Assisi embroidery takes its name from the Italian town of the same name.
I haven't been fortunate enough to travel there, but I understand that visitors can see local needlewomen still stitching it using traditional motifs and colours.
Probably originating in the thirteenth century, Assisi differs from the usual type of embroidery in that the design area remains largely un-stitched, while the surrounding background is filled in with embroidery. Traditionally this would most likely be in long-armed cross-stitch although cross-stitch or a blackwork infill pattern would more likely be used in modern Assisi work.
The design area is frequently outlined with Holbein stitch, as are details or highlights, within the largely blank design area.
Early Assisi work usually had a background stitched in red, blue, green or gold with Holbein stitch in black or brown. The subject matter was frequently heraldic in origin or repeating patterns of mythical beasts portrayed in an almost geometric style.
Nowadays you can design your own piece of Assisi embroidery using any clear, recognizable shape and putting in your own choice of background colour. I have seen some wonderful modern pieces where more than one colour is used as background but in the design, right, I have chosen to keep it relatively simple. The Instructions and chart can be downloaded from here and I hope you will use this as a jumping off point to design your own.
If you don't want to map a chart out on graph paper or on your computer why not trace or draw the design straight onto the fabric with a special water-soluble pen and then stitch around it.
Incidentally Assisi work can look really good stitched on evenweave because you have an expanse of un-stitched fabric showing.
Long Armed Cross stitch
Its never too late to learn!
I have been designing cross-stitch patterns for the past few years and had done a fair bit of general embroidery so I thought I had a fairly adequate grasp of the subject. Then I started researching for this web site and began to grasp the true extent of my own ignorance in that there were stitches that I might have seen used but had not necessarily recognised.
Furthermore there were stitches that have been so long out of general usage that they were new to me. As this voyage of discovery continues I can share it with you on this web-site and I hope you will e-mail me with those you'd like to see added to the list.
For example I'd stitched a small piece of Assisi work as a child inspired by one of my mother's tray cloths and was firmly of the opinion that cross-stitch was the only background stitch that could be used. As a keen blackwork stitcher I did at a later date design a piece of Assisi using a blackwork infill pattern instead and felt I was being quite innovative at the time.
I forgot that embroidery stitches go in and out of fashion.
On drafting this page on Assisi embroidery I was surprised to discover that traditionally long armed cross stitch was used for stitching the background and for those of you, who like me, had never used this before instructions follow.
In this form of cross-stitch each cross-stitch overlaps the one next to it. The first arm of the cross is longer than its fellow and also slants at a steeper angle.
To stitch it first bring your needle up at A.
Take a long slanting stitch to the top right shown as B, then come up again half a step back at C.
Insert your needle again at point D directly below point B, then bring it back up again at A, directly below point C, to begin the next stitch.
Repeat the sequence, remembering that every stitch touches the one proceeding it at the top of the stitch, and overlaps it at the bottom.