With one simple stitch to learn, bargello is a great beginner needlepoint method that creates modern embroidery designs that are fun to stitch! Simple straight stitches become geometric designs and playful patterns.
You don't need many supplies and what you do need is fairly inexpensive, but if you want to get started without even worrying about getting the right items, Hello Bargello is an excellent source for kits. And while this style of needlework goes back as early as the 17th century, there are plenty of contemporary books and patterns to work from. You can even design your own!
What is Bargello?
Bargello (pronounced bar-jello) is a type of needlepoint or counted thread embroidery. It's also sometimes called florentine work or flame stitch embroidery, and that's because this style of stitching is based off a design on some chairs with a "flame design" in the Bargello Palace in Florence. There's also a quilt pattern based off this design.
The patterns in bargello embroidery use long stitches on a grid to form designs that are geometric in nature, but they also tend to create the look of movement or optical illusions. Of course, there are also lots of designs that don't follow this traditional style.
Equipment / Tools
- #18 Plastic Canvas Needle
- 10-Mesh Plastic Canvas
- Tapestry Wool
Patterns and Materials
Because bargello is a type of counted thread embroidery, the patterns are shown on a grid or chart. As you follow a pattern, always pay attention to how many holes you are skipping to form a stitch.
There are lots of options for materials to use for bargello, but the most common are either plastic canvas or needlepoint canvas and tapestry wool or Persian wool. Choose a canvas size and tapestry yarn that match in size so that the stitches cover the canvas. 10-mesh plastic canvas and tapestry wool are a great place to start because you'll have plenty of structure and the yarn holds up well.
Get Ready to Stitch
Trim your canvas to the size you want. For plastic canvas, trim it to the exact size you need, making sure that the edges are smooth. For needlepoint canvas, trim it so you have an extra inch or so on all sides, and then tape the raw edges with masking tape.
For large designs, it can help to start at the middle of your chart. On this small piece, it works to start near the top at the edge. Each stitch in bargello goes from bottom to top (or top to bottom, but for this tutorial we're working stitches bottom to top), following that same pattern every time.
To start your project, come up from the back at one end of the stitch line marked on the pattern chart. Leave a small tail on the back of the canvas. The first few stitches will secure this.
Take Your First Bargello Stitches
Count how many holes to skip on the pattern, then skip those and go back down through the canvas.
Come up through the canvas at the bottom of the next stitch and then go back down at the top of the stitch.
As you work, be sure that the stitches cover the starting tail on the back of the canvas.
Work the Staggered Stitches and Secure the End
Add more stitches, following the pattern across the row. Even though sometimes it seems like it would make more sense to change to working the stitches from top to bottom (this happens when a line slopes down), always work a row of stitches consistently.
When you reach the end of your length of yarn, secure it by sliding it through the back of the previously worked stitches.
As you add more rows, still slide the tail through the matching yarn when possible to avoid any colors showing through on the front.
Add More More Rows of Stitches
Work the next row of stitches. In some patterns, like this one, each row of color uses stitches that are all the same length, but that's not always the case, so pay attention to those markings!
To fill in the shape all the way to the edges in this design (and many others), you'll have some stitches that are very small. They don't show much, but they're important, so don't miss them!
Keep the Back Even
The back of bargello embroidery varies depending on the stitch length and how much the stitches step up and down, but generally, it looks fairly even. There may be small gaps from where you ended off a length of yarn or where the stitches stepped up or down, but the smooth and solid areas help the front also look smooth and solid.
Wrap the Edges to Finish
When you're working on plastic canvas, you need to finish the edges by covering them with whip stitch (similar to an overcast stitch).
When starting, hold the tail of yarn along the edge of the plastic canvas and stitch over the tail. Always bring the tapestry wool from the back and then through the front.
At the corners, stitch through the corner hole three times: one for the first edge, one to cover the point at the corner, and one for the second edge. This covers the entire corner so the plastic doesn't show through.
To end off the tapestry wool, carefully slide the needle through the back of the previously worked whip stitches. It's okay if you only catch part of the yarn as long as you catch it enough to secure it without disrupting the stitches.
When working on needlepoint canvas, finish the project as you would any other type of needlepoint or follow the instructions for that particular project.
Use your finished bargello piece as a coaster or add a hanger to display it on your wall! This is just the beginning of using this embroidery method to stitch beautiful and modern pieces. You can do just about any type of plastic canvas project (think planters, bags, and tissue box covers), as well as lots of needlepoint projects like ornaments, belts, and pillows!