The needlepoint pattern known as bargello, is named after the Bargello palace in Florence, where a set of chairs with this very pattern was found. Though popular in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, this pattern has never been out of style for too very long.
Flame Stitch, Florentine Work…and Zig-Zag
Other names for the bargello include the flame stitch, Florentine work and Hungarian point. The latter may come from a story that a Hungarian bride, marrying into the Medici family, brought the stitch with her. The name Florentine work references its popularity in Florence during the Renaissance.
The stepped bargello stitch was usually used on textiles for the home rather than on clothing because of the long stitch, which was better suited to pillows and upholstery (or shoes, apparently). However, over the years the adapted zig-zag style has made its way onto clothing.
For the Italian design house Missoni, it’s almost become a trademark look for their couture brand. I love their vintage pieces – they have the same joie de vivre that vintage Pucci does.
In 2001, Missoni came out with an inexpensive line for Target that sold out quickly (and then reappeared on ebay for much more).
Traditionally the bargello pattern was embroidered wool over canvas in a colorful palette, often in a hues of the same color, collectively producing a shading effect. This can be seen in the blue of the shoes above, though this pair is linen on silk.
The bargello takes on variations outside of the traditional zig-zag, with motifs ranging from diamond to almost floral shapes.
The above example is an 18th c linen on canvas chair seat, bargello, flame stitch, acquired by the V&A museum.
I painted these in both gouache and watercolor- in this instance I liked the wc much better. Maybe because it echoes the ‘shading’ of embroidery better than the opaque gouache. It has a lighter feel, and a little more ‘hand made’ in style.
Reducing the pattern down to use on stationery tightens the image and I may try it leaving the pattern larger and looser later on.
I really love the bargello pattern – created centuries ago, it’s still timeless…but mostly it holds a 70s vibe for me.
And just for fun, if you would like to try your hand at actually stitching this pattern, the V&A museum (London) has a link to download a free pattern to make a bargello zip pouch bag here.