HJ/EDApril 17, 2006

Dassel women make Hardanger chancel paraments for church

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Once Betty Engelbrekt and Marlene Blunt of Dassel were introduced to the unique and beautiful Norwegian craft of Hardanger, there was no stopping them.

“It was just like the starting gun,” Blunt said about when she started the precision needlework eight or nine years ago.

Engelbrekt learned Hardanger several years ago while she was wintering in Texas. She said there is a Hardanger fjord in Norway, so maybe that area was where the craft, which is similar to counted cross stitch, was first popular.

“It’s unique because it’s on an even weave fabric,” said Blunt, who is originally from Winthrop.

Because Evangelical Covenant Church of Dassel had its 125th anniversary in 2004, and the church was founded by Scandinavians, Engelbrekt and Blunt decided to celebrate the anniversary with a Hardanger project. They made a Hardanger altar cloth, pulpit and lectern cloths for the church. They also coordinated other helpers and assisted in making 25 doilies for the tables in the church’s fellowship hall.

Both of the women were thoroughly pleased with the project.

“It was for other people’s enjoyment,” Blunt said.

“We worked together on it and we each came with different ideas for it,” said Engelbrekt, who first came to the Dassel area in 1968, when she and her husband had a cabin on Swan Lake.

They started with a basic cross design. The pulpit cloth had added design features.

“We made up part of it,” Blunt said.

The pattern and cloth came from Nordic Needles, a mail order firm, because there are few places locally that sell Hardanger materials. Usually, Hardanger pieces, such as a tablecloth, are larger than those used for counted cross stitch, Blunt said.

Blunt remembers she was anxious about the pulpit cloth because of the added designs. “I was worried it wouldn’t fit the dimensions,” Blunt said.

“We do make mistakes,” Engelbrekt said. Fortunately, the mistakes can be taken out, she added.

“They wash well. You have to wash by hand, though,” said Engelbrekt.

Hardanger is traditionally white on white designs, although sometimes Hardanger is white background with ecru-colored thread. The cloth must be an even weave because the threads need to be counted and the stitching is very precise. The outer edge and parts of the inner design are cut away with very sharp scissors, giving Hardanger its distinct look, Engelbrekt said.

They use blunt tipped needles, size 22 and 24, so they don’t pierce the fabric threads. Hardanger stitches are placed only between the fabric threads, said Engelbrekt.

They start placing satin stitches first around the outside of the design and then a parallel row of blanket stitches, Engelbrekt said.

They do the same for the inside details of the design. After they cut the fabric away from the inside details, they “wrap” the inside squares, she said.

After they are completely done, they cut away the fabric from the outside edge, Engelbrekt said.

Hardanger is very precise needlework so the two women started the paraments for their church in 2003 so they would be done by 2004. That also might be why Hardanger is so expensive in Norway, Engelbrekt said. It isn’t the cost of the pearl cotton thread, nor the Hardanger cloth, it’s the labor involved.

During the anniversary service, the Rev. Keith Carlson pointed out the new paraments to the congregation, Engelbrekt said.

Recently, Hardanger enthusiasts have been adding color thread to their work, opening up even more opportunities to be creative, she said.

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