Hardanger embroidery made an impression on me at a very young age.
Each time I visited my grandmother's bungalow I made a beeline to her dressing table as it was always dressed beautifully. In the center, under the mirror was her silver hairbrush. She always placed it on one of her selection of beautifully embroidered doilies. Normally these featured colourful flowers or even crinoline ladies. This particular day she surprised me with a crisp white mat encrusted with white stitchery. The open areas were decorated with fine white lacey stitches. I was smitten straight away.
Nanna often let me sit with her when she did her embroidery and sometimes let me place a (rather wonky) stitch in her projects. I clamoured to watch the creation of this stunning needlework, only to be disappointed at first.
She laid five straight stitches side by side, changed direction and repeated this, time after time. Where was the lace? How did the holes get there? I was eager to learn so Nanna shared the basic techniques with me. Then disaster!
The work was carefully laid in the chair while she went to attend to her chores. I had seen her cutting some of the threads to create the lace and her special scissors (the ones with the mother of pearl handles) were laying on the side table so invitingly. I am sure you can guess the result of my "helping out"?
Suffice it to say that Nanna's project was never finished and it was many years before I tried the technique again! But once I did, there was no stopping me.
So what is Hardanger embroidery?
It is one of the techniques known as whitework, due to the traditional Norwegian way of using white thread on white fabric that so enraptured me as a child.
However, modern day Hardanger can be stitched in any colour scheme. Random dyed threads look especially pretty.
This embroidery often embellishes aprons, caps and household linen such as tablecloths, runners and pillows. I have stitched Hardanger bellpulls, dressing table mats, ornaments, coasters and framed pictures.
Most of the hardanger designs you will encounter are geometric in nature. However, I like to be inventive and enjoy designing pictorial pieces for fun, such as the little owl shown here.
The outline of the bird is created with those sets of five straight stitches my Nanna showed me, which are known as Kloster blocks. After cutting and removing (carefully) some of the fabric threads, lacey stitches decorate the resulting square holes. Surface stitches embellish the solid, uncut areas.
In 6 lessons my free Learn Hardanger course will teach you the basics. You will stitch small pieces that can be used as coasters, greetings cards, and a bookmark, . The stitches covered in each class are listed under the clickable images below.
Next, let's look at the materials and equipment you will need to try Hardanger embroidery for yourself.
You will need two different thicknesses of Pearl cotton for this type of embroidery. You will use the finer thread for the lacy filling stitches. The surface stitchery uses the thicker thread.
These pearl cotton threads are numbered depending on their thickness with the thicker thread having a lower number..
The number 3 cotton tends to be too thick for our purposes. Next is the number 5, which comes in skeins and balls. Pearl cotton numbers, 8 and 12 are only supplied in balls.
Hardanger fabric is available in a number of different threads to the inch, or "counts". It is important to use a suitable weight of thread for each fabric type, as shown in the table below.
22 count Oslo
28 count evenweave
32 count Linen
Threads to use
Pearl 5 and 8
Pearl 8 and 12
Pearl 12 only
You will need two sizes, one for each thread. Try a size 20 for the Pearl no 5, size 22 for the Pearl no 8, and a size 24 for Pearl 12.
Sharp, pointed embroidery scissors are necessary for cutting the threads. Those with angled blades make life a little easier.
I recommend you use an embroidery hoop while working the surface stitches. Remove it before cutting the fabric threads and doing the needleweaving.
Light to work by
A magnifying lamp will prove useful in preventing eye strain when stitching in low light.
A pair of pointed tweezers may also come in handy for teasing out the cut fabric threads.
A container, in which to pop the cut threads, can help to keep your working area neat and tidy.
As this is a form of counted thread embroidery the design is not printed onto the fabric. Instead, you will follow a chart which shows where to place the stitches.
The grid lines on the chart represent fabric threads. It is important to take care to check whether each line shows a single thread, or more. Large designs often use a line to mean two fabric threads. This makes the pattern smaller and easier to handle. Often only a quarter of the design is charted, again to keep things manageable. This is turned 90 degrees after each corner is stitched.
While learning, it is easier to follow charts that show every fabric thread. The patterns in my beginner course follow this method, as do my larger designs.
As I discovered as a little girl cutting the wrong threads can be devastating. But don't panic as there are ways to rectify small mistakes. But please do keep your scissors away from young children, especially those with an interest in stitching!
To try to eliminate such errors at source, my charts have special red lines so you can see which threads to cut and which to leave well alone.
Please remember to breathe whilst cutting the threads. Every time I teach someone, I find they forget to do so at this stage in their project!
If you want to learn more about Hardanger the following books by Janice Love will be helpful...
Whether you are a beginner to Hardanger embroidery or you have been stitching it for years, this is the place to ask for help or share your knowledge.
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
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