Hardanger Embroidery - An Introduction

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.

Now it's time for me to share it with you

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.  

Beginners step by step Hardanger course

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.

Lesson 1

Hardanger lesson one

Kloser blocks,
and Square Filets

Lesson 2

Hardanger lesson 2

Fancy Kloster blocks
Wrapped bars
and Doves Eyes

Lesson 3

Hardanger lesson 3

Kloster blocks, Square eyelets
Buttonhole edging

Lesson 4

Hardanger lesson 4

Spiders Web,
Four sided stitch

Lesson 5

Hemstitch sample

Satin stitch


Hardanger christmas card

Satin Stitch, Four sided stitch, 
Cable sititch,
Diamond Eyelets

Next, let's look at the materials and equipment you will need to try Hardanger embroidery for yourself. 

Hardanger embroidery threads

hardanger threads

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.

Fabric for Hardanger embroidery

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.

Fabric Count

22 count Oslo

28 count evenweave

32 count Linen

Threads to use

Pearl 5 and 8

Pearl 8 and 12

Pearl 12 only

What else will you need?

Tapestry needles 
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 scissors
Sharp, pointed embroidery scissors are necessary for cutting the threads. Those with angled blades make life a little easier.

Embroidery hoop
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.

Small pot
A container, in which to pop the cut threads, can help to keep your working area neat and tidy.

How to follow Hardanger patterns

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.

What if you cut the wrong thread?

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!

For your bookshelf

If you want to learn more about Hardanger the following books by Janice Love will be helpful...

Hardanger Basics and Beyond

Fundamentals made Fancy

Do you have a question about Hardanger embroidery?

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.

What Other Visitors Have Asked

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

hardanger patterns on paper 
I want to do hardanger on paper and will use stitches only, no cutting out. Should I use embroidery cotton and can I use a small hardanger pattern to put …

Perle cotton size for 22 count hardanger fabric 
I started s project on 22 count hardanger fabric using number 8 perle cotton thread and after doing 1 side I feel I should use number 5 perle cotton. …

Fabric do I cut? 
Hello Carol, what a fantastic website. I am a complete novice to hardanger and have gone ahead and purchased 22 count hardanger White material 50x55cm. …

Please could you help me with what fabric count is suitable for making table linen? I would like to use a very fine closely woven linen. I have found …

Repairing cut threads in hardanger 
I am busy embroidering a hardangar Tea with a beautiful border. I cut 4 threads on the one side of pattern incorrectly. I used the same fabric threads …

Little boxes in a hardanger pattern - what is the stitch called? 
I am working on a pattern that confuses me. The pattern looks like it is showing box stitches, but in the picture it looks like there are openings. It …

cleaning hardanger embroidery 
My aunt made some lovely hardanger pieces for me but over the years they have become soiled...how do i clean them without ruining them?

Hardanger Tablecloth Pattern 
I am wanting to make a table cloth (fairly big) for my brother and his wife for their 25th wedding anniversary as a gift. I would like to make it in white …

Repair a mistake on hardanger 
I found a 45 inch square harndanger table cloth in my archives that I started some 10-15 years ago. Now want to finish it but see why I stowed it away. …

How to Fix Hardanger Cutting Mistake 
I've done hardanger before without any problems so when I started my piece I didn't review any tips or tricks. (OK, it was 15 years ago, but I look at …

Hardanger on 32count Not rated yet
For the satin stitches, do I count over 4 or do I count 8 threads? Carol answers Hi Shelley, Thank you for your question. Hardanger kloster …

My first try Not rated yet
I know this is going to seem like a very simple question but the pattern I bought doesn't really say a whole lot. I was going over the design and its …

Click here to write your own.

You might like these

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.