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52 Stories #2—Teaching Myself Hardanger Embroidery

I have some Norwegian ancestry. Because of this, I have sought to learn a bit about Norwegian culture. One aspect of Norwegian life that I have found appealing is their love and pursuit of artistic crafts. Many years ago, I became interested in Norwegian Hardanger embroidery, a type of needlework unique to them. I resolved to teach myself to do it.

Hardanger is a specialized technique of cut and drawn stitchwork, historically done with white thread on white evenweave cloth. It has its roots in ancient Persia, and perhaps the Vikings took embroidered pieces home with them. Back in Norway, the local women adapted the stitches to the materials at hand—linen fabric and thread. The stitchery used today originated in the Hardanger area of Norway, hence its name. By the 1800’s, all young Norwegian girls learned to used Hardanger embroidery to decorate the linens in their hope chests as well as the cuffs of shirts they made for their eventual husbands.

My Norwegian great-grandmother, Sofie Sivertsdatter Bentsen, learned Hardanger when she grew up in Norway. I do not know whether she taught embroidery to her own daughters, one born in Norway and two born in the U. S., or whether any of them pursued Hardanger as a hobby. I do know that family members still have some of the pieces Sofie worked although I was not fortunate enough to receive any myself. I guess that comes from being descended from a son instead of a daughter.

My own mother, who was half Norwegian, knew how to embroider, but she never embroidered anything with Hardanger. I doubt she knew how. She and her Finnish mother both loved to embroider with the more familiar colorful stitches like cross stitch, and we had many pieces around the house that they had worked. They made dresser scarves, table clothes, pillow cases, framed pictures, etc.

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, my mother taught me the basic decorative embroidery stitches that she knew. Over the next twenty years or so, I happily stitched up many pieces that I used around my own house. Then one day I heard about Hardanger embroidery and its Norwegian roots. I was curious to learn more about it and to try it.

About that time, a woman from the Embroiderer’s Guild offered an afternoon session on Hardanger at the local community college. I took her class and received an introduction to the required materials and stitches. I loved it!

I purchased a couple of stitching guides, some Hardanger cloth, and some perle cotton at the local sewing store and embarked on a mission to teach myself how to embroider this way. I learned increasingly complicated stitches and made bookmarks, wall hangings, and doilies. At one point, I even spent about two years making a window valance that now hangs in my office.

When I joined the Sons of Norway a couple of years ago, I found that members can earn pins for learning Norwegian cultural skills. To earn the first level pin for Hardanger, one must research the history of the craft and then complete three pieces using the basis stitches. I did this and earned my Level I pin last year.

Teaching myself Hardanger embroidery has brought much joy and satisfaction into my life and has really given me a sense of accomplishment. I feel connected to my roots when I work on a piece. When I am finished, I have something to keep that I know I made myself. Mastering Hardanger embroidery has really enriched my life.


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