Hardanger is an embroidery technique using satin stitches, cut work,
needleweaving and fill stitches. Before an area is cut it first
needs to be surrounded by kloster blocks or a border of satin
stitches, which hold the fabric threads in place. The fabric threads
are then cut as required and carefully pulled out. The different
stitches are explained in the section "Stitch Techniques".
Hardanger Embroidery has been named after the Norwegian Hardangerfjord.
It is difficult to point to the exact date, when Hardanger Embroidery has
first appeared. It is assumed that it origins from the Orient. The first cut
work embroideries were created in Persia in the 7th century. This unique
technique spread from there; sea farer brought exquisite fabrics featuring
this embroidery into many countries.
We find similar types of embroideries in
Russia, Slovenia, Cypress (Lefkara Embroidery),
and Italy (Punto Antico, Reticella and the Ventian Needlepoint),
Scotland (Ayrshire Work), the Netherlands
and Denmark (Hedebo Embroidery).
During the Renaissance period a busy trading exchange took place between Italy and Norway. The precious and exquisite embroideries were highly sought after.
But it was also expensive. To ensure that normal people, and not only the rich, could afford this beautiful embroidery, a new type of embroidery emerged in Norway from the original technique. It was called "Norwegian Drawn Thread Work", and later "Hardangersom", which means "Work from the Hardanger Region".
It was embroidered on Linen, and the people adorned their Norwegian traditional costumes, mainly aprons and blouses, named "Bunad" with Hardanger.
The original "Norwegian Drawn Thread Work" is a direct modification from Retically Lace. We can find the first traces in Rindalen in Nordmore (Norway) around 1790. This Italian type of embroidery originated from double drawn thread embroidery using geometrical motifs, which looked similar to original Hardanger Embroidery.
The Renaissance period embraced geometrial designs and ornaments; therefore Hardanger Embroidery became very well known and spread quickly. This new type of embroidery technique was also used a lot in bed linen or curtains.
You'll also find a lot of Assyrian and Egyptian influences. They are attributed to the Vikings, who undertook a lot of sea voyages to the Mediterranean. Especially in Scandinavia the eight pointed star was based on pagan beliefs and a magical and protecting ideogram.
Weaving mills discovered Hardanger Embroidery around 1895. At that time techniques and designs weren't copyright protected. So they took the local common templates and printed the first serial brochures.
Hardanger Embroidery became official, when it was exhibited at the World Fair in Paris. The first documentiation of Hardanger instructions in America is from 1901 and was published in "The Ladies' Home Journal" from Sara Hadley. Many publications followed suit, from DMC and Priscilla for example. Nowadays you can find many reprints, which are still available in bookstores or can be found on the Internet.
A lot of this information can be found in the Norwegian-American Vesterheim Museum in Iowa. Many Scandinavians immigrated to America during the years between 1840 and 1920. With them they took their knowledge about this embroidery technique and made sure it crossed the seas once again. This knowledge is documented and displayed from the Vesterheim Museum.
The traditional way of Hardanger Embroidery still has a lot of followers today, of course always with the traditional styles either white on white or ecru on ecru.
It became silent around Hardanger Embroidery during the time of WW1 and WW2. Only around 1970 the embroidery experienced revival.
New materials and ideas have entered the Hardanger technique by incorporating colours.
Nowadays there is no limit to imagination. Colourful fabrics, hand dyed embroidery threads, embroidery silks, beads, crystals and the combination of other stitching techniques have changed the style of Hardanger forever and once again turned it into something new to explore.
Copyright Vera Stoll, 2007