Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tutorial: 15-Sided Biscornu

This is my first attempt at a tutorial.  Since I've been making several of these over the last few weeks, I thought it was about time to try my hand at teaching.

A biscornu is an oddly shaped, embroidered and stuffed pillow, usually used for ornaments and pincushions.  The name comes from the French, meaning 'oddly shaped thing'.  Their origins are unclear, but they have recently seen a revival and are very popular small projects.

Normally, biscornu are created out of two squares turned 45 degrees to each other, and stitched together making an eight-sided object.  A button or bead in the center of the two surfaces dimples it and makes it even more attractive.  The embroidery can be any sort, but usually cross stitch or blackwork is used.  Generally the embroidery takes the form of a square or a circle.

This biscornu is created using fifteen small squares, outlined, embroidered, cut out and stitched together.  I used blackwork (in various colors) in DMC cotton floss on 28 count cotton evenweave fabric.  I mark my fabric with a fine-point water-soluble pen.  You will also need an embroidery hoop and a size 26 tapestry or embroidery needle (depending on what sort of embroidery you will be doing.)

The first step (after gathering your materials) is to hoop your fabric and mark your squares.   Since I like nice even numbers, I made one inch squares, which is 28 x 28 threads. This size of square will give you a biscornu that's about three inches across when finished. Since I'm using blackwork embroidery, I marked the center of each square for a starting point.  Each square is separated by ten threads to give you enough room to cut between the squares; you can increase this spacing if you like.   Once you have marked the squares, backstitch the outline of each square; I used two strands worked over two threads for the backstitching, making fourteen stitches for twenty-eight threads.  The backstitching will form your seams later on.

Once you have the backstitching finished, stitch in your embroidery.  I used one strand worked over two threads. You'll want to finish all fifteen before cutting the pieces apart.  Once the stitching is finished, rinse the whole piece in cold water to remove the blue marks.  Pat away excess water on paper towels and hang it up on a clip hanger to dry overnight.  This will also help rid you of any hoop creases you might have.

Now cut the squares apart and decide which squares you want where.  I color-coded these squares so that you can see where each of them go.  I used red for one 'face', green for the other 'face', and gold for the center. All the backstitching is in two strands of gold, and I will be using gold to stitch the pieces together.

Start with stitching the faces.  Lay the pieces out in the order that you want them to appear in the face, and choose two to be your starting points. Thread your needle with the floss that you will use to stitch the pieces, and knot it.

Insert the needle from back to front at the starting corner to hide the knot on the underside of the fabric.  Fold the fabric back from the backstitching, and place the two folds together, right sides out, and whipstitch the two pieces together through the backstitching.  Do not stitch through the fabric except to hide knots to begin a new thread.

You will end up with two pieces side by side, like this:

Add your third piece in the same way.  You should come out with something that looks like this:

And add your fourth piece to make a square:

Now here it gets to be a little more tricky.  Add the fifth square to the side of the fourth square:

And finish the face by completing that last seam between the first square and the fifth square:

Sometimes, when you stitch the pieces together you will end up with a hole in the middle of the face.  It's easy to fix; just stitch small stitches between every other corner until you've filled the hole.

Repeat these steps for the second face.

Now you need to work on the outer ring.  Choose one of the faces; it doesn't matter which one unless you want to orient them in a special way.  Since I used some random blackwork patterns that were symmetric, the orientation wasn't as important; however, if you have particular pieces that are not symmetric you will need to be sure you keep in mind which way is up.

Stitch one piece of the outer ring to one side of the face.

Stitch the other side of that piece to the next piece on the face.  Make sure you do not stitch two sides of the same two pieces together.
Continue adding the outer ring pieces until all five have been sewn to the face.

Now you need to begin sewing the other face to the outer ring.  It's not as complicated as it looks once you get started; you will be attaching the corner of the outer ring piece to two pieces of the face, just like you did with the other face.


Continue around the second face until you have two seams left to stitch, then stuff the biscornu firmly, fold in the last two sides, and stitch to close.

Note: If you want to add a ribbon hanger, it should go at the meeting of two face points.  Be aware of your orientation if you want a particular piece to be on top.  Knot the ribbon, then just insert it at the point as you stitch that place.  A stitch or two through the ribbon will secure it tightly.

Finally, add a pair of beads to the middle of the faces.  These need to be pulled together to create the dimpling effect on the biscornu.

And you're finished!  Enjoy your new biscornu, or give it away and amaze someone with your skills!