Bargello Quilt Patterns

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What is Bargello?

Bargello is a technique for making intricate looking quilts that is actually quite simple thanks to speed cutting and sewing methods, in spite of its complicated look. Bargello quilts are made out of pieces of fabric that are square and rectangular, placed in such a way that creates motion and a flame like effect.

Bargello first appeared in embroidery. The first recorded example appears in the upholstery of some chairs in the bargello embroideryBargello Palace in Florence, from the seventeenth century. The stitch used was referred to as “Hungarian Stitch” or “Flame Stitch”. It was made on canvas with wool threads, to create a flame-like effect by using vertical stitches, which are offset vertically. By changing colors and “stepping up”, the flame like designs are created. If the stepping up is sharp, vertical designs are created. If the stepping up is gradual rounded or medallion designs are produced.

Bargello regained popularity during the decade of the sixties in embroidery, and during the last two decades of the twentieth century, it started to appear in quilting, producing visually stunning quilts. The popularity of the design is probably due to the fact that right at that time, the rotary cutter and rotary cutting designs took off, and this pattern is well suited to that cutting technique.

Picking Fabric for a Bargello Quilt

Fabric is a very important consideration when planning a bargello quilt. It is worth taking time to make sure that the colors or shades and tints of color chosen make a smooth transition from dark to light. Value, this color transition is fabric valuethe key to an effective bargello quilt that shows movement. The fabrics chosen (ten or so shades and tints of one color or different colors that transition in value from one to another is a good number to start with) need to be “auditioned”. Cutting strips and laying them down in order from light to dark is the first step. If possible, take a picture and transform it into a black and white copy in a photo program, or using a “value viewer” (a tool that allows the quilter to view the fabric with most of the color removed, by looking at it through a clear red or green filter). Any fabric will work in bargello, but especially good are printed fabrics that have texture, such as batik cottons, tone on tone cottons, floral or geometric prints.

Once the fabrics are chosen, it’s a good idea to cut samples of the fabric and glue them to a piece of paper in order, numbering them from light to dark from zero to the highest number, depending on the number of fabrics chosen for the bargello pattern. As usual, the fabrics need to be pre-washed and pressed flat. The next step is to cut strips of fabric from selvedge to selvedge, all the same width. The width is key to movement as well, the narrower the strip, the more movement that is created. Pile the strips and keep them together by value (just as the samples for the bargello that were glued to paper).

Sewing a Bargello Quilt

With neutral colored thread on the sewing machine, sew the strips together in order, sewing them on their long sides –the forty or so inch width-. Sew them from darkest to lightest. It’s a good idea to change direction when sewing the strips –north to south- for the first two, then when adding the third strip, sewing south to north. This will prevent curling. When all the bargello strips are sewn together into a panel, take them to the ironing board and press the seams flat, all going in the same direction. Once pressed, sew the panel created into a tube, by sewing one last seam, joining the lightest and darkest of the fabrics. Repeat this step with all the strips, creating fabric tubes.

Once all the tubes are complete, it’s time to sub-cut the tubes into strips. Lay the tubes on the rotary cutting mat andbargello 1 using the ruler perpendicular to the strips, cut the tubes into strips of varied widths. A good rule of thumb is to start cutting a strip one inch, then the next one a little wider, one and a quarter inches, then one and a half inches and so forth, perhaps to two and a half inches wide. When all sub-cut, pick a tube and undo the stitches joining the lightest and darkest fabrics and lay it on a design wall (a piece of cardboard or corkboard covered with light colored flannel or cotton batting that allows fabric to stick without using pins). Pick another sub-cut of a different width and undo the stitches between color number one and color number two and lay it next to the first one. That moving color “up” or “down” creates the movement on the bargello quilt. The width of the strip creates dimension. Continue doing so until you have created a “flame”, and then reverse the process, again, paying attention to the color placement, but mixing the width of the strips. Start sewing them in pairs, as they are laid on the design wall, and press the seams as you go.

Bargello quilt patterns are available both in print (books and printed patterns) and free on the web. Using this pattern can create amazing optical illusions.

For more information on making a quilting block click here!


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