How to Sew a Smocked Bishop Dress

Written by michelle powell-smith
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Smocked bishop dresses are a classic choice for infants, toddlers and little girls. In fine white or pastel batiste, a bishop dress can be quite formal. However, sewn in a sweet cotton print, they work well for everyday. A bishop style dress falls from a simple bias neckband and is smocked or gathered to create a full, smock-like dress. These dresses are quite easy to construct by hand or machine and are a good choice for a beginner at heirloom-style sewing.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Bishop dress pattern
  • Cotton or batiste fabric
  • Embroidery floss
  • Hand sewing needles
  • Cotton
  • Sewing machine
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Smocking pleater
  • Upholstery thread

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  1. 1

    Pre-wash and press your bishop dress fabric. Cut out the front, back and both sleeves of your bishop dress. Cut narrow bias bindings or strips of fabric on the diagonal, rather than the straight grain, for the neckline and sleeves, if desired.

  2. 2

    Sew the sleeves to the front and back of the bishop dress with the wrong or unprinted sides of the fabric facing one another. Sew 0.25 inch seams and trim the seam allowance to 1/8 inch. Press well, then turn the fabric so the outsides of the sleeve and body pieces are facing one another. Press the seam, then sew with the right sides of the fabric together 0.25 inch from the edge to create a tiny French seam. Press to one side.

  3. 3

    Roll the constructed bishop dress onto the dowel rod from your smocking pleater, a device consisting of several metal rollers and multiple needles that creates neat rows of evenly spaced gathering threads. Set aside while you set up the pleater for the correct number of smocking rows and thread each needle in the pleater with a long length of quilting or upholstery thread. Roll the fabric slowly through the pleater, exercising special care over the seams. Pull the threads up to the desired size, leaving space for a placket at the center back.

  4. 4

    Smock the bishop dress as desired, working smocking stitches by hand with embroidery floss.

  5. 5

    Press the back edges of the bishop dress under 0.25 inch, then under 0.75 inch. Hand or machine stitch the hems into place.

  6. 6

    Press bias strips in half along the length. Steam the neckline of your bishop dress. Pin into place on the neckline edge, lining up the raw edges of the fabric. Stitch 0.25 inch from the edge. Fold the bias bindings over and stitch into and down by hand.

  7. 7

    Gather the bottom edge of each sleeve by sewing two rows of stitching near the edge of the fabric using a long stitch length. Pull the gathering threads up to the desired sleeve measurement. Apply bias binding to each sleeve.

  8. 8

    Work buttonholes on the back bands. Sew buttons into place. Hem the dress as desired by hand or machine.

Tips and warnings

  • Pleat and smock the sleeves if desired, or use a narrow hem and elastic to finish the sleeves.
  • Wear last year's bishop dress as a top with leggings this year.
  • Have a local heirloom sewing shop pleat your bishop dress if you do not have a smocking pleater or try iron-on smocking dots to help with pleating.
  • Choose fine fabrics for your bishop dress to avoid breaking needles in the pleater.

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