garment and the lower rectangle. Press them open.

Let’s pause and look at what we have so far, from a different angle – a cut-away from the side – so we can clearly see how all the layers are laying, and what we need to do next. This will also help us see possible variations. Right now we have this:

(Don’t worry about those little clipped triangles; we’ll get to them!) We could have fused interfacing under the pocket opening and a little beyond it before we even took a stitch, which would have reduced fraying. If the pocket opening is on a diagonal, then interfacing is necessary to reduce stretching.

Next, we’ll secure the garment fabric to the fabric that we folded from the lower rectangle. We just want to stitch these two layers together; we don’t want to catch the upper rectangle of fabric or any other layers. We’re doing this before the pocket gets so far along that we can no longer separate the layers to do this. My preference is to lift the garment and stitch along the seam allowance so that the stitching is invisible from the outside, but you could also topstitch through the garment in the same place.

Variation #1: If we’re using a heavier fashion fabric, it makes sense to use a lighter fabric for part of the pocket (to reduce bulk). In that case, we just use narrower garment rectangles and follow the same steps up to now (or we could use larger pieces of fabric and just trim them). Then at this point in the process, we attach the lighter pocketing fabric to them, like this:

The seams can be merely lapped, as shown, especially if the rectangles were cut on a selvedge, otherwise they can be sewn right side together and turned. Note that I’ve offset the seams and graded other ones to reduce bulk.

Variation #2: One common variation that is often seen in RTW is to pre-fold the lower rectangle into the welt before sewing, instead of folding it in afterwards. This adds a pocketing layer at the same time, like this:

This is clearly a bulkier result, and it also takes more care up front, as you have to measure and mark the lower rectangle, then stitch it precisely so that the pre-fold perfectly fits into the window once the fabric has been turned. If you are doing a lot of these and the measurements become second nature, and you do not mind the bulk (works best on thin fabrics), this can be a speedy approach. I usually prefer the flatter, smoother finish that comes from pressing the seam allowances open as described in step 5, which is impossible in this variation.

Step | 06

Now we tuck the triangles under and secure them by stitching them down. We put this off until now because all the lower layers need to be in place first, so that they are also caught in these stitches, too.

Fold the garment over the opening at each end and push the triangles to the inside. An awl or small crochet hook is a handy tool for this. I often add a little dab of glue stick to hold the tips in place. Flip the garment back and forth as you check, then press when all looks good.

Step | 07

Fold the garment out of the way once again, and stitch once or twice right up against each of the triangle bases where they fold. Then, without tying off your thread, continue down around the pocketing layers to form the pocket bag, ending up at the opposite triangle.

Step | 08

Now could be a good time to finish the pocketing edges, unless you prefer to do all the finishing at once at the end.

Step | 09

The pocket’s effectively done at this point, unless your design calls for visible topstitching. Stitch through all layers for maximum strength, and add bar tacks if you like.

Double Welts

There are multiple options for making double welts, depending on the weight and drape of the fabric used, pocket location, and garment style.

We could convert our basic single welt structure into double welts, by just adding an extra fold to the upper rectangle after it has been stitched on, like this:

Another way to create a double welt is to press the upper rectangle’s seam allowance open at the garment and to hide the pocket-securing stitches underneath, like this:

But it’s very tricky to form two identical folds that meet perfectly in the middle of the opening after they’ve already been stitched on. So I prefer a different approach for making double welts. The structure will remain the same, and we’ll have all the same options. We will just do the tricky part first, using the same two rectangles from our first example, and the same pocket mark on the garment.

Step | 01

Mark the pocket opening on the garment. Then measure the height of the pocket opening. Now mark a line along the wrong side of one rectangle of fabric. It should be the same height as the pocket opening and run the length of the rectangle of fabric.

Step | 02

With the rectangles right sides together, machine baste (with your longest stitch) along the marked line. Press the seam allowances open. These will become our welts. You will clip and remove the basting stitches when the pocket’s completely finished.

Step | 03

With a normal stitch length, staystitch along the marked pocket opening, starting in the middle of one long edge and pivoting at each corner. Slash the opening, just as described previously for single welts, clipping exactly to the threads at each corner.

Step | 04

Following the staystitched edges, turn all the seam allowances to the wrong side and press carefully to just barely (but completely) conceal the stitches.

Variation #3:

Instead of stay stitching directly onto the marked pocket opening, place a rectangle of very lightweight fabric (e.g., lining, thin shirting, batiste, or organdy) over the marked pocket opening on the right side of the fabric. Stitch along the pocket opening (stitching through both layers), clip through both layers, then turn and press the lightweight fabric to the wrong side. For some fabrics this will simplify the turning. And with others, you may not even need to staystitch to get good results; it’s worth a test, as with most sewing steps applied to various, possibly unfamiliar, fabrics.

Step | 05

Position the pocket opening over the pressed-open rectangle seam allowances, arranging them so they’re perfectly centered between the opening edges. Pin outside each end to hold the arrangement when it looks good.

Step | 06

Carefully lift each long opening edge in turn and place a few light dabs of glue stick along the edge, then press down on them to secure the edge to the fabric below. Try not to disturb the arrangement. When you’re satisfied with how it looks, remove the pins and press (no steam) to dry the glue bond.

Let’s pause to explore our options for securing the welts permanently. Right now, the layers look like this:

The most straightforward way to stitch these layers would be to stitch through all layers, on just the long edges, from the outside, like this:

You could also stitch from the inside, hiding the stitches by lifting the garment layers, like this:

Either way is a perfectly workable option. I prefer the method that allows me to press open the seam allowances between the garment and the rectangles (just as we did in step 5 of the single welt steps), and that is what I’ll describe here. Doing this ensures the smoothest, flattest possible transition from garment to welt, but it’s definitely a style choice. There are some styles where a raised garment edge, perhaps with visible edge-stitching, may be a more suitable effect. Choose the method that best suits your style!

Step | 07

Fold the rectangles below the basted seam line completely out of the way, and lift the garment layer at one glued edge over the opening, revealing the clipping allowance from the pocket opening that is now stuck to the welt edge of the rectangle below. You will also see the staystitching along the opening, or a crease if you did not staystitch.

Stitch over the stay stitching to join these two layers. Make sure that your second line of stitches lies exactly on top of the staystitching. Repeat on the other edge, and it will look like this:

Step | 08

To expose the seam allowances so they can be pressed open, fold the free end of one rectangle out of the way again, then pop apart the glued seam allowances, like this:staystitch.

Press the allowances open, repeat on the other side, and you’ll have this lovely flat result:

Unless you’ve chosen one of the through-all-layers options for securing these pre-formed welts (mentioned in variation #3), we still need to permanently secure the lower welt fold to the garment, before we get too far along with the pocket layers and can no longer isolate this edge (just as we did for the single welt structure).

Step | 09

Lift the garment layer as shown above, then stitch just below the lower welt/garment seam line, catching the lower rectangle only. Alternatively, you can stitch through all layers so that the stitching is visible from the outside of the garment.

If you plan to fold the upper welt rectangle back over the opening to serve as the pocketing as well, repeat this process along the upper edge. Note that the fold can be offset above the stitching to cover the raw edge of the garment allowance.

If you aren’t going to fold the upper welt down to be the pocket, leave that edge unsecured until you do the triangles at each side, at a later step.

To complete the double welt pocket from this point out, you could pick up the single welt directions from step 6 on, including the variations mentioned after step 5. The triangles at the opening ends should wait until the pocketing layers are in final position, so that securing them will go through everything for maximum strength. But there’s more to consider about the pocketing part of these pockets, for both single and double welts, so let’s turn to that next.

Double Welts Pocketing

You have several options for making the pocket bag. Which variation you choose depends on the weight of your fabric, the complexity of your garment, and the function of the pocket. Best of all, every variation builds off the basic techniques covered above.

Up to now, I’ve purposely referred to the welt strips as big rectangles of fabric, blurring any distinctions between welts and pocketing, not to mention facings, because a simple rectangle of garment fabric (or contrasting fabric) can serve all those functions at once. This works very well with lightweight fabrics and simple garments. For more complex and heavier garments, separating these functions into different fabrics and using more complicated shapes will often make more sense. But doing so will not alter the basic folding structures of the welt layers we’ve seen so far.

The simplest way to separate the welts from the pocketing is to follow the steps for single welts from step 6 onward, in which you trim or initially cut the welt rectangles to be as small as needed for folding and/or to act as a facing behind the welt, plus seam allowances for attaching to the garment and to the pocketing.

Variation #4:

One common variation that is well-suited to double welts is to cut the welt fabric narrow, and have the pocketing fabric be one long rectangle that attaches to the lower edge of the inside of the lower welt. It then folds at the bottom and extends back up past the opening to form the pocket. A facing strip is inserted behind the welts so that the pocketing fabric is not visible from the outside, like this:

The pocketing piece and its attached facing can be added after the welt structure is complete, but before securing the opening at the triangles and along the top edge, as those stitches should go through all layers as previously described.

This works equally well if you don’t need separate pocketing fabrics, just by extending the lower rectangle length when you initially cut it out. Please note that you will not need any facings, either.

Variation #5:

You can also use separate top and bottom pocketing layers so that there is a seam at the bottom instead of a fold. This is a better choice with single welt structures because it simplifies the process for joining the pocketing to both the lower welt and the upper facing.

Variation #6:

If you don’t want a separate facing, one option is to use a lighter pocketing on just the lower-welt side, letting the upper rectangle cover the whole pocket from the inside, which is a good plan for unlined tops, for example.

Stabilizing Welts

Here are some strategies for stabilizing pockets that may get a lot of wear.

For pockets that need to be especially sturdy (like on trousers), you can include a separate pocketing layer that is placed under the garment layer on the wrong side, and which is caught in all of the initial welt-joining stitches on the long edge of the pocket marks. It gets clipped along with the garment before turning the welts, and is caught in all subsequent construction. It can be long enough to fold over the entire pocket, forming the inner pocketing layer as well, or you can stitch a separate inner pocketing layer to it, all around. The exact process for making these is outlined below.

Step | 01

Here’s the set up for single and double welts.

Step | 02

When performing any of the welt-forming steps already outlined, treat the additional pocketing layer and the garment layer as one layer. But when lifting the garment layer to secure the lower welt, don’t also lift the pocketing. Instead, stitch through it.

Step | 03

While you’ve got the garment out of the way, flip the whole thing over and catch the lower welt edge to the pocketing.

Step | 04

When securing the upper edge and the triangles, also leave the pocketing in place. Stitch through pocketing, triangles, and welt fabric.

Step | 05

One advantage of having this extra layer is that it can give you something a bit longer to stitch to above the pocket opening inside, making it easier to finish this edge.

Pocket Shapes and Orientation

Use these basic techniques to play with the shape and orientation of your welt pockets.

Even though all the examples so far have a horizontal pocket opening with a rectangular pocketing layer, many other possibilities exist. They do not require any change to the welt or the pocket-layer construction steps, or to the basic welt-folding structure you’d like to use.

It’s probably easiest to picture how to reorient a pocket opening by thinking of the welts as separate pieces, so they’re narrow enough to stay rectangular no matter what angle you want them to take. In other words, for now imagine that you are not cutting the welts to include any extra fabric for the pocketing part of the pocket. Here’s how I’d develop the pocket parts needed for various angles of welt:

Step | 01

On a sample of garment fabric, draw the pocket angle you want with a single line.

Step | 02

Position a generous rectangle of pocketing under the garment layer to serve as the outer pocketing layer as described in the previous section (the fabric should be larger than you’d normally use). Mark as described above (be sure to allow plenty of extra room).

Step | 03

Proceed to build a basic single, narrow welt structure over the mark, all the way to the step where the welts are formed and on the inside.

Step | 04

Cut another pocketing rectangle to match the first and pin it behind the outer pocketing layer, around all edges. Hold the sample to your body about where you’ll want the pocket to be, then slip your hand inside to get an idea of how the pocket bags could be better shaped. Cautiously trim the pocketing layers to get them close to what you imagine, and then baste around it to give it a better test.

This sample should give you all the info you need about how to create the final pocketing pattern pieces. It should also tell you whether there would be any advantage in reshaping the welts, if they’ll be separate, or how to integrate them into the pocketing pieces if they’ll be all-in-one. You’re now ready to teach somebody else the basics of welt pocket design and construction!

November, 2015

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