Peach Bishop


This is one of my all-time favorite smocked dresses.  I made it for Rebecca when she was just 4 years old and now, 30 years later, still enjoy seeing it hang in the nursery closet.

There are several interesting features to this peach Imperial batiste bishop dress.  The  extra deep smocking front and back, white sleeve overlay, and original smocking design made it a pleasure to design and stitch. The bottom rows of the smocking design were drafted to mimic the sleeve overlay fancyband.

EXTRA DEEP SMOCKING: The number of rows smocked front and back on this dress greatly exceeds the recommended amount for this size.  You can see that the smocking goes far below the beginning of the armhole curve, normally the absolute last row of stitching.  Smocking rarely goes beyond this point because 1) it would exceed the width of the child’s shoulder and 2) it is impossible to pleat through that curve.




The first restriction is eliminated by smocking only a few rows at the neckline, well before the edge of the shoulder.  Secondly, the pleating is done before construction, allowing pleats to go to any depth.




This is most easily done by working with a block of fabric, rather than a cut out front and back.  The armhole curve is traced with a washaway marker onto the fabric block before pleating front, back and sleeves from a straight edge to a straight edge.  Later, the pleating threads are pulled out up to the seamline of the armhole and knotted off.  Then the armhole curve is cut out and the front and back pieces are joined to the sleeves.

SLEEVE OVERLAY:  The white sleeve cap overlay includes a Swiss embroidery from Capitol Imports, entredeux and French Val lace edging.  This detail alone elevates the easy care bishop to a more elegant level. 

It is easily done.  First,  the fancyband was created. The width of sleeve pattern was measured just above the beginning of the armhole curve and recorded. The Swiss embroidery was edged with entredeux with lace edging joined to the bottom edge.

Next, the depth of the sleeve was measured from the neckline to that same point above the armhole curve.  This will be the finished length of the sleeve cap.  The width of the fancy band was subtracted from the length and a 1/4″ seam allowance was added.  The entredeux already has a seam allowance so only one SA need be added.

The two sleeve caps were constructed as one block.  The fancyband was joined to the batiste, the piece was folded in half and then placed on the the sleeve pattern, with the raw edge of the batiste at the neckline.

After the sleeves were cut out, the white caps were simply basted to the peach fabric.  Then each whole piece was treated as a single sleeve. Lace edging was rolled and whipped to the sleeve and 6 rows were pleated at the neck edge and again above the lace.


There should have been one more stitch joining the peach bodice to the white Swiss embroidery.

There should have been one more stitch joining the peach bodice to the white Swiss embroidery.


PRE-SMOCKING CONSTRUCTION:  After the front, back and sleeves were cut out and finished, they were seamed together.  Care was taken to match up the pleating rows at the neckline on both the sleeves, front and back.  The regular seam was overcast with fine thread, because French seams would have been very bulky with 6 layers of fabric.

ORIGINAL SMOCKING DESIGN:  While the top rows of smocking are nothing special, just simple diamonds and baby waves, the bottom of the design was my attempt to copy the sleeve fancyband.  Of course, the flowerettes were no challenge. But it took some time for me to echo the lace pattern.

Ultimately, I realized that in order to replicate the look of lace, I needed to use the standard three strands of floss for the lace header, two strands for the scallop pattern and dot and a single strand of floss for the ground (background) pattern. I’m not sure that it is entirely convincing, but it was interesting and challenging to try to duplicate the pattern. This portion of the smocking is relatively stitch intensive, so it was necessary to stitch very loosely.




There is one other smocking detail I’d like to mention.  Using the smocking stitches for ribbon carriers is a sweet look.  The first time I tried this on an earlier dress, I used white floss to contrast with the pastel fabric.  But after white ribbon was run through the one-step waves, the lack of contrast between the ribbon and the stitches caused the smocking to just disappear.  Since then, I’ve always smocked in the color of the fabric to create contrast.


I always tried to stand behind Rebecca when she was wearing this dress because the back closure is so ugly.

I always tried to stand behind Rebecca when she was wearing this dress because the back closure is so ugly.


UGLY BACK:Time and time again, I have tried to invert the buttons on a bishop so that the smocking design is not broken by this utilitarian necessity.  Success has always eluded me.  First, sewing the buttons on to just the placket allows the placket to open enough to look even worse than well placed buttons and button holes.  Secondly, when I have sewn the buttons through to the smocking, there is a pucker.  Thirdly, when I attach snaps, I get the same pucker that results when sewing buttons through the smocking.  I find this back very distracting.

Does anyone have a suggestion?

17 responses to “Peach Bishop

  1. This dress takes my breath away! The smocking you designed to match the lace is amazing!

  2. So, you still have hidden talents that I do not know about! The idea to smock the dress to match the lace is great. I think the deeper smocking on the front and back will allow the older girl to wear a bishop. I usually stop making bishops when they reach size 5 or 6. I have to try this!! Thanks for the idea!

  3. I have lots of talents you don’t know about! I can make babies smile, make a plate of brownies disappear and have memorized at least 100 phone numbers without even trying. I just wish I had more useful talents. But if you want a really long list, ask me about areas in which I have no talent–cooking, organizing, throwing useless items away, keeping my mouth shut, etc. etc.
    I’m glad you like this technique. It’s really good for big girl nightgowns. I’m starting a blue microcheck ready to smock bishop for a nightie for Laurel. She likes her nightgowns to reach her toes, so it’s lucky that she is so short.

  4. I’m glad you like this smocking design and easy care dress, Jo. Only the sleeve caps need to be ironed, so it is a modern-mommy friendly garment. If I can find the graphed smocking design I’ll make it available to any readers who would like it. The design was published in the SAGA Newsletter so I should be able to locate it there, at least.

  5. Oh, my! This dress is so lovely! The smocking design does look just like the lace. Beautiful! I struggle with button backs on bishops, too. When Victoria-Rose was little I used antique beauty pins to close them. I loved the look but can’t afford to give away beauty pins when I make a bishop dress to give as a gift. I end up doing pearl shank buttons with loops for the older children and flat pearl buttons with button holes through the placket for little ones. I would love your smocking design. You are so sweet to offer it!

  6. I absolutely LOVE the smocked lace!

  7. It’s surprising that this technique is generating so much interest 30 years after the dress was made. I’m glad you like it Jan. Give it a try.

  8. I really like the lace smocking. If you can find the pattern for it, I’d love it!

  9. Ruth Ann, I did find the design and included it in this post I’m pleased to know that you like it. This is an interesting twist on regular smocking.

  10. Nancy Bouchard

    I make smocked doll dresses and would so love to make this one, it is absolutely beautiful.
    I am also a bobbin lace maker and would love to know how to make lace smocking.
    Thank you

  11. Nancy, your comment makes me smile–thanks. The “lace” smocking is simply stitches mimicking the lace pattern. I did locate the directions and they are included in this post. Let me know if you have any questions. Once you read the directions and see how it really just came down to using varying numbers of floss strands, I think you could copy any lace that was not too intricate. I’d love to see this modified to work on a smocked doll dress. You could go down to 80 wt. Madeira Cotona thread for the finest portions of a lace design. Let me know how this works out for you.

  12. Karen Simmons Namy

    Love the lace smocking on this dress!Gorgeous!

  13. Thank you, Karen. I made this dress 31 years ago and entered the smocking design in a SAGA competition. I didn’t win, but enjoyed recreating the lace pattern.

  14. May I please have an uber close-up of the lace?

    Please type ‘lace’ on the subject line. Tyvm!

  15. Donna, the photos in this post are the most close up images I have. The dress itself is on the other side of the state in my granddaughter’s closet, so I have no access to it. The post includes very detailed instructions as to how the smocked lace was stitched. I hope your questions can be answered by enlarging the photos in this post.

  16. JANICE! Pinterest just sent this to me. May I look at it in detail the next time we come over? The smocked lace is perfection.

  17. Of course, Jenny. I think it is hanging in Vivian Rose’s closet across the state but I’ll ask her mother to bring it at Christmas. It’s an interesting smocking technique. I’m glad it caught your eye.

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