Bishop Method of Clothing Construction, a Very Short Overview

Dear Readers,

Today, I want to bring your attention to the Bishop Method of Clothing Construction.  I’ve become the owner of three books about it, published by J. B. Lippincott Company, not in operation today.

Back in the day, your grandma or your mom or you (if you’re approaching the golden years) may have learned to sew with the Bishop Method.

Revised 1966
Revised edition 1966
IMG_1031
Published 1962.
IMG_1033
Published 1974

This movement was launched in the 50s when Edna Bryte Bishop of McDonald, Pennsylvania developed a set of home sewing procedures based on industrial methods, which resulted in a more professional look for home sewn clothes.  The goal was to make the home seamstress’ project look as if it was sewn in a factory, and not have the “fireside” look (The term “fireside” is a quote from the book).   Yes, I am calling it a movement after reading about how it was such an influencer in the field of home sewing, and sewing education at that time.

The very basic premise of the Bishop Method is the “Unit Method” of clothing construction. It means that you must complete one part of a garment as much as possible before attaching it to the other complete part. For example, the sleeves, collar and bodice “units” of a shirt or blouse should be completed before being attached to each other. Facings, if present in the design, are also considered a “unit”. Once the facing is attached to the neckline, it becomes part of the bodice unit.

With the Unit Method, Mrs. Bishop developed sewing process priorities which were deemed crucial to a well-made garment:

Fabric Grain Perfection: According to the Bishop Method your sewing project needs to be perfectly on grain, otherwise it will not hang correctly. This is the most important concept taught therein. So much importance is attached to the perfection of fabric grain that the book lists “torn” projects as first sewing projects for beginners. This means that no scissors are applied to the fabric so the student can learn the importance of fabric grain. The pieces of the project are straight (no curves) and can be torn, making sure that they are grain perfect. Of course, it also means that you have to begin by making sure that the fabric is perfectly on grain.

Also included is perfection in fitting, cutting, marking and in sewing and pressing; and the Bishop method shows you how. I would like to substitute the word “perfection” with “accuracy”. There are sewing tools commonly used today which are said to have been approved by Edna Bishop. I have used the EZ Hem gauge for years without realizing that it was created by Mrs Bishop.

The first book, co-authored by Edna Bishop and Marjorie Arch was published in 1959 and revised in 1966. I own the 1966 version but have not been able to get the original 1959 publication. Then two more books found themselves in my possession. See pictures above.  My thanks to Katy Budget Books (used bookseller in my area).

Imagine my surprise when I found out that there’s an association that exists today to keep the Bishop Method alive. It has chapters, but most of the activity seems to be in Michigan. Check out their website and their quiet Facebook page. (In all honesty, there are a couple of things mentioned in the promo information on the website which are the direct opposite of information in the book.)

I find that most of the procedures and methods of sewing in the Bishop Method are intuitive to me, but I will be delving deeper into it.  Just for fun, look at this project in the book “Fashion Sewing by the Bishop Method”, circa 1962 (second book above). What the cutting edge 2013 fashion world is calling a “crop top” today, was called a “topette” in this book :). Love it.

IMG_1034
A topette. So Mad Men, no?

So tell me what you think. Have you ever heard of the Bishop Method of Clothing Construction? Or did you learn to sew with this method?  Say so in the comments section!

Thank you for reading!

Samina

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19 thoughts on “Bishop Method of Clothing Construction, a Very Short Overview

  1. I have always loved these 3 awesome books and consider them treasures in my reference library. They get used and referred to often and I have found myself actually reading them for pleasure. Edna Bryte Bishop is one of my sewing heroines!

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    1. Ann, thanks for the comment! these books are my prize possessions, too.
      I must have been taught the importance of grain very early in my sewing education. Anything off-grain has always given me the jitters…..

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  2. Loved reading this post because I knew I had the 1959 original book somewhere in my collection. With my recent move everything is in chaos. I found it yesterday and am enjoying looking it over again. Now I need to find the three newer publications. Anyone looking for the original might be able to find it at http://www.bookfinder.com. My copy is a hardback with cloth binding. Thank you for bringing this book back to my attention.

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    1. Hi Marcia! Thanks for the link to the bookfinder website! I will surely go there to look for the original book.
      I had found the 1959 one on Amazon but it turned out that the seller was “out of stock”; it should really not have been listed there………….

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  3. Fascinating! I’ll have to keep my eye out for any books on the Bishop Method in my local used bookstores. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I haven’t heard of the Bishop method per se until now, but the concept of units has filtered through at some point. It makes so much sense. Because many of the pieces I make are oversized and unfitted, i will often tear my fabric for the “perfect” grain. 🙂

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  5. I ordered this book through Amazon after reading your post. I had never heard of it. I got the 1966 version. Not having a foundation in sewing, it will be helpful to learn more about some of the basics like grainlines.

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  6. My aunt taught me the Bishop Method from the age of seven, and as a young graduate I taught the Bishop Method in New Orleans for several years when my children were in grammar school. In order to qualify to teach in those days, we underwent rigorous training. We attended week long intensive teacher training workshops to prepare to teach the six basic levels. I have not taught in many years, nor sewn, since I left the US in 1997. I gave my Bernina 930 to my daughter. But the world turns! I’ve recently bought another Bernina on eBay, and I may get going again.

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  7. I found your site while doing a search for “The Bishop Sewing Method”. I was curious to learn more about Edna Bishop because earlier today I found a 1959 edition in a used book store for 3.00. Interesting book. I had never seen a quiz in the back of a sewing book before now!

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  8. I also found your site while doing a search because I had wondered if the “Bishop Method” was still around anymore. Thank you for your great posting! It brought back a lot of fun memories of learning the Bishop Method while sewing a pleated skirt for a Girl Scout badge. We did it as a group, meeting once a week at a neighbor’s house. Might have been one of the “torn projects” as I don’t remember any pattern, and am still a fanatic about “straight on the grain” 45 yrs later 😉

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  9. Great post. I found the 1966 version in my local thrift shop. I would love to know how the two versions differ. I am on page 71 of the one I have and am confused by the description of the “milk carton folds” at the bottom of the second column on page 71. Does anyone know of a site that shows what she means? A web search gets me making milk cartons in paper crafting.

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    1. Hi! Thank you for bringing up the “milk carton fold”. I immediately got down the 1966 version and sure enough there is the reference on page 71. I looked through the earlier 1962 version and the later version of the book (yes, I have three…) but could not find any other mention of “milk carton fold”. Will keep researching and looking into this.

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  10. 1959 version Page 71 is the beginning of Chapter 8 Making A Dress. I don’t see any reference to Milk Carton Folds. What part of the book are you looking at? Now I have to go in search of the 1966 version! 😉

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    1. Hi Marcia! Now I’m obsessed with “milk carton folds”. I’m thinking of how a real milk carton is folded at the top, and then how it could be applies to the seams. Don’t bother to look for the other editions, there is no mention of this in the other two editions I have. But it’s worth some researching…. I told you I am now obsessed. I think I may write a post about it. Maybe one of our sewing friends out there knows.

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