Have you tried Bargello needlepoint?

If not, can I encourage you to try Bargello? It is one of the easiest forms of needlepoint as it comprises just one simple straight stitch. Striking patterns form by repeating the stitch in different colours and arrangements.

Bargello needlepoint sample

If the word Bargello is unfamiliar, you may have seen this form of work referred to as florentine stitch, Hungarian point or flame stitch embroidery.

It is not a new needlework technique. In fact, embroiderers used it in the 15th century for bed and wall hangings, upholstered furniture and table coverings. 

But you don't need to undertake such huge projects as those! It works just as well on pillows, bags, belts, purses or even framed pictures.

I was first introduced to it as a teenager in the 1970s, when we used wild and wacky color combinations!

I will go into color in more depth shortly, but first let's look at what you will need to get started in Bargello needlepoint and how to work it.

What do you need to stitch Bargello?

There are some essentials you will need, and some "nice to haves" if you are thinking of trying Bargello...

What is Bargello?

In Bargello, we build up distinctive patterns from rows of straight stitches, arranged in a zigzag line, and repeated in varying shades or colors.

Bargello gridwork pattern

The steepness of the zigzag depends on how many threads the stitch is worked over, and the position of subsequent stitches. The diagram below shows that when the stitches are stepped by more canvas threads the peak is higher. 

To give a more rounded effect groups of stitches can be worked either at the end or part way down a slope, as in the photo at the bottom of this page. 

Traditionally all the stitches in a design are the same length throughout.

They can also be arranged to form a lattice work, as in the photo, above.

Design in Bargello

Bargello diagram

There are three main types of design in this type of needlepoint: row, motif or mitered.

The simplest is a row design. We establish the pattern in the first row, and then repeat using a different color, tone or tint in subsequent rows. I will explain the colour terms shortly.

To create a motif design, part of a row is mirrored and a medallion or motif is formed. The medallion can be filled in repeating rows or each enclosed area can be dealt with differently. The pattern is mainly formed by the use of color.

A mitered or four-way bargello needlework design comprises a triangular section mirrored horizontally and vertically. Dorothy Kaestner introduced this method of working in the late 1970s, producing motifs now known as tulip, rose and pineapple.

How to use color

In Bargello the pattern relies heavily on hue changes. These can be subtle or vibrant.

One color scheme you can use is monochromatic. This uses shades (mixed with black) and tints (mixed with white) of one color. In the following photograph I used tints of red (pink) and shades (burgundy) in a repeating sequence. 

Bargello example

I don't want to get too technical here, but I'll introduce another color term; analogous. Basically, this scheme uses related hues that are close to each other on the color wheel. For example, red, orange and yellow. Another choice would be purple, blue and green.

You can also work Bargello needlepoint with contrasting or complementary colors. To find any color's contrast look opposite it on the color wheel. Yellow is opposite purple and therefore its contrast. The same goes for orange and blue. The trick here is to use much less of the contrast than the dominant color. Think of it as an accent. If you use equal amounts of each, the effect won't be as vibrant. Think of a mainly blue room that has the occasional orange pillow to give it some "spark"!

Colour wheel for colour theory

I created the color wheel above using Prismacolor colored pencils. Around the edge I pressed harder to give the most vibrant color, and the lighter color inside that represents the color with white added, or a paler tint of the original hue.

The darker inner wheel shows where I used the complementary color to "grey" the pure color, by mixing the two together (or in this case layering one over the other).

Have a go yourself

If you fancy trying this technique, you might like my little bargello bell freebie design. It would make an ideal Christmas card!


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