How to Add a Box Pleat to a Bishop Dress


Box pleats pictured on the Children’s Corner “Bishop”

The traditional bishop pattern is one of the most beloved heirloom designs of all time, and with good reason – it never goes out of style, and its versatility provides options for any and every occasion. One way to give yourself a little bit of extra space for creativity when sewing a bishop is to add a box pleat. Picture plates for bishops are relatively rare, and working an embroidery design on top of pleats is a tricky process. With a box pleat, the blank fabric strip at the center front accommodates decorative buttons, trims or embroidery. This technique also works on straight, smocked skirts that join a yoke seam. Multiple box pleats can also be added to one dress with a little careful measuring. To add a box pleat to a bishop, follow these instructions from Allison Burris as featured in our Sew Beautiful: Favorite Heirloom Sewing Designs special edition:

NOTE: This construction technique may be used on any bishop pattern. The samples shown are The Children’s Corner’s “Bishop.”

1. From pattern sheet, cut out bishop backs and sleeves.

2. Before cutting fabric, add 3 inches to center of front pattern piece by extending center front foldline 1-1/2 inches (fig. 1); this will create a 1-1/2-inch pleat. NOTE: Larger pleats will not work well due to the curve of the finished neckline.

3. Determine number of rows to be pleated, including holding rows. Mark the following, making sure that marks extend slightly below depth of lowest pleating row (fig. 2):

a. Mark center front.

b. Mark 3/4 inch to each side of center front line. These will be lines on which to fold pleat. It is also the area in which embroidery design will be centered.

c. Mark 1-1/2 inches to each side of center front line. These are stitching lines for pleat.

4. After marking lines, run through pleater as usual. Leave threads long enough to flatten center front area.

5. After pleating, flatten center front area and cut pleating threads at center front mark. Remove pleating threads from center area out to one pleat past stitching line on each side and tie off (fig. 3).


6. Iron center front section to remove creases left by pleater. Transfer and center your selected embroidery design over center front line (fig. 4).

7. Complete all embroidery.

8. Fold at center front (wrong sides together), matching stitching lines. Sew along stitching line, stopping even with bottom holding row (fig. 5).

9. Flatten pleat, aligning center front mark with seam underneath (fig. 6).


10. Finger press, pin and iron using a pressing cloth to protect embroidery.

11. Draw up pleating threads and smock using a mirror image design on each side of pleat. HINT: Begin smocking at each edge of pleat and work around toward back. If pattern is not symmetrical at back edges, adjust by removing extra pleats on larger edge before inserting back placket.

12. After smocking, lay front pleat flat and ensure that smocked design is evenly revealed from underneath pleat. Slightly adjust pleat folds if necessary, but be careful that embroidery still appears to be centered.

13. Baste across upper edge of pleat and neck edge. Complete back placket or facings, attach bias neckband, and complete dress construction according to pattern directions.

Visit our online store for more heirloom sewing inspiration and supplies – from patterns and techniques in Favorite Heirloom Sewing Designs, to smocking pleaters and pleater needles to beautiful fabrics.