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Biscornu instructions and patterns

Biscornu is a French adjective that means "that which has an irregular form, with projections" or "complicated and bizarre."

To a seamstress or an embroiderer, a biscornu is a tiny eight-sided embroidered pillow that can be used as a pincushion, an holiday ornament, key chain/cell phone decoration, a scissor fob, the centerpiece of a wreath, filled with flower petals or herbs to make a sachet... They're great for anything that you can think to do with a tiny cushion. Biscornus can be cross-stitched, embroidered, hardangered (is that even a word?), anything as long as each side is square and the same size. I've even seen patchwork/quilted biscornus. Biscornus are very popular items for stitchers to exchange; there are many biscornu exchanges arranged online through blogs and forums.

- litlaskvis' black and green biscornu (Her other stitchery photos can be found here.)
- xstitchexchange biscornu exchange gallery
- gallery of biscornus (in French)
- my biscornu photo gallery

I originally heard of biscornus from litlaskvis through her posts on the cross_stitch community -- she does some absolutely fantastic work! But, having never seen a pattern for one or really having any idea of how small and cute they are I didn't really give it a second thought. However, litlaskvis posted a link to wonderfully illustrated tutorial here, which was put together by Julie, a.k.a. StitchingCat. Now I want to make a bunch of them!

Much to the dismay of many stitchers, Julie's instructions only come in French or Italian. I wasn't particularly perturbed; I can speak/read French (12 years of French immersion will do that to you). I've also found a number of other useful biscornu assembly instructions, such as those by Finishing School, Rissa Peace Root, and Craftybits. (The last one has a great tutorial on how to attach a biscornu to a wrist band as well -- I highly recommend it!) I've based the following tutorial on the information I've gathered online and through my personal trial and error.

Biscornu Instructions

NOTE 1: Biscornus can be any size that you desire, only limited by your skill and the materials that you use (the smaller the biscornu, the more difficult it is to turn the corners). I've made biscornus ranging in size from 3/4 of an inch in diameter all the way up to nearly couch cushion size. Most biscornus fit comfortably in the palm of your hand and are made using two pieces of fabric about 4" or 5" wide each. I've chosen to use the slightly-larger-than-average Hallowe'en biscornu that I made for caerbannog for this tutorial because it's easier to see the details.

NOTE 2: You can click on any of the tutorial photos to view a larger version.

1) Cross-stitch/embroider/hardanger/quilt two designs. The designs do not have to be identical, but they should be the same size when they are complete. (A biscornu can be made from any size of design so long as both finished pieces of fabric are the same size.)

2) This step is optional, but I find that it makes your biscornu much sturdier and less likely to pull apart at the seams. Pin a layer of complimentary-coloured cotton or cotton-blend fabric to the back of each side of the biscornu design. If you are using a looser-weave fabric such as Aida or linen, the fabric will show through somewhat and it will keep your stuffing from poking through the weave. This will become your backing fabric.

3) Backstitch a square around the designs. (If you are including Step 2, use the backstitch to attach the backing fabric to the embroidered fabric by passing the needle through both layers. When you're finished backstitching, remove the pins.) This creates your sewing edge for assembling the biscornu.

4) The two backstitched squares must be EXACTLY the same size! I can't stress this enough. If the backstitched squares are different sizes, the biscornu will be lopsided (if the discrepancy is small) or plain old won't close properly (if the discrepancy is large). Trim the fabric to about 1cm (just under 1/2") away from the backstitching. For tiny biscornus, this border must be a little smaller or the corners won't fold properly. If you're doing a large biscornu, increase the size of the edge proportionately, but to no more than 5cm (2") or so.

5) Along the sides that you will be joining first, fold the edge along the backstitched line towards the back of the embroidery.

6a) If your border has an even number of backstitches, place a pin in the exact middle of one side.

6b) If your border has an odd number of backstitches, place a pin in the exact middle plus one stitch.

7) Joining the corner of one side to the middle of the edge of the other side is what creates the shape of a biscornu.

8) Using two strands of embroidery thread, attach the threads from the back of the corner of the first side. You will be able to see your stitches, so make sure that you use a coordinating colour and that you keep your stitches as small and neat as possible.

9) Make a stitch by passing your threaded needle underneath the backstitch of the previously-marked center of the second square. When assembling a biscornu, the needle should always be passed through the backstitching without ever piercing the fabric. If you haven't been using a blunt-tipped tapestry needle up until this point, then now would be the time to start.

10)Pass the needle through the next backstitch on your first side.

11) Continue stitching through the backstitch from the back to the front. Keep the stitches taut to avoid gaps in your attached edges, but not so tight that your thread or fabric buckles.

12) When you reach a corner, you may need to stitch more than once through the backstitch, especially if your edges are an odd number of stitches long. If your thread colour is the same as the backstitch colour, this will not show. Corners are the best time to make sure that your edges are still lined up, and to make corrections if necessary. If desired, you can slip a bead onto your thread at this point and stitch it into the corner.

NOTE 3: The tinier your biscornu and the thicker your fabric, the harder it will be to turn a clean corner. You may have to snip a little of the excess border fabric from the inside of the biscornu to make the corner turn properly.

NOTE 4: If you use thread in a contrasting color with the fabric for backstitches and assembly stitches, you will end up with an ornamental seam. Most biscornus have an ornamental seam, but this isn't a prerequisite. If you want your seam to blend in, use thread that is the same colour as your fabric.

NOTE 5: As you stitch, you'll notice that you no longer have four sides, but eight.

13) Stop stitching when you complete your 6th side.

14) Stuff your biscornu, making sure to push stuffing into the corners. Don't stuff it too tightly, or it will be very difficult to sew the last two sides closed. If you want your biscornu to be scented, this is when you would add a sachet to the stuffing -- but make sure that it's a bit off-center, as you will be stitching through the center of the biscornu later.

15) Sew the last two sides closed. Tie off the thread securely, then pass the needle inside the biscornu and out again, snipping the thread close to the biscornu while the thread is taut. The thread end should retreat inside the biscornu, hiding it.

16) Sew on your buttons. The thread should go from one button, pass all the way through the center of the biscornu, and then go thorough the other button.

17) Keeping the thread between the buttons very taut is what creates the signature "dent" in the center of a biscornu. Creating this dent is another reason not to stuff your biscornu too firmly -- if there is too much stuffing, it won't dent easily (if at all), and you'll probably break many, many threads trying.

18) Your biscornu is now complete!

In my search for instructions and photographs, I have also turned up some free patterns available online:

- Popular Red Biscornu (front and back photos) by Mamounette
- Waterlilies Biscornu by Dawn Lewis
- Provincial Biscornu Front and Back (front and back photos) by Sprite
- Butterfly Biscornu Front and Back (photo) by Sprite
- Mimosa Biscornu Front and Back (front and back photos) by Sprite
- Cat Biscornu by La Coccinelle Brodeuse
- Cow Biscornu by La Coccinelle Brodeuse
- Blue Heart Biscornu by La Coccinelle Brodeuse
- Blue Blackwork Biscornu (photo) designed by Miss Kat at Craft Corner
- Romantic Biscornu (photo) by Craft Corner
- Mini Biscornu (front and back photos) by Miss T
- Heart & Lines Biscornu (picture) by Abi
- Traditional Bulgarian Motif by Alita. (Thanks, songbirds, for finding this one!)
- Green Moroccan Biscornu (photo) from Better Homes and Gardens
- Mint Moroccan Biscornu (photo) from Better Homes and Gardens
- Orange Moroccan Biscornu (photo) from Better Homes and Gardens

Please note that all credit for these designs goes to the original creators.

Technically the Better Homes and Gardens ones aren't biscornu patterns, they're originally meant as Moroccan tiles. However, the patterns are quite nice and they would work for biscornus.

Also recommended to me for patterns was the book Répertoire des Frises by Valérie Lejeune. It's hard to find in North America, though.


( 56 comments — Discuss )
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Sep. 13th, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
Fantastic! Thankyou so much for taking the time to translate the instructions :)
I've been interested in making one for some time, but had trouble following the guides I found, this makes it seem so easy!

*can't wait to get home from work*
Sep. 13th, 2006 08:11 pm (UTC)
TOTALLY doing one of these when I get home (must find a design first)! Or at least starting one..
Sep. 13th, 2006 10:53 pm (UTC)
omg I'm making one of these tonight!

I've greatly admired all the pictures and was frustrated that I couldn't find directions. Thank you so much for this!
Sep. 14th, 2006 09:01 am (UTC)
You rock!
Sep. 14th, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you!!! Awesome that you took the time to make this tutorial!
Sep. 15th, 2006 11:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this. I cant wait to try to make one.

Do you have the pattern for the one you did in the example or is that a copyrighted one?
Sep. 16th, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC)
I didn't do the one in the picture -- I just translated the instructions originally available on this site. So, unfortunately I don't have the pattern. However, you could probably graph one from the pictures that were provided.

Good luck!
Teaching this project - giselahauert - Sep. 18th, 2007 07:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Teaching this project - own_two_hands - Sep. 18th, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Teaching this project - own_two_hands - Sep. 19th, 2007 08:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Teaching this project - (Anonymous) - Mar. 14th, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 16th, 2006 10:49 am (UTC)
Sep. 16th, 2006 04:30 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I like that one! I shall add it to the list of links. Thank you!
Oct. 5th, 2006 09:16 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for posting this. Very interesting, I may even give it a try!
Dec. 28th, 2006 06:46 pm (UTC)
I have been wanting to do these, and what a great instruction you have done, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I found some neat designs on www.inkcircles.com that are free, I think they'd be good for a biscornu.
Jan. 2nd, 2007 09:07 pm (UTC)
some freebies that might work
Monogrammed Medallion (pdf file and key are separate, you need to save both)

Lakes and Meadows (80 squares wide) *may* work on 18 count, or you could leave off the outer row of blocks.

Thanks for the biscornu instructions.
Jan. 15th, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)
I never was interested in these - but the instructions make me want to do one. What a wonderful job you did in posting it. I can't thank you enough.
Feb. 16th, 2007 10:23 am (UTC)
some patterns here
I found these linking around lol!


click on the Grille links below patterns. They are generously available.
Feb. 25th, 2007 08:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the translated instructions I made one following the pictures from the french instructions and it ended up too big, I'm going to try again with yours, Big Hugs
Mar. 30th, 2007 01:58 pm (UTC)
i found this post in a google search becuase i got curious why people in cross_stitch were so excited. these are beautiful, and thank you so much for such wonderful and clear instructions! I am going to make one after my current project.
May. 23rd, 2007 04:21 am (UTC)
Beautiful clear instructions
Thanks for taking the time to make such a clear instructional record. The photos really do show how the B is constructed
Jun. 27th, 2007 02:56 am (UTC)
Re: Beautiful clear instructions
I asked what a biscornu was on the EMS site, and I agree with one poster. Now you have really gone and done it! Just what I need, another addiction for a cross stitching item!!! LOL, thanks for the wonderful instructions, I am going to right click on this site so I can put it on my desktop and play with later. Many, many Thanks and Huggs, Cait
Aug. 6th, 2007 07:51 am (UTC)
It's really nice, and the pictures you show are really helpfull !
Bravo pour cette belle réalisation :-)
Aug. 7th, 2007 01:43 pm (UTC)
Merci! Mais les instructions était originellement en Français ici. Je les ai seulement traduis en Anglais.
Sep. 16th, 2007 02:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for the translation!
Sep. 17th, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC)
You're welcome!
Sep. 18th, 2007 04:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the detailed instructions! I'll admit that I've been stumped on how to make them, although I've been admiring them for some time.
Sep. 18th, 2007 05:13 pm (UTC)
Honestly, biscornu look a lot more difficult to make than they really are...
Turning them into xmas ornaments - (Anonymous) - Oct. 5th, 2007 12:59 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Turning them into xmas ornaments - own_two_hands - Oct. 7th, 2007 02:04 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 5th, 2007 11:58 pm (UTC)
Please see instruction #4 - 1 cm does NOT equal 1.2 in. An inch is actually three times the size of a cm, approximately.

Otherwise, the instructions are quite clear.
Oct. 7th, 2007 02:01 am (UTC)
Re: Correction
Whoops, typo! That should have read 1/2" not 1.2". Thanks!
Feb. 29th, 2008 12:07 pm (UTC)
Great Post!
I really enjoyed reading your post this morning - came over from Craftster. Your halloween biscornu is so stinkin' cute! I never thought to do one on a colored cloth - very striking! Thanks again!
Feb. 29th, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Great Post!
Wow, thanks!
Mar. 20th, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)
You can't ever take this entry down! It's linked from Ink Circles and a couple of other sites I've visited in the past few months!
May. 27th, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)
love 'em
these are beautiful and your tute is too easy to follow. i think i've found the "what to make" for my stitching buddies for our next gift exchange. thanks so much for sharing.
Jun. 1st, 2008 07:21 am (UTC)
Biscornu patterns
Lots of nice biscornu patterns on Creative Poppy.

Jul. 9th, 2008 05:58 pm (UTC)
These are wonderful instructions that are very clear and explained what a B is to me clearly.

I actually prefer the look of this without the button though, just square. Is that doable, or would it be more difficult to make it that way?
Jul. 9th, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC)
If you prefer the look of a biscornu without the button, then by all means skip that step! Although you will need a button if you want that "dent" in the middle. I've tried creating that dent without the button and the fabric will invariably rips -- the button serves as reinforcement.
- princess_peas - Jul. 9th, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
biscornu - (Anonymous) - Aug. 2nd, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: biscornu - princess_peas - Aug. 8th, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: biscornu - (Anonymous) - Aug. 15th, 2008 11:55 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: biscornu - own_two_hands - Aug. 17th, 2008 02:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 15th, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)
Halloweens Pattern

Thanks for the tutorial, as I haven't made one as yet myself. Could you tell me where the Halloween chart can be got from please,as I would like to do that one, thanks again.
Aug. 17th, 2008 02:48 am (UTC)
Re: Halloweens Pattern
You can purchase a PDF copy in my Own Two Hands Supplies Etsy store. As per above, shipping will be a little bit delayed for the next little while due to my daughter's birth this past Monday.
Aug. 23rd, 2008 09:58 am (UTC)
Thanks for this. I often do little kits while waiting places (like Doctor's, etc). This will give me something specific to aim at. I had never heard of Biscornu before. Your instructions are so clear and easy to follow.
Sep. 18th, 2008 10:36 pm (UTC)
Love your blog!

Hello, I enjoy reading your blog, and I have added it to my reading list!
If you would like to add me, i'm at
Nov. 27th, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC)
I made the "traditional Bulgarian" biscornu, pictures here:
if you'd like to link to the pics :)
Thanks for the great instructions!
Aug. 15th, 2009 08:26 pm (UTC)
Thank thank thank you Frenchie-type-lady!
Thank you for posting this. I am so grateful that you took the time to do this AND translate from francais (I don't have the little squiggly thing on my keyboard - sorry). I'm gonna give these a go. I wonder, do the French use these nifty little jobbers only for pin cushions? BTW, I don't think they are "strange," I think they are genius!
Dec. 1st, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
Thankyou! I just used your instructions to finish my first biscornu. Your tutorial is great.
Dec. 2nd, 2009 02:09 am (UTC)
Thank you, glad to help! Can I see pictures? :)
- rye_bunny - Dec. 2nd, 2009 04:47 am (UTC) - Expand
- own_two_hands - Dec. 2nd, 2009 08:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
- rye_bunny - Dec. 2nd, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
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( 56 comments — Discuss )

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