In my house growing up we had watermelon-colored Bargello pillows on our living room couch. My mom stitched them from wool and backed them in crushed velvet. I was fascinated by their ombre color changes.
Bargello was big in the 70’s when I was a kid, but then it fell out of favor and for the past few decades it’s been essentially forgotten as a craft. At least until recently when Brett Bara of the hip retail store and workshop space, Brooklyn Craft Company, stumbled upon a pile of Bargello books at The Strand, a used bookstore in the East Village, and became obsessed with bringing it back.
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“It’s funny how Bargello is this obscure thing that even people who know about craft don’t know anything about,” she says. “That just feels wild that there’s anything that people don’t already know everything about.”
Flipping through the pages of those books and thinking the designs look interesting and “trippy,” she scrounged up supplies and decided to give Bargello a try.
“I got hooked on it instantly. It’s cool because it’s very fast to do. It’s pretty large scale. And I love that it’s all about color play. I really love color work so I got really into it.” She started teaching Bargello classes at Brooklyn Craft Company and was surprised, and happy, to see that others shared her enthusiasm. “They’d come to a class and be obsessed and hooked and come back to the store wanting to do more,” she says. Bara had a feeling she might be onto the next big 1970’s craft revival trend. Bargello was back.
A selection of tapesty wool.
We’ve seen it happen over the past few years with macramé, frame loom weaving, and needle punch. All of a sudden a craft that seemed extinct reappears, revived with new colors and new enthusiasm, shared on social media with new life. According to Bara, Bargello had massive potential.
For example, when she posted a Bargello project on the Brooklyn Craft Company Instagram feed, the posts got 17 times higher engagement than the rest of the feed’s photos. Soon, people were asking for Bargello patterns and supplies, but Bara and her staff realized there were no good resources available.
“There are no patterns that existed in the contemporary world. There are no books in print of Bargello patterns. There’s really no website for Bargello. It’s just lost in time.”
Bara’s entrepreneurial instinct kicked in; here was a market for a product that didn’t yet exist, and so she created it. She started by designing a kit to sell at Brooklyn Craft Company, launching in early 2018. When it got a great response, she expanded into a whole line of kits, and eventually created a whole new brand: Hello Bargello. Sales have been strong and Bara has now handed over the day-to-day of managing Brooklyn Craft Company to her business partner so she can focus on Hello Bargello full-time.
Bara used her experience teaching Bargello classes to inform the material choices for the kits. Traditionally Bargello is done on needlepoint canvas and at first that’s what she was using, but she quickly realized that the canvas’ edges fray, making it very difficult to finish. “I was actually feeling very limited by the types of projects I could make with that material,” she says. “The other thing was that every time I taught a class the number one thing people would say is, ‘what can you do with this other than make a pillow?’”
When her business partner suggested plastic canvas as an alternate substrate, Bara says it was a breakthrough moment that allowed her to create kits with much wider appeal. With plastic canvas she can design in three-dimensions and the projects are easy enough for even a beginner to complete successfully.
Each kit includes plastic canvas (some, like the pillow and zippered pouch, use needlepoint canvas), DMC tapestry wool, a tapestry needle, and an instruction booklet. Designs range from earrings, a handbag, a pillow, a wall hanging, a planter, and wall art.
Kits are ideal for Bargello because the materials can be hard to source, especially tapestry wool which is challenging to find in stores. “People truly don’t know what needle to use and what surfaces to stitch on so I think that’s a big benefit of having a kit for sure,” she says. Hello Bargello is now also carrying a la carte supplies so customers can come back and stock up once they run out.
To help people learn Bargello, Bara created a library of short, step-by-step how-to videos on the Hello Bargello website. Her next project is to add a downloadable library of Bargello stitches, like the flame stitch and the serpentine, which right now are only available in vintage books. “I just want them to live online and be preserved. I don’t want them to be lost in the past,” she says.
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When it comes to aesthetics Bara looks to what’s trending in the design world at large, not just within the crafts industry, and works to apply those colors and concepts to the art direction, a process she’s been doing at Brooklyn Craft Company since the beginning. “Our customer base are urban people who don’t craft yet, but are kind of interested, but don’t know how to start. So we really try to appeal to them with a style that looks familiar and then have it be a craft instead of a handbag, for example,” she explains. In fact, the Landslide Clutch kit at Hello Bargello is directly inspired by the shape and hardware of a bag from the popular apparel store Madewell.
Instagram has been a key marketing tool for Hello Bargello. Bara does stitch-alongs in Stories which she says has been very effective. She also shows her fancy nail art manicures which she says always get good engagement. She shares pictures from vintage Bargello books and explains what the instructions were like. Then she shows her process of modernizing them for today’s crafter.
Until now Bara has really focused on direct-to-consumer sales, although she does have a limited range of kits available for wholesale. She says her biggest challenge right now is finding enough time to create all the new designs she’s been dreaming about. A new wall hanging kit just released and she’s hoping to do more accessories soon.
Bara is convinced that Bargello is going to be the next big crafting trend and I think she’s probably right. An ombre Bargello pillow or two would look pretty great on my couch right now.