A Princely Cocktail

A Princely Cocktail

In many ways I am a conservative dresser - no garments held together with safety pins (except in emergencies), no plunging necklines (for which the world must be grateful), but conservative need not mean the same as boring. I like to use surprises, especially with linings, since they are glimpsed, not waved like flags, and hint rather than scream at you. I also love combining colours and patterns, which gives me hours of fun on the Fabworks site, imagining and comparing.

Having successfully used a linen plaid for a simple dress, I was wondering about complicated lining up of checked patterns, since getting a good match is part of looking professional, and I have stocked up some very nice wools that are now in my ‘to do’ box. I was also taken by the colour of Princely Country Green Check cotton, which I thought would make a nice formal skirt for spring. I had a pattern in mind which would be a real test (McCall’s M6993). This is a high waisted vintage skirt pattern, one version of which has two front pleats and overlapping yoke sections - yes, a real challenge to get those lines right.

Princely Country Green Check sounded as if it had a crispness that works well for pleats and keeps them sharp. So far so good, but I could see myself making a skirt that would look very ‘middle aged’. I am middle aged so that ought to be fine, but...I detected a touch of acid yellow in the overall green of the fabric, and had a wacky idea.

The pattern is not lined, but if you have read any of my other features you will know I love to line and keep the insides neat. With a cotton outer fabric I would look for a cotton lining, so I meandered through the beautiful Fabworks Shirting Cottons (one source is always so much easier) to see if what I wanted was available. My luck was in.

I had imagined a yellow tending towards the green, and leaping out of the screen at me was Margarita Lime Stretch. Wow is that bright! There is no way on earth I could get away with that brightness or shade for a full garment - I think I would look like some jaundiced grapefruit. With my colouring, a bright yellow has always been off limits. However, it complements the Princely Country Green Check superbly, and having that little stretch, would not be likely to give an ominous straining sound if I bent down to pick a pin off the floor etc. When a skirt is figure hugging at the hip that is sometimes a problem.


When the fabric arrived I had to laugh. The Margarita is eye popping and such fun. My husband blinked and looked quizzical in a ‘You are going to wear THAT?’ way. I just smiled. The Princely Country Green Check was exactly the crispness and weight I had hoped, so I set about my project.

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Let us first address the practicalities. Being cottons, the fabrics went in the washing machine at 30˚C and I ironed when they were not quite dry. They stitch well, and are smooth but not silky and mobile, which is a relief with this pattern.

The McCall's pattern is not essentially hard, and if you are not lining it and use a plain fabric rather than a check or lined fabric, you could get a really professional result that looks more work than it is. I would say to be steady in the stitching, and get the angles right and the overstitching tidy. The challenge for me was that where the seams for the pleats mean the verticals of the check have been altered out of sync, it is almost impossible to get the yoke pieces to keep in line absolutely all the way across, and that is compounded by the yoke shapes being at angles. I found the best way to line up was to place the yoke pieces, right side up, on the lower skirt, with seam allowance turned under, and line up, then crease where you want the seams on the lower part. When you tack together, lie in the line, and make the stitches quite short, not homeward bounders, to avoid movement. Movement is your enemy, and turning over a piece of stitching to find the lines no longer meet is a disappointment (I can say this from experience). It is terribly easy to think you are doing fine because the points meet as you stitch, but when pieces join at angles, even a few millimetres makes huge difference, and what looks as if meeting on the inside can be off line when turned to the right side, because of the angle offset. Hence the need for firm tacking, and trusting that rather than your eye.

The yoke is lined in the pattern, and I self lined, in part because the crisp fabric in a high waist skirt will actually do a little ‘corseting’ like one of those firming slips. The pattern does not line the lower skirt, not least because of the two pleats, which have underlay. My attitude was Clarksonian - ‘How hard can it be?’ I read up on several ways to line a pleated skirt, and then did what worked for me. I simply cut the lining for the lower skirt minus the two pleat and made up front and back as the outer fabric. Attaching the lining to the yoke did mean adding stages in the construction (not just doing it at the end before a waistband as with simple skirts), but it was not rocket science. When it came to those pleats, I waited until I had the skirt put together and finished (bar the hem), and then stitched the lining in a simple reverse of the outer layer. 

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This means the seams of the pleat are concealed and there is as much moving room in the skirt as if there was no lining. I would not line a multi pleated skirt, but this was different.

The result is very pleasing. 

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The look is pretty professional, and there is my wacky Margarita Lime which might just show if I sit a certain way. The only downside is of course that as a cotton, this will crease, so it is better as a skirt to walk about in than sit for hours, but then I knew that in advance and in many ways it was a practice piece as well as for wear. I have bought a couple of metres of Lichen Superfine Shirting to make a blouse to compliment the look, but it is nice with cream, lemon or a bright white.

If you like this pattern but lining up the checks are too much, how about trying it unlined, using the Ash and Smoked Paprika linen and cotton blends (same composition of fabric). Use the Ash for the main skirt, and the Smoked Paprika for the pleat underlays and, if you wish, one of the yoke pieces. Alternatively, cover two buttons in the Smoked Paprika and highlight with those above the yoke points. As I send this off, I also note there are two new wools that are the same ’breed’: Perfect Grey & Black Brushed Puppy Tooth Check and the Red Chili and Black version. What about combining that pair to be eye-catching, and have the red for part of the yoke and for the pleats to show as you step out.? 

Sewing is fun (if sometimes frustrating). Make the result fun too. Now, I think I deserve a cocktail but, to be honest, a margarita would not be my choice.
Elizabeth Binns

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