“Is this hand embroidery? Have you made the entire thing by yourself?” my questions were unable to express my amazement as I watched the lady unfold a table cloth.
Off-white in colour, the tablecloth was about a metre long, and had immaculate embroidery, done in geometrical pattern, on the edges and in the centre. I looked at it with disbelief, thinking how hard it must be for someone to do such precise work, while she unassumingly talked about the time and hard work it took to complete a beautiful piece of Norwegian embroidery.
Tara Krishnamurthy got acquainted with this form of embroidery for the first time during her stay in Aberdeen, Scotland, where she had gone to visit her daughter. She was very impressed and decided to learn more about it. “It was something unusual and I wanted to learn the art,” shares Tara light-heartedly, adding that she took it up mainly to keep herself occupied during her three-month stay in a foreign land. It was her daughter’s Indian friend, Lata Narayan, who taught her the fine embroidery. Lata had learnt it from a Norwegian.
Norwegian embroidery, often called Hardanger, is named after a region in the southwestern coast of Norway, where it is also known as Hardangersom (or Hardangersaum). There is not enough information available about the origin of this craft, but it is assumed that it originated in ancient Persia. The art was introduced to the European region through sea traders, was taken up by the local artisans, gained admiration and underwent some improvisation.
Also referred to as white work, the embroidery makes use of white or ivory coloured thread and cotton or linen fabric. It is characterised by traditional geometrical patterns and shapes like squares, rectangles, triangles, diamonds, diagonals, zig-zags and crosses. It involves thread-counting skills, cutting and withdrawal (cut work) of thread to form geometrical designs that are not traced. The result is a grid or a pattern consisting holes with edges neatly hemmed in a combination of specific stitches. Often the elaborate form of this art is referred to as Norwegian lace-making.
It took Tara more than two years to finish the table cloth which she had started along with two other projects. “At one stage, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to finish it,” says the lady in her early 70s.
This embroidery requires special types of thread and cloth which were not available here. Tara had to depend on her daughter in Aberdeen to send the raw material whenever she needed.
Tara is happy for the praise coming her way (which she finds quite unexpected). She thinks the time-consuming embroidery requires a lot of patience and concentration as one wrong thread count can spoil the whole pattern. As for the marvelous table cloth, which is best used as a wall hanging, she would like to gift it to her daughter.
Norwegian embroidery is commonly used to embellish tablecloths, napkins, towels, bedspreads, pillows curtains and wall hangings. It is also used to adorn traditional folk costumes, aprons and hats.