A Contemporary Bishop Dress

We returned from our family vacation at the beach yesterday.  It is always such fun to have all the kids and grandkids together!  The 3 little girls have such fun together.  As you can imagine, it is impossible to get pictures of the 3 of them smiling and looking at the camera at the same time – it was no different this year.  This picture was taken after the photos of the entire family – they were done with pictures.  As Livvy says – “go, go, go!!!”.   Of course, I still think that they look adorable in their matching dresses.



While on vacation, I always take along some handwork – usually smocking.  Sometime in this last year I saw the cutest bishop dress with a shorter, cap style sleeve and I thought that this would be appropriate in a fall-ish dress.  Our falls in the south are still pretty warm, so the cap sleeve will be perfect.  If the morning starts out cooler, a sweater can be worn with it.

The day before leaving for the beach, I redrafted the sleeve to the bishop dress pattern that I normally use and put the dress together so that I could smock it while on vacation.  I always make my bishop dresses as ready-to-smock.  I love having a completed dress when the smocking is finished.  I was very happy with the end results!


Smocking on prints is always challenging for me, and this was no exception.  I took along several different colors of floss as well as several different smocking plates.  In the end, I decided to use Creative Keepsake’s “Mackenzie” design.  It is similar to the Children’s Corner “Firelight”, which I’ve always loved on prints and plaid fabrics.  I think that the use of the 2 colors is very subtle and compliments the print nicely.



The micro check gingham for the bias at the neck and sleeves adds a little brightness to the fall-ish print.  The micro check was also used for covered buttons in the back.

Now, for a few details on how  the sleeves were redrafted.  You’ll notice that they are not smocked.  I wanted less full sleeves, so smocking them wasn’t practical as that would require more fullness than I wanted.  To reduce the fullness in the sleeves, I creased the sleeve in several places and put some 1/4″ tucks at the creases and pinned them down as  seen on the furthest tuck on the right.  After I felt that enough fullness was removed, the new sleeve was redrawn with the top edge drawn as a smooth line from one side to the other.



The next thing to do was to reduce the depth under the arm.  The finished sleeve depth under the arm is about 1/2″.  Then, the final step was to raise the lower edge of the sleeve by drawing a curve (an upside down “U” shape) from one side seam to the other.  I didn’t have a particular formula for this, just an educated guess.  This is the new sleeve.



After the new sleeve was created, the dress front, sleeves and back were sewn and the bishop dress pleated as normal.  However, when the bias band was attached to the dress, the pleats in the front and back were kept tightly together while the sleeve pleats were spread out. At this point, the pleating threads could be removed from the sleeves and the dress front and back tied off as needed.  The short sleeves were gathered at the bottom and bias band was attached.  The bias band for the sleeves was adjusted and made longer (measure your child for accurate measurement) since the different shaped opening requires a little more room than the normal smocked sleeve.   The remainder of the dress was constructed.

This was a fun dress to make and turned out so cute.  While I did try the dress on my little model, I didn’t get a picture, after all, we were at the beach and modeling a dress was the furthest thing on a little girl’s mind.  I will try to get one soon so that you can see just how cute these new sleeves look.

Now, on to the next project, which I’m still dreaming up.  🙂


17 thoughts on “A Contemporary Bishop Dress

  1. Jenny Jo

    Love the cap sleeves!! Thank you so much for the explanation. One question: Did you leave the sleeve pleating threads in until after you’d (blocked it and) attached the neck band? It looks like it has gathers of some sort and isn’t spread completely flat.

    1. Kathy Post author

      Thank you! To answer your question, yes – the pleating threads were left in until the neckband was attached. I don’t ever block, just construct and then smock the pleats accordingly. Blocking just isn’t necessary then because the smocking is done to the exact size/shape of the dress. Leaving the pleating threads in gives pretty little “pleat/gathers”. I should have taken a picture of that to show.

  2. nonie

    I really enjoy the changes done to the sleeve. I have a ton of questions, even though you did a wonderful tutorial. How do you decide how much fullness needs to be taken out?

    1. Kathy Post author

      Nonie – It was a process of folding out, then gathering up to see how much fullness remained, folding more out, etc. I ended up folding out somewhere around 1/3 of the fullness, give or take a bit. Then, when I had the dress made and the bias bands were first stitched to the bottom edge of the sleeve, I didn’t like the way that they looked – they also needed a tweak. So, marked where I wanted to remove more fabric and proceeded. The final sleeve ended up as the paper pattern pictured. Now I have the size 4 sorted out and doing the other sizes will be somewhat easier. 🙂


    Can you tell me the pattern you used for the bishop? Thirty years ago I loved all the pouf, not so much now. Thank you for all the ideas you give us. Terry

    1. Kathy Post author

      Thank you! I used the Chery Williams bishop pattern, but any bishop pattern can be used and then adapted as I did for this one.

  4. Mariela

    Love it! I will try to make two for my daugthers. I was looking for a tutorial to do this and find it. Thank you! Please keep inspiring us!

  5. Janet Sicking

    Hi Kathy, I loved the look of your modified pattern. I do have a question…did you smock the back of the dress or just left in the pleats until the neck band was attached? Also, do you know of a way to redo sleeves in dresses that were smocked 15+ years ago? My granddaughters want to wear their mother’s dresses but the sleeves are just too poofy for today’s style. Thanks!!

    1. Kathy Post author

      The dress is smocked on the back as well. As far as redoing sleeves in older dresses, if it is a bishop dress, I don’t know an easy to accomplish that. For dresses with set in sleeves, you can remove the sleeve and use the fabric to recut a more updated sleeve – there should be plenty of fabric for that.


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