Saturday, March 9, 2013

Step by Step Working of Assissi Embroidery

Origin: Assissi Embroidery is a style of embroidery that evolved in the 13th and 14th century in the Italian town - Assisi. In 1902, this style was saved from obsolescence and popularized by Saint Francis of Assisi. Inspiration for new designs was drawn from the relief stonework and the exquisite carvings in the chests and other wood work found in the church.  The churches of the town have done their bit to carefully preserve some of the earlier work. It's thanks to them and to those who turned Assissi embroidery into the cottage industry of the town, that we know what we do today, about this lovely embroidery. The style has some distinct features that make it easily identifiable.

Identifying Assissi Embroidery: The design itself is void while the outlines and background are embroidered in Holbein and cross stitches respectively. Sometimes in places like near the head of birds etc, a slanting stitch is used. The subjects like demons and animals usually look mean  and the earlier designs were usually very crude.  Floral motifs too are used. But they don't seem to be as popular as the demons, birds and animals. There is almost always a border worked completely in Holbein stitch with maybe a cross-stitch here and there.

Fabric: We should remember that a couple of centuries ago, fabrics expect for perhaps silk or satin, were more loosely woven or coarse, so the outlines were drawn directly on fabric and then embroidered. These days we have to use Aida fabric or end up with eye problems.

Colours Used: Faded sky blue and rust brown tones were the commonly used shades in the original work. Later on, a dark blue, bright red and a bronze yellow etc were introduces to make the work looked brighter. The outlines of the designs are done in a deeper contrasting colour such as black, dark blue or green or even a vivid red.

The Design Elements
There are 4 elements - the outlines, the voids, the cross-stitch and the border framing the designs. They are worked in 3 steps.

Step 1: Holbein stitch done in 2 rows- the first laying the outline  and the second completing the outline in a return journey.

The DMC Assissi Embroideries book recommends that you work all complementary lines that depart from the main design (like the detailing of the swans feathers in the image below), while working the first row itself.

Here's an interesting tidbit. Spanish Blackwork and Kasuti of Karnataka also use the Holbein stitch. The stitches in all three styles are worked such that, but for the knots, it is impossible to distinguish between the right and the wrong side of work. Only, in the case of Assissi, once you fill in the cross stitches, you'll know.

Step 2: Filling the background with cross- stitch.

Step 3: Working the borders in Holbein stitch.


1. D.M.C – Assisi Embroideries Click the link to go to the download page. The book is on Public domain so it can be downloaded free of cost. There are 9 plates with about 50 designs in this book.

2. Reader’s Digest – Complete Guide to Needlework - I own a copy of this book. An excellent buy.

3. Mary Thomas's Embroidery Book - again an excellent buy.