AG Doll Bishop with Centered Embroidery

American Girl doll Marie Grace in her Valentine nightie

For Valentine’s Day, I am making my 7 year-old granddaughter a smocked bishop nightgown and this matching one for her American Girl doll.  If these hadn’t been cut out and pleated up before I got Custom Keepsakes  Sweet Dreams collection, I would be making nighties from that set.  But these have to be finished.

I wanted something a little more interesting than a standard bishop and decided centered embroidery would be a fresh look.  More than once, I have flattened the pleats at center front for embroidery or a tab and never found it to neither difficult nor problematic.

Doing this on a doll sized bishop gave me some unexpected disappointments.  I’d like to share with you what I learned on this little project.

But here are the particulars of the nightie.  The smocking is a design I just made up as I went along,  the fabric is Imperial batiste and the pattern is one I drafted. The embroidery is from Martha Pullen’s Little Pleasures  collection, though it is slightly rearranged.  Laurel’s gown will have the fil tire’ heart for embroidery.

The smocked sleeves were trimmed with French lace and embellished with French knot flowers, a cluster of three in the center and a single knot on either side.

Frankly, this is all nit-picky stuff and probably isn’t worth worrying about on a doll nightgown.  But I wanted to figure out just what went wrong.  If you don’t care, take a quick look at the pictures and move on!  The internet is full of fabulous blogs with interesting, fun posts.

First, in response to Jo’s question, just how do you prepare a bishop with center front embroidery?

  • Pleat the bishop as usual, but with extra long threads and with the center front marked.
  • Pull up each pleating thread at that center mark and cut.  Be sure to pull up enough thread that you can easily tie a hefty knot.
  • Remove the threads from enough pleats to accommodate the embroidery design.
  • Knot each of these cut ends.
  • See a flat center with a vertical row of knots on either side.

The problem I ran into was the neckline and binding.  First, in order to correct the inevitable dip in the hemline at center front, I always draft (or use patterns) with a straight neckline. Here is how I do it and then you will see what I should have considered for a doll pattern. FYI, I always use 1/2″ seam allowance at the neckline which I adjust on patterns that have a smaller seam allowance.

  •  After cutting out the pieces, I fold the front in half, with the fold running down the center front from neckline to hem.
  • Then I mark a dot 1/2″ below the top edge on the fold.
  • With a rotary ruler and cutter, I cut from the dot on the fold to the seam line of the front shoulder.  This removes a folded wedge from the neckline, making it 1/2″ shorter at center front.  The gentle taper causes no difficulty with pleating.
  • After sewing the pieces together, I run a machine sewn 3.0 length gathering stitch 1/4-3/8″ from the raw edge.
  • The bishop is pleated with the first pleating thread 1/2″ below the neck edge, which puts it right on the seam line.

So far, so good.  Then for center embroidery, I remove the pleating threads from that area as detailed above.

So what is the problem?  The neckline.

1.  The flat, embroidered section, 1-1/4″ wide has very little curve to it.  If there had been pleats there, the slight taper of neckline would have been greater at the center front.

As I thought about it, I recalled that approximately 3″ of flat fabric pleats up to 1″.  So the center 1-1/4″ of binding would have used up  3-3/4″  of fabric that had been tapered.  That leaves the center front much straighter.

I’ll have to check with my husband, the engineer, to figure out just how that could be corrected.  But I know it should have been a deeper curve.

2.  The flat, embroidered section has no bulk to fill the bias binding.  I don’t recall this being a problem with earlier flat center bishops, but maybe I wasn’t as picky  then.

As I was applying the binding and came to the flat section, I discovered that I had two choices, neither of which I liked.  The first was to fold the bias over just as I had on the smocked section.  That left the bias much wider, because it had nothing to wrap around.

The same amount of bias could wrap around thick pleats and measure 3/16″ in width while the flat section had nothing to fill it and measured 1/4″.  Does that make sense to anyone who has plowed through this minutiae?

The other option, was to wrap the bias over the same distance, and then stitch the excess width further down on.  But it shadowed through.  I chose this option as the lesser of two evils.  In retrospect, I probably could have just twisted a narrow strip of batiste to use as filling.

You can see the excess bias shadowing through the batiste above the embroidery.

Well, I could go on about how I wish I had lowered the embroidery and/or smocked fewer rows in the front, but this is more than anyone wants to read.  And it’s more than I want to write about.  I still have Laurel’s nightie to smock so I will move on to that.

Are you sewing/smocking/embroidering any Valentine’s gifts?  Tell us about it.


This is my post for Freckled Laundry and Pink Saturday.

10 responses to “AG Doll Bishop with Centered Embroidery

  1. Janice, I think this is a fabulous blog, and it most certainly interests me. More on that topic later. I like that line of pink zig-zag that you did to tie the embroidery in with the smocking stitches. Now, here is my multitude of follow-up questions…. Why exactly don’t you like it? Did you remove any width from the front pattern piece before pleating? Am I right that you don’t need a deeper taper, but a more steep one? Maybe the tapering business should be done after pleating/flattening? Why don’t you like the length of the embroidery? Why is that one from Pinterest gathered a bit in the front? Thank-you. 😉

  2. Jo, here is a multitude of answers to your multitude of questions.

    The pink zig zag under the embroidery was an after thought, unfortunately, thought about after I removed the pleating threads. So the stitches are not as even as they would have been if I had not been in such a hurry to get those threads out of there. #1 I don’t like that. The way the binding shadows through the batiste in the flattened center bothers me. #2 I don’t like that. Without thinking, I made the front and back pieces wider than my self drafted pattern called for. The piece of batiste from which they were cut was wider than I needed for these pattern pieces. So I just made the front and back a little wider, without thinking about the added bulk of those extra inches or the fact that I planned to leave the center unpleated. So in spite of my efforts to get the neckline neatly bound, there is some pucker in that very visible center section. #3 I don’t like that.

    I think it would have been more pleasing to have the bottom of the embroidery lined up with the bottom row of smocking. As I was smocking on the fly, at the hairdressers, waiting to meet my husband for dinner, etc. I just smocked mindlessly–which is one of the things I like about smocking. SOMETIMES you can smock without giving it much thought. SOMETIMES, not all the time. If I had given it a moment’s though, I would have started smocking further up, at the pleating thread just below the embroidery. So the pink zig zag was sort of an attempt to compensate for my dissatisfaction with the coordination of the two genres.

    I KNOW for certain this is more than you wanted to know. It’s a doll nightie, for heaven’s sake! I’ve got to move on.

  3. Janice, this is gorgeous! Makes me want to go right out and buy a doll to make clothes for. Wow, now that’s something to think about, isn’t it. What a wonderful addition to my Grandmother’s hope chest. Anyway, I love the doll dress. I am working on some Valentine’s pillow cases for my own bed. I am still figuring out what I want to do though. I want to use the fil tire design with some English netting insertion. I have some ideas, but that’s about it so far. I will keep you posted. That’s it for the Valentine things. Merry Gay

  4. Janice….I have a couple of questions on the doll neck binding (or any Bishop binding for that matter). 1. How wide do you cut your bias for the neck binding? Do you attach it by folding it double, wrong sides together? Then take a 1/2 inch seam? Just wondering…I’ve tried different widths, etc. and am wondering what you recommend. Thanks a heap……again!

  5. Shirley, I too tried all different widths and what works for me is 1-7/8″. As a mathematically challenged/handicapped individual, I generally don’t like to deal in 1/8″‘s, but this number works perfectly for me.

    I fold the bias in half, wrong sides together, then hand baste it to the smocking with the raw edge of the smocked neckline matching the raw edge of the folded bias.

    Then I machine straight stitch (L. 3) along the back smocked row 1. This was stitched on the first pleating thread (I run the raw edge through the first empty needle groove on my Sally Stanley pleater. I don’t recall the exact distance between needle grooves on my pleater, but pleaters vary from about 3/8″ to 1/2″. That’s close enough to the width of my 1/2″ seam allowance and it works for me.

    NOTE: Above that pleating thread is a machine sewn gathering stitch about 1/4″ from the raw neck edge. I’ve already pulled that thread when I begin attaching the binding.

    Next, I zig zag, W. 3.5 or so, L. 1.0, with zig going into the line of stitching that attached the bias. That compresses the pleats for easier binding.
    After zig zagging, I cut up to the edge of the zig zag. The remaining compressed, 3.5 (or so), zigzagged neck edge then fills almost perfectly the bias binding as it is wrapped to the back of the bishop and hand whipped in place.

    Is this clear? It took me a very long time to be totally comfortable with bishop bindings. Let me know if you would like a pictoral/tutorial on this.
    This is more answer than your question asked. Oops.

  6. What purpose does the machine sewn gathering stitch about 1/4″ from the raw neck edge serve?

  7. It keeps the pleats standing “at attention” while I stitch through the cable back smocking. I run the maching gathering stitch on the right side of the gown starting at the left center back. By doing so, my bobbin thread, which pulls more easily than the needle thread, is on the wrong side where I will be pulling it. Also, my tiny French seams are stitched down facing the direction that is most helpful when I pleat the bishop with wrong side up. I can nestle the little seams into the pleater grooves as they come up. Clear? Probably not. Ask me any questions you have.

  8. Venita Henderson

    Hello. I went backwards to the beginning of your posts and have been reading forward for about a week. I have enjoyed every single one–yes, I DID read every word! Also, I have learned SOOO much. I am up to about a year ago. I did read this one this morning and you mentioned “GOWN”. Do you have suggestions for a comfy smocked perfect gown that my 18 year old who recently married would like? I have not smocked for her since she was little and thought it would be a great surprise for her. Perhaps for Valentines or her March birthday. Can knit be smocked? Comfort is key. I was thinking of something sundressy with a smocked yoke. Suggestions? Once I finish reading up to the current, I will definitely keep up. Your work is AMAZING! Very BLESSED family!!!

  9. Venita, how did I miss this comment? I am so sorry that this is such a tardy response! First, let me thank you for reading all those posts—WOW!!!— and for your sweet comments.
    A smocked nightgown would be a wonderful gift for your daughter. And yes, knits can be smocked. They do not hold pleats very well, so I like to smock patterns that are more dense and have little open, unsmocked areas. I have patterns twice as old as your daughter, so I don’t know what is currently available. I will check around and e-mail you with a few recommendations.

  10. Janice – you may have been frustrated with this little dress but the problems you describe certainly didn’t keep me from stopping to take a second look. It is adorable – and I’m so pleased that you shared it. Still inspiring 5 years later.

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