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

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.

Sagnlandet Lejre – the Land of Legends (and Textiles)

By Solveig Pollei

“Check out and turn in the key. Take your bag to the bus. Bus departs at 9:00 am for Lejre.” And so another adventure begins.

As we continue to practice our ‘bus-riding’ skills, the roads become smaller and less traveled. Then a turn into an area with tall trees, thatched buildings with moss accents and open fields – all just beyond a building with banners inviting us to experience the Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Viking Age, to visit the smallholder, to take historical workshops. We have arrived at Sagnlandet Lejre – the Land of Legends!

Dividing into groups, we follow our guides into the sunshine. Over hills, around a boat landing, ducks announcing our arrival, we walk to an Iron Age long house. Our guide is an archaeology student in period dress and she helps us imagine a world of people, animals, trade. A world where everyone works for the survival of the community. A world which helps build into our world.

Leaving the darkness of the house, we step out and walk past the tended garden. As is often the case, we take a few moments to check out the plants! Our guide continues to show other points of interest as we walk toward our next presentation at the Dragtvaeksted. Our walk takes us into a more wooded area with the last tendrils of a morning mist rising to disappear in the morning sun. One wonders if Grendel might appear.

For those walking toward the back of our group, the ‘oohs and ahhs’ drifting back to our ears make us quicken our steps. As you can see, it is a sight to gladden the heart of any textile addict! A warp-weighted loom resting against the side, a garden of dye plants reaching for the sunshine, and hanks of richly-dyed wool by the door. A glorious hint of what awaited us.

Inside the cycle of textiles awaited: Fiber. Spinde. Farve. Vaeve. Sy. A quick glance showed the raw fibers, spindles/spinning wheel, glorious dye colors, looms, and sewn clothing. From words to hands.


From Ida Demant we learned of the progression from animal skin to woven fabrics. Of how the construction of garments evolved from what worked best for sewing animal skins to what was best for the fiber/cloth. Clever ideas. We were taught how to prepare nettles for the cycle. It didn’t seem possible that the resulting cloth would have such a smooth hand. There was so much to see and our presenter was so very knowledgeable, that it was very hard to leave! But there was another presentation so we made our way to the Farver Laden – the colour barn!

We were greeted by our presenter, Fria Gemynthe, who proceeded to show us ongoing dye experiments, a terraced dye garden with the plants clearly marked and then the A-frame barn. Another slice of textile heaven! Hanks of wool dyed with madder, birch, indigo, cochineal, walnut and others.

Each was carefully noted for dye, mordant, etc. And in a corner of the barn, a posterboard with half the dyed skein visible and half under another piece of posterboard in order to test lightfastness. So much to learn. But there are deadlines, so we heed the call for lunch and head to the museum cafe.

After lunch, the shop awaits. (Were you surprised?) One slight change to the shopping experience however. A swan family were resting in the sun and as we made our way to the shop, the cob made his displeasure known in voice and body-posture!

Shopping completed, we made our way to the bus, some more dry than others in a sudden rain shower. Our next stop would be a linen weaving museum. But for now, our thoughts and conversations were on our wonderful time at the Land of Legends.

Monster Weaving Update

Marta Kløve Juuhl recently reported that the “monster weaving” at the Osterøy Museum has reached the ceiling. Enjoy these photos, and if you missed the description of the seat-belt-webbing weaving, read it here: “Weaving on the Ceiling: A New Exhibit and Installation at the Osterøy Museum.”

Perhaps this scaffolding, as a support structure for weaving, could be considered a sort of loom?

Perhaps this scaffolding, as a support structure for weaving, could be considered a sort of loom?

Marta Kløve Juuhl under the Norwegian star

Marta Kløve Juuhl under the Norwegian star

Perhaps Monika Ravnanger  had tired arms after waving above her head?

Perhaps Monika Ravnanger had tired arms after weaving above her head?

This photo showing the wall and ceiling gives a good sense of the huge scale of this project

This photo showing the wall and ceiling gives a good sense of the huge scale of this project

Weaving on the Ceiling: A New Exhibit and Installation at the Osterøy Museum

By Marta Kløve Juuhl (translated by Robbie LaFleur)

Spring 2016: Much Planning was Underway

The idea came during a lunchroom discussion with the exhibit architect, who had done something similar in the past.

I wanted to have something that would begin on the ceiling and come down over the end wall.

The background was that the permanent exhibits at the museum were being renovated. I wanted to have more focus on traditional knowledge tied to objects in the museum; it should reflect the traditional skills and knowledge of the people of the Osterøy community. The people on Osterøy are enthusiastic and full of initiative, and there are many large and small businesses.

The monster-weaving part of the project was a collaboration among Solveig Jordan, the head of our division; Dennis Guhl, our carpentry specialist; Nikolai Rypdal Tallaksen, our archivist; Monika Sunnanå Ravnanger, my weaving student; and me, with responsibility for the textile department.

Dennis has many contacts among local businesses.  They made the steel supports and a frame to surround the weaving, according to Dennis’s instructions.

martaIt took a long time to find the straps that would act as the warp on the ceiling, and we ended up ordering from a company in the Oslo area.  They had the red color we wanted, and also green and yellow.  The straps are five centimeters wide and came in 50 meter rolls. They are straps for life vests for boats and seat belt strapping. When we ordered 25 kilometers of strapping, the supplier was quite curious about what we were going to do with it.

img_5475I started the setup after Dennis attached the steel supports to the end wall and three places on the ceiling. As it showed in the photo in the newspaper, we used scaffolding to get high enough to lift each strap over the supports. A sewing machine sat on a rolling table in the room, and I moved it each time I needed to join the straps.

It was one thing to put the straps in place, but they also needed to be pulled tight. Nikolai and I stood on scaffolding on either end to lift the straps around the steel supports, and Dennis ran back and forth on the floor and tightened.

After all the red warp straps were tightened, 66 in all, it was time for weaving. I started down on the ground, but quickly came high enough to need the scaffolding.



The pattern we used was taken directly from an åkle (coverlet) that hung in the exhibit in the room.  Between each strap we wove two shots of plain weave with fishing line, which was thin and strong and transparent and held the straps in place. Each square in the pattern is 10 by 10 cm.  It took Monika and I about two days to weave/work in the pattern.  There is, of course, no shed in this weaving, which is why I added “work in.” Our hands were quite sore after a while.

The red color on the ceiling has a dominant effect in the exhibition hall; the monster-weave installation brings together the old and the new in the exhibit.  It illustrates the old themes, such as weaving and metalwork, in a new context.

For this installation there was a determination to work on the project together. Everyone was in on the discussion, and then it was Dennis and I who figured out how we could execute the ideas.

To make it work required a lot of mathematics and stretching out of the pattern. It’s difficult to describe how much mental effort it took; it followed me for many weeks. There were constantly small adjustments to air with the others. And it was just because we had so many contributors, that the project had such a great result.

The plan is that we will weave several motifs on the ceiling, which will last until sometime this winter.


Note: See additional photos in an article by Snorre Bang Utaker from Bygdanytt, “Eit vevemonster har inntatt Osterøy museum,” (A Monster-weaving has Taken Over Østeroy Museum).  And if you would rather read the article in the original Norwegian, see below! 

Veven i taket: Ny utstilling og installasjon på Osterøy museum, våren 2016

Mykje planlegging.

Ideen kom i ein diskusjon på lunsjrommet saman med utstillingsarkitekt som hadde gjort noko liknande før.

Me ville gjerne ha noko i taket som kunne enda nedover på endeveggen.

Bakgrunnen var at heile den faste utstillingen vår skulle fornyast. Me ville ha meir fokus på tradisjonskunnskap knytt til samlingane på museet; det skal gjenspeila Osterøysamfunnet og dei praktiske kunnskapane og ferdigheitene folk har hatt. Her på Osterøy er det eit stort privat initiativ, mange gründerar og småbedrifter.

For å knyta dette direkte til monsterveven er det og eit samarbeid mellom Solveig, dagleg leiar, Dennis handverkaren vår, Nikolai, arkivaren vår, Monika, vevlærlingen min og meg som tekstilansvarleg.

Dennis har god kontakt med dei lokale bedriftene her. Dei laga stålstenger og ramme rundt sjølve det vovne partiet etter Dennis sine mål.

Me brukte lang tid på å finna stropper som skulle fungera som renningstrådar i taket, og enda opp med å bestilla frå eit firma i Oslo-området. Dei hadde fyrst og fremst raudfargen, men og den gule og den grøne. Stroppene er 5 cm breie, dei kom i rullar på 50 meter. Det er eigentleg stropper til redningsvestar i båt og sikkerheitsselar i bil. Då me bestilte 25 kilometer av dette, var leverandøren veldig nysgjerrig på kva me skulle bruka det til. Me starta monteringa etter at Dennis hadde festa stålstengene til endeveggene og på tre plassar oppe i taket. Som det viser på biletet i avisa brukte me gardintrapp for å koma så høgt at me kunne lyfta kvar stropp over  stålstengene.

Symaskinen stod på eit trillebord i salen, så flytte me den etter kvart som me måtte skøyta stroppene.

Ein ting var å få stroppene på plass, men dei måtte og strammast etter kvart. Då stod Nikolai og eg på stillas i kvar vår ende av den 25 meter lange salen for å lyfta stroppene rundt stålstengene, og Dennis sprang att og fram nede på golvet og stramma.

Etter at alle dei raude renningsstroppene var festa, 66 i alt, var det tid for veving, etter kvart også på stillas. Eg starta nede på golvet, men kom fort opp så høgt at eg trengde stillaset.

Mønsteret som er brukt er plukka direkte frå åkle som heng på utstilling i salen. Mellom kvar stroppe er det to innslag i lerret med fiskesnøre, det er tynt og sterkt og gjennomsiktig, og held stroppene på plass. Kvar rute i mønsteret er 10 x 10 cm. Det gjekk eit par dagar for Monika og meg å veva/fletta inn heile mønsteret. Det er sjølvsagt ikkje noko skille i denne veven. Difor skriv eg veva/fletta. Me vart faktisk ganske såre på hendene etter kvart.

Den raude renningen i taket er eit nokså dominerande innslag i utstillingssalen vår, den er som ein installasjon som bind saman det gamle og det nye i utstillingen. Den belyser gamle tema, så som veving og metallarbeid sett inn i ein ny samanheng. I tillegg kjem viljen til å gjera dette saman. Alle var med i diskusjonen, og så var det Dennis og eg som måtte tenkja ut korleis me kunne gjennomføra ideen.

Det ligg mykje matematikk bak og utrekning av mønster for å dette til å stemma, og det er vanskeleg å skriva om tankearbeidet som var nødvendig. Det fylgde meg i mange veker, det var stadig små justeringar å lufta med dei andre. Nettopp det at me var såpass mange om arbeidet gjer sitt til at det vart så vellukka.

Planen vår er at me skal veva inn fleire motiv i taket. Det vert til vinteren ein gong.

Marta Kløve Juuhl


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.


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  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.


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.


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.


“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), 563-382-9681

A Piece of Old Finery: The Story of the Nordland Bunad

By Katherine Larson


An early 20th century embroidery sample, adapted for the Nordland bunad from an older piece. Embroidery by Dina Kulstad. Vefsn Museum, Mosjøen, Norway. Photo: K. Larson.

Long ago, a woman took needle in hand and embroidered fanciful vines and flowers onto the breast-piece and pocket of a green wool dress.  When the dress met its inevitable fate in the ragbag, these small pieces were pulled off and saved.  At some point in their history, the right pair of hands gave these pieces to a little girl, who used them as “paintings” to decorate the walls of her playroom.  When the little girl left her childhood behind, she tucked the pieces away instead of throwing them away, a small happenstance that is at the beginning of the Nordland bunad’s story. (The bunad is a Norwegian costume based on local folk traditions; images of the Nordland bunad can be found here.)

During a visit to north Norway last September, I spent a day at Vefsn Museum in the town of Mosjøen.  Mosjøen lies in the middle of an area known as Helgeland, the southern part of Nordland County.  I was at the Museum to see the oldest known rye coverlet in Norway, a knotted-pile fragment now carefully preserved behind glass in a framed box.  Because my mother’s ancestors came from Helgeland, I was also curious about local textile traditions. Curator Rønnaug Tuven showed me the rye fragment, and then graciously asked if I would like to see some of the other treasures in the collection.  The invitation to look in a museum storeroom is an opportunity not to be missed, and I readily accepted. Since very little from the ‘old country’ survived my grandparent’s trek across the States to the West Coast, I was also excited to see what my family’s Helgeland attic might have contained.


Old pieces of embroidery, probably a breast-piece and pocket. Vefsn Museum, Mosjøen, Norway. Photo: K. Larson

After looking in many boxes and opening many drawers, two small pieces of embroidered cloth came forth.  Tuven told me the story of the little girl and her “paintings,” and later showed me several books that explained how these pieces became the basis for the Nordland bunad. The following description summarizes this story,1 and provides an interesting window into a time when the Norwegian bunad was coming into being.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, interest in folk traditions was high, as Norwegians set about rediscovering their past.  Astrid Langjord, a writer and poet from the Mosjøen area, recounts that it was popular in the late 19th century to make copies of the Hardanger bunad. Then, following the 1903 publication of Hulda Garborg’s small booklet, Norsk Klædebunad (a description of Norwegian traditional dress, including several patterns), the Halling bunad became a new source of inspiration.

In 1926, the Hålogaland Ungdomslag (Helgeland Youth Society) decided to see if there were any pieces of old clothing in their region that might inspire a costume of their own.  Langjord was the leader of the committee charged with this task, and members of the committee searched for a year, each in their own area, to see what pieces of clothing might come to light.

At their next meeting in 1927, the Youth Society reviewed the many pieces of finery gathered by the committee, and there was general agreement that the most striking examples were the two small pieces of embroidery mentioned above.  They were brought to the meeting by Dina Kulstad, who had received them from a woman at Røyten farm in Vefsn, a keepsake from her childhood. (Vefsn is the larger municipality surrounding Mosjøen.)

It so happened that Langjord had an old green bodice in her collection, part of a bridal dress from Ravassåsen farm, also in Vefsn.  This bodice had a nice form but no embellishment, and the old embroidery was copied almost exactly onto the back of the bodice (you still find it there on today’s bunad). Discussion ensued concerning how to adapt the embroidery to the front of the garment, and of what the ultimate shape of the bodice would be.  The Oslo handcraft shop, Heimen, also took an interest in the project, and the final embroidery design for the skirt was contributed by one of its employees, a Miss Grude (Heimen, which is still a thriving business, helped to foster interest in the bunad, in association with Hulda Garborg).


Embroidery on the back of the Nordland bunad. Vefsn Museum. Photo: Vefsn Museum.

A newly sewn blue version of the proposed bunad was proudly shown at the Youth Society’s meeting in the summer of 1928. The design was well received, and was adopted that fall into the needlework program of Vefsn Folk High School in Mosjøen.  Under the capable guidance of teacher Anne Svare, the first group of eleven students made bunads in both blue and green fabrics.

In describing the committee’s original search to find remnants of the local clothing tradition, Langjord remembered that many people had been very supportive of their efforts, but others had scoffed and suggested they should be doing something more useful. Speaking 20 years later, at a time when the bunad tradition had grown in stature, Langjord noted with some satisfaction that there were few who continued to express reservations about bondeglo when referring to the Nordland bunad.

Puzzled by the use of bondeglo, which is not in my Norwegian/English dictionary, I found the word in Hulda Garborg’s Norsk Klædebunad, along with an explanation for its somewhat derisive meaning (the booklet is online; see pp. 6–7).

In the late 19th century, according to Garborg, as factory-made clothing became popular, Norway’s time-honored, colorful forms of dress were abandoned for fabrics of “grey-brown” and “brown-grey-green”; in short, “color mush.”  A new word arose at that time, bondeglo, to describe traditional clothing.  In fear of this label, many rushed to divest themselves of their rural attire and don city clothes.  The picture of my own great grandmother, ca. 1880, might be a case in point.


Peter Christian and Maren Kristin Peterson, ca. 1880, the author’s great grandparents. Vega, Norway. Photo: K. Larson.

Bonde is the Norwegian word for farmer, and it is likely that glo comes from glorete: gaudy or glaring,2 which explains Garborg’s further use of the term bondeglo. She notes that in some places, especially “high up in the mountains or long out towards the coast,” people perversely clung to their old ways. “…they wore their bondeglo as always, and considered themselves to be no more like ‘Indians’ than they had before.”  In addition to providing an interesting glimpse into turn-of-the-century sensibilities, Garborg’s reference makes clear that colorful rural attire was considered less-than-civilized in a country that was striving to emulate the fashions of a wider world.  No wonder Langjord and her committee members encountered crosscurrents when searching out pieces of discarded finery!

Fortunately, the committee persisted in the face of a somber, factory-informed sense of fashion.  Fortunately as well, a sentimental little girl kept her playroom “paintings,” to the benefit of future generations of Nordland women.


[1] Sources for Nordland bunad description:

“Nordlandsbunaden, Vefsn-bunaden.” Excerpts from an informal lecture by Astrid Langjord, 1949. In Fagerli, Åse et al., eds. 1996. Spor etter mødrene. Kvinneprosjektet – Mon. Mosjøen, pp. 83–85.

Halse, Kristian 1999. Oplysning være skal vor lyst, Vefsn folkehøgskole 1899–1999. Mosjøen, pp. 186–191.

2 I would like to thank Ingebjørg Monsen, Leader of the Bergen Husflidslag, for help with this term.

Katherine (Kay) Larson is the author of The Woven Coverlets of Norway and holds a doctorate in Scandinavian Textile History from the University of Washington.

kllarson (at)