Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I like the idea of the pocket as it is so intangible. In itself it is nothing, when the pocket is taken out of its context it is just a bag. But the space of the pocket has to do with concealment, closeness, availability, and both importance and unimportance. We keep our keys in our pockets, but similarly we have scraps of paper, unwanted receipts, lost hairelastics, loose change, or again, big notes we are too afraid to carry in our wallets.

And pockets are almost always in pairs.

Here are my favourite bits from 'Fanny's Pockets'

Barbara Burman and Jonathan White, ‘Fanny’s Pockets: Cotton, consumption and Domestic Economy, 1780-1850’ in Batchelor and Kaplan (eds) Women and Material Culture, 1660-1830 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 31-51.

p. 31 ‘Tie-on pockets were immense, certainly by comparison with the sewn-in alternatives that emerged and became increasingly dominant during the Nineteenth century. Most commonly, they were between 30 and 40 cm in length. Women could keep a dazzling array of items in such large spaces. The records of trials for pickpocketing offenses at the Old Baily in the eighteenth century give us such items as coins, bills of exchange, trade tokens, fashion accessories such as gloves, jewellery, watches, buttons, earrings and mirrors, sewing equipment such as scissors, needles, thimbles and penknives, eating utensils such as spoons and knives, as well as implements for negotiating the urban environment such as keys, purses and letters of testament.’

p. 32 ‘The history of these objects and the social worlds within which they were produced and used, it is argued, requires a thoroughly interdisciplinary inquire which can draw on histories of technology, trade, business and broader processes of socio-economic change, alongside a newer attention to the material properties of objects and a similar recognition of the importance of literary and visual culture records and methods.’

p. 43, 44 (referring to the novel Grandmamma’s Pockets, By Anna Maria Hall, 1849) ‘The grandmother owns several pairs of pockets: an embroidered or decorated satin pair for special occasions such as festivals, a pair of hand-quilted pockets, and her everyday pockets. (...) A flighty young girl is made to learn habits of economy in order to control her industrious but careless tendencies. This message is embodied in a beloved grandmother’s pockets. Her grandmamma made a decided distinction between these large receptacles. The right-handed pocket might be considered an active member of society – a positive fountain, pouring forth what was wanted: the left-hand pocket, on the contrary, was a reservoir wherein everything was preserved. One typified the spirit of activity, the other that of carefulness. “I should be in a state of confusion without my two pockets,” the old lady would say. “What I wanted to preserve, would get confused with what I wanted to use; and as I have told you my dear leetle granddaughter, no matter how we realise; unless we preserve, we shall neither be useful nor rich”.'

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