Hardanger embroidery

hardanger embroidery


Hardanger embroidery is a counted thread technique incorporating drawn thread embroidery and filling stitches. The beauty of this white work technique lies in the negative and positive of the delicate openwork fillings, which contrast with the heavier surface embroidery. Thought to have its origins in the Middle East and Asia, the technique is believed to have spread to Europe during the Renaissance, where it evolved from the Italian needle-made ‘lace’ known as Reticella. Hardanger embroidery has developed over the years into its present form and is now associated with the Hardanger region of southwest Norway, from where it takes its name.

Today Hardanger embroidery decorates household items, ecclesiastical pieces, and clothing. It is an important feature of the traditional folk costume (bunad) of the Hardanger region, where it is found as an inset on the apron and on the cuffs, collar and front flap of the women’s blouse, and on the cuffs and collar of the men’s costume. The continuing popularity and ever widening interest in Hardanger embroidery, combined with pride in and appreciation of folk costume in Norway will ensure a safe future for this traditional technique.

For an embroidery technique to survive through succeeding generations, it is important for it to continue to develop from its original traditions.


Hardanger embroidery is worked on evenweave fabric in order for the threads to be cut, withdrawn and embellished. Fabrics have different properties and it is best to choose one to suit the use for which the embroidery is intended and of a count (threads to the inch) that you can see. The greater the number of threads to the inch, the finer and more delicate your work. Your time and work is precious, so always buy a good quality fabric. You will find suitable fabrics with counts of single threads from 18 to 32 threads to the inch in linen, linen mixes, cottons, cotton mixes, and Hardanger/Oslo fabric which has a double thread count. The decision is yours and should be governed by the final effect you want to achieve, but do not be afraid to experiment if you find a new and exciting fabric.

Linen evenweave is easy to stitch and pull, gives wonderfully fine and lacy effects and is probably the most luxurious to sew on. Cotton mix fabrics come in a wide range of colours and counts, one of the most useful being a 25 count cotton and rayon mix. This fabric will keep its shape when you are working on large areas of cut work, the end results look ‘crisp’ and it washes well. Twenty-five count is a good alternative for those who find the finer counts trying on the eyes but who still want delicate effects. Painted effects are also easily achievable on cotton mixes.


You will need blunt-ended tapestry needles in sizes suitable for the fabric count. Usually this is size 24 or 26. Special blunt-ended tapestry needles in size 10 will be necessary for threading and working with beads in the fillings. A crewel needle in size 10 is a useful alternative, although it has a sharp end which makes it harder to work with.

Threads and decorative  items

A thicker and a finer thread are needed for
Hardanger embroidery. The thicker thread is used for kloster blocks, surface embroidery and border stitches and should be slightly thicker than the background warp and weft so that when worked, the stitches touch each other and look slightly raised.

The finer thread is used for the needleweaving, filling stitches, pulled thread embroidery (eyelets and reversed diagonal faggoting) edging and hem stitching and should be marginally thinner than the background warp and weft in order to achieve the delicate effects.

The wonderful choice of threads readily available from plain to shaded colours, from matt to shiny textures is sometimes bewildering. Using coton perle (also called pearl cotton) is a good starting point, as it comes in a number of thicknesses and colours. The fabric count determines the thicknesses of thread you will need for your embroidery. For example, for fabrics with a 24 count or less, you will need no. 5 for the surface embroidery and no. 8 for needleweaving and pulled thread techniques. On 25/26 count fabric, you will have to choose from no. 5 to 8 for the thicker threads and 8 to 12 respectively for the finer work. Numbers 8 and 12 are used for 27 to 32 count fabric.

There are a variety of alternative threads which could be used for your Hardanger, such as linen, silk and metallics. When choosing a metallic thread, find one which is flexible and will lie flat when needleweaving. Iridescent blending filament is an excellent choice to combine with other threads for that discreet touch of sparkle in your finished piece. Shaded threads can ‘overpower’ the stitchery and do not always give the effect expected, so use them with care and choose ones which do not have sharp contrasts in them.

Decorative items

Good sharp, fine scissors, which cut ‘to the point’ are essential. There are various types, so-called ‘specific for the technique’, but simply choose ones that you like and which work well for you.

Use a magnifying glass and wax if you need to. The wax will help to stiffen the end of the thread for threading through fine needles for the beaded fillings.

A flat bodkin is useful for threading fine ribbon through blocks or stitchery.

Seed and pearl beads, ribbon and transfer paints are used to embellish embroideries.

(From book Jill Carter)

Happy embroidering!

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