Assisi work is a kind of hand embroidery that originated in Medieval Italy. The technique produces a colored background where the motif in the design is void – that is, left blank. So you get the color background, and the design stands out because it is not colored.
Assisi work was popular as an ecclesiastical embroidery technique, where rich designs would be worked for altar frontals, vestments, and other church uses. The name originates from the town of Assisi, where this technique was often worked in convents responsible for providing church textiles.
In Assisi work today, the design is worked on an even weave fabric, and the motif is usually outlined in Holbein stitch or “running backstitch” – or simply in backstitch, according to some sources. The appeal of Assisi work is the boldness of the designs – no wimpy colors here! Rich colors of reds, blues, greens, browns, etc., will make up the background, while the “picture” is white.
Usually, the background was stitched in long-arm cross stitch or in a variation of Algerian Eye stitch, but modern embroiderers often substitute regular cross stitch, sometimes over two or even three threads of the fabric. They also will employ a variety of colors in their motifs, adapting the “voided” idea of the central picture to a more modern view of utilizing color. In any case, whether old or new, examples of Assisi work are attractive and captivating.
There’s also a great website out of the Netherlands devoted to Assisi work, where you will find hundreds of free patterns – and they are marvelous patterns! The website is called Embroidery and Embroider, created by Jos Hendriks. You’ll not only find wonderful patterns, but you’ll also find plenty of photographs of finished work. It’s really a fun site to peruse.
I especially like the easily printed patterns all over the site! There are some marvelous examples of truly medieval-style Assisi work, as well as work that can be adapted to a more modern approach. You’ll find directions on Assisi work as well.
I like the look of Assisi work, and it’s great for “small projects” as well as large. For example, an Assisi work bookmark takes only a little time to create, and yet would make a very thoughtful gift for a reader in your life! This style of embroidery is very suitable for household upholstery items, such as decorative pillows, etc. I can also see Assisi work well used on the cute and sturdy tote-bags that are so popular today. So many possibilities!