Flamestich fabrics have drawn us in like a moth to a, well, flame for hundreds of years. They are elaborate, occasionally camp and always enthralling. Much like a crackling fire, you can stare at a flamestitch wallcovering for hours and never tire of it as the colours dance before your eyes. Missoni brought them to our clothes but the traditional flamestitch, which must be wool on canvas, was remarkably durable and suited cushions and upholstery.
A brief history of the fabric
As is the case with so many traditional crafts that date back centuries, the true origins of flamestitch are hard to decipher. It has many monikers, including bargello and point d'hongrie, both of which point us back to the 1600s and the marriage of a Medici to a Hungarian princess, who brought her decorative tradition to the Italians and merged it with their straight-lined embroidery of the time. Regardless, bargello is so important in the Italian decorating œuvre that there is an entire museum to it in Florence, and over the years it has had many fans, including Queen Maria Theresa of Hungary, also known as Marie Antoinette's mother. There are a plethora of examples of flamestitch dating back hundreds of years, but all feature zig-zagging gradations of colour in the most enticing manner. Traditionally, it would be varying hues of one colour or tone that featured, though now there are a range of colour-clashing options to reach for too.
How to use flamestitch
As flamestitches can vary to such a large degree, it's difficult to state hard and fast rules as to what they go with. Instead, it's better to consider each one on a case by case basis.
‘When most people think of a flamestitch, Missoni’s graphic prints are likely the first things come to mind. However, this pattern goes back many centuries and has had many other forms. It ranges from the bold and the graphic, to the soft and the languid, and everything in between. Essentially, there will be a flamestitch for everyone within its broad definition. With any fabric motif, I think it's a case of “if you like it, you like it." And if you do, then use it.'
'Ultimately, the rules that apply to all pattern can still apply to bold ones like a flamestitch. If you take a fancy to it, but feel intimidated or reluctant to commit to it on a large scale, then incorporate it in small, meaningful ways instead.
'Perhaps the easiest of these ways is in the form of cushions. From here you can scatter them amongst plain cushions in a complimenting palette on a sofa, or if you're feeling braver, commit to a couple of great big proud chonkers on an otherwise plain sofa. If you're getting really big for your boots, why not get your whole sofa covered?'
Our Assistant Decoration Editor's fabric picks:
I absolutely love this cut velvet from Clarence House. It would work nicely for any of the uses mentioned above, but I'd opt to use it on an ottoman with a big footprint. In the middle of your living room, the pattern won't feel overwhelming, and it'll be covered up with your tray and coffee table books, so it'll be knocked back anyway. Alternatively, this would be great as a pillbox stool in your boudoir for a lighter touch.
Speaking of little boudoir stools, my top pick would be Patrick Gallagher's ‘Tessuti Festoni’ flamestitch in ‘Pompei’. Though I wouldn't say no to upholstering an almost ostentatious headboard in it either.
Patrick Gallagher also has a lovely small scale flamestitch called ‘Vetta’. I would class it as a gateway flamestitch, because when this pattern is taken into smaller zig-zags, it ventures further into stripe territory, which we know as the friendliest pattern of all and the easiest to scheme with. This fabric has the bonus of ‘flip-ability’–you can just flip the fabric for a diluted version. I particularly like this in Arrazo and Firenze.
All of the above are available from Turnell & Gigon.
‘Fiamma’ by Marvic Textiles has a softness and touch of old Hollywood glamour about it. Pleasingly, this fabric can be paperbacked. Can you imagine a small loo hidden behind a jib door coated in the red colourway? It would be quite the treasure to behold–provided you're feeling brave!
Watts does a lovely, almost marbled flamestitch called ‘Florentine Bargello’ which I particularly like. It is based on a suite of chairs found in the Bargello Palace, and if you have the means why not commit!
Watts 1874 also has this pleasingly punchy ‘Bargello’ in a number of colours. It's the ideal weight for upholstery, so why not use it to breathe new life into an old favourite chair or sofa?
Flamestitch from our archive
In this country house, Flora Soames has used a flame stitch cushion as a counter to the floral ones on the sofa. It provides sharp line relief from the more bucolic, rounded shapes. This particular fabric is Waterhouse Wallhangings’ ‘Bellagio Flame Stitch’.
In Sophie Ashby's Georgian gem in Spitalfields, her study is her space to experiment with bolder fabrics. Here, leopard print, Gergei Erdei cushions, Kente cloth and flamestitch fabrics all vye for attention, yet the space still feels calm.
In a New England house designed by Dana Jennings, the designer has added decorative flame stitch cushions to an antique bench.