When I was looking for inspiration for the special occasion theme week at Project Run and Play, I stumbled upon (or rather was pin-pricked by) this cute dior bishop dress. I hadn’t really thought of what type of dress this style was, but dior is calling it a cap sleeve. I just thought it looked like a cute style for my little girl.
I looked around some more and found that the style is indeed called a bishop dress. I finally found one page which had a simple layout of the construction of a bishop dress. But the specifics they gave left much to be desired and the pictures aren’t quite zoomed in enough to figure out what was going on. So I made up the parts I didn’t know, hehe.
The basics of the design (as far as I could tell) are taking five (Is anyone else obsessed with english “rules” like any number ten and under is supposed to be spelled instead of using the actual number? Just me? hmmm) rectangles, sewing them together, and then gathering or smocking the top (or both) to get the poofed out shape. Smocking seems to be the traditional method.
I didn’t have a pattern and Bean was sleeping so I just made up some measurements when I cut out the rectangles. I figured there would be lots of room for error so I took a guess. I think I ended up cutting the front piece about 15 inches by 30-something inches which was ridiculous. The width worked out perfectly, but the length was chopped off later. Especially when it became my signature look. I wanted a cute little short dress. The sleeve rectangles were about 5 (I think the number writing rule does not apply when giving measurements or writing out math like 2+2…. but maybe I just made that up since the teacher who taught me the number rule didn’t mention what to do when writing a blog tutorial…. this was also back in 1989) inches by 12 inches which worked out perfectly for both width and length. The back pieces were cut just shy of the front piece size in width which was CRAZY. The were way too wide in the end. I was worried about the dress not fitting properly when Bean is seated (since she’s not up and walking around yet there’s lots and lots of sitting) but I could have easily made the back widths 9 or 10 inches each and the fit would have been fine. As it was, I just gathered the back neckline more than I would have otherwise. So there really IS a lot of room for error with this type of dress. And by error, I’m also referring to these pictures where the fabric wasn’t even ironed before cutting or sewing it, hehe.
Using french seams was the best way to go with this fabric since it was so light and frayed really easily. I didn’t finish any of the horizontal edges before sewing, but if I made this again, I would have hemmed the sleeve rectangles or added some sort of edgeing at this point to make it easier later. But not doing it now didn’t cause too much trouble.
Once the five rectangles are sewn together it was time to smock the top edge. I chose a lattice edge design since I liked the dramatic look to it. It was (of course) more complicated than the normal honeycomb smocking. I’ll write a specific smocking post about how it came together next week. For now, here is a picture of the right side (left) and the wrong side (right) of the fabric after smocking.
Now we move on to sewing the side seams. I again french-seamed since I was worried about it being worn (and seams shredded) by a baby (look at those tiny hands just itching to shred and shred). Ignore the sleeve rectangles and sew the front piece to each of the back pieces, leaving the back open for now. This is why it would have been nice to finish the sleeve edges previously, but at this point I still thought I might leave them to fray. I kind of liked the way they were looking.
The smocking didn’t gather the neckline as much as I had hoped, mostly because I didn’t tighten the stitches as I got closer to the top edge like I probably should have. Honeycomb smocking would be easier to achieve that with, but I also wanted the lattice to look somewhat uniform so I chose not to. Instead, I gathered the top edge using this method, which I saw pinned by googiemama and I seriously will never gather any other way again. Why aren’t we all doing it this way???
I gathered more in the sleeve sections since I wanted them to poof up a bit and really, I wanted the front neckline lattice work to be preserved. I also had to gather the back more than I would have liked since I cut the pieces too wide and didn’t have the heart to cut into the lattice smocking I painstakingly(!) sewed.
To cover the gathered neckline, I used more of the fabric using this neckline method that I just love. Technically it’s for knit fabrics, but I find it works just fine for this cottony fabric as long as you cut the strip a little shorter than the actual gathered neckline.
To finish the back I knew I wanted to have two buttons at the top so I made a button placket all the way down. I just sewed up from the bottom the section I didn’t want to open, leaving enough room for Bean to get her head and arms through. You could make buttons or snaps open down the length if you wanted. This picture was one of the best to show the placket.
I just realized that anyone that didn’t read my signature look post has no idea why the dress fabric has changed colors, hehe. When I changed this dress to represent my signature look instead of just the special occasion look, I dyed the fabric, hemmed the sleeves, and added the crochet trimmed neckline. I’ll post about the crochet details next week as well.
To finish the dress, I just sewed on the buttons and then hemmed the bottom edge. I used a 1.5 inch or so doubled over hem in case Bean sprouts up too much before the weather is nice enough to wear it.
I hope this is enough information to get you started making your own bishop dress. I will definitely make another one since the construction is so easy. If you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments. I may have skirted (hehe) over a detail or two so let me know.
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