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Hedebosyning at Greve Museum

By Edi Thorstensson

It was a beautiful Danish summer day when we visited the Greve Museum, a traditional four-winged farmhouse located in Greve, Roskilde, a short drive from central Copenhagen.  Standing in the lovely courtyard, we were warmly welcomed by museum staff.  What awaited us inside was a breathtaking collection of one of Denmark’s signature embroideries, hedebosyning, which is comprised of seven variations of white on white embroidery, cutwork, and needle lace.

I, like every Textile Tour participant, had the opportunity to chose from mini-classes offered at selected sites, such as the Greve Museum, or to use time to explore.  At first reluctant to commit to a workshop in an embroidery technique that I felt I would never use again, I decided to sign up. After all, this was a unique opportunity to learn from a skilled teacher in the country of origin. 

We 12 or so Hedebo novices gathered in a well-equipped classroom, at work stations set for each of us by our fine instructor, Laila Glienke Sørensen, with instruction sheets, needle and thread kits, bits of beeswax, and graduated Hedebo winding sticks (hedebopinder).  With much guidance, we began our work, winding Swedish Bockens linen 35/2 lace yarn 15-20 times around the appropriate portion of our sticks to form a small “doughnut” ring base.  Next, we drew our linen thread rings up and off our sticks and began the process of encasing the rings with Danish buttonhole stitches (see below), followed by needle lace filling stitches (hulgang) and a pyramid on the outer edge of the ring.  To make threading needles easier, we drew the linen thread through a bit of fragrant beeswax from Laila’s own honeybee combs.  

To explain the Danish buttonhole stitch, I refer the reader to pp. 11 and 41 of Udklipshedebo = Hedebo Cutwork, but I will attempt to give my own version here:  Danish buttonhole stitch is worked from left to right.  Beginning from the back of the work, the needle is brought from the previous stitch into and through the center of the ring from the back, then up and over and through the back of the loop formed on the outer edge.  You can see this process at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfYkcluQtdI

The goal for this 1-1/2 hour class was for each of us to accomplish at least one Hedebo ring with hulgang (wheel stitches) in its center and a needle lace pyramid on its edge.  From this base, whole wheels of eight rings can be created by joining the pyramids’ points or by other means.  And, from there, the sky is the limit!  Everything is in the hands of skilled, patient artists, as it has been for at least two centuries.  

Following the class, I took part in a guided tour of the museum, which included exquisite examples of Hedebo embroidery, worked on clothing, household textiles, and celebratory cloths.  The historical and technical connections to Hardanger embroidery are evident.  Although distinctive from one another, both embody stitch and cut open work, white-on-white, and, traditionally, linen thread and cloth in their production. 

It is worth mentioning that, while the exact date of origin for hedebosyning is unknown, most artifacts originate in the early 1800s and later and that certain forms of the embroidery, such as rings and edgings, predominate as embellishments on clothing, while others, such as bound cutwork, are found mostly in larger formats, such as table and window coverings.  And, while lovely examples of Hedebo have come from many settings, the majority of the museum’s pieces originated in prosperous farm homes, where women and girls had the time and means to spend on fine handwork.  Today, Hedebosyning is preserved as a cultural treasure and taught to any who wish to learn, and it has also found new interpretations.

This classic, traditionally white-on-white embroidery is very lovely, versatile, and one that I will do again.  Before leaving Greve Museum, I purchased both an instruction book (Udklipshedebo = Hedebo Cutwork, by Jytte Harboesgaard.  Published by J. H. broderi in 2010, and available in paper format with ISBN 978-87-988931-3-4 and as an e-book with ISBN 978-87-988931-5-8) and the beautiful, turned wooden stick with graduated sections on which to wind the linen thread circles that form the base for the needle lace to follow.   Like the nøstepinne, it might have American equivalents.

Editor’s Note:  The Greve Museum posted a video about the Vesterheim group on their Facebook feed.  If you are a Facebook user, this link should work: video.

Edi Thorstensson is a retired librarian and archivist who has appreciated the history and creation of Scandinavian textiles since her first visit to Europe in 1961.    She is a member of the Minnesota Weavers Guild Scandinavian Weavers Study Group and the Pioneer Spinners and Fiber Artists guild.  She lives in St. Peter, Minnesota, with her husband Roland and Icelandic sheep dog Ára.
Houses and Chickens by Lila Nelson

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum: Building the Collection

By Laurann Gilbertson, Curator, Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum

Now numbering 24,000 objects, the collection that makes up Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, started in 1877 as a study aid for students attending Luther College.  The first donation was a group of birds’ eggs.  In the early years, the college’s collection was an assortment of natural history specimens, ethnographic items brought back by Lutheran missionaries serving around the world, relics of historical events, mementoes of important people, and reproductions of classical artworks.

By 1895 faculty and alumni at Luther College officially resolved that Norwegian immigrant materials should be a stated focus of the collection.  In doing so the museum became a pioneer in the preservation and promotion of America’s cultural diversity.

The first historic building was added to the grounds in 1913, starting the Open Air Division.  No other U.S. museum had collected buildings, though this was already taking place in Scandinavia.

In 1925, in honor of 100 years of emigration, Anders Sandvig (founder of Maihaugen, a major museum in eastern Norway) coordinated a gift of artifacts from Norwegian museums.  “May these objects work,” wrote Sandvig, “so that the Norwegian-ness in you will not die too soon, and the connection with the homeland will because of this be tighter.  Receive this gift as proof that we follow you all in our hearts, even though the big Atlantic parts us.”  The gift took two years to assemble and filled 23 crates.  The museum in Nordmøre sent several clothing items, including two linen shirts with extremely fine whitework embroidery.  They would have no way of knowing that this gift meant the survival of several cultural treasures when their museum would be destroyed during WWII.

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Shirt with whitework embroidery from Valset, Nordmøre, ca. 1830. Donated by Kristiansund Museum (now Nordmøre Museum) as part of a group of gifts from Norwegian museums. LC0697.

After the war, director Inga Bredesen Norstog created a national audience through newspapers and magazines and soon the museum was receiving visitors and artifact donations from all over the United States.

The museum became an independent institution in 1964 and adopted the name “Vesterheim,” which was the term that immigrants used to describe America – their western home – when writing letters home to Norway.

Beginning in the 1960s, director Marion Nelson showed visitors there was art in everyday objects and added fine art to the museum’s collection statement.  Today, staff are “refining” the collection – looking to fill gaps to ensure that the objects can tell even more stories of the immigrant experiences.  We are also trying to share many of these stories and artifacts through exhibits at the museum, online, and on the road.  A selection of 119 textiles can be viewed at  http://collections.vesterheim.org/items/browse?collection=3  The “Online Textiles Collection” includes woven, knit, embroidered, quilted, and sewn items.  Click on the listing of an item to read more about it.  Then click on the photo to see a large full-view and detailed images.

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Sjønaleister socks from Hardanger, Norway. This pair is one of 119 textile artifacts on Vesterheim’s Online Collections. LC0298.

In 1967, Vesterheim began an education program to teach traditional handwork skills by bringing instructors from Norway.  The first three instructors taught rosemaling (rose painting).    Since then, Norwegian instructors have taught all kinds of fiber arts, woodworking, and knifemaking, as well as music and dance.  Recent fiber arts teachers have included Marta Kløve Juuhl (warp-weighted loom weaving), Ingebjørg Monsen (pile weave, bunad jacket sewing), Liv Bugge (Norwegian overshot weaves), and Britt Solheim (sheepskin coverlet making).  American and Canadian instructors also teach one- to five-day classes at Vesterheim.  A highlight for many students is the visit to see artifacts in textile storage for information and inspiration.

Three textile symposia have been held at Vesterheim (1997, 2005, 2009).  These have offered opportunities to learn about Norwegian and Norwegian-American textiles, artists, and techniques from both the historical and contemporary perspectives.  Speakers and teachers have been brought from Norway for the symposia.

Another special educational opportunity comes in the form of textile study tours to Norway.  Katherine Larson for Nordic Heritage Museum organized the first trip in 1999 and then Vesterheim has offered six more trips (with the next trip planned for 2015).  The tours combine touring with hands-on learning.  There are visits to museums, presentations by curators, tours of factories, and visits to artists in their studios.  The philosophy behind the study tours is to travel with people who share a passion for textiles, do things that an independent traveler could not do, and learn a lot!  The tours have been popular with people who have seen Norway in a general way before and now want to focus in on textiles.  But many first-time travelers have found the tours to be a great introduction to Norway.  The tours usually attract a mix of people: weavers, knitters, embroiderers, collectors, textile enthusiasts, friends, and spouses.

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Margaret Trussell (Maryland) photographs halvfloss (“half” pile) cushion covers and Kay Larson (Washington) views the back of a billedvev (tapestry) cushion cover at Maihaugen in Lillehammer, Norway. The textiles were brought out specially for the Textile Study Tour to Norway and Sweden in 2007.

No history of Vesterheim is complete without a mention of Lila Nelson, who served as Registrar and Curator of Textiles for 27 years.  Lila has had such a significant influence on textile education, collections, research, and outreach at Vesterheim and in the United States that she has received special commendation from the Norwegian government.  The April 2012 issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter is dedicated to Lila Nelson and features some of her weavings.  When Lila retired in 1991 and I began working with the textile collection, many staffers said I had large shoes to fill.  That has been true, but gratefully Lila leaves a clear path of excellence to follow.

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“Houses and Chickens” by Lila Nelson. In this small hanging, Lila explored the creative possibilities of dansk brogd, a technique used in southern Norway for coverlets. Lila taught many classes in traditional weaving techniques at Vesterheim. 2011.032.046.

In part two of this article, which will appear in the May, 2014 issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter, take an “armchair” tour of Vesterheim’s textile collection.

Laurann Gilbertson has been Textile Curator at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum for 19 years and is now Chief Curator.

lgilbertson (at) vesterheim.org, 563-382-9681