Hardanger Embroidery

In this category we have compiled many Hardanger embroidery hints, tips, tricks, and tutorials. If you notice the subcategory links to the right, you will see that we have divided our tutorials based on skill level. You will find many cutwork diagrams, step-by-step stitch instructions, background, and materials used, all from the very basic to the advanced. Below you will find an extensive Hardanger article and excerpts from our Skills & Sales Newsletter #2 (click here to join our newsletter mailing list!).

Hardanger Embroidery is a combination of many disciplines of needlecraft including cutwork, drawn work, and needle weaving. While some people are very reluctant to try Hardanger Embroidery, it can easily be mastered if you have some patience and can count! “Traditional Hardanger Embroidery is characterized by satin stitch blocks (Klostersaum) formed into geometric designs, and the cutting and withdrawal of threads within these shapes. The resulting grid is embroidered and embellished with needle weaving (Stoppesaum) and lacy infilling stitches, thereby making it stronger as well as decorative.” (Hardanger Embroidery by Jill Carter, page 17)


Hardanger Embroidery is named after a region in southwest Norway in the county of Hordaland by the Hardanger Fjord. However, it is thought to have originated from the Middle East. From there it spread to Europe with ties to the Reticella and Venetian needle laces. Reticella is a very geometric style with foundations in squares, diagonals, triangles, and arcs. Venetian lace dates from the 16th to the 19th century characterized by deep, acute-angled points stitched in separate pieces and linked together by a narrow band with buttonholing.

How did it get to Norway?
The Norwegians of this particular region were seafarers and traders, traveling to countries where they were introduced to new skills and ideas. Over time, the individual lace forms of cut and drawn work evolved into what we know today as Hardanger. Many of the locals were farmers and they grew the raw materials necessary to produce their cloth goods. Sheep provided the wool and linen was produced from flax. Both were woven into fabric. The linen was often left in a natural color. Various organic materials were used to dye the wool. One of the natural materials used was cudbear (a lichen that only grew in Norway and Sweden) which produced a very specific shade of purple. While today’s Hardanger fabric is usually a 22-count, these brave Norwegian ladies worked on 50-count linen! The Hardanger Embroidery was traditionally done white-on-white or ivory. The women used the designs for decorating linens, ecclesiastical pieces, clothing and aprons worn with the traditional folk costumes.

How did it get to Fargo?

(Excerpts taken from an article in The Area Woman, January 1996, pages 5-10) The awareness of Hardanger Embroidery and the growth of Nordic Needle could not have happened without Roz and Sue’s first Hardanger teacher and mentor, Marie Hanson, who died in 1992. Marie visited Norway in 1958 and saw the beautiful handwork. When Marie returned home she took some lessons and formed a Hardanger interest group at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. Sue and Roz began to take her classes. Marie encouraged “the girls” (as she called them) to open Nordic Needle because supplies were hard to come by. The first book published by the Nordic Needle in 1977, was a collection of Marie’s patterns as well as some original designs by Roz and Sue. This book, Hardanger Embroidery Favorites I – 0101 also included stitch instructions that were charted and explained, which was the first known publication of its kind. Previously published books showed close up photos but not charts of the stitch formations. This book has gone to print over 17 times and is still one of our most popular sellers.

The Nordic Needle philosophy has always included education and promotion of Hardanger embroidery. By 1996 the Nordic Needle had published 111 design books on Hardanger. In addition there is the annual Award Winning Design contest in Hardanger where entries come from all over the world. The 2008 publication will be available in July with winning designs coming from 6 countries. This is the 30th annual contest book. In keeping with the philosophy of education and promotion of needlework, the Nordic Needle started hosting the Stitchers Retreat in 2002 which has continued to grow each year and focuses on teaching Hardanger Embroidery as well as several other techniques. Several years of the Award Winning Designs are still available:

The Complete International Book of Embroidery, Mary Gostelow, 1977.
Hardanger Embroidery, An Introduction, Leisure Arts, 1977
The Encyclopedia of Stitches, Karen Hemingway

Work Basket

Fabric: You need an evenweave fabric that allows you to cut and withdraw threads. Hardanger fabric has a double thread, but is worked like it is one thread. The warp threads run parallel with the selvage and the weft threads are perpendicular to the salvage. The holes between the threads are easy to see. If you are making several pieces exactly alike or that will be displayed together, you will need to be sure to cut and work the pieces in the same direction. Fabric is determined by the number of threads to the inch, also known as the “count”. This count will determine the size of your project. Always Remember: The higher the fabric count the finer the weave of the fabric. 32-count linen will be a tighter/finer weave than a 22-count Hardanger fabric.

We will cover fabrics in a later newsletter, but here are brief explanations of fabric types:

  • Cotton – the lint (fiber separated from the blooming cotton seed) is spun and loomed into textiles and yarns.
  • Mercerized cotton is a process where cotton thread goes a sodium hydroxide bath that is then neutralized with an acid bath. This treatment increases luster, strength, affinity to dye, resistance to mildew, and also reduces lint.
  • Linen is a natural fiber that is very strong. Linen can be hand washed and/or dry cleaned. It irons nicely. Linen is often used for tablecloths and curtains. (about.com)
  • Modalis a bio-based fiber made by spinning reconstituted cellulose from beech trees. It is about 50% more water-absorbent than cotton is. It is designed to dye just like cotton, and is color-fast when washed in warm water. Modal is essentially a variety of rayon. Textiles made from Modal do not pill like cotton does, and are resistant to shrinkage and fading. They are smooth and soft, more so than even mercerized cotton, to the point where mineral deposits from hard water, such as lime, do not stick to the fabric surface. Like pure cotton, modal should ideally be ironed after washing. (wikipedia.com)
  • Rayon is a soft and comfortable fabric that absorbs well and has few static and pilling problems. Rayon can have problems with shrinking. There are both dry clean only and washable rayon fabrics on the market today.
  • Polyester is a synthetic fiber, produced by the polymerization of the product formed when an alcohol and organic acid react. Resistant to stretching and shrinking, quick dry and wrinkle resistant. http://www.textilefurnishings.com/polyester-fabric.html

Hardanger Embroidery can be worked on any evenweave fabric from approximately 18 count all the way to the finest available, which has been 50 count. Most commonly today, Hardanger Embroidery is worked on the 22 count Hardanger fabric or 20, 25, 28, and 32 count Lugana, 18, 20, 25, 28, 32, and 36 count linen, and Roz’s favorite, the 24 count Congress cloth.

Here are the fabrics we carry:

Threads: Traditionally the thread matched the fabric, like white-on-white or ivory-on ivory. Today people are using many color variations including incorporating specialty and metallic threads. Typically two thread weights are used. Most common are pearl cottons in size 5 and 8 and pearl cottons in size 8 and 12. The thicker thread is used for the kloster blocks, motifs and border stitching. The finer thread is used for the detail work such as eyelets, wrapping, needle weaving and cable stitch.

When planning your project always check the thread availability for the sizes you need. Sometimes the thread is not manufactured in all sizes or your shop does not carry the entire line. Here are some of the thread lines we handle. We do not carry all the colors in some of these lines; however, we can often find a substitute for you among all the lines.

Rule of thumb (Wikipedia says that a rule of thumb is a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. It is an easily learned and easily applied procedure for approximately calculating or recalling some value, or for making some determination.)

  • If the fabric is 24-count of less, then use a size 5 and 8 combination.
  • If the fabric is 25-26 count then you can use a 5 or 8 combination, or size #8 for all the stitching.
  • If the fabric is 27-32 count, you should use a size 8 and 12 combination, or size #8 for all the stitching on 27 and 28 count.
  • A size 12 is not always available in the colors you need. You can use two strands of a floss for a size 12, but you need to take care that the threads lay flat and do not cross over each other.

There are many threads on the market, so you can use your imagination. One way you can determine if a thread will work is to pull out one weft or warp thread from your fabric. The thread you are using for your satin stitch and kloster blocks should be slightly thicker than the fabric thread. Choose a thread that is thinner than the fabric thread for wrapping and weaving.

Cut your thread to a comfortable working length. Some people like a shorter length like 18-20″ while others will tell you to use 30″. Use what is most comfortable for you. Keep in mind that pearl cotton will lose some of its sheen as it is pulled through the fabric. If you are using metallic thread, cut a shorter piece to reduce fraying. To begin a new piece start with a waste knot about three inches in length. Do your stitching and when you are done cut that knot and run it on the backside under several stitches or blocks to secure. To begin or end thread where there are worked stitches, thread it under several stitches or blocks on the back side.

Needles: Tapestry needles are preferred because they have blunt ends and will not split your threads. Needles in size 22 (if you like a larger needle), needles in size 24 and 26 will work great for your two sizes of thread.

Equipment: Here are some additional items you may want in your work basket:

  • A good pair of sharp, fine-pointed embroidery scissors is a must! Many people recommend keeping one pair just for the cutwork.
  • Tweezers are useful to pull out threads and straighten up block edges.
  • General consensus is that you work without a hoop or a frame. There is a lot of movement in stitching and it can become cumbersome. If you do use a hoop, keep the fabric loose so it won’t stretch your blocks. Don’t leave the hoop on your project when not stitching.

Tips & Tricks

  1. Strive to work so perfectly that the wrong side of the piece is as neat as the right side.
  2. Always check the work to make sure the corresponding blocks line up.
  3. Using an embroidery hoop prohibits easy movement of the needle from one stitch to the next. Do not use a hoop.
  4. It is easier to work in natural light than in artificial light.
  5. If eye strain occurs, try a magnifier.
  6. Try creating some original patterns on graph paper.
  7. The cable stitch makes a lacy decorative addition to many patterns.
  8. Make sure the blocks run perpendicular to each other.
  9. Wash the finished Hardanger piece by hand in mild soapy water. Rinse and hang on a towel to dry. Place the damp piece right side down on a terry cloth and press. For additional tips, go to our cleaning tips page.
  10. Generally, do not crowd too many stitches on each woven bar, since this will distort the shape of the openwork. There may be times you do wrap more so it will create an arc in the bar.
  11. It is best to proceed to a perpendicular bar rather than to the bar in the same row when moving from one bar to the next in weaving.
  12. The stitches must be perfect before the cutwork can be accomplished.
  13. Work slowly and check your work as you go.
  14. Stitches can be accomplished most efficiently by working on the right side of the fabric at all times.
  15. Always check your chart to make sure where to start, the direction you are to go, and how many spaces are represented per square. A line on the chart is the same as a thread on the fabric.
  16. Working order: Many times the designer will give you the suggested working order. If not, here is the recommended order:
    • Satin Stitch
    • Eyelets
    • Buttonhole
    • Cutwork, followed by the filling stitches, is always LAST!!!
  17. Prepare your fabric by overcasting your raw edges or using Fray Check.

Techniques to Try

We hope you enjoy this section on techniques. It is broken up into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. Under each section are some helpful hints and then several stitches with a brief definition. At the end of each section there will be a link to page that will detail the stitches for that section and is excellent for printing. There will also be a link to a free design which uses these stitches so that you can jump right in and try your hand at Hardanger.

Many people never try Hardanger because they are afraid to do the cutting. Therefore, we are suggesting these stitches where no cutting is necessary.

Tips: Always start learning with a stiff Hardanger 22-count fabric or Roz’s favorite 24 count Congress cloth, which is stiff and the holes are easier to see. (Mistakes are also easier to spot. We all make mistakes, so it is best to find them early in your piece!) You may also find it very helpful to baste a guideline across and down your fabric to show the center (Easy-Count Guideline – 100 yard spool).

  • Satin Stitch or Kloster Bocks (Klostersaum)
    These are worked in straight rows or at right angles to each other. Never start a new length of thread in the middle of a Kloster block. You may be able to tell the old and new thread by the luster (or lack of).
  • Dove’s Eye filling (Spindel)
  • Needleweaving (Stoppestingsstver)
  • Wrapped or Overcast Bars (Overkasting av staver)
  • Click here for a printer-friendly file documenting these stitches.

Books and Kits Available for the Beginner:

Cutting and Withdrawal of Threads (Utskarsom)


  • Don’t cut when you are tired or rushed!!
  • If you are afraid you will cut where you should not do a basting stitch through the area that you are NOT TO CUT.
  • Cut your four threads against the sides of the satin stitches.
  • For a right handed person, have your scissors to the left of the satin stitches. You will be able to see better and get closer. A left handed person with a left handed pair of scissors will cut to the right of the satin stitches.
  • Cut one side of the design, then turn and cut the opposite side. You will have to turn your piece around as you cut.
  • Place all four threads you wish to cut on the blades of your scissors. Do not cut them one at a time because you are more likely to make a mistake and cut too many.
  • Carefully pull out the cut threads.
  • Do not panic if you cut a wrong thread. We will be putting a tutorial out on the web at a future date showing you how to reweave the cut threads.

Here are some intermediate stitches and their traditional names:

Books and Kits available for the Intermediate:

Advanced Intermediate:

Books and Kits Available for the Advanced Intermediate:

For advanced or more intricate fancywork and cutwork there are many wonderful resources available (and too many gorgeous stitches to list here), so we recommend these books and patterns for those daring stitchers who really want to get their feet wet:

For those of you who don’t want to try your hand at Hardanger Embroidery, but would like to become acquainted with some of the terms, we have created a Find-It word puzzle for you. Click here to get the puzzle! (Click here for the answers.)

Inquiring Minds

Hardanger should always be capitalized. The word “Hardanger” means four things-a type of embroidery, a place, a fabric, and a violin/fiddle used in traditional Norwegian music.. Pronunciation depends on the region. Most of the folks at the Nordic Needle say “Har-dong-ger) except for Debi who is from Kansas who says “Har-dang-ger.” One resource book even suggested “Har-dun-ga”. One thing for sure, it is not pronounced – “Hard-Anger”. For those who don’t believe us, check out Julie Norton’s book, “Take the Hard out of Hardanger”.

Q. Is there something I should do to help keep the tension the same as I stitch?
A. Some people use a method called “Pinch and Pull”. Janice Love details this technique in her book Hardanger Basics and Beyond. “To avoid having ‘lumps’ on the back of the work when backstitching, place the index or middle finger of the hand holding the fabric behind the fabric and the back stitch. “Pinch” the fabric and stitch tightly between the thumb and the index or middle finger. While ‘pinching’, pull the thread firmly. ‘Pinching and pulling’ will cause the back stitch to be pulled tightly into the block without distorting the shape of the block. This helps to keep the back of the work flat and neat. (‘Pinching and pulling’ is used throughout all the stitching to help control the tension and create uniform stitches.)” page 4

Q. Is a finished piece really as delicate as it looks? Can they be washed in the washing machine, on delicate, in a net bag) or do they have to be hand-washed?
A. Actually the more stitching done on the piece, the stronger it gets. You can have your pieces framed if you are worried about soiling. You should always hand wash your pieces. Click here to view our Cleaning Tips page.

Q. How do you get those annoying little fuzzy ends to not stick out of the kloster blocks?
A. Don’t they drive you nuts?? The suggestions we found are:

  • that they should shrink a bit when washed
  • when you are done, take your needle and work it in behind the satin stitch, wiggling it a bit to get the stray threads to go back behind the satin stitch
  • Take extra time in cutting your threads making sure you are using the correct blade placement. Sometimes you may need to go back and trim up a few stray ones.
  • Choose a thread that closely matches your fabric and this will camouflage part of them!

Q. I have trouble cutting the very short threads in the corners of the diamond shape for instance.
A. You need a very pointed, sharp scissors or clipper. Our very best-selling scissors for cutwork embroidery are the DOVO Hardanger scissors.

Q. I’m a perfectionist and always want to improve the look of my stitching (especially the back!). A few years ago, a teacher showed a class how to stitch in a ‘steps and stair’ method for starting and ending threads which could be applied to Hardanger — but I haven’t been able to find anyone who had her notes. It was counting on the diagonal and it worked 100% of the team — and it meant no more thicker and thinner parts when you were starting and stopping threads (especially if you use #5 Perle Cotton).
A. We have looked at resource materials and talked with some stitchers and have been unable to find information on this technique. If you know how this is done, please click here to send us an e-mail so we can share it.

Meet Some Designers

There are many designers who incorporate Hardanger Embroidery into their pieces. We will be featuring more designers in future newsletters.

Roz WatnemoRoz Watnemo: Roz grew up on the family farm in northern Minnesota where she learned homemaking skills and basic embroidery from her mother. The Hardanger embroidery connection came when she worked at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and met Sue and Gayle. Nordic Needle began out of necessity so their Hardanger group could buy supplies locally. That was in 1975 and you can read the complete story here. Here are some patterns designed by Roz:

Ruth and Jerome HankeRuth Hanke of Hanky Panky: Ruth and Jerome Hanke own and operate HankyPanky crafts. name HankyPanky comes from Ruth and Jerome’s last name – "Hanke". Ruth just celebrated her 80th birthday! She says she feels privileged to receive so much pleasure for 50 years stitching Hardanger. “Many times I tell friends and customers that I may get tired but never tired of stitching Hardanger designs.” Ruth designs the 3-D angels and Santas in addition to beautiful doilies. Ruth also loves working with miniatures and began making miniature flowers using paper and punches. About 30 years ago, Ruth wrote her first book "Miniature Houseplants". I she isn’t busy enough already she does miniature crochet. Here are a couple designs by Ruth:

Jean Mann at 2008 Stitcher's RetreatJean Mann: Jean is a much loved and requested designer and teacher here in Fargo. Jean is a very talented artist. In addition to Hardanger, she designs and teaches huck weaving, Brazilian Embroidery, Pulled and Counted Thread to name a few! Jean has worked at Nordic Needle in the past. We couldn’t do the annual Stitchers Retreat without Jean! She likes to tell the story that when she applied for a job Roz and Sue said that she looked very familiar. Jean said it was because she was the lady who was always hanging out at the Brazilian thread racks trying to pick out colors! You can see some of Jean’s designs in the Big Book of Small Doilies:

We hope this article makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

For those interested in using this article or others published by Nordic Needle, Inc., please use this copy when referencing the information:

“The following article was published by Nordic Needle, Inc. in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For more stitching articles, visit NordicNeedle.net.”

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