a bunch of bishops – how a bishop dress works

Spring is well under way which means I have been neglecting this blog in favour of frantic digging, sowing, weeding, shed building, rain-dodging and general catching up on our allotment.  Time now for a tiny breather, phew!  The sewing room has also been a hive of activity as I have been making sample bishop dresses to take along to a vintage pram fair.  I thought I’d take five minutes to explain how bishop dresses are constructed.

bishop dress front

Bishops are very simple – consisting of five pieces: 1 front, 2 sleeves and 2 back.  These are stitched together at the sleeves before pleating.

bishop dress sleeves

bishop back

bishop dress ready for pleating



















Pleating can be done by hand, but a pleating machine is much quicker and gives a more even result.  This machine gathers the fabric with rows of tiny running stitches.

running the dress through my pleater

the pleated fabric













Before and after smocking the dress must be blocked.  For a bishop this means fanning out the pleats in a circle to match the neckline of the garment using a guide, then setting the pleats by starching and steaming them.  The image is of a baby dress being blocked after smocking:

Once hand-smocking is completed and the dress has been blocked again it is completed by finishing the neckline, side-seams, button bands and hem.

I made two baby bishops in matching pink and blue butterfly fabric:







However the dress of which I am most proud is a christening or naming gown, smocked in ivory silk on silk dupion fabric with bullion stitch roses and pin tucks at the hem:


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