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
Historically, Hardanger employed linen evenweave fabric of 36 count or higher. However, 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.
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.