Hardanger embroidery (or cutwork) is a decorative and historic form of counted thread embroidery. The stitches are usually geometric and/or symmetrical and can be worked alongside counted or specialty stitches. Traditionally, Hardanger pieces were stitched with white thread on white fabric and often found on table linens and doilies. Today the style has evolved to include both colored fabrics and fibers, and you can find it on projects like bellpulls, pillows, ornaments, and, of course, linens and doilies.
Combining the use of heavy threads (usually a perle cotton #5) with lighter threads (perle cotton #8 and/or embroidery floss), Hardanger designs typically have a layered or textural look. This means it requires a slightly stiffer or heavier fabric than cross-stitch, as it needs to hold up to the weight of the threads and the tension of the stitches. While it can be worked on cotton evenweaves and linens, there is a fabric devoted to the technique called Hardanger fabric, which is a 100% cotton evenweave available in a variety of colors.
Stitchers are often wary of this technique because they imagine the whole thing falling apart when the threads are cut. However, this will not happen if the stitches are in the right place, and there are ways of double-checking this as you go along. At worst, if you do cut the wrong thread, it can be repaired. Read on to learn more, including the three stages of the technique: working the Kloster blocks, cutting the threads, and decorating the voids.
Stitching the Kloster Blocks
Kloster blocks create the framework for the cut areas in Hardanger embroidery. They are worked in patterns, formed with five vertical or five horizontal straight stitches, each of them over four threads on evenweave or four blocks on Hardanger fabric. The stitches are worked side by side, following the grain of the fabric.
Work the stitches side by side so they look similar on the wrong side of the fabric. The stitches will have a very slight slant on the wrong side. Where the vertical and horizontal blocks meet at the corners, they must share a corner hole.
Work all the Kloster blocks in each section of your piece, checking that the blocks meet where they should. Be sure you are counting threads, not holes. It is important that you count this bit correctly—the secret is to check as you stitch that you are lining up correctly. Also ensure that vertical Kloster blocks are opposite each other and horizontal blocks are opposite each other.
Cutting Fabric Threads
When the Kloster blocks have been stitched, the threads between them may be cut and removed. Cut only the threads at the ends of the stitches where the needle has already been. Do not cut the open ends—the fabric threads that run between the pair, parallel to the stitches of the Kloster blocks.
Working slowly, in good light, and with small, pointed, sharp scissors, cut the fabric threads at the end of the Kloster blocks (not at the sides) as shown in the diagram. Remember to cut where the needle has pierced the fabric, where the long straight stitches enter the fabric. Never cut alongside the long edges of the stitches. You are going to cut four threads, so if you cut the threads in twos you cannot go wrong.
Work from a corner outward. Pass the point of the scissors into the corner-shared hole and lift the threads. Check that you can see both points of the scissors and that you are only cutting two threads, then lean slightly toward the Kloster block and cut. It is easier to cut all the relevant threads in one direction first, then turn the fabric to cut in another direction. Withdraw the cut threads carefully and do not worry if there are a few odd whiskers visible at the cut edges. These will probably retract while you handle the work.
If you do make a mistake and cut a thread unintentionally, it is easy to correct. Just remove the fabric thread you’ve cut, then either take a strand of cotton embroidery floss the same color as your fabric or remove a fabric thread from the raw edge of the fabric and darn it in and out so that it replaces the accidentally cut thread. Leave a long thread hanging on the wrong side. Needleweave or wrap this section to anchor the threads, then trim the long thread.
Decorating the Remaining Fabric Threads
When Kloster blocks are completed and the threads are cut and removed, you are left with groups of threads and spaces (void areas) to strengthen and decorate with a variety of stitches.
Working woven bars—or needleweaving—is one of the most popular ways to embellish threads left after cutting and is great for large areas. Woven bars can be worked alone or combined with filling stitches such as a dove’s eye. When needleweaving, use a slightly finer thread than for stitching the Kloster blocks and remember that needleweaving shouldn’t alter the shape of the bar, which should stay flat and straight. To weave the bar, bring the needle up in a void area and work over and under pairs of threads. After completing one bar, weave the next one at right angles to it, working around the design, taking care not to run threads across the back of the cut areas.
To create a dove’s eye, work the stitch when on the last side of the square (the fourth side) and combine with the needleweaving. Needleweave halfway across the bar, create the dove’s eye as shown in the diagram, and then needleweave to the end of the bar.