Erica Wilson & Margaret Boyles “teach” Bobbie bargello needlepoint pillows

Plus, an update on Jonathan Adler’s bargello pillows:
I can’t recommend them — vintage is far superior and much cheaper

I am obsessed with bargello needlepoint pillows. So, when Bobbie commented on my most recent Erica Wilson story — ” I bought one of her books last spring, along with two bargello books by Margaret Boyles. I have made the most amazing pillows since!” — I emailed her right away.

I wanted to see her bargello creations and hear what she had to say about the process.

She responded right quick — and today we get to see some of her handiwork and how it fits into her midcentury home, built by the architect Irwin Stein.

Bobbie is an art historian, and she runs At Home Modern, a Philadephia business to help people create midcentury interiors. She also has an etsy shop — I neeeeeeed that Jensen Real Flame fireplace! Like me, she is has jumped without hesitation on to the bargello bandwagon.

See? See? You can do this, too — cheap! Me, I want me a Bargello elephant, stat! Read more… see more –>

I asked Bobbie: Why the bargello fixation? And, tell me about being an art historian into mid mod. She replied:
When we purchased our mid-century home back in May 2010, I  went on the search for pillows to complement our 1960’s house.  I wanted pillows that felt vintage, but were new. Jonathan Adler was offering gorgeous Bargello pillows in amazing colors and patterns, but that they were priced out of my budget.  I began to research bargello and was able to purchase a few vintage 1970’s bargello pattern books from a local needlepoint store and a few more online.  Bargello is slowly starting to make a comeback, but I find that the newer publications don’t seem to embrace color and design the way the books from the 70’s did.
I’m a pretty impatient gal, so I when I embarked on my first bargello project (the blue and orange Moroccan Windows pillow), I wasn’t even sure I would be able to finish it.  However, I found the process to be easy, relatively quick and very rewarding.  I was so proud of my handiwork that I was afraid to sew it into a pillow in fear or messing it up (I’m an amateur at the sewing maching), so I found a local upholsterer to sew them for me for $30 a piece.
My advice would be to start with an easy pattern like flame stitch.  Once you have the first row of stitches placed, you simply follow the pattern they’ve created.  Once you are confident with that, you can try more complex patterns, like miters or custom patterns.   Almost any image can be made into bargello.  My husband wants a Space Invaders pillow next!
Best,
Bobbie
Thank you, Bobbie — very inspiring. I also love your idea of taking the finished canvas to a local upholsterer to finish — brilliant idea. I’ll build on it: Watch for vintage velvet or wale corduroy at estate sales. Or for vintage-style velvet or wale corduroy at large fabric outlets — this fabric will be in the upholstery section. It’s my experience that vintage pillows were backed with velvet or wale corduroy. Regarding welting (the piping cut on the bias that goes around the edge): I just went upstairs and checked all my vintage bargello pillows. Some have the welting (all the larger ones, d0), some do not. I think you can go either way — although I love the extra finished look that welting adds. And of course, you need a zipper so you can clean the pillow.
A cautionary note on the Jonathan Adler bargello pillows: After I initially wrote about these two years ago, I received one for a gift. I CAN NOT RECOMMEND THEM. In my opinion, they are very inferior to vintage bargello needlepoint pillows — which you can still find in abundance on ebay or etsy much much cheaper. Or which, as Bobbie has done, you can make yourself — either with instructions from a book or by using one of the vintage kits also regularly available on ebay or etsy. The issue with Adler pillows seems to be: Classic vintage bargello takes the yarn across approx. four holes in the canvas. The Adler pillows seem to take the thread across about 10 holes — so the effect is very different — much looser. I am guessing this was intentional on Adler’s part — to create a different “scale”. To me, there is no comparison whatsoever — sorry Jonathan Adler, I would even go so far as to say that your $175 pillow reads “poor quality” — and ironically, “cheaper” — as I know what original 1960s and 1970s homemade quality looks and feels like. Another key difference with Adler’s pillows is that they seem to be much larger than vintage pillows were (maybe because typical sofas today are much larger?). This is not a plus, or a minus, just a difference. If you want a large pillow like his, I suggest: Make one or have one made.

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Comments

  1. says

    Bobbie, those pillows are amazing! (Your house is gorgeous, too.) I’m not super coordinated when it comes to cross-stitch, crocheting, etc., but I may have to give this a try. What a great skill to have.

  2. Marta says

    These pillows wind up at Goodwill regularly. I stop in at my local Goodwill a couple of times a week, which seems excessive, but I find great stuff much more often since I started doing this. I usually am on my way somewhere else, and just make a quick stop. I can surf the store in less than 15 minutes. Wonderful pinch-pleat drapes have started showing up recently.

  3. Marta says

    By the way, if you’re making your own Bargello or other needlework, it’s important, once you’ve finished, to have it cleaned and blocked before you turn in into a pillow. Otherwise, the oils from your hands will act like a dirt magnate, and you’ll end up with stains.

  4. Patty says

    Love the yummy blue one in the first photo. i remember making needlepoint pillows in 8th grade art class. Made a dress too. To this day, I do not sew because teachers in those days did not start us out on sewing a simple square pillow or a totebag – like they do now – so kids can build on their talents and confidence with craft and art projects. Instead this destroyed it. At least I enjoy the talents of others! These are great.

  5. says

    Jenny and Patty!

    Thank you for the kind words about the pillows! I think you’d both find Bargello fun and easy! A few words of advice … Yarn is getting harder to find. The old standard, Paternayan has recently discontinued production. There is another company now making a good wool yarn for Bargello (you need a yarn that is easy to divide, so standard craft store knitting yarn is out), but the name escapes me. I’ll find it and post it later. I also like a 13 canvas (I usually use two or three strands with it).

    Hope this helps!
    Bobbie

  6. Charlotte says

    Bobbie, these are great! I hope your hubby gets his wish of a Space Invaders pillow too. I’d love to see that. 🙂

  7. Dawn Singh says

    Bobbie, where did you get your pillows blocked? I have made bargellos in the past and did it myself, which can be difficult to get straight, and have had it done. But that was years ago. I don’t even know where to go to get one blocked. You MUST block them or they the design will twist.

  8. Annie B. says

    I’m obsessed with those sofas. What a gorgeous house.

    Pam, I have some vintage bargello books I found for use in collage, but would love to gift you with them with you if you’d like.

    • pam kueber says

      You are so sweet, Annie B. As I recall you have my address. Hey, email me with your address, too. As luck would have it — I have something I set aside for YOU sitting right here on my desk!

  9. says

    Wonderful post and thank you, especially, for the comparison of vintage and new bargello. I am dismayed to learn that Paternayan is discontinuing their wools. Lucky enough to snag a garbage bag full of wool yarn in a variety of colors and shades, I haven’t had to worry about a source for a long time. I’ll keep my eyes open. I really want a bargello elephant, too.

  10. says

    Hi!

    I’d be happy to share the elephant pattern if anybody wants it! It’s a bit tough to follow…I had to improvise as I went!

    Best,
    Bobbie

    • pam kueber says

      Bobbie and I discussed this. We cannot “give” the pattern, because it is in a book, which is copyrighted. If you want to make the elephant, start watching for the book on ebay or amazon:

      A New Look at Bargello
      Carol Cheney Rome, 1973
      Crown Publishers

  11. jay says

    Hey Pam, off topic here. The pillows are great but the living room, yowza! as soon as you mentioned Phila I had to check out the At Home Modern site and all the info about the house. I have probably driven past this house at one time. Didn’t recall it being featured in NYT but I sure remember the article on RR (It was love at first site).

    • jay says

      Bobbi, hello! I was referring to Pam’s site which i discovered via NYT. But yes, your house should definately be featured on RR. Your house should also be on a modern house tour if you could put up with people trouping through your house. I once did Chester County Day
      ( I like old houses as well) and could not get over the enormous amount of people that lined up to tour the houses. Liked your web site as well. Thanks for sharing your design insiight with Pam and the RR crowd.

      • says

        Hey Jay!

        The house was on a tour last October – we had 120 people in 4 hours! It was a modern homes tour sponsored by DOCOMOMO-US Philadelphia…I am a founding board member. You can find more information about the group on facebook. It stands for the DOcumentation and COnservation of the MOdernist MOvement.

        Also, I love showing the house off (we’ve even had people knock on the door), so if you’d like to see it sometime, we can probably arrange for that!

        Please keep in touch!

  12. JKM says

    Thank you for this discussion. It brings back fond memories of my grandmother who used to do a lot (and I mean A LOT) of needlepoint. Nothing was modern or retro or anything relevant to this site but they were beautiful, nonetheless. Besides pillows, I remember the needlepoint seat cushions on her Queen Ann dining room chairs.

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