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.

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