Flame stitch patterns fire up home design

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“Everything old is new again" feels particularly apt regarding the resurgence of flame stitch designs. This centuries-old embroidery pattern has recently returned for a playful but sophisticated look in home interiors. Furniture, wallpaper and even trays are using it, bringing life and whimsy to interiors.

A brief history of the flame stitch. Flame stitch is a design, rather than a type of fabric. One theory that historians have about the origins of the flame stitch is that it emerged from the marriage of two embroidery stitches popular in the 13th and 14th centuries: the Gobelin (or brick stitch) and the Hungarian (or zigzag stitch). The resulting combination was a favorite of Princess Elizabeth of Hungary, who traveled to Perugia, Italy, so often that some believe this is how the flame stitch became so popular in Italy.

Another theory is that the flame stitch developed from the influence of Middle Eastern textiles, such as ikat, that were coming into Italy via the Silk Road.

The flame stitch wallpaper with a modern twist in this photo looks bold but still works with the room's design. The warmth of the wallpaper connects really well with the wingback chairs. Upholstering the chairs in a contemporary leather linked them perfectly with the cowhide rug.

The flame stitch in the U.K. In Parham House in the U.K., you will find one of the most breathtaking examples of flame stitch design, and one of the earliest known flame stitch examples in England. Embroidered sometime between 1560 and 1585, its curtains (not shown here) are made from linen scrim and have repeated shades of blue, brown, fawn, yellow, beige, red and orange wool thread.

These days the flame stitch comprises a compound weave that uses natural or man-made fibers. While not likely to be seen in Parham House, the curtains and bed bolster shown here pay homage to the flame stitch pattern with a great deal of care and class.

The flame stitch throughout Europe. The flame stitch started to become very popular in the 17th century. Italian armchairs stitched with silk threads in flame stitch designs were seen in a collection at the Bargello Museum in Florence. As a result, you may have heard the term "Bargello" or "Florentine stitch" to describe the flame stitch.

Flame stitch patterns continued to remain popular throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Women would embroider wallets for their future husbands in the design, keen to show off their skills. The French also jumped on the flame stitch bandwagon -- they called it "Bergamo."

A breathtaking example, albeit on a less a grander scale than some other uses, is the delightfully modern fabric on this classic Louis-style chair design.

Flame stitch variations. During the later part of the 17th century, a few new patterns emerged that were inspired by the Bargello flame stitch pattern.

The carnation, medallion and diamond patterns evolved as new stitches were tried. These embroideries were found more in the U.S. and England than in Europe. During the 1970s the flame stitch fell heavily out of favor and stayed missing in action for several decades. Luckily for us, however, the flame stitch and all its variations are back.

These modern Jonathan Adler Bargello wave pillows look like they were inspired by the diamond pattern of the 17th century. The graphic rug mingles beautifully with the pillow pattern.

Contemporary flame stitch designs. Missoni creates possibly the most well-known contemporary interpretations of the flame stitch pattern, as seen in this rug. Although Missoni's offerings have more of a zigzag than a true flame stitch, they have become go-to choices when we want to flirt with color in a space.

This rug brings a great deal of texture and life to the sitting room, while the punchy pillows serve as a necessary counterbalance.

Flame stitch-patterned accessories. These accessories add visual interest and help pull a room together. The flame stitch design can bring a desired spike to any space without breaking the bank.

Trust your design instincts and know that whether you add a pillow, trinket box or tray like this one, using the inspired flame stitch pattern will definitely give your spirits a lift every time you walk into the room.


Houzz is the leading online platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish -- online or from a mobile device. From decorating a room to building a custom home, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals around the world. Gabrielle Di Stefano is a contributor to Houzz.

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