Editor's Note: Even though it is not crazy quilted, I thought I would
share this article in time for holiday gift giving.
Biscornus are fascinating little eight-sided pincushions
that have 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. The end result
is 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 counted techniques, such as cross-stitch or Blackwork,
because the even weave linen or AIDA (pronounced like the opera) fabric lends itself to
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)
and was given as a gift to a friend.
I took photographs as I made progress in the
completion of this project, hoping it would demystify the process and encourage
people to try these. I saw
photos and instructions (in French) for assembly online, but waited for over a
year before I made my first one, because it seemed a little daunting. Since
that time, 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
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 stitches, 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
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
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. If you plan to use a button, you can leave the center blank.
- 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
- 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 could 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."
- Be careful, they are addictive. It just feels so good to
finish something small.
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.