Thursday, January 16, 2014

Back to Bargello

Hello, again! Happy 2014! May it be a good year for all of us.

Annake's Garden icon bargello
Original bargello that we use as the Annake's Garden icon
In a weak moment, I promised J.D. and some of the other “Gardeners” that I would take a two week “stay-cation” after all the end-of-the-year activities. You know:  stay at home and rest, read, work puzzles, play mahjongg online, give the cat a lot of lap time. I have now had about all the relaxation I can stand (although I did manage to make two needlepoint pillow tops and a small afghan when no one was looking), and I'm ready to work. J.D., who keeps track of such things, tells me that a great many of you have viewed last year's “Bravo Bargello” blog (May 1, 2013). I was delighted to hear that, since bargello is one of my favorite things, and I want to discuss it again. You may want to reread that blog post for general information before we begin.

Wave pattern bargello pillow top
"Wave" pattern bargello pillow top
If you are not a purist (you already know I'm not one), the term “bargello” can encompass much more than traditional large-scale patterns like the varieties of flame stitch. These were originally designed for upholstery, draperies, bed canopies, even wall coverings. It need not even be restricted to sweeping, all-over patterns like the evergreens and aspen trees you saw in the former blog or this new ocean wave pattern. It can include any small, repeated needlepoint pattern generally worked in upright stitches over carefully counted numbers of canvas threads. I say generally, because horizontal and diagonal stitches may be incorporated into some designs.

I don't know if you've paid much attention to the “A” icon I use in the "About Me" section of this blog (as well as a lot of other places, like in our favicon). The “A” stands for Annake, of course, and the repeated design in the background represents the daisies and white cosmos in our backyard garden. It is an easy, but versatile, design that can be used for many articles --- large and small. Such items could include coasters, picture frames, desk sets, album covers, handbags, footstools and pillows. The “flowers” may be any color that you choose or can be done in a rainbow of different colors (a good way to use up odds and ends of yarn). I decided to make a 16-inch square pillow cover.

Closeup of daisy bargello pattern stitches
"Daisy" pattern bargello stiches, close up

I pressed and cut my canvas, allowing an extra margin of unworked canvas on all sides. I then used 3/4-inch masking tape on both sides of the cut edges of the canvas. This makes the canvas easier to hold and prevents the edges of the canvas from fraying. I chose to begin the work at one edge of the square and work across it in parallel rows. I could have begun in the center and worked in both directions toward the ends, but I think that is harder for a beginner to do.

Aspen pattern bargello lashed to frame
"Aspen" pattern bargello lashed to wooden picture frame
Now is a good time to say a few words about supports. As you can see, when I did the “Aspen” motif I worked on a square wooden frame. This is a simple 14-inch picture frame that I found at a thrift shop. I lace all my 14-inch canvases, whether pictures or pillow tops, to this frame and pull them taut. Another technique is to roll your finished work onto one roller while unrolling the unworked canvas from another roller. There are all sorts of commercial frames for these purposes, but they are expensive. For small projects I use a homemade device featuring two 1/2-inch dowels, a couple of links of chain and a sturdy rubber or elastic band. While working on the “Daisy” piece, I simply rolled the canvas into a tube as I completed each section and secured the ends with a pair of plastic clips or clothespins.

homemade roller needlework support
Simple, homemade roller needlework support
Like many bargello patterns, the “Daisy” design is based on stitches worked vertically over 4 threads. That is, you bring the point of your needle up in a canvas square, skip over 4 canvas threads, and take the point of your needle down in the next canvas square. Once you try this, some of you will say,”Aha! You skip over 3 squares of canvas. That's easier, so I'll do that.” True, and that thinking would probably not get you into trouble on this pattern. But you will soon encounter patterns (“Aspen”, for example) where there are very important places where the count is not over 4 threads. Please get into the good habit of counting threads, not squares. Then you won't have a bad habit to overcome later.

Daisy pattern bargello with straightedge
Checking the "Daisy" pattern bargello with a straightedge
Each row of stitches begins in the same canvas squares where the row below them ended. It is a good idea to check a completed row with a straight edge to make sure all stitches end where they should. If you find a mistake, correct it immediately or it will multiply in future rows. There will be places at the two ends where there is not enough room to complete some of the pattern stitches. Just do as much of each stitch as you can. Below is a diagram of the stitches in this pattern. Please note that I have used pink to indicate the stitches that are white on the actual bargello.

Stitch chart for "Daisy" bargello pattern
Stitch chart for "Daisy" bargello pattern

Some of the blog topics coming in 2014:

Counted cross-stitch and Spanish blackwork on monks' cloth and aida
Nordic stitch and more bargello basics
Holbein embroidery and Assisi work
Folk embroidery
Fabulous four-way bargello
More questions and answers
More interviews
More patterns to download
Some nostalgia pieces

Please let me know if you have a specific area of art needlework you would like me to address.

So happy to be back,


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