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.

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!
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.

  1. 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.

  2. Bobbie says:

    Hey Jay!

    My home hasn’t been featured on RR, but I LOVE that idea! Thanks for checking out my site 🙂

    1. 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.

      1. Bobbie 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!

  3. 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).

  4. Bobbie says:


    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!


    1. 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

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