Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Stitch By Many Names

Flame Stitch, or is it Bargello, Cushion, Florentine, Hungarian Point, Irish or Tapestry? What name do you prefer for this popular straight stitch used throughout history and through many cultures?  The thread colors are the stars of this stitch, producing the pattern as it is stitched. 

Called flame stitch in the 16th century, it was used on many of the men's pocketbooks that we find examples of today. It is also on band samplers where a variety of stitches are shown.  Irish stitch was by far the most used canvas work stitch used during the 17th and 18th centuries if we can judge by the written documentation and examples that have been found.   It's popularity lay in the rapid progress for stitching and covering an area over 3 or  4 threads of the canvas versus one.  

In the 18th century it appeared on samplers reflecting the popularity of embroidered upholstery for chairs and furnishings. In the 19th century, it was a common stitch worked on canvas and considered to be one of the four main stitches of colonial American embroidery (the other three being cross, Queen and tent stitches).  In the 20th century the term flame stitch began being used, probably for the design it created appearing flame like. There is a note in one book that it was after the 1880's that it began to be known as Bargello, Florentine or Hungarian Stitch, as a Hungarian Princess is one of the people credited with the invention of this technique. The bride of a Medici, she brought this work with her to Florence in the 15th century and employed it to cover chairs now in the old Bargello Palace in Florence

This stitch was favored by the early Pennsylvania Dutch and German settlers in America,  and we find many examples on pocketbooks, needle cases, pincushions and Bible covers.  This stitch was also seen on many Scottish and Mexican samplers. So who used it first? Who learned from whom? Was this passed around through trade routes and travel?

These stitches give you strong geometrical designs, varied by the length of the stitch and the number of stitches in the repeat.  The Hungarian Point differs by the use of long and short stitches to create the design, where in Florentine you use the same length of stitch throughout, changing the design by the placement of the stitch, moving it up or down to create the flame, diamond or other geometrical pattern.

I have found different sources that say one name was used in one century and another saying that name wasn't used until a different century....on several of these variations in names used for this stitch. I have found that most of the earlier sources first called it Irish stitch. But I think what matters the most is to recognize that it was a stitch used throughout our history in many variations of name and style but with the same overall effect.  So now you can watch for this stitch and see how many examples you can find where it was used and you can choose the name you prefer to call it by. Here we like Flame stitch, it just goes so well with our primitive alphabet that Julie has designed.

You can find this stitch diagramed in many of your favorite stitch dictionaries and also in several of the books listed below as well as on line. It is a fun stitch to do and to create designs with, choosing your favorite colors for dramatic effects.  Find a piece of graph paper, box of colored pencils and have some fun creating a "Flame stitch" of your very own.

Book Sources: (This is only a few, many more are available)

This book helps you design your own patterns in Florentine Embroidery as well as giving you many design variations to use.

Internet Sources:


B is for...... Brimstone!  

Here is Part Two of the Dark Alphabet, featuring a section of flame stitch!  For those who are disappointed that Beelzebub didn't make his appearance here, take heart - the gentleman is known by many different names - we can't do a dark alphabet without him, and he will show up soon, I'm sure...

We have 150 followers!  We are so very grateful for our followers - you help to make the blog a fun and interesting site...  To say thanks, we're doing a giveaway - we have a Gallery Guide for the exhibit:  Middle Tennessee Samplers - "This My Name Shall Ever Have", at the James K. Polk Presidential Hall in Columbia, TN.  The exhibit opened on December 17 and runs until April 10, 2011.   But, we have not just one gallery guide to give away - we have 15!  That's one for every 10 followers!  To win a copy of this terrific guide, leave a comment on the blog.  (Hint - from the number of comments we've had on other posts, you have a VERY GOOD CHANCE of winning if you leave a post.)  And thank you, from the bottom of our hearts!



  1. Well, I'm probably blowing it by posting first comment. lol! (Assuming I'm first.) I loooooove bargello!!!! No fair showing samplers we can't stitch ourselves. :D I'm enjoying this Dark Alphabet immensely. Thank you so much! And thank you for the giveaway. I hope I win! :D

  2. It is interesting how stitches are known by different names. Please enter me to win the exhibit catelog. Thanks. Marty

  3. Oh, what a wonderful giveaway. Please add me in. I have a friend that is from Tennessee and use to drive throught the state on the way back and forth from Atlanta to southern Missouri around 20 years ago.
    Thank you so much on the great information on the Flame stitch. I love the old pieces made from the stitch. The information about the 4 basic stitches was very interesting to me. I never really thought of it. I have always wanted to reproduce a man's wallet for my brother that loves antiques and also Colonial and Civil War artifacts. You have inspired me to get that project going.
    Also really like the design for B on the alphabet. The bremstone and flame stitch are a perfect team. I look forward to seeing that little old devil come in some where. Maybe F for fly, as belezabub is also the Lord of the Flies.

  4. Informative post, enjoyed it, thx for your dedicated work on this one. Bargello suits me fine:)

    Gallery Guide sounds wonderful, I'd enjoy trying for a copy. Thx for the chance, good luck to all!

    stitchinsweetsue at gmail dot com

  5. Sounds great, please enter me for a chance to win,

  6. I love the look of the florentine stitch! Just received a project from Catherine Theron "Quaker Scissor's Pocket" with florentine on it. It is such a beautiful piece. Thanks for the information! I'd love to win a catalog! Love your blog and website. See you in July! :)

  7. Vera left this message for us in our email inbox - to make sure she wasn't forgotten when the drawing takes place.

    Hello Becky and Julie!

    Am just loving your Dark Alphabet -- what fun!!! And, what a wonderful piece on bargello which I love. Somewhere in my stash I have a pattern for a wallet (or accessory purse) that is done in flame/bargello stitch (the two most common names I have seen). I also have a book on bargello that I will need to re-look at -- it has a number of Native American patterns.

    I would love to be considered for your give-away. Unfortunately, I am unable to post comments on blogs as I am blocked from doing that at work and my home laptop is dead. So, if you could consider this e-mail as a comment that would be wonderful!

    Thanks so much for all the information and fun details you provide,


  8. Count me in for the draw! I "need" more books in my library and there's no way I could attend this in person! The history of the stitches is great, really interesting.
    Another project (which exists only in my head so far) is an alphabet with each letter stitched in a style - so A in Assisi, B in Blackwork etc. It is so useful to have different names for the stitches so I can used them for whichever letter is hard to find a stitch!

  9. Love your website. The side panels are so clever.

  10. Loved the bargello information and especially the bibliography and Internet resources. Thanks!

  11. I'm just thinking how much I love your blog and all the information I probably would never know if I didn't know you :) I LOVE B is for Brimstone and I knew you'd come up with something just right for it. hugs to you and to Becky,

  12. Coming to this site always cheers me up :D I too have some 'fancy' hats for tea parties.

  13. How exciting!!! A dark alphabet. I listen to plenty of good-old-fashioned fire and brimstone sermans in my life. One certainly never nodded off on those. I'm looking forward for the rest. Great job. Rene'

  14. I love how you tied the stitch information with the design for "B is for Brimstone". Now to do some serious decision making as to layout and fabric for this alphabet.

  15. Love the bargello information and the examples are gorgeous

  16. I just discovered your site - it's great! I'd love to win the drawing. I'm enjoying the alphabet and look forward to the other letters.

  17. I also really enjoy coming to your blog every week to see what you have been up to. I always come away with information that I never knew before. - Sandra.

  18. I just found your blog from someone else posting about The Dark Alphabet. What a great tribute, thanks for sharing it with us. I love these first two so I'm sure I'll love them all. You information on Bargello, which is one of my favorite decorative stitches, was very interesting. I'm looking forward to what else you have in store for this.

    And the giveaway is just a plus! I kept hoping I'd make it up for that exhibit but it's not to be.

  19. Love the alphabet idea and the dedication to Lisa....fun to check on what is coming next. Keep up the great knowledge sharing too. Would love to win your giveaway. pj from iowa


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