The home of this embroidery technique is the Hardanger Fjiord in South West Norway – you can see where it’s located on a Google map here. It looks like a beautiful place:
Up until recently the historical thinking had been that Hardanger had its origins in Persian designs and came to Norway via Italian techniques such as Reticella and Venetian Lace in the Middle Ages. Earlier silks with Persian patterns were thought to have been part of the loot gathered in Viking raids in England and Europe.
However there’s been recent research done by Associate Professor Marianne Vedeler at the University of Oslo that’s shedding new light on the history of Hardanger. Her research suggests that the silk trade in the Viking era was much more extensive than previously assumed and that they traded regularly with the Persian and Byzantine empires.
One of the most important sources of Viking era silks is the Oseberg ship – a well preserved Viking ship found in a burial mound at Oseberg farm near Tonsberg in Norway. The treasures found on this ship include silk from 15 different textiles, embroideries and tablet woven silk and wool bands. The silk textiles include Persian patterns. You can read more about Professor Vedeler’s research here
Hardanger is Whitework that’s based on a counted thread technique combined with drawn threadwork and needleweaving. The patterns and motifs are geometric but the angular quality of the designs is softened by the cutting and needleweaving which create a lacy effect. It’s stitched on even weave fabric usually 22 count.
It’s thought that the relative isolation of the Hardanger Fjiord is the main reason this very distinctive style evolved. Traditionally it was (and continues to be) stitched as white on white and was used in the folkloric costumes or bunards of the region as well as to decorate homewares.
It became known worldwide when an apron with Hardanger embroidery won an award at the Paris Exposition in 1900. The needlewoman was Brita Skalveit of Aga in the Hardanger district.
Contemporary Hardanger includes colourwork and you can see examples of both the Whitework and Colourwork styles on our Hardanger Gallery.