Hardanger Embroidery

My Hardanger Designs

© Lorelei Halley 2009  

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Hardanger embroidery is a form of drawn thread work in which small rectangular sections of cloth are stabilized by satin stitching, cut out and then embellished.  It is a combination of drawn thread and cutwork (punto tagliato).  Designs are always geometric, and traditional designs are nearly always symmetrical.  Traditional examples were always done in white on white or ecru on ecru, but a lot of modern work uses bright colors. See Hardanger pages in this website.

H105 Hardanger embroidery Hardanger embroidery h77
  Hardanger embroidery, buttonhole edge, my designs
  Hardanger embroidery   Hardanger embroidery  
  Hardanger embroidery, adapted from a design by Sigrid Bright by me. Hardanger embroidery, hemstitched edge with mitered corners. My design.

  The Hardanger pages in this website:                                        *

The Elements of Traditional Hardanger Embroidery

Designs are based on blocks of satin stitches called kloster blocks.  These kloster blocks serve a very important function: they serve as binding or overcasting on the edges of areas where threads will be cut, and prevent the fabric from raveling.  Some designs are totally constructed of kloster blocks, but many designs also use geometric surface embroidery stitches.  Those found most often are: diagonal cable stitch, four sided stitch, eyelets, Algerian eyelets, double running stitch (Holbein stitch), and cross stitch.  The eyelets are usually worked as pulled stitches.   Sometimes the diagonal cable and four sided stitches are worked as pulled stitches.   Other stitches sometimes found: double cross stitch (also called Smyrna cross stitch), herringbone and faggot stitch.  Cross stitch areas in bright colors have become a common addition in modern pieces.  But one also finds ribbon roses, bullion stitch flowers and leaves, lazy daisy stitch motifs.     I also like to use fern stitch and lazy daisy in my work.

the parts of a Hardanger design  common stitches for Hardanger 

   overcast bars   lace filling   lacy edge 

Common edge treatments are buttonhole stitch for small pieces, and hemstitched hems with mitered corners for large pieces.  Other possible edge finishes are squared edging stitch or four sided stitch.  There is also a lacy edging which sometimes appears in modern pieces.  (See the 2nd green piece in the 1st row above.)

In traditional pieces the interest is primarily in the square holes but also in the smooth shiny satin stitch areas, the small ridge effect of diagonal cable stitch, the hollow squares of 4 sided stitch, and the small round holes of eyelets.  Good traditional design makes use of these different textures and different hole shapes to fascinate the eye, rather than relying on color.

 Working Methods

There is always a specific working order, based on the necessity to avoid putting strain on areas where threads have been cut.

The working order above is especially important if you use a small, round hoop, as I do.  However, if you are using a Q snap frame or large rectangular wood frame (one which allows you to see and work on the whole design at once) this working order is not so rigid.  The important thing is to avoid having the hoop lie on any cut areas.  So long as no cut areas or lace fillings are covered by the hoop it should be OK.

    Basting threads exactly 4 threads tall, going vertically and horizontally.


Hardanger is worked on even weave fabric, either cotton, linen or modern blends.  A fabric called Hardanger cloth is often used.  It consists of pairs of threads and is 22 pairs per inch.     Many embroiderers prefer to use single weave fabrics of linen or modern blends.  But I have tried Aida cloth and that works, too, but perhaps not as well.    Nearly all of my examples have been worked on Hardanger cloth at 22/inch.  If you choose a fabric with a different thread count the design area will come out a different size (which is perfectly OK), and you may need to change the thread sizes you use. 


One usually uses 2 different threads sizes for any piece.  The satin stitch kloster blocks, the buttonholed edge and the four sided stitch are worked in a thicker thread.  For 22 count Hardanger pearl cotton size 5 is perfect for this.  The diagonal cable, the eyelets and the lace fillings are done in a thinner thread .  For 22 count Hardanger pearl cotton size 8 is good (although some do the diagonal cable in the thicker thread).  However one can use pearl 12 for these parts.  I have found that the eyelets have a more prominent round hole if I use pearl 12 and I like this effect.  Also some lace fillings are elaborate and pearl 12 gives them more room.  You can also use 2 strands of 6 strand embroidery floss in place of the pearl 8.    I tried a piece on 14 count aida and used pearl 3 for the kloster blocks.  It gave good coverage, but the needle was so fat it was hard to push through the fabric holes.  The important thing is that the thread used for the kloster blocks should be thick enough that the satin stitching in the blocks completely covers the fabric, with no visible space between the stitches.

About Kloster Blocks

Kloster blocks surround areas which will be cut later.  Some designs have small blocks, which may be arranged horizontally or diagonally, and moving from block to block must be done in a specific way for the binding function of the blocks to be effective.  Some designs may have solid bars of satin stitch (all the same length) surrounding the cut areas.  And in some cases these solid bars may be shaped, with each satin stitch a different length.  But there is a rule: each satin stitch which borders a cut area must be at least 4 threads tall.  More than 4 is OK, but less will not be a secure enough binding.

hill and turret shaped kloster blocks
Kloster units made up of kloster blocks in different shapes.

 There are two basic systems for kloster blocks: the 4 thread system and the 6 thread system.                                              *

The 4 thread system seems to be the most common, especially in American designs.  In this system each basic block covers an area of 4 by 4 threads of the fabric.  So each satin stitch is exactly 4 threads tall.  Since the 4 threads of the cloth will be cut, there must be a binding stitch outside that set of 4 fabric threads.  So the kloster blocks always are a multiple of 4 stitches plus 1.  When the kloster block is made into a solid bar, the bar will always contain a multiple of 4 stitches plus 1.  The most common kloster units surround fabric areas containing 12 threads or 20 threads (always a multiple of 4).  Larger kloster units are also possible, and so are rectangles.  But the basic design units are still planned on the 4 thread by 4 thread unit.

The 6 threads system covers a fabric unit of 6 threads by 6 threads.  Each satin stitch is 6 threads tall, and each kloster block has 7 stitches.  This is the 7 stitches over 6 threads system.  It seems more common in British designs.  And any size kloster unit in this system must cover a multiple of 6 fabric threads.  So the basic units enclose 18 x 18 fabric threads  or 30 x 30 fabric threads.  And the kloster blocks always contain a multiple of 6 stitches plus 1.  Larger kloster units are also possible in this system, as in the other.

The real difference between these systems is the size of the square hole created by cutting.  In the 4 thread system the holes are 4 x 4 threads.  In the 6 thread system the holes are 6 x 6 threads - larger.  There are certain decorative lace fillings which have so many layers and so much thread that they make a knotty looking mass, instead of clearly displaying the decoration.  The 6 thread system produces a larger hole and therefore may show these complex fillings to better advantage.

Four thread system: 5 stitches over 4 threads.
H9  The same design but worked according to a different system.
Six thread system: 7 stitches over 6 threads.  These look the same size in the photo, but this one is larger.

Four thread system: 5 stitches over 4 threads.
I worked the filling in pearl 12.
Six thread system.  I worked the filling in pearl 8:
7 stitches over 6 threads.

Both  H7.    the 2nd is worked according to the 7 stitches over 6 threads system.  It is just a matter of interpreting my diagram differently.  The photo doesn't show it, but the 2nd is larger because each kloster block covers 6 x 6 fabric threads:  the whole design just gets larger.


H8      5 stitches over 4 threads H8    7 stitches over 6 threads H8 14 count aida cloth. Pearl 3 and pearl 8.

The 3 individual photos, above, make all 3 look the same size.  But the group photo, left, demonstrates that they are not.  They are are worked from the same diagram, but interpreting it as 7 stitches over 6 threads or 5 stitches over 4 threads makes a difference in how large it turns out.  So, of course, does working it on 14 count aida fabric.

  It is also possible to get larger holes in the 4 thread system by making 20 thread units and just doing the cutting in a different place.

Hardanger embroidery The usual cutting for the central motif would normally be: cut 4, leave 4, cut 4, leave 4, cut 4.  But instead I did: cut 8, leave 4, cut 8.  This results in holes 8x8 threads.  I worked the filling in pearl 8.  It is the same filling as in H7 above.  Also, I was testing the hemstitch spacing: one side gathers 2 threads, 3 sides gather 4.
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September 30, 2018