What’s a biscornu? or what’s biscornu? I’m not exactly sure how to term this little, popular needlework oddity. Is it a noun? or an adjective? Either way, I call it an “oddity” because it does strike me as a little odd in its shape – but more so in its recent “birth” into the embroidery world. I’ve been embroidering for …. too many years to count! And it was just a lucky happenstance that brought biscornu to my attention.
I have a little knowledge of French, so when I first encountered the word “biscornu” I was confused. On my recent vacation, a fellow stitcher in a needlework shop showed me a little roundish ornament of sorts and said, “Have you ever made a biscornu?” I puzzled over the word, asked how it was spelled, thought about it a bit, and “that’s odd.” And it is! The word itself means odd or bizarre in French – it’s actually an adjective.
But there’s nothing really too odd about biscornu, and it’s really no wonder that the marvelous little things are suddenly very popular in the needlework world.
Biscornu are small pillows, made from squares by offsetting the corners of the squares, whip-stitching them together, and stuffing them, so that they form a kind of puffy, eight-pointed pillow. In the middle of the resulting pillow, a button or trinket is usually sewn, pulling the two sides of the pillow together.
Each side of the pillow is embroidered (or at least the top side is). The embroidery usually involves counted thread techniques such as cross stitch or blackwork, but other stitches may certainly be employed, and I would imagine to great effect.
I squizzed around the internet, looking for samples – and holy cow! These little gems are really popular! I must’ve had my head in the sand for the last four or five years! Actually, the earliest date I could find on any pictures of biscornu was 2004! And I figure the things must be relatively recent in the needlework world, because – believe it or not – there’s not even a Wikipedia article about them!
So what do they look like? And what are they used for?
If you want to see what they look like, I suggest checking out the heaps of images on Webshots/Type “biscornu” into the search on Webshots, and you’ll get a plethora of photos:
There are plenty of blogs out there with photos of completed biscornu, or works in progress. I particularly liked the one I found at the Peacock’s Feather, a great blog with lots of book recommendations & photos of works in progress.
One of the most striking biscornu I’ve seen is found at Stitched in Holland. I’m a sucker for red, so the color scheme really appeals to me.
It seems that the primary purpose of biscornu is as a pin cushion.
The biscornu can also be used for ornamentation – they make interesting Christmas ornaments, for example. I imagine they could also be made into sachets, but I would advise any flower or plant-like filling to be stitched into an enclosure bag instead of putting the filling loose into the biscornu.
How are they made? Well, there are several tutorials online that you can check out if you’re interested in stitching up one of these oddities.
Probably the best tutorial I’ve found so far is the one at Finishing School, a place where you will find “alternative finishes for needlework designs.” The biscornu made in that tutorial is a bit bigger than some of the other ones you might see online. It all depends on the fabric you choose.
You’ll find another good tutorial at Annette’s Acre. The pictures are not as clear, but the tutorial is still very good, and the biscornu she’s putting together is very pretty!
And then, finally, what about patterns? You can probably find many good patterns all over the internet, given the popularity of this little item. With just a quick look, I found a pretty good source at Battybat, which is also a French website.
Finally, my favorite all around resource that I found for information on the biscornu is the website Own Two Hands, where you will find a wonderfully clear tutorial for creating a biscornu, as well as a whole list of links for patterns.
So, there you have it – a needlework oddity that I’m glad I came across, and I hope you find it interesting, too! Enjoy!