Biscornu Basics

Rissa Peace Root 2007, 2009 all rights reserved.

A biscornu is an interesting little eight-sided pincushion that has become very popular in recent months.  The word biscornu (sometimes written biscournu) is derived from a French adjective, meaning skewed, quirky or irregular. My husband, ever the linguist, tells me that it literally means "two horned." Many English speakers, especially those from the Southern United States, think that biscornu is a cognate of the word biscuit.  Well, it is similar in shape and size to a hand-pressed biscuit!  Regardless, biscornu are basically made from two embroidered squares sewn together on point; the corner of one square meets the middle of the other as the two pieces are whip-stitched together and stuffed, creating the a quirky, skewed pillow. Additionally, many are finished off with a button in the center of the design top and bottom. 

Most biscornu are worked in cross-stitch or Blackwork Embroidery, because the even weave linen or AIDA (pronounced like the opera) fabric lends itself to counted techniques.  While they can be made using traditional fabric, it is hard to get them the exact same size without the help of the counted fabric.  The first example below was stitched from a free pattern online for a Traditional Bulgarian Motif (http://alitadesigns.com/cross-stitch/patterns/016.php) from Alita Designs. 

The second one was stitched on 32 count linen from free motif patterns that can be found on Capucine's blog (http://capucine.over-blog.net/article-805189.html.)

I took photographs as I made progress in the completion of this project, hoping it would demystify the process.  I saw photos and instructions (in French) for assembly online, but waited for over a year to make my first one, because it seemed a little daunting.  Since then, the directions have been translated into English on several web sites.  That said, once I actually attempted my first one, the process became clear and I did not need to refer to the photos or directions. 

Stitch two motifs and backstitch around them, making sure both squares are exactly the same number of stitches.   Either an odd or even number of stitches will work, but this example had an even number of stitches.

Match the corner of one motif to the center of the other.  The whip stitches will be made with the right sides facing outward.  You might want to use a pin to mark your place, even if you take it out immediately. Excuse Rudy, he felt strongly about inspecting my work.

Once you have it started, finger press the fabric under and move the motifs around to make whip stitching easier.  Whip stitch through the row of backstitching on each motif, being careful not to catch the fabric underneath.

I like to work from top to bottom, but there are no rules. Do what feels natural, but be consistent. 

When you work around the corners, remember that if there are an even number of stitches that you will whip from the stitch just before and after the corner into adjoining stitches.  If there are an odd number of stitch, you will work both of those stitches into the same center stitch. 

Tension is always a tricky thing.  I like to take three whip stitches, then pull my thread a little until it is snug.  If you pull too hard around corners, they will not have a defined point.  That is just a statement of fact; it is neither right nor wrong.

 Keep checking to make sure the corner points line up with the center of the opposite motif.

 

Use your thumb to keep the folded edge and the back-stitching together, so that it is easy to sew.

Stop whip stitching, leaving one side open, so that you can stuff the biscornu.

I stuff mine with scoured wool.  This is the actual amount of wool I used to stuff this fairly small biscornu.

When it is stuffed, finger press the fabric back to expose the backstitching and to keep the filling from popping out of the puff

Use your thumb to hold the two rows of backstitching close together until you can get the last bit whip-stitched.  This is probably the most fiddly part of construction.

Stuffed without the button.

Other side, stuffed without the button.

Sew each button on, one at a time. 

The button should make a big indentation in each side.

Then we have the two sides of the finished biscornu and a close-up of the unusual sides. 

  • It is easier if the motif has a stitch at the center, or you may want to mark it with a pin. You do not want to find out you are off by a stitch at the next corner, because it is hard to unpick the whip-stitching.
  • Tension is an issue.  I stop after every three or so stitches to snug up my whip-stitching.
  • If you use linen, take the time to bind the edges.  I use the overcast stitch on my sewing machine, but you can whip stitch it by hand if you prefer.
  • It looks like most any square or circular motif will work, but it helps if you can easily identify the center as well as the corners. 
  • Either use strong thread (like quilting or upholstery thread) or wax your thread before you use it to secure the buttons. It will help you get a better indentation.  Waxed thread has better "grip."
  • Try using a large bead instead of a button for the center.
  • I prefer to stuff all of my pincushions with wool, but you can use fiber fill, pellets, or a combination of things.  Avoid using rice or beans, because it might attract pests.
  • When you have stuffed it completely, add just a little more.  You might want to use a dowel or chopstick to get the stuffing into the corners.
  • It is pronounced "biss-kor-noo"  or "biss-core-new."  Either way, the s is not silent. Since it is a French adjective, appropriated into English as a noun, there is no reason to get too wound up about what is "correct." However, my French friend and fellow CyberStitchers, Virginie, as kindly made a video file so you can hear a native French speaker and embroider say the word!  (http://www.wat.tv/video/biscornu-1oxlu_1lwvt_.html)


Moroccan Biscornu Pattern found here



"Sweet Biscornu" by Periphaeria Designs, Gift of Stitching, Issue 18 July 2007
These were stitched in different colors of Needle Necessities over-dyed floss, with bead embellishment.


Teeny, tiny biscornu adapted from the design above.


Chair Necessaire in Four Parts with Kathrin Ellison, Part 1: Biscornu from A Needle Pulling Thread, Spring 2009

There are several inspirational galleries, instructions for finishing, and patterns for the designs available online.  Rather than list them here and have to keep the links current, I suggest you do a search on the keyword biscornu in your search engine of choice.


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 Rissa Peace 1999-2013

This site last edited: 01/01/13