The New Barghello: Experiments in Embroidery Design
Updated: Feb 14
The Story Behind The Book
It was about three years ago (mid-2018, to be precise), when I tentatively dipped my toe into the fascinating world of barghello embroidery. As well as being a painter and illustrator, I also have a tendency to become absorbed in some sort of fashion or textile design; albeit, this never seems to bear any relation to my fashion and textile studies at Art School. I invariably find myself drawn to either digital printing, or embroidery; and this was no less the case, on this occasion.
Barghello is a baroque form of antique needlepoint embroidery, with the earliest examples dating from a set of chairs at the Bargello Palace (now a museum) in Florence - although, it is postulated that the craft may also have had its origins in Hungary. In traditional patterns, the stitches are typically upright, although more contemporary makers often play with the stitch direction, to the degree, that the resulting 4- and 8-directional barghello work resembles a kaleidoscope.
Barghello has a distinctive appearance, which is best characterized by ogee-shaped stitch patterns; the sharp zigzags of “flame stitch”; diamonds; and “medallions” (circular motifs). As such, then, the appearance tends to be geometric, and modern barghello, however unorthodox, will tend to follow this tradition. It’s a very challenging medium to work in; the threads require exact counting, as in, one mistake will scupper the whole piece, and necessitate much tedious unpicking and reworking, all over again.
Now, being the sort of person I am, I could immediately see where there was room for turning this orthodoxy on its head. Although it’s safe to say that I am somewhat obsessive (okay, nerdy), and I enjoy nothing more, than meticulously mapping a design out on squared paper, irrespective of the many thousands of squares it may take to make up a design - I also like to make things easy for myself. Modern-day embroidery software takes some of the back-breaking element out of the work, facilitating the cutting, pasting, and revolving of elements of the design.
To me, this offered up even more scope for radical experimentation. From the start, I knew what I wanted to do - and that was not regular, traditional, perfect barghello embroidery! I wanted to create something where the patterns were placed in an altogether more arbitrary manner - though, still with consideration.
I had always been fascinated by the iconography of portraits; to my mind, portraits both old and new, provided an incredibly fertile potential canvas on which to superimpose radical barghello patterns. Especially, I seem to gravitate towards Warhol and Botticelli portraits; these artists produce particularly memorable images, which it’s difficult for my consciousness to shake.
When I started out, I would draw the design on graph paper, and cut out and collage pieces of graph paper over the top of the design, on which barghello patterns had been drawn. It soon became clear that there had to be an easier and quicker way of working, and so I opted to use a computer-aided stitch design platform, with tablet and stylus. I did not use a barghello stitch program to create the designs, but a conventional cross stitch program. This, for my purposes, I considered to be adequate.
My early experiments consisted of drawing barghello patterns right on top of the original image, either in an arbitrary fashion, or to follow certain lines of the image. I also overlaid portraits with actual photographs of barghello work in Photoshop, so that an impression of the real-life stitches would be visible, before feeding the resulting image into the stitch design software, and “seaming” the images together, to soften the overall effect.
To my mind, however, the most satisfactory work ultimately came from redrawing historical barghello patterns, cutting and pasting sections of them within the main image, and joining them with further drawn elements. Colour could be controlled either by exchanging colours within the program; or downloading an image of the stitch plan, adjusting it using an image manipulation program, and re-uploading it into the stitch program.
Where subject-matter was concerned, I had considered limiting myself to portraits only - but, being as easily distracted as I am, also found time to tackle what some might call the unlikely subject, of Brutalist buildings. Here, I went even more “wild”! Though the regularity of some of these structures might seem to suggest a repetitiveness within the filler barghello stitch, I wanted to do away with this element. I wanted to move beyond the obvious, and also produce something which had painterly qualities about it. For this group of works, I brought the influences of Vorticism into the mix; there’s also a nod to Dazzle ships in there, somewhere!
So, this is the diary of my journey in barghello, so far - one which has only just begun. Now, I’m sure you have questions for me, as in: have these designs actually been made? The answer is, no. I am such a busy person, that if I were to stitch as well as design, I would have little time for anything else. The second question, I am sure, will be: how does one interpret the designs, as they are not what is considered to be “pure” barghello? My answer is: you can interpret them in any way you want - particularly, where there are single stitches in the design, which would likely be best worked using a small cross stitch, or other filler stitch. The design layout in any case uses a cross stitch base; which is not to say, that it cannot be adapted to barghello stitch.
My duty, I consider, is to provide inspiration. Inspirers are always wanted and needed - despite the fact, that people may not know they need them! If I can inspire just one person, and have them enthusing about this wonderful craft, where there is latitude for much ingenuity - then I will consider, that I have done my job well. I’m a fan of Kaffe Fassett for just that reason; I could listen to him talk about colour, all day. Perhaps, I’ll do for barghello, what Kaffe Fassett has done for knitting, and quilts. Who knows?
Don’t go away - I’m currently working on “The New Barghello 2”, which is guaranteed to promise more surprises! I can’t yet say when it will hit Amazon bookshelves - but for now, enjoy “Part 1”, be inspired - and go forth and inspire, in turn!
Christina Crimari’s book “The New Barghello” is available from Amazon here https://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Barghello-Experiments-Embroidery-Design/dp/B09CGBM6Q1
It is the second in a series of self-published books about her work.
The first book in the series, “Jowe’s House”, is available here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jowes-House-Inside-World-Jowe/dp/B095LFLHLX
More of Christina’s work can be seen at: www.crimari.com .