Seamlessly Pleating a Bishop Dress for Smocking


Pleating a bishop seamlessly pin.

A smocked bishop is such a classic perfect dress but pleating one successfully can be a chore. Traditionally the 4 raglan seams are sewn together and then the entire neckline is passed through the pleater. This can mean seams getting caught in the pleating threads which results in unsightly bumps and possibly broken needles. The simple solution is to pleat the bishop seamlessly or before sewing the seams together. Below is a video showing step by step how to do this, but there are written directions as well.

The advantage of pleating a bishop seamlessly is the seams will be hidden every time and the risk of broken pleater needles is drastically reduced. The disadvantages are that the seams cannot be sewn with French seams and the pleater must be threaded and rethreaded several times.



The bishop dress must be pleated from opening to opening and with the fabric face up.

Preparing the bishop to pleat.

I am constructing a back opening bishop so I will pleat the bishop beginning from center back. Next the sleeve with go through the pleater, then the front, the 2nd sleeve, and the remaining back piece. Any type of opening can be accommodated, just pleat from the opening around to the opening. Make sure to mark the sleeve pieces so the side of the sleeve that connects to the back goes through the pleater next to the back and so forth.


Set up the pleater so the needles are all the way to the left.

Setting up the pleater.

Normally I like my needles shifted to the right so that the pleater bars are helping me to control the fabric, but when pleating the small sleeve piece the needles need to be to the right to that you can guide the fabric.


Pleat the first piece, the back in my case, as you normally would.

Pleating the first piece.

You can see that I forgot when I was smocking the first back piece and had to remove the needles and shift them.


Remove the back piece from the Pleater.

Removing the pleated piece from the pleater.

Take the entire back piece off the pleater. Don't cut the threads.

Remove the seam allowance from the Back.

Removing the seam allowance from the pleated piece.

Don't skimp on the seam allowance but give yourself the space needed to sew the seam without catching the pleating threads. My threads are still attached to spools of thread.


Begin pleating the sleeve with the pleater unthreaded.

Pleating the sleeve of the bishop.

Begin pleating the sleeve with the pleater unthreaded. Stop once a few pleats are through the pleater.


Remove the seam allowance of the sleeve from the pleater and push it below the needles.

Removing the seam allowance from the pleater needles.

Carefully pull the seam allowance off the pleater needles and push the sleeve back up on the needles. (You can see how I do this much better in the video) The seam allowance is now below the needles.


Rethread the pleater using the thread from the back piece.

Rethreading the pleater with the seam allowance removed.

Take the threads from the back piece and thread the pleater. Make sure to keep the threads in the same position as they are coming through the back piece. Make sure that they do no cross. Pleater thread 1 must remain pleater thread 1 and not cross pleater thread 2 before it enters the needle. Pleat the sleeve, remove it from the pleater and then remove the seam allowance.


Repeat this procedure for each piece.

To recap: the first piece is pleated normally, removed from the pleater and the seam allowance removed from the seam. Each subsequent piece is fed into the pleater with the pleater unthreaded. Pleat the piece for an inch or so, remove the seam allowance from the needles and push it below the needles. Rethread the pleater using the same threads from the previous pieces and keeping them in the same order. Finish pleating the piece, remove it from the pleater and remove the pleating threads from the seam allowance.


The Seams are magically pushed to the back of the dress.

The seams of the bishop all pushed to the back of the dress.

The result is a pleated bishop with no pleating threads in the seam allowances and the seam allowances pushed to the back of the dress.


Sew the seams using your preferred method.

Seams of the bishop prepared for sewing.

It is not possible to sew the seams with French seams because the pleater threads are in the way. . Sew a regular seam and finish it with serging or a slight zigzag, or sew a mock French seam.


Block the Bishop as you normally would.

The Finished Blocked Bishop

For help on how to block a bishop, check out this blog post and video. I hope you give this method a try and sign up for our twice monthly newsletter for more smocking tips ad tricks. Happy Smocking!