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Hardanger Embroidery

Hardanger Overview


Hardanger Embroidery is a style of embroidery that can create heirloom quality pieces, but is significantly easier to do than it looks.

finished wall decoration

The main requirement is good counting. A couple basic techniques can create stunning finished products, especially when a contrasting color is put behind the cut work. The repetitive nature of this style can be very relaxing, a bit like crochet. I’ll include a few generic links in here, but your main sources of supplies will be the stores on my supplies page. They don’t allow inserted links.

Hardanger embroidery is named after a region in SW Norway, near the Hardanger fjord. The origins are thought to have started in the Middle East, traveled through Europe (Reticella and Venetian needle lace), then fine-tuned in Norway.

white on ecru cut work embroidery

white on ecru cut work embroidery

Traditionally, this is a white or cream or cream on white embroidery, although colors are much more popular now.

It uses a combo of basic embroidery techniques, such as cut-work, drawn-work, and needle weaving into very geometric patterns. The amount of cutwork can vary between having very little cut away and the main pattern being just laid over the top of the material to mostly cut away work.

less cutting

less cutwork

As the cut away part is the step that worries newcomers the most, you can reduce it on your first pieces. Plus, there are fixes in case you happen to snip the wrong thread.

mostly cutwork

mostly cutwork

If you are starting your first piece, you can try this style using whatever materials you have handy. They won’t look quite as good as using the official material, but it will let you learn the technique.

Start with your basic fabric. This is typically hardanger fabric (Ex- 22 Ct. Ivory Hardanger 15×18 ), which is a 22 count fabric often used for cross-stitching. You could use basic fine linen, or a coarser canvas. The hardanger cloth is found in many places and in a variety of colors. The bulk ecru hardanger fabric will likely be your cheapest. Your fine linen (Ex – Charles Craft Irish Linen 32 Count 15″X18″ Box Cream IL9326-2514, 3 Item(s)/Order )will be more expensive, with a smaller pattern, but will look significantly more precious when finished. These materials will come under a variety of names, but the important thing to focus on is the count, the evenweave, and the single threads running each direction. For the first few pieces, or if your eyesight isn’t great, stick with a color that will sharply contrast with your threads.

The following evenweave materials will also work well for hardanger: Alma; Almeria; Andria; Ariosa; Congress; Cottolin; Etamine; Heartland; Jobelan; Linda; Lugana; Melinda; Modena; Oslo; Salem; Sondrio; and Wyndham.

Next is your threads.

Hardanger thread

5, 8, and 12 perl cotton hardanger thread

Typically, pearl cotton is used (ex. Pearl Cotton Size 5 -27 Yards-Winter Sky ), and provides a strong, slightly shiny finished look. Ordering online will give you the best variety of colors. DMC brand is the most well known, so search for DMC size 5 pearl cotton. You can branch into other types, such as metallic, if you know that store carries this type overall. If you just want to practice the style, your classic cross-stitch thread can be used. The key here is to match your thickness of threads to your fabric count. A traditional piece using hardanger fabric (22 count) will need size 5 pearl for the blocks and overlays, with size 8 pearl used for the wraps and any cut away work. A full line of cross stitch thread can replace the size 5 pearl, but looses the shininess and has more trouble laying correctly some times.

You can do all the work in the size 8 pearl (ex -Dmc Pearl Cotton Balls Size 8 – 95 Yards – Light Shell Pink ) when working with 28+ count fabric, but generally the look isn’t as well received. The contrast in size really adds a lot to the appearance, but so subtlety that most don’t realize why.

If you go with a smaller count, such as 28-32 linens, you will need to use size 8 and 12 pearl (Ex – Dmc Pearl Cotton Balls Size 12 – 141 Yards – Dark Garnet ). Since finding the correct color in size 12 can be harder, you will need to go online, or use 2 threads of cross stitch thread. Again, you loose some of the shininess on the inside, but the shine on the outer edges, along with a contrasting color placed behind the cut work, can make up for that. The key is to use a thread that is thinner than the fabric thread, for the woven areas.

The needle is basically your blunt tipped tapestry needle, sizes 22, 24, or 26. Use the size that works best for you and your fabric, but never use a sharp tipped one. You want to make sure that each stitch goes into a whole, not into a fabric thread.

A hoop is helpful at first, but most like to remove it when weaving the bars and doing the internal cutwork.

Your most important supply will likely be your scissors.

cuticle scissors

cuticle or manicure scissors

They need to be small, sharp, and precise. While most places will sell you special embroidery scissors, with ornate handles and special features, I had my best luck with curved cuticle scissors like these ( Ex- Ultra Cuticle Manicure Scissors – 3 1/2″ Long ). The curve allowed me to get into corners without turning my hand in strange formations. They had great control, also.

Some people get a pair of tweezers for pulling out threads, but I found the needle tip pulled out enough of the thread so that I could grasp it with my fingers.

christmas hadanger ornaments

Christmas ornaments

Once you have those materials on hand, you can go to the page on stitches and tips. There is a list of free patterns here, also. Nordic needle has some fully supplied kits available. I’ve got some links to some great books for more training. There is also a large supply of specially made patterns you can buy, everything from clothing decorations to Christmas ornaments on the supplies page. These are usually pretty good at saying if they are better for a beginner or an expert.

When I was starting out, I went to the library to get a book on hardanger. That worked great at first. I branched out into buying the patterns after I found I could do the basics.

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