Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bizantina Ars

Parts of what we know today as Italy were ruled by the Byzantines for a number of centuries. This influence is evident in some architecture, mosaics, marble carvings, frescos and... needlework.

Bizantina Ars or Byzantine Embroidery (the name Bizantina Ars [Byzantine Art] is actually trademarked) refers to embroidery made to resemble 4th and 5th century mosaics from the Basilicas of Ravenna.

This is a small piece of Bizantina Ars on a little rock salt sack that I purchased in Italy. It was made by the trademarked association which guarantees authentic designs and embroidery:

You can see the progression of the design from marble carving to stitched piece here.

Usually the designs are done as voided work, ie. the backgrounds are filled and the motifs left empty. Outlines are done in Stem Stitch, usually in a brown thread (DMC 801) and the filled areas are done in single coloured Punto Stuoia. The Anchor Manual of Needlework translates this stitch as Rush Stitch as that is the basic idea of it, it is meant to resemble the pattern of the rushes that covered European floors in ancient times. Single colour fillings are most commonly green, gold, red or blue. A high-count 100% Linen fabric is recommended in an ivory colour.

This example of Rush Stitch was sent to me by an Italian lady who does Byzantine Embroidery:

Here is what the back looks like:

(Note: these are examples of Rush Stitch, not Byzantine Embroidery.)

Rush Stitch is similar to Roumanian Couching though it is not meant to be evenly done but rather to have a randomness to it.

If you ever find yourself in Ravenna, all the Byzantine mosaics are worth going out of your way for. The churches of San Vitale and San Apollinare in Classe in particular.

Books about Byzantine Embroidery:
Il ricamo bizantino by Carla Scarpellini (text in Italian and difficult to find but worth it for the designs)
Bello come un sogno d’Oriente - Irma Scudellari Melandri, 2006 (text in Italian and also difficult to find but lots of colour photos of embroideries)
Treasury of Byzantine Ornament by Dover Publications is a good pattern book to use for this type of needlework.

To learn about the history behind Bizantina Ars, go to Tuttoricamo and look under the 'Techniques' heading.

For more pictures, check out the Gallery at the Bizantina Ars website.


  1. One of my early projects was translating the mosaic portraits of Justinian and Theodora in San Vitale, Ravenna, into needlepoint. It's less easy than one might think because the single mosaic pieces are not all cubes set into a rigid grid (like needlepoint stitches on canvas), but are shaped, and set into the cement according to the desired patterns, as well as being tilted so that the surfaces catch the light differently. If you're interested, you can see the results on my non-commercial blog dedicated to my passion for needlepoint: http://arsacupicturaestellae.blogspot.com/2010/06/adopting-images-in-mosaics-surprisingly.html

  2. Wow! Your cushions look fantastic!!