Bargello (Canvaswork)

While in Winnipeg, I (Debi) visited the Manitoba Crafts Museum and Library. They had a few books for sale and I picked up one on Bargello. Turns out Nordic Needle also sells that book; I just hadn’t paid attention to it before! Bargello Revisited (1396).

I remember when Bargello was popular in the 1970s. In fact, while I was in high school we could sign up for various activities over spring break. The two things I had my heart set on were skydiving or exploring Mexico. My parents promptly said “NO!” to both. Instead, I ended up in a class on Bargello needlepoint, which wasn’t remotely exciting in comparison. Unfortunately, I think I have held a grudge against Bargello ever since. Then this lime green book caught my attention and I discovered it isn’t basic Bargello anymore! Plus, I found a couple of older Bargello books as I packed my library and decided it was a sign. So, today let’s talk about Bargello.

First, the technique seems to have an identity crisis as it 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.

The Stitch

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 I recommend always going over an even number of threads. When I was doodling, I tried a 3-thread length and it really got me messed up. 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. I found this interesting tip to make your stitches strong and lay nice. 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. I recommend using Graph Paper (6647) 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. I found myself ripping out my doodles more times than I would like to admit. My main problem was only stepping down one canvas thread when I should have stepped down two.

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 such as Bella Lusso. 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!

The more I read, the more interested I became in this technique. I think it would really “speak” to my logical side while the color combinations and subtleties intrigue my creative side. So, while I worked on this newsletter during the day, I packed my craft room at night. Every time I opened a drawer or moved a box, I found thread. I am putting them into a box to be sorted later. For fun (and as an excuse to stop packing) I created a Bargello band sampler using some of the “found” thread.

Several people saw my doodle cloth and thought I should include the design with this newsletter. (Sorry, I haven’t finished the Byzantine band or the Random band yet.) I decided to call it “Controlled Chaos” as that is how I feel about my move. I quickly charted it so I apologize if any of the spacing between motifs doesn’t match mine. Since it is so long, there are three charts to print out. The charts overlap to help you with stitch placement. On the chart, I have listed the threads I used, but feel free to use threads from your stash. I didn’t use more than two yards of any color. My plan is to cover the canvas with cream-colored threads between the bands, then finish it as a basket band.

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Many designers have included Bargello in their designs. Here are just a few.

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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