Gathering Threads

Primrose Bishop

Posted by on Feb 02 2015, in Sewing for Children, Smocking

I’m finally getting a chance to show folks the bishop I finished over the Christmas holidays.  This is Gail Doane’s Primrose, from the Country Bumpkin book Beautiful Bishops.  I’ve made a bunch of bishops from this book, but I’ve  always had my eye on the Primrose.  It’s just so sunshiny and sweet.

Primrose bishop front

I started this dress over the summer, as a swimming lesson project.  The mindless trellis stitch was easy to work away on and didn’t require careful counting or hauling around a lot of materials.  I think it will be perfect for Easter and the spring and summer months.  I’ve been waiting for a nice sunny day to get good photos – winter sewing is always tricky to photograph well.

Primrose bishop back

 The fabric is a lovely striped swiss dot that I picked up on clearance at Fabricland last year, for $4/m.  It’s the real thing and a lovely, soft hand.  I just wish the rest of the dress had been as inexpensive.  The insertions and silk ribbon weren’t cheap and ran me more than $45 bucks once shipping was factored in.

Primrose bishop detail


Primrose bishop shoulder closure (2)

For the floss, I ended up using DMC Satin floss, a 100% rayon thread that’s divisible and that matched the silk ribbon perfectly.   I’m telling you, this stuff is fantastic!  Seriously, stitches like a dream, readily available at Michaels for a good price and comes in a good range of colours that correspond with DMC’s regular cotton skeins, so it’s easy to match and plan.  I’d heard so many horror stories about rayon – shredding, knotting, crazy tangles — that I’d always avoided it and stuck with cotton floss.  No more hesitation.  If you haven’t tried rayon, or had a bad experience with another brand, try this stuff.  It was a joy to stitch with, smooth and easy to handle..  The only thing I had to do was cut slightly longer tails on my knots, because it doesn’t take as tight a knot as cotton but otherwise, I enjoyed every minute I stitched with it.


It also made great looking violets (or technically, primroses, although I think they look like violets).  The flowers are cast on stitches and french knots, with a lovely sheen.  They’re interspersed between tiny yellow bows decorated with bullion knots.  Aren’t they cute?

Primrose bishop cast-on flowers

 For the hem, I didn’t do the tucks that the book suggested.  It would have been too busy with the vertical stripes in the fabric.  Instead, I just tried to keep the stripes consistent between the dress and the hem band.  A few places are a bit misaligned but on a galloping horse, I think it’ll serve.

primrose smocked bishop  fancy band

 I also changed the closure, from a back button band to a shoulder closure. I put clear snaps along the opening and then buttons with thread loops to finish it.  I’m still on the fence about the buttons – I have searched high and low and simply can’t find small yellow buttons that match as perfectly as I’d like them to.  They’re all lemon yellow, and I need butter yellow. Here’s the difference: without the buttons.

primrose smocked bishop shoulder closure detail

With the buttons:

 Primrose bishop shoulder closure

What’s your verdict?  Can I get away with the variation in colour or should I trade them out for white ones?

The sleeves are finished with the insertion and a small scalloped trim.  I didn’t use the scalloped trim on the neckline as Gail had suggested.  Budgetary concerns 🙂

primrose smocked bishop sleeve detail

I interfaced the pleats with ultra-fine fusible interfacing.  On my first go-round, I tried it without, thinking I could get away without it.  And I could have, if Ellie’s neck was 3″ in diametre.  The fabric just pleated into nothing.  So I mumbled, grumbled and pulled out all the pleating threads and started from scratch.  

primrose bishop pleats with interfacing

Then I interfaced it, the way I should have done in the first place and re-pleated it, having relearned my lesson.  Now the pleats were plump and well supported.  The interfacing extends about .5mm below the last row of smocking but is invisible from the right side.

primrose bishop interior close up

The last part of the outfit was the slip.  The swiss dot fabric is darn near translucent, and so soft that it lacked body without another layer underneath.  You might not recognize the pattern I used for the slip.  It’s Judith Marquis’ Little Snowdrift.

slip front

Normally, it’s a sundress pattern but the round yoke is perfect for underneath a bishop, so I used it instead of drafting my own.  All I did was lower the neckline a couple of centimetres, so that it wouldn’t be visible above the bishop’s neckline.   Judith’s patterns are always really nicely laid out and well drafted, so I knew the fit would be good.

slip back

The hem features five 1/4″ tucks along the bottom, plus some entredeux and baby lace.  I think the tucks are a bit heavy – if I was doing it again, I think I’d go with pintucks instead — but I wasn’t taking them out!

slip hem

And it wouldn’t be a project if there wasn’t at least one snafu.   While I was trimming the seam allowance on the yoke, look what I managed to snip by mistake:

slip yoke

Argh.   But again, it’s a slip.  Fancy underwear.  Nobody’s going to see it!  So I stuck a drop of fraycheck on it, backed it with a tiny square of fusible interfacing and left it alone.  You really have to know where to look and overall, I think Ellie’s going to look adorable in this dress.





  • Heidi

    I would go with white buttons or purple for that matter. As for the fabric, I also used this fabric for my mom’s smocked nightgown. She loved it but sadly has passed away.

  • Claire

    I never thought of purple, Heidi but I like that idea a lot. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled and see if I can find a pretty soft violet button that might work.

  • Elizabeth

    This is stunning!!! Another gorgeous dress, Claire! How did you convert your bishop to a shoulder opening? I have wondered that for some time, but I haven’t found any details. Please enlighten me 🙂

  • Claire

    Thanks, Elizabeth. Shoulder closures are an easy peasy switch. You can use any bishop pattern, you just cut both the back and front on the fold at the CB/CF. Sleeves are cut as normal. When you assemble the bishop, you sew them like this: sleeve/front/sleeve/back. Pleating is done as usual. After smocking and blocking are done you simply sew about 2-3″ up from the bottom of the arm scye so that the back and the first sleeve are connected. Then you insert a placket above that point, like you would for any skirt. I have my placket extend to the back and used a combination of clear nylon snaps for hold and button loops for ‘look’.