Hardanger embroidery or "Hardangersøm" is a form of embroidery traditionally worked with white thread on white even-weave cloth, using counted thread and drawn thread work techniques. It is sometimes called whitework embroidery.
The exact origins of Hardanger embroidery are not known but it is thought to have its beginnings in ancient Persia and Asia. During the Renaissance this early form of embroidery spread to Italy where it evolved into Italian Reticella and Venetian lacework. By 1700 variations of this type of embroidery had spread to northern Europe where it developed further into Danish and Dutch Hedebo, Scottish Ayrshire work and Ruskin lacework as well as Norwegian Drawn Work, as it was then called.
In the period between 1650-1850 Hardangersom (meaning: work from Hardanger area) flourished in Norway. Flax was grown, carded, spun and woven into white fabric and thread which was used to make and decorate traditional Norwegian costume items called bunads (national costumes) as well as other items of clothing and household linens such as mats, curtains and bedspreads.
Materials and technique
Modern Hardanger fabric is an evenweave cotton material woven with pairs of threads, typically 22 pairs per linear inch in both directions, referred to as '22-count'. The weave gives a squared appearance to the fabric (similar to Aida cloth), with distinct holes, making it easy to count and work on. Other evenweave fabrics are also suitable for Hardanger embroidery but do not usually have the clearly defined block appearance. These include pure linen, cotton or mixed fibre fabrics that may also vary in count from 18-24 threads per inch to finer counts of 26 threads per inch or higher.
Traditional Hardanger embroidery is worked with a thread colour that matches the fabric, usually white or cream. Using self-coloured thread enhances both the sculptural nature of the stitches and the details in the intricate filling stitches. Many contemporary designs, however, do make use of coloured, variegated and overdyed threads to great effect.
Two weights of Pearl (perlé) cotton are generally used. On normal 22-count Hardanger fabric this is usually Pearl cotton #5, a heavier weight used for satin stitch Kloster blocks and motifs, and Pearl cotton #8, a thinner thread used for more delicate filling stitches and other surface details. On finer, higher count fabrics the combination of #8 and #12 threads is often more suitable.
Stitches and techniques
Hardanger embroidery uses satin stitch blocks known as Kloster blocks, consisting of 5 parallel satin stitches, worked over a group of 4 x 4 ground threads. These blocks enclose areas of fabric where a number of warp and weft threads are cut and withdrawn, leaving a network of loose threads and large holes within the shape defined by the Kloster blocks. Various decorative filling stitches are then worked over the remaining loose threads and holes to create a lacy effect.
Some of the stitches and special techniques used are:
- Simple satin stitch surface motifs, often resembling stars, ships, crescents and crosses.
- Other decorative surface stitches such as fly stitch, running stitch, cable stitch and French knots.
- Woven bars: weaving the needle over and under four threads until they are completely covered, and wrapped bars (overcast bars) where the thread is wound around groups of four threads.
- Filling stitches resembling wheels, spider's webs and dove's eyes.
- Picot: twisting the thread once round the needle before inserting the needle to produce a decorative loop.
- Edging stitches such as four-sided stitch, buttonhole stitch and fancy hemstitching techniques for finishing items.
The traditional style of Hardanger work is very geometrical in form and based on several basic shapes such as squares, rectangles, triangles, diamonds, hearts, zig-zags and crosses. The combination and placement of these elements allow an unlimited number of beautiful patterns of all sizes to be created.
A wide range of patterns are available today for the modern needleworker to try, in both traditional and contemporary styles. Hardanger is still used to decorate cushions, table linen and other household items as well as items for display on a wall. Several modern needlework designers have incorporated elements of Hardanger cut work into their embroidery designs and samplers, often combining them with other needlework techniques, stitches, speciality threads and other embellishments to great effect.
Some Lutheran pastors of Norwegian descent in the United States have had stoles embroidered with Hardanger work made for their use. While altar paraments in Hardanger work have been traditional in Norwegian churches for a long time, their use in American Lutheran churches is becoming more common as an alternative to the more traditional machine-embroidered damask paraments. Even the traditional alternating cross and chalice motif of Norwegian Hardanger work is now found in American Lutheran churches.
- The Anchor Book of Hardanger Embroidery, complied by Sue Whiting. David & Charles 1997. ISBN 0-7153-0633-2
- Hickmott, Mary, Easing Into Hardanger. Creative Crafts Publishing 1996. ISBN 1-900758-01-6
- Stanton, Yvette, Elegant Hardanger Embroidery, Vetty Creations 2005, ISBN 0-9757677-0-4
- Cécile Pozzo di Borgo, Les bases de la broderie Hardanger, éd. de Saxe, coll. Mains et Merveilles -Broderie créative, Avril 2004  ISNN 1287-3187
- Cécile Pozzo di Borgo, La broderie Hardanger, éd. de Saxe, coll. Mains et Merveilles - Broderie créative, Septembre 2006  ISNN 1287-3187
- Soizig et Aziliz, "Hardanger, Idées Déco", éd. L'Inédite, Coll. Fragments Octobre 2007 'ISBN 2908894750
- The History of Hardangersom - more detail on the history of Hardanger work with photographic examples.
- Vera Stoll Hardanger Design - more information about Hardanger work and history with downloadable pdf-files.
- NordicNeedle.net - In-depth Hardanger guides, stitch diagrams, and instructions for all skill levels.
- Mabel Figworthy's Fancies - Original and innovative Hardanger designs.