Bargello is a type of needlepoint embroidery consisting of upright flat stitches laid in a mathematical pattern to create motifs. The name originates from a series of chairs found in the Bargello palace in Florence, which have a "flame stitch" pattern.
Traditionally, Bargello was stitched in wool on canvas. Embroidery done this way is remarkably durable. It is well suited for use on pillows, upholstery and even carpets, but not for clothing. In most traditional pieces, all stitches are vertical with stitches going over two or more threads.
Traditional designs are very colourful, and use many hues of one colour, which produces intricate shading effects. The patterns are naturally geometric, but can also resemble very stylised flowers or fruits. Bargello is considered particularly challenging, as it requires very precise counting of squares for the mathematical pattern connected with the various motifs to accurately execute designs.
A number of alternative names are used by different scholars, including:
Because of the potential for confusion, most books written in English refer to the technique simply as "Bargello" (Williams 1969, Kaestner 1972, Petscheck 1997).
As with many traditional crafts, the origins of Bargello are not well documented. Although early examples are from the Bargello Museum in Florence, there does exist documentation that a Hungarian connection is possible. For one thing, the Bargello Museum inventory identifies the chairs in its inventory as "17th century with backs and seats done in punto unghero (Hungarian Point)." (Williams, 1967:5). In the 18th century, Queen Maria Teresa of Hungary stitched Bargello and her work has been preserved in the Hungarian National Museum
Petschek (1997:7) also cites additional "legends" of Hungarian noblewomen practicing the craft, including a Hungarian princess marrying into the de Medici family, and a princess Jadwiga (Hedwig) of Hungary who married into the Jagiełło dynasty of Poland.
It is unknown if those were distinct developments or if they influenced each other. Both Bargello and Hungarian Point tend to be colorful and use many hues of one color, which produces intricate shading effects. The patterns are naturally geometric, but can also resemble very stylized flowers or fruits.
Bargello refers not just a stitching technique, but also to motifs created by the change of colors in the stitches. This section describes the vertical stitch, and how it is combined with color and "stepping" to create different motifs.
Most agree that traditional Bargello pieces incorporate a series of all vertical stitches (vs. diagonal stitches). The basic unit is usually a vertical stitch of four threads, but other heights are possible.
Some Bargello pieces use only one height of stitch, but even the earliest pieces (such as chairs in the Bargello museum) combine different heights of stitches.
Bargello patterns are formed when vertical stitches are stepped or offset vertically, usually by two threads (i.e., halfway down a unit of four threads). The patterns in the steps combined with color changes determines how the overall pattern will emerge.
If vertical stitches are stepped down quickly, the design forms sharp points or zig-zags. This type of Bargello motif is often known as "flame stitch". Flame stitch can be found on the Bargello Museum chairs.
If steps are gradual, then the design will appear to be curved. Traditional curved Bargello motifs include medallions and ribbons.
There are many identified motifs possible (Williams 1967), but some common ones include:
Stitches step sharply across the design.
Example of a flame stitch motif. Image created and licensed by Elizabeth Pyatt.
Stitches step sharply across the designs and color changes cause diamonds to appear.
Example of diamond motif formed with Bargello stitches. Image created and licensed by Elizabeth Pyatt.
Stitches are gradually stepped in different colors.
Example Bargello Ribbon design. Image created and licensed by Elizabeth Pyatt.
Stitches are gradually stepped and color changes cause spheres or medallions to appear.
Example Bargello Medallion design. Image created and licensed by Elizabeth Pyatt.
Since the revival of Bargello in the 1960s, the technique has evolved in different directions. Although traditional Bargello is still stitched, modern designers have expanded the repertoire of design possibilities.
Traditional Bargello is executed with just a vertical stitch in one direction, but Dorothy Kaestner (1972) created a style of Bargello called four-way Bargello. In this technique, the canvas is first divided into diagonally into quarters. Then the same motif is worked in horizontal stitches in two opposite areas, and vertical stitches in the remaining two areas. The resulting design frequently resembles a kaleidoscope effect.
Kaestner describes the origin of the technique:
Some examples include
This concept has been expanded to eight-way Bargello, or Bargello stitches in eight directions (horizontal stitches, vertical stitches and diagonal stitches), by designers including Susan Kerndt:
Designers of band samplers may include a band of a Bargello motif among other sampler stitches. Unlike traditional Bargello, these bands are stitched with the same stranded cotton, silk or linen embroidery thread used in band samplers.
In addition to Bargello embroidery, there are now Bargello quilts in which the patterns used in Bargello embroidery are constructed with strips of fabric of the same height but different widths.