Book review: Paola Scarrone, Angela Stefanutto, Manuale del Puncetto Colorato (Società Operaia di Mutuo Soccorso di Varallo, 2006), 72 pages. €23, available from Italian Needlecrafts.
Puncetto Valsesiano needle lace is currently enjoying a revival. Its simplicity of construction — a single knot, created with a needle and thread — and its elegant designs have contributed to its popularity. The familiar all-white Puncetto is characteristic of the Valsesia region, located in Piedmont, northern Italy, near the borders of France and Switzerland.
Its lesser-known variation, coloured puncetto, is primarily from the Mastallone valley, an area north of the Valsesia river. Coloured Puncetto is a prominent feature of women’s costumes of Sabbia, Cravagliana, Fobello, Cervatto, and Rimella. A panel of needle lace runs vertically down the center of the bodice and the stylized apron. On either side of the lace panel, the fabric is gathered with smocking worked in the same pattern and colours as the lace. Sometimes narrow embroidered floral designs are worked beside the lace panel.
According to the authors of this book, different colours were used for different occasions, such as work, wedding, baptism, mourning. Red is suitable for young women and for weddings, blue for older women, blue and purple for half-mourning, and black for full mourning. In the past, coloured puncetto was worked with silk threads, but silk has largely been replaced by perle cotton, which is more readily available.
This book builds on the basic tutorials and motifs provided in A Scuola di Puncetto Valsesiano although, interestingly, it was published three years before Scuola. Its format and diagrams are very similar. Most coloured puncetto designs are based on the stelle miste (mixed “star” or square) design, characterized by the corners being worked horizontally and the center, diagonally.
The book is written in Italian. Because it relies on the information provided in Scuola, I recommend that you use both books together. The diagrams are very clear, but you will need a good understanding of the structure of the motifs in order to follow the graphs.
The book is organized into two parts. The first part provides step-by-step diagrams of motifs (as in the photo above, with the four women), while the second half provides only finished diagrams (see the photo above with the close-up of the embroidery). If you are comfortable with the techniques described in the first book, you should have no difficulty following the patterns in the second book. The binding seems to be of better quality than Scuola; I haven’t had any problems with the cover coming loose. The photos are extremely sharp, which makes it easy to count stitches and to duplicate designs whose patterns are not included.
I have a few tips to offer:
- The diagonally worked sections tend to stretch more than you would expect, so make sure that your diagonal spiders (ragni) are quite dainty. It’s generally good practice to make a loop a little smaller than you think it should be. A too-short loop can be stretched into shape but a too-long loop looks sloppy and is impossible to cover with stitches.
- Use an extra needle for coloured puncetto. It won’t eliminate the tedium of threading/unthreading needles for the contrasting spider centers but it will reduce some of the the threading because you can keep a needle threaded with the main colour of the spider.
- When you join a new thread, do not cut the ends of the threads close to the work until you are well past that area, especially if you need to work stitches into that area later (for example, joining corners of the center to the stitches around the edge). It is very frustrating to have a loop suddenly come undone because you cut the thread ends. Tightening a knot puts a lot of pressure on the loop into which you are working the stitch, and if the ends are cut short, they will slip out of place.
- After every row, hold the motif in the air and let the needle dangle free to untwist the thread. Because you are working hundreds of single knots, the thread will become more tightly twisted with each stitch.
- Try to keep the tail threaded through the needle fairly short (no more than about 6 inches) if you are using thread that tends to snarl. While you will have to pull more thread through each stitch, it will cut down on the knots caused by the tail thread getting caught in the main thread. Those tend to be the hardest (for me) to unpick.
- Keep a sharp pin handy to unpick knots if you make a mistake.
- If you’ve made a big mistake, cut the section off with sharp embroidery scissors. You don’t need to start all over again constructing a new base. The new joined thread is easily hidden by working stitches over it, so try to salvage as much of your work as possible.
- If you finish and you discover a mistake, see whether you can fix it by working more stitches with a needle and thread. Puncetto is so dense that a few stitches added to a row will never be noticed in the finished piece.
The photo below is a typical example of a stelle miste design with DMC Cordonnet 30 and a size 26 tapestry needle.
Here are a couple examples of coloured puncetto squares that I worked from the book with perle 8 cotton and a size 26 tapestry needle.