Last summer I decided to embroider several Hardanger table centerpieces as Christmas gifts. Originally I planned to make four gifts, but by the beginning of December it was clear that there was no way I’d be able to complete more than three. Each centerpiece took about two months to embroider, and while I managed to complete the much larger third project in two months as well, life would have been much easier if I had budgeted 3-4 months for it instead.
My grandmother received the first project: a 20″ (approx. 51cm) square centerpiece based on a 1905 design from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. I stitched it on white Hardanger fabric (22 count) with variegated blue perle cotton from DMC. The openwork took a lot longer than I thought it would; overall the centerpiece is much more “lacy” than I expected it would be. (See what it looked like before I did any cutting, weaving, or picots.) I was also learning each stitch along the way, so I believe if I made this centerpiece again it wouldn’t take as long to embroider the basic surface stitches.
The second centerpiece, Mindy, was given to my aunt. A little smaller than the Vesterheim centerpiece (18″ or 45cm), I used light blue Hardanger fabric and white DMC perle cotton with dark blue perle cotton accents. This centerpiece was the easiest and quickest of all the projects to stitch. One aspect of Hardanger embroidery I enjoy is watching the progression of a project: each set of simple stitches adds to the overall beauty and complexity of the design. Here’s a look at Mindy in progress.
Third (and last), my mother chose the pattern “Oldemors Kaffeduk” (Great-grandmother’s coffee cloth) from Lillil Thuve’s book Hardanger Design (Orion Forlag, 2000). The original design is white embroidery on white fabric, but I decided to use Caron Watercolours Rose Quartz for the surface stitches, and cream Hardanger fabric was a better match with those colors. Further, I added a personal touch: my mother’s dining room has a view of her bird feeders, to which chickadees are one of the most frequent visitors. A Cross Stitcher’s Oriental Odyssey (by Joan Elliott) includes charts for a delightful pair of chickadees which fit perfectly in each corner of the tablecloth.
While the tablecloth design was simple, the size of the project (81cm or 32″) meant there was a lot more work to do than on the previous centerpieces. The additional cross-stitched motifs also took extra time to complete — a little under one week per chickadee. The tablecloth was successfully completed in two months, but the pace was much more intense and many other tasks around the house were neglected to meet the Christmas deadline.
I’m pleased with how the chickadee tablecloth turned out. The cream fabric and delicate blend of pink, cream, taupe and green in the Watercolours skein give the piece an antique look. I used ecru perle cotton rather than Caron’s Wildflowers Rose Quartz to weave the bars so the openwork would stand out; I noticed that the variegated thread in the Vesterheim centerpiece makes it difficult to see the dove’s eyes and picots.
Even though the goal of homemade gifts ended up becoming very stressful at the end — and I was very happy to be finished! — I’m glad I made the effort. It’s been a great learning experience and is a fun hobby (relaxing, too, when there’s no deadline to meet). The only problem now is that I gave away all my Hardanger pieces and have none for my own table. I still have all the materials to make the Anna table runner, so I may keep it or give it as a gift this year. I’ll also take some time choosing another pattern for myself, and enjoy the slower pace as well as the eventual results.