Novelty Bishop~A Novel Technique

nov bish all


This little novelty bishop and two others were loaned to a friend many years ago.  I had forgotten all about them until they were returned last week.  Of course, they will end up in the closet of our toddler granddaughter, Vivian Rose, though most of them will have a bit of a wait until she grows into them.

Vivi will probably be 4 or 5 before she wears this classic plaid school dress.

nov bish plaid all

Excuse the ugly section of my potting shed shown in the background.   It really is nicer than that.  See here.


I don’t know what happened to the Liberty bishop shown below.  The print is uniformly faded, as if it had spent time in a tub with bleach water. But the deep rose floss used for smocking is not faded at all.  Oh, well, it has not lost its inimitable, silky Liberty hand and still has enough life left in it to serve as a pre-school play dress.


nov bish lib all

Seeing all three together, I was reminded of how much I like this technique.  So along with the how-to info, I am sharing it again with picturesof these new/old dresses and a few others that have been posted earlier.

So why is it called a “novelty bishop?”  About a hundred years ago I took a pleater class at the first SAGA regional seminar which was held in Spartanburg, SC.  Students were instructed on pleating yoke dresses, sleeves, inserts, bishops and what the instructor called “novelty items.”  Those were smocking projects which fit into none of the above categories, such as Children’s Corner Carol or Trudy Horne’s Toddler Smocked Apron.  So I called this novel technique “Novelty Bishop” and wrote an article for Sew Beautiful magazine.


nov bish Lib smock

I’ve always liked this unique smocking plate, Chinese Chippendale, by Barbie Beck.



Detailed directions for applying this technique to an existing bishop pattern are posted here.


nov bish plaid smock



Note that on each dress there is a trim stitched to the seam line between the smocked fabric and the body of the dress. That is not necessary for construction, but I like the way it defines the smocked area and covers up a utility seam.


nov bish smock



Here are a few other novelty bishops that might inspire you to try one of your own.



This is granddaughter Laurel’s AG doll, Molly, wearing a Liberty of London novelty bishop.  


The substitute fabric is pleated in one long strip across the width of the fabric. No seams.  Hurrah!  But  45 inches is not long enough for sizes above 3 or 4.  After that, two pieces must be seamed together to achieve the width needed to match the circumference of the front, back and  two sleeves.

Still, running just one flat seam through the pleater is much easier than coming face to face with 4 French or zig zagged seams.  That center front seam is open to the right side and pressed before pleating. Then a few pleats are released so the seam can be neatly covered with a tab of fabric to match the skirt.  See the Liberty goat dress below.



For details, see Liberty Goat Dress post. Can you tell that grandson Robert does not want to have his picture taken?


This dress is now being worn by granddaughter Vivian Rose.


Laurel's dress has an ivory yoke over a pale pink skirt.

Laurel’s dress has an ivory yoke over a pale pink skirt.


So what do you think of novelty bishops?  Why not consider this technique the next time you are ready to start a bishop.

2 responses to “Novelty Bishop~A Novel Technique

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I have been looking for instructions on how to do this.

  2. Andra, I am happy to know that it was helpful. Modifying a bishop like this really gives the classic a twist. Years ago I used teddy bear fabric for the body of the dress and then smocked matching bears on the contrasting yoke. I’d love to hear about any novelty bishops you make.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.