Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Flame Stitch Pocketbook

MFA, American, New England 1750 - 1800

In the 18th century flame stitch pocketbooks were very popular. If you google "flame stitch wallet" or "flame stitch pocketbook" you get tons of pictures. I don't know if this style of pocketbook was exceedingly popular, or if so many have survived because of their durability, but either way, there are tons of first hand sources to reference.  This style of wallet seems to be predominantly found in America, and the extant examples I have seen, seem to be owned by both men and women.

LACMA, Abigale Alden, America, 1765

Timothy Mann,  Massachusetts, 1771

A little bit about the embroidery:

Flame stitch is a type of bargello needlepoint.  Bargello has hazy origins, but it seems to have started showing up in the 18th century. It is named after the Bargello Palace in Florence, Italy, where chairs with the flame stitch, or fiamma, pattern were found.  Bargello uses long and short, up/down satin stitches in a counted pattern to create a motif. There are a few different styles, the most popular being the flame stitch (spiky like the examples above) and the florentine stitch (rounded). One would assume this is strictly italian, however some sources attribute it the Hungary.

From wikipedia:

''As with many traditional crafts, the origins of Bargello are not well documented. Although early examples are from the Bargello Museum in Florence, there does exist documentation that a Hungarian connection is possible. For one thing, the Bargello Museum inventory identifies the chairs in its inventory as "17th century with backs and seats done in punto unghero (Hungarian Point)." (Williams, 1967:5). In the 18th century, Queen Maria Teresa of Hungary stitched Bargello and her work has been preserved in the Hungarian National Museum

Petschek (1997:7) also cites additional "legends" of Hungarian noblewomen practicing the craft, including a Hungarian princess marrying into the de Medici family, and a princess Jadwiga (Hedwig) of Hungary who married into the Jagiełło dynasty of Poland.

It is unknown if those were distinct developments or if they influenced each other. Both Bargello and Hungarian Point tend to be colorful and use many hues of one color, which produces intricate shading effects. The patterns are naturally geometric, but can also resemble very stylized flowers or fruits. "

Florentine Bargello

Bargello encountered a huge comeback in the 1960's and 1970's (think Missoni knits) and so this pattern looks very modern for being hundreds of years old.  There is tons of great information and how-to on bargelloneedpoint.com. The stitching is very easy, you just have to pay attention and count. After the first row of the pattern is established, it goes faster and faster.

So on to my wallet.

Most examples from the 1700's show bright, contrasting colors, but I chose to do a monochromatic scheme in shades of yellow-orange. I am using 22 count needlepoint cotton, DMC pearl floss, and size 22 DMC tapestry needles.

Front to back, DMC 742, 445, 746 and 725.

The dimensions I chose for the wallet were 6 1/2 by 13 inches. I started by cutting down my canvas to size, adding an inch of border all around. Then I marked it the design space with yellow sharpie. I added inch marks for my own personal reference as I go. Then I started at the bottom, with a bright color for clarity, and started the 4-2 pattern (up for, stagger up 2 and so on - see above pattern). I added two extra stitches past the border as kind of a seam allowance, just in case.

The start.

A section with all four colors.

You can start to see the pattern develop.

So far, I've been at this about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, from sketching on the canvas, to 5 finished rows. The first row was by far the slowest, because you have to pay attention like crazy, but after that they went quite fast. 


  1. Love this~
    I had no idea it was this old a technique!
    The colors in the images are just divine. Yours is coming out great!

  2. Thank you! I'm actually adding more colors today. It was looking a little candy corn :) You have a beautiful website by the way!

  3. Absolutely. I've barely been familiar with it before, but I started seeing more and more of these wallets and thought the design was so interesting!

  4. That's so weird, my Avatar is coming up as yours!

  5. Oh weird :( I don't know why that would be. Did it stop?

  6. A newcomer to your blog, and I wanted to ask: I did a search for flamestitch, and I also ran across to references to it being Irish (though none with any information). Any ideas?

    Also, may I say that (reading ahead) the pocketbook turned out just lovely!


  7. Hi Lylassandra, welcome! As I understand it, Irish stitch is just another name for the flame stitch in bargello needlepoint. If you go to the link below, it tells in more detail how people knowledgable in this think that it is called Irish stitch after the nuns in Ireland who practiced this type of needlepoint after it came over from florence. Do see below as it is a more in depth resource than I can offer. Hope this helps!

    And thanks so much for the compliment on my pocketbook! Really appreciated!


  8. your work is beautiful! Curious- how many strands did you use?