Bargello is known by many names: Florentine, Hungarian Point, Flame Stitch, Irish Stitch (as shown in Piecework magazine), and Byzantine Work. Almost every resource links the origin back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The name “Bargello” comes from the Bargello Palace where there are numerous chairs covered in needlework of this style. The same was true for “Florentine” because of furniture in Florence. The name “Hungarian Point” is attributed more to a legend that a Hungarian princess brought it with her when she married a Florence prince. Whereas, the name “Flame Stitch” is easy to explain when you look at examples of this work.
Bargello is relatively easy to do because the individual stitches are straight stitches known as Gobelin or groups of satin stitches. Traditionally the stitch went over four canvas threads. You can vary that on your designs, but the recommendation is to always go over an even number of threads. Whatever the length, the stitches are placed side-by-side either horizontally or vertically to form line designs. A group of stitches is called a “step”. These steps are combined to create the pattern. The steps may be repeated across the design to create a line or they may form an open shape or a filling design.
The original purpose of Bargello was for upholstery and had to withstand a lot of use. Here is an interesting tip to make your stitches strong and lay nicely: if your stitch is moving UP in the design then stitch from the top to the bottom. If your stitch is moving DOWN in the design then stitch from the bottom to the top. This creates longer stitches on the backside of the canvas.
Traditional Bargello was the Gobelin stitch done over four fabric threads that steps up and down by two threads. Older patterns would refer to this as the 4-2 step. The Florentine stitch begins with one line of steps and all the remaining lines follow the same pattern. The Byzantine stitch creates a diagonal design using a slanted Gobelin stitch. The Flame stitch gets its name because there is always a red “flame” in the motif. The Hungarian Point should not be confused with the Hungarian Stitch. Hungarian Point is created with a combination of long and short stitches often forming very sharp pointes, thus the name.
Four-way Bargello is created by dividing your canvas up into four segments. Find your center point and then go out diagonally to the four corners. You might be tempted to use a ruler to do this, but you may find your canvas mesh was not entirely square and your stitches will end up in the wrong spots. You can create a variety of other geometric shapes like diamonds, hearts, waves and more. One book called the free-standing motifs “Groundings.” Don’t be afraid to experiment with shapes and colors. You can use Graph Paper and colored pencils. Start coloring in the boxes and see what patterns you can design.
No matter what design you decide to stitch, it is important to pay attention to the pattern. Count to be sure the first line is stitched correctly. Your design could end up to be way off if your foundation line is not correct.
Threads and Color
Today we have so many types of threads available in a rainbow of colors. Think about how the item will be used. If you know it will be used as a cushion, you would probably want to use wool. Pearl Cotton would be preferable over floss because of the twist in the pearl cotton. Silk would be a great choice for something like an evening bag. Metallic threads make great accents, but probably shouldn’t be used to cover large areas. When deciding what to use, remember that straight stitches tend to let your canvas show through. You can “fix” that by matching your canvas to one of the lighter or more prominent colors in your design. Choose threads that are thicker or that can be combined to provide more coverage. Also, if it is a plied thread, like floss or stranded silk, strip out each ply and lay them back together. A laying tool is essential to making some of your threads behave.
Color plays a very important role in creating the Bargello design. This is a great technique to play with several shades in a monochromatic theme. You can use color to create an illusion of depth. Totally contrasting colors can make a statement. Certain fibers, like Rainbow Gallery Neon Rays will look different depending on the direction of the light. Matte threads mixed with shiny threads can enhance the design. You are limited only by your imagination!
This band sampler, “Controlled Chaos” will give you a taste of Bargello. Since it is so long, there are three charts to print out. The charts overlap to help you with stitch placement. On the chart, the threads used in the model are listed, but feel free to use threads from your stash. No more than two yards of any color was used.
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We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!
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