Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bargello Basics, Part 1

I'd like to return to some of the concepts I first explored in my "Bravo Bargello!" post, and show you how to build up wonderfully complex patterns from very simple building blocks. We're going to approach this project in two ways. First, I'll show you a number of simple stitch patterns and demonstrate ways that you can use them for all-over bargello patterns.
stitch sampler sheet
Stitch Sampler Sheet
 The stitches are shown on plastic canvas, so I encourage you to supply yourself with several sheets of that canvas, tapestry needles (big eyes, blunt points), scissors, and small balls of scrap yarn in at least three colors. I recommend that you practice the stitches and patterns on the plastic canvas and save your samples in a folder or binder for quick and easy future reference. I'll refer to the cross-bars on the plastic canvas as “threads” because you will be working over threads when you “graduate” to needlepoint or quickpoint canvas.

At the same time, I'll be working on a large (18-inch square) quickpoint canvas project, using a different stitch pattern for each element of the design, tentatively entitled “Mesas and Monuments". We'll be showing you this canvas, step by step, as it develops. 

upright Gobelin stitch sample
Upright (vertical) Gobelin stitch sample
In the upper left-hand corner of the stitch pattern sampler, you will see a sample made up of three solid rows of red, white, and blue stitches. The straight stitch that makes up these rows is upright Gobelin over four threads, a basic element of many bargello patterns. You simply bring your needle up from the back of the canvas through a square of mesh, move it down past four horizontal threads, and push it through the canvas into the next square of mesh. Then you move a space and put in the second stitch parallel to the first one, leaving no canvas uncovered. You will see that you have skipped three empty squares of mesh. It is tempting to proceed by counting squares instead of threads. Don't do it! It will cause trouble when we move to more complex patterns. Count threads from start to finish. You will notice that each white stitch begins inside the same square of mesh where the red stitch above it ends and ends in the same square where the blue stitch below it begins. The first half of the sample has not been modified; the second has been back-stitched along the dividing line with gold.

Mesas and Monuments canvas step 1
"Mesas and Monuments" canvas - Step 1
When you look at my large canvas, you will see that I have stitched areas in horizontal rows of this stitch, all in the same color, and back-stitched between the rows in the same color. The stacked blocks of stitching form the “mesas” of the title. Because the spaces of the #5 quickpoint canvas are so large, I needed to use two stitches to fill each space, rather than one. I laid the stitches in side by side, using the thumbnail of my free hand to keep them separated and flat. In addition, I used a yard of yarn for each set of stitches, rather than my usual 18 inches.

Horizontal Gobelin stitch sample
Horizontal Gobelin stitch sample
Despite the fact that it is called “upright” Gobelin, this stitch works as well horizontally as it does vertically, as you can see in the next example to the right on the sampler sheet. In order to back-stitch the dividing lines, I turned the canvas 90 degrees so I was working a horizontal line of stitches. Moving to the right on the sampler sheet again, you will see a nice little checkerboard pattern. This is done in two colors, alternating every four stitches. You can work all the squares of one color first and then fill in the second, or simply work alternatively with two needles, dropping one to the back while you are working with the other. The horizontal gold stitches are back-stitches; the vertical, overcast or whipped stitches. (If you have done some tent stitching, you may think of those as columns of half-cross stitches.)

checkerboard stitch sample
Checkerboard stitch sample
Now it is time to practice the first two examples (and the checkerboard if you wish). It is important to secure both ends of your yarn. A waste knot is not as effective on canvas as it is on fabric. When I pull the first strand of yarn through the canvas, I hold the last inch and a half flat against the back of the canvas with my free hand, working stitches over the piece of yarn until it is secured. I stop stitching when I have an inch and a half of yarn left in the needle and secure that end by running it under finished stitches on the back of the canvas.

Mesas and Monuments canvas step 2
"Mesas and Monuments" canvas - Step 2
Meanwhile, I've completed another section of the big picture, using vertical rows instead of horizontal ones. Rather than making all of the stitches over four threads of mesh, however, I have varied the stitch length from over six threads at the bottom of the “pinnacles” to over two threads at the tops.

more complex stitch sample
While both the stripes and the checkerboard can be used quite well as all-over patterns, let's look at something a little more complex. The lower left side of the pattern page shows an interesting all-over pattern developing. Start with a block of four vertical stitches. Then make a vertical stitch that starts in the same row where the last stitch of the block ended and covers four threads downward. Repeat this process twice more to make a diagonal line of three stitches. Repeat the whole motif (block and 3-stitch diagonal) until you have reached the bottom of your canvas. Then start a block of a second color directly below the first block. When you have completed the left side of your canvas, turn it 180 degrees and complete the other side. Don't forget to reverse the order of your colors at the same time that you reverse direction.

You may use as many colors as you like, but add another stitch on the diagonal line for each additional color. If you use four colors, for example, your pattern will be a block plus four stitches in a diagonal line. This pattern can be subtle if you use shades of the same color:
more complex stitch pattern in greens and multicolors
or it can be as bold as you want to make it.

Now let's look at the patterns in the center of the pattern sheet. These use the same upright Gobelin stitches, with odd-numbered stitches just as you have been making them. To make the even-numbered stitches, however, you need to count down two threads before you begin the stitch.
Interlaced Gobelin and Brick stitch samples
Interlaced Gobelin and Brick stitch samples
This is another pattern that works as well vertically as horizontally. If you look at the example on the right, you can probably see why this is also called “brick stitch”. It resembles the way bricks are overlapped in the making of a wall. You can get a somewhat different effect by doubling the stitches each time, like the example at the bottom center.

Mesas and Monuments canvas step 3
"Mesas and Monuments" canvas - Step 3
As you can see, I have done another section of the big picture in this stitch. I used the stitches upright, so they don't appear so brick-like. I often use novelty yarns in my compositions. This variegated acrylic yarn is called “Desert Camouflage” I thought that was quite appropriate for representing the sand-and-sagebrush country here on the eastern edge of the Great Basin.

Finally, the block of four stitches, each over four threads, is the basis of a technique known as Nordic Stitch. It is a great way to enlarge a small motif for use on a larger article. As you can see on the right side of the pattern sheet, I did a small motif of an apple in tent stitch. Then I reproduced the motif by using a four-square block of stitches to represent each tent stitch. We will return to Nordic Stitch in a later post. For now, practice your stitches and try making some patterns of your own devising with them.

Have fun!


 Creative Commons LicenseThis post by Annake's Garden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. There will be several follow-up posts on the subject. Hope you like them just as well.. Annake

  2. Hi Annake. I'm a new follower by email visiting from Etsy. It has been a long time since I did any needlepoint but I've been thinking about it. My Ex-husband and I used to work pieces together. I'm glad I saved most of our work.
    vinieschild on Etsy.

    1. Hi Sami. Welcome to Annake's Garden. I hope you will get started doing needlepoint again. I wish more men would try needlepoint, especially bargello. I've taught several men and they all enjoyed the geometric designs and made some beautiful things.


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