Bargello patchwork originated with Florentine embroidery designs but is used by patchworkers today to create excitingly modern quilt patterns. Patchworkers are highly inventive people and see the potential for new ways piece their fabrics all around them, so it’s no surprise that Bargello embroidery has been used as inspiration for fabulous quilting designs for years. In this masterclass for how to make a bargello quilt, we’ll talk you through how to master the art of sewing squares of fabric together to create waves of variegated colour for eye-catching results.
This essential guide to how to sew Bargello quilts by Linda Clements was first featured in Today’s Quilter magazine. For more quilting tutorials to boost your skill check out our next-step guides to How to appliqué, How to make Cathedral window quilt blocks and How to sew set in seams.
What is a Bargello quilt?
Bargello is a technique normally associated with 17th-century Florentine needlepoint embroidery, where flame-like, wavy patterns were created with stitches on canvas. Patchworkers have interpreted these designs using ‘strip sets’ of squares and rectangles arranged in rising and falling patterns to create colourful designs full of movement. Careful colour grading is often a feature of the work.
The piecing of multiple squares and rectangles requires fairly accurate seam alignments for the best results. Strip piecing is one technique used to achieve this, but sewing individual patches together is also a common method. Some complicated and visually stunning designs can be created using Bargello patchwork, and we will be looking at some techniques in this article. Although Bargello is visually striking on its own, it can also be embellished and some suggestions are given here for taking the work in more decorative directions.
How to make a Bargello quilt
Fabric and Colour Choices
The fabrics used for Bargello can be anything you like − prints and solids, matte and silky, smooth and textured. Bargello is also a great technique for using up spare fabrics. Batiks are a good choice as they usually have many variations of pattern and colour in each piece of fabric. Selecting fabrics for Bargello is fun, but may take time to achieve a pleasing balance.
It’s helpful to decide on your overall colour scheme to begin with. You could look at your stash to see what colour you have most of and then select a dozen or so fabrics in this colour range. You will also need to decide whether you are aiming for a graded colour scheme, arranging the fabrics from pale through to dark. It’s also good to throw in the odd surprise for contrast. Once you have learnt the technique, you can become more adventurous with your choices and introduce more than one range of colours.
You Will Need
- Fabric (For the patchwork squares)
- Sewing machine
- Rotray cutter
- Cutting matt
- Fabric (For the binding and backing)
Individual rows method
In its simplest form, creating the strip sets needed for Bargello can be achieved by sewing individual pieces of fabric together into vertical columns. These columns can be repeated and used as they are, or be inserted into different strip sets at strategic points to create the pattern required. In Bargello, fabrics are numbered in order to keep track of where each fabric should be in a design, so it’s a good idea to create a swatch card before you begin any project (see Fig 1).
To make an individual strip set into a vertical column, cut your fabrics into straight strips of the desired width and then subcut into squares or rectangles according to the pattern you are creating.
Following the colour order you have chosen (see Using Design Charts), sew the individual pieces together, using a consistent seam allowance (usually ¼in). Press the seams to one side (Fig 2). When making such columns, alternate the pressing direction, so the columns will fit together snugly later when they are sewn together.
Using design charts
Bargello patchwork can be complicated and can consist of different strip sets, so it’s important to keep track of where they all fit in the design. Constructing a design chart using graph paper is a good way to do this as you can interpret the vertical columns of the work into a numbered and coloured chart. Number the columns across the top of the chart and note the cut width of each column. The example in Fig 3 shows the complete strip set outlined in red.
A common way of creating Bargello patchwork is with strip piecing, where the strip-pieced unit is formed into a tube and then subcut into rings of fabric
of the desired width.
Choose your fabrics – in the example described and shown in Fig 4, six fabrics are used. Cut two strips from each colour, cutting the strips 2½in wide x about 24½in long. Sew fabric strips 1 to 6 together in the desired order using ¼in seams and then repeat, pressing seams open or to one side.
Take this strip-pieced unit and fold it in half, right sides together, as in Fig 5, matching the top edges. Sew the edges together to form a tube.
Fold the tube flat and cut it into segments at the widths required using a rotary cutter and ruler. In the Fig 6 example, all segments are the same width of 21/2in, but other Bargello designs may use varying widths. Make sure you are cutting exactly at right angles to the seams.
Referring to Fig 7 and starting with Row 1, take the first ring of fabric and unpick the seam at the position required. In the example shown, this is between Fabric 1 and 6. Lay the strip out flat. Take the second ring of fabric and unpick the seam between Fabric 1 and 2 (Fig 8). Lay the strip flat beside the first strip. Continue in this way, changing the position of the unpicked seams, so the pattern undulates according to the plan.
Use ¼in seams to sew the rows together, pinning right sides together and matching seam junctions carefully. Press seams open or to one side. Fig 9 shows the final result of this simple pattern. You can create more intricate effects by varying the ‘waves’ (see Wave Effects).
Finishing your quilt
Once you’ve completed your Bargello quilt top using the patchwork methods we list above, make a quilt sandwich, quilt and bind your quilt. If you’re new to quilt making, firstly congratulations for getting your head around Bargllo patchwork! Now head over to our guide to quilting for beginners to find out how to turn your Bargello into a quilt.
Bargello quilt patterns: Wave Effects
The most striking quality of Bargello work is in the wave patterns that can be created to generate movement. The position of the strips, how they are stepped up or down, and using variable strip widths can all affect the look of the final pattern. All of this means that Bargello is a great technique for experimenting and creating your own unique designs.
Fig 10 shows pieced strips of the same width, creating gentle undulations by being stepped up or down by one fabric each time.
Fig 11 shows that more interesting movement can be created by varying the width of the cut strips, with some tips given on how to achieve different effects.
In many cases, the stepping up or down is done by a full strip width, as in Fig 12A, but you could step up or down by just half a strip width, as shown in Fig 12B, although you will notice that this arrangement tends to smooth out the waves. This partial stepping does have the advantage of having no seams to match up.
Even a practice piece of Bargello can be made up into a project. Here, an oblong shape was turned into this simple little bag
The size of a finished Bargello piece depends on the length of the cut strips (when untidy ends have been trimmed off) and the cut width of the strip sets once combined together (see Fig 13). If the Bargello needs to fit a specific area, then you will need to bear this in mind when choosing the cut widths of your strip sets.
Bargello Quilt Pattern ideas
Another way of creating Bargello patchwork is with initial strip piecing, as before, but with additional pieces of fabric added above and below the unit (Fig 14). This method is not formed into a tube and does create some fabric wastage. I call this method ‘floating’ Bargello and like to use it occasionally to allow me to move the strips about freely, and so, the Bargello ‘floats’ in a sea of background fabric. It’s also interesting to rotate some sections of the Bargello by 180-degrees. Once the pattern is formed and sewn, the excess fabric is trimmed off (Fig 15).
Bargello can be embellished with decorative trims. To do this, sew the trims along the fabric strips before the strip-pieced unit is cut up (Fig 16). The cut ends of the trims are sealed into the seams when the segments are sewn together. You can also add beads to Bargello, after the pattern is sewn together.
This Bargello piece (below) was given a different look by embellishing the strip-pieced unit with decorative trims before it was cut into strips (see Fig 16).
We hope you enjoyed this guide to Bargello patchwork. If you love to explore different quilting techniques you might also enjoy our guides to foundation paper piecing or our free medallion quilt pattern.