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Hardanger Tips - History

Hardanger History

What drew me to be interested in Hardanger and learning how to do it?   My extended family migrated to Wisconsin from Norway in the 1800's.  I want to carry on the traditions of my ancestors.  My grandma was the person who taught me  how to cross stitch in my early adulthood. My grandmother taught me many sewing techniques as well as how to cook.  She was a classy lady. She did not do Hardanger, as far as I know. I have seen lots of beautiful Hardanger pieces in a few stores in the little town she lived in, in Wisconsin. It is a favorite tourist destination in the area because of a little restaurant started by some of the local woman called the Norse Nook. It is basically a chain store now, but when I was a child it was very authentic home cooking by some good Norwegian woman. Uff Dah!


 Hardanger is named after a region in Norway called Hardanger, where it became popular and specialized.  In Norway it is called Hardangersom, or "work from the Hardanger area".  It is believed to have originated in the Middle East at some point, but the documentation on this is scarce.  Hardanger embroidery was popular during the Renaissance Period, during which time it spread. At some point it made it's way to Italy. Fabric was a mixture of wool and other fibers like flax. The Norwegians have called it their own since explorers brought it back to their country. The Norwegians  specialized and  proliferated the art of Hardanger. It was used to adorn many of their traditional pieces of clothing, towels, aprons,  home decorations, bedspreads, curtains,  and wall hangings.  Norway has a large farming region, so they are able to grow the textiles needed to  make the fabric necessary for Hardanger. Fibers from the  flax plant are used to make Linen. Linen is one of the oldest woven fabrics in human history. Today Hardanger is traditionally stitched  on a less expensive, even weave,  100%  cotton fabric aptly named, Hardanger. Originally it was stitched on traditional linen fabric in very small counts. The stitch count was more than twice the 22 count fabric  that we use today.  The fabric was generally dyed white or  ivory.  On occasion it was left in it's natural grayish  color and the floss use to stitch the Hardanger was generally  white. Hardanger was brought to America by Norwegians, like my great grandparents, and other European  immigrants in the 1800's. Many of them moved to places like Wisconsin and Minnesota with similar climates to Norway.


Hardanger is a combination of a few  types of stitches.Embroidery, satin stitch, drawn work, cut work, white work, needle weaving, etc. and today is combined with many other types of stitching like cross stitch, to produce beautiful designs and pieces.  Believe it or not, Hardanger is not difficult to do. It can be a daunting task to take on your first Hardanger piece. Start small, and work your way up.  Hardanger can be as simple as  just a few stitches combined to make a masterpiece, or as challenging as you like by combining several kinds of stitches to make something amazing!  It is very important to be precise when doing Hardanger embroidery.  Count, count, and count again to be sure you place your stitches correctly.  If you don't, your work can and will easily fall apart when you start cutting.  The back of your work should match the front as closely as possible. 


Hardanger was traditionally done with the same fabric and floss color, white on  white.  Today there are a  plethora of fabrics, colors of fabric, floss and colors of floss available to work with to make gorgeous designs.   Pearl cotton is typically used to stitch Hardanger in size 5 , 8 and 12.  Size 5 or 8  is used for the kloster blocks and outline of the piece, while the size 8  or 12 is used for the finer details in the center of the piece.  Caron Collection Wildflowers can be used in place of the size 8 or 12 pearl cotton floss.  Caron Collection Impressions is also a great floss to use in place of size 8 or 12 pearl floss.  Variegated  Silk Waterlilies can also be used in place of size 12 (two threads of the Waterlilies makes a size 12).  The combination of Wildflowers, Impressions,  and Waterlilies to make a Hardanger piece can be quite beautiful with the tremendous range of floss colors available.


The basis of a Hardanger piece starts with groups of satin stitches called kloster blocks.  The design is built around this most basic stitch.  Kloster blocks are done with the thicker floss, size 5.  On finer counts of fabric, the size 8 or Wildflowers floss may be used for the heavier stitching like the kloster blocks, and size 12 pearl cotton or Waterlilies floss (2 strands)  can be used for the finer work and detail in the center. 


My first try at Hardanger did not go well. I found the patterns available to be confusing and poorly done.  They were not done with the beginner in mind.  Having used mostly cross stitch patterns in the past, the set up of most Hardanger patterns did not make sense to me. Each line representing two threads of fabric.  The patterns are rarely complete, only showing a portion of the project.  They have few if any directions for the stitches. The supplies needed are hidden on the patterns.  It is quite frustrating for the beginner.  However, with a little digging on the internet for some directions that made sense and perseverance, I have found Hardanger to be quite easy and enjoyable, like cross stitch.  As my tips section grows, I hope to eliminate some of the frustration for other people attempting to do Hardanger for the first time. 


 Another type of embroidery popular in the 1930's and 40's in America that is similar to Hardanger is Swedish Weaving or Huck Weaving.  Swedish weaving is stitched on ONE side of the fabric only.  This is accomplished by inserting the needle just under the float or vertical threads in the cloth you are working with.   The needle never penetrates the cloth.  This type of embroidery was very popular in the 1930's and 1040's.  I recently found a towel that my Grandmother stitched  many years ago.  Swedish weaving can be done on any even weave fabric, but Huck fabric, Stockholom,  and Monks cloth are preferred by stitchers because they lend themselves well to the technique.  The type of floss or yarn you use will depend on the size and type of fabric you use for your design.  Pearl cotton thread or yarn is typically used to stitch Swedish Weaving.


Tools you will need to get started:



I will discuss the different kinds of fabric available for Hardanger in length in the Fabric Tips section for Hardanger.  The most basic fabric and widely used is a 100% cotton fabric made specifically for doing Hardanger work called Hardanger.  There are several other fabrics you can use as well.... Fabric.



You will generally need 2 needles when doing a Hardanger piece.  One for the thicker thread and one for the thinner.  Here is a guide given to me by a friend who does a lot of Hardanger that is very helpful when deciding  on what needle size to use for each thread size.


Needle and thread size chart for Hardanger
Thread count Needle size Thread size pearl cotton
18 20 and 22 3 and 5
20 22 and 24 5 and 8
22 22 and 24 5 and 8
25 24 and 26 8 and 12
28 24 and 26 8 and 12
32  24 and 26 8 and 12

Floss for Hardanger

There are several types of floss available for Hardanger Embroidery.  We carry many of them.

DMC pearl cotton floss  is used for projects like Hardanger embroidery, embroidery, and needlepoint.  Pearl cotton floss comes in all the same colors as  the DMC Mouline 6 stranded floss.  Pearl cotton comes in different sizes.   Pearl cotton floss  comes in a few different sizes in skeins and balls.  The typical sizes are 5, 8 and 12. A highly mercerized, non-divisible, lustrous 100% cotton thread on a twisted skein. DMC Pearl Cotton skeins are available in two sizes - 3 and 5 (the higher the thread size, the finer/thinner the thread).   Size 5 (Art. 115/5) is available in 27 yard skeins in 292 solid and 20 variegated colors. It is ideal to use for cross-stitch, embroidery, needlepoint, hardanger, blackwork, redwork, pulled thread, smocking, applique and many types of creative stitchery.

Pearl Cotton Variations (Art. 415)  Pearl Color Variations, DMC's new specialty thread. Pearl Cotton Variations is a lustrous multi-color, highly mercerized, non-divisible thread with an over-dyed look. Available in 36 beautiful shades with 27 yards per twisted skein.   Each skein of Pearl Cotton Variations is a combination of current DMC colors, allowing stitchers to coordinate Pearl Cotton Variations with DMC Pearl Cotton to create beautiful designs with colors that compliment one another perfectly.   Pearl Cotton Variations is 100% Colorfast, Fade Resistant, and offers guaranteed Color Consistency from one skein to another.  It is ideal to use for cross-stitch, embroidery, needlepoint, hardanger, blackwork, redwork, pulled thread, smocking, applique and many other types of creative stitchery.


Caron Collection Wildflowers.   A single strand hand-dyed cotton in variegated colors. It has more of a matte finish when stitched. Use one or more strands as required by the ground fabric. One strand is approximately the same weight as flower thread or Medicis wool. It is between a #8 and #12 pearl cotton in weight. It is available in all the same colors as Watercolours and the two threads can be used very successfully together for Hardanger embroidery. Can be used for bobbin work on quilts.



You will need a very pointy, narrow, sharp pair of scissors for the delicate cutting necessary to achieve the cut work in Hardanger.  I prefer the pointy 3.5 inch stork scissors.  There are angled scissors that work nicely as well for Hardanger.