The Bargello, also known as the Palazzo del Bargello, was a former barracks and prison in Florence, Italy. It is said that the inmates in the prison did needlework to pass the time and earn some income for the prison.

Their style has been called Bargello and is a type of needlepoint embroidery consisting of parallel vertical stitches, worked on an even-weave canvas. It employs rigorous mathematical regularity to produce striking geometric patterns. Examples of this type of work from the seventeenth century exist in museums (the Bargello in Florence, for example) and there was a wave of popularity among needleworkers in the United States in the 1970’s.

Bargello quilts are inspired by these designs. In order to be called a Bargello quilt, the individual rectangular pieces should overlap, with horizontal seams staggered, not meeting at the corners. Because when you are doing Bargello needlework, your needle must reverse direction with each stitch. The yarn cannot travel horizontally, or the stitches will not be truly vertical, but tweaked.

Most current so-called Bargello quilts obtain a similar effect, but the pieces meet in traditional square points. To my mind these should not bear the name Bargello.

If you’re interested, I created a pattern for a “Baby Bargello” quilt. You can see the pattern itself and the quilts I created from it in the Quilt Catalog.