Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Scandinavian Embroidery


Amazon Books

If I could categorize embroidery books into types, I’d probably divide them up like this:

Embroidery techniques, embroidery projects, embroidery history (and culture), old embroidery books, embroidery patterns…

I’m sure if we all put our heads together, we could come up with a few more general categories that hand embroidery books usually fall into, but off the top of my head, those are the divisions that come to mind when sorting books.

And I was sorting books the other day, when I came upon an oldy but goody. It fits into pretty much all the categories listed above, in one way or another.

The book is Scandinavian Embroidery by Edith Nielsen, published in 1978.

Scandinavian Embroidery by Edith Nielsen

Although it’s long out of print, you can find copies of Scandinavian Embroidery available through plenty of used book sources.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a current trend involving Things Scandinavian right now – from Scandinavian furniture designs, to colorful Scandinavian folk embroidery, to Scandinavian Christmas ornaments and greeting cards… Scandinavian is in.

But long before Scandinavian was quite so “in” in so many spheres of living, Edith Nielsen wrote her book on Scandinavian embroidery.

When I bought the book (used), admittedly, I was drawn to it by the cover, which seemed to promise a book that focused on colorful folk embroidery. I’ll tell you right off the bat, that’s not the real focus of this book. In fact, there’s very little surface embroidery in the book – the cover image and one or two other pieces inside are surface embroidery, but that’s it, really.

I found the book to be a delightful treasure for a different reason.

Scandinavian Embroidery by Edith Nielsen

And no, it has nothing to do with the book plate I discovered on the inside cover!

There’s nothing better than coming across a good bookplate inside a used book. And this one – well, let’s just say I found it fortuitous. I have no idea who Dixie is. But I think the book was destined for me!

Scandinavian Embroidery by Edith Nielsen

The treasure I found within Scandinavian Embroidery is the thoroughly written history of Scandinavian embroidery, from past to present, just as the cover promises.

For those of you who have an interest in Hardanger embroidery or Hedebo (which I wrote about here), keep an eye out for copies of this book! If you enjoy knowing something about the embroidery that you practice, then you will thoroughly enjoy reading this book.

In it, you’ll find a readable, in-depth history of embroidery techniques from Scandinavia, with a heavy concentration on Hardanger and Hedebo.

Scandinavian Embroidery by Edith Nielsen

The text is accompanied by photos of different Scandinavian techniques – and although the majority of the pictures are black and white, they’re still a pleasure to see. And considering much of the embroidery discussed in the book is whitework, the black and white photos serve their purpose just fine.

Scandinavian Embroidery by Edith Nielsen

And that’s not to say there’s not some color, like this peasant cushion from the late 1800’s.

In the surface embroidery of the region, I’m particularly taken with the geometric and folk designs like the ones in the cushion above. I love the grid work, the heavy textured stitching, and the folk motifs, especially that adorable rooster!

Scandinavian Embroidery by Edith Nielsen

And, appropriate for the coming Christmas season, here’s a Christmas greeting in surface embroidery.

Scandinavian Embroidery by Edith Nielsen

One aspect of the history of Hardanger and the accompanying photos that really interested me was the fact that Hardanger of old is much, much more delicate than the Hardanger we commonly see today. The fabric is finer and the voided areas are larger and more open, with quite a bit more drawn thread work.

Scandinavian Embroidery by Edith Nielsen

In the back of the book, several projects are presented, most of which are counted cross stitch and Hardanger….

Scandinavian Embroidery by Edith Nielsen

…although the God Jul plaque did make it in as a project, too! This would make an adorable little ornament in bright, folky colors.

Scandinavian Embroidery by Edith Nielsen

There’s also a stitch dictionary and technique section in the back of the book, to help the embroiderer tackle the various projects.

Overall, this book is best as a resource for learning about Scandinavian embroidery history. Secondly, it’s a project book; third, a technique book; and fourth, a pattern book.

If you’re a fan of Hardanger, I recommend it for your reading library! If you’re a lover of folk embroidery in general or you like to read books on region-specific embroidery, it’s definitely worth acquiring and reading! It’s probably not the best “project book” in the world – the projects are a little outdated, but they can certainly serve as a springboard for other project ideas.

You can find several copies of the book available through ABE books and Alibris right now, at very affordable prices.

If you enjoy Scandinavian style, folk costumes, textiles, and the like, you’ll love Laila Duran’s blog, Folklore Fashion. Her photography is absolutely stunning and the gorgeous folk costumes that are a focus of her work are vivid and gorgeous.


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(12) Comments

  1. Hi Mary – I loved reading about Scandinavian embroidery (I’m Swedish by descent). My mom has a piece that my grandmother embroidered of 2 Swedish girls on a green felt background – quite charming.

    On another note, when I read your remark about the bookplate, it reminded me of the site “Forgotten Bookmarks”. You might enjoy looking at that site – kind of interesting.


  2. I just watched “Frozen” for the first time last evening — Scandinavian! You’re right. It is SO “in”!!!

  3. Dear Mary

    Scandinavian Embroidery looks a very good read especially as it covers the history of Hardanger/Hedebo/whitework. The folk designs especially the Rooster cushion and the God Jul plaque are lovely. I find it interesting that Hardanger of old is more delicate and the fabric finer and the drawn thread areas wider. Thanks for sharing your review on Scandinavian Embroidery it sounds an interesting book.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  4. This is one of my favorite books and has had a huge influence on me. I found it just after publication in a local library and checked it out and kept renewing it! I did my first counted cross stitch from it and shortly thereafter began taking Hardanger lessons, which set the course for my embroidery journeys since. A few years ago a friend in the U.K. send me a Christmas package and it contained a copy of this book. I hadn’t seen it since the library copy in the 70s. It’s wonderful to have my own copy now–both for the great content and the memories. This is a wonderful book.

  5. I was interested in buying this book after reading your review, so I checked Amazon first thing this morning. There seemed to be lots of copies available, including some new ones, so I put off my purchase while I finished up some higher priority things. When I went back just now (it’s only been about 2 hours), there weren’t nearly as many copies available – a testament, I’m sure, to how many people follow your blog and take your recommendations seriously! However, I was able to find a copy and I’m looking forward to reading it!
    Mary in MN

  6. Mary, I adore all things Scandinavian especially the textile designs, embroidery and furniture. There are a couple of new books out I’ve read (Stitched in Scandinavia and Scandinavian Stitches) which are lovely to look at but not very thorough. They are great eye candy though! This book looks gorgeous. The image on the cover just delights me. Thanks for the post!

  7. I love books like this! Just looking at the photos can be inspiring. I’m far more interested in history, technique and design principles than I am in projects – when I buy a project-based book it’s for the technique and design info, not for the projects.

  8. Hi Mary
    I find your blog very instructive, but I never expected that you would be providing me with christmas patterns in my native language 😉 Such a nice surprise. And the book sounds quite interesting.

    Thank you

  9. Thanks for sharing this Mary. Looking at the pictures was like a trip to my grandma’s house. My home county is also the home of the National Danish heritage museum and then I married into a Norwegian family. Now you need a rosmalled bowl and some kringla and you would be all ready for Christmas.

  10. looking for kit or pattern for Christmas bell pull in long stitch.
    Any help you can provide, I’d apperciate.
    Jan Faull

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