What Is a Biscornu?

Angie Bates

Literally translated as "two-horned" in French, a biscornu is an embroidered, ornamental pin cushion or small pillow. Eight-sided, a biscornu is made from two squares of cloth, which are sewn together and stuffed. Though the exact origin of this craft is unclear, biscornu have become popular within craft communities in the 21st century.

A biscornu is an an embroidered, ornamental pin cushion.
A biscornu is an an embroidered, ornamental pin cushion.

More often used to mean "irregular" or "odd," the term biscornu describes the shape of this pin cushion well. When created, two squares of fabric are offset, so that the corner of one is attached to the center of one edge of the other, and then three sides are sewn shut before the biscornu is stuffed and sewing is completed. The result is an irregular seam which zigzags around the side of the pillow creating four points on the top, which are offset by the four points on the bottom.

To create a biscornu, cloth should first be selected. Since these pin cushions are embroidered, a cloth with an even weave is recommended. Aida, the traditional fabric used in cross-stitching, or linen are the most common choices among crafters. The size of the cloth may vary, but both squares must be of equal size.

Usually consisting of abstract or geometrical designs, patterns must be symmetric. The embroidery on each square is usually identical or at least matched. Normally counted cross-stitch or blackwork is used to create the designs.

In cross-stitch, small crosses are stitched into the threads of the cloth. Blackwork uses black thread to create patterns of lines, primarily using the double running stitch. Double running stitches create solid lines by first making a row of small, evenly spaced stitches and then stitching over them again to fill in the gaps. Both techniques are counted, meaning the crafter must count the lines in the weave of the fabric to determine where to place the stitches.

Once the embroidery on the biscornu is complete, the corner of one square is attached to the center of one edge of the other square. Three sides are then sewn up using a whip stitch, which loops around the fabric edges then pulls tight so the stitches are hidden. It is important that the stitches are snug but not too tight or the pointed ends will be lost.

The stuffing used is often wool or batting, but any type of stuffing material is acceptable. Once stuffed, the final edge of the cushion is sewn up. Afterward, a button or a bead is sewn into the center of each side, creating a dimple in the cushion.

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