Swedish Embroidery


Hello there,

I have been rather bogged down with our kitchen revamp, which is turning out to be an epic project and naturally, disrupting the whole household and have had precious little time for sewing.  I will be writing about the kitchen when it is finished, but today I am happy to tell you a about another small but interesting project that I have finally managed to complete...sneaking in a little hand sewing after a day's decorating is rather therapeutic, I must say.   For this posting, I am returning to our Stockholm days.

We were lucky enough to live in Stockholm for 3 years from 2011.  It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and Sweden generally is a country of absolutely sweeping landscapes, peppered with sparkling waters and rocky islands.    My husband bought me this cushion kit 3 years ago as a birthday present, just before we left to return to England.   As is often the case with hand sewing projects like this, I have picked it up and put it down a hundred times and it has been lurking in our sitting room in a basket for quite some time.  I am not really sure why it has taken me so long, but I guess that is a familiar story to most of you who sew.  Anyhow, it came from a beautiful shop in the Ostermalm area of Stockholm that wasn't selling the usual tourist sort of stuff, but real handcrafted items that were absolutely beautiful.   It was a sort of cultural hub for the real thing, shall we say.   The kit itself is made by a company called Helmslojden in Skane and this is the first clue as to what it is all about. 

Swedish Cushion 1.JPG

One thing I have learned in my travels is that cultural style grows up not from one single place, but takes influences from countries and peoples around.  You can see this if you follow the silk road and see how shapes and patterns infiltrated new places along the route. In this case, I found Swedish embroidery has some similarities to Russian embroidery.  The bright colours bursting with life on the dark background.   Unfortunately, I never got to visit Skane, but it is the southern most county of Sweden, it's county city being Malmo.   Way back, it was part of Denmark for a while and I suppose influences from mainland europe crept in there as well.  But this kind of historical needlework is also about the land itself.  Wool was and still is very important in Scandinavia.  When we lived there, I was always amazed at seeing young people knitting socks and gloves on the train on the way to work.  They have beautiful knitwear there and knitting is an intrinsic part of life, as it is in other very cold climes.   They also have long dark winters and idle fingers are not to be tolerated.  This rural area of Sweden probably provided the essential wool and like in most cultures, women would turn to needlework to provide clothing for their families and decorative items for their homes.   Skane embroidery is often on worked on dark backgrounds and I have read that this was largely because historically, smokey homes were not very kind to lighter coloured fabrics and black wool was practical for everything.    At the fabulous "Nordiska" Museum in Stockholm there are lots of wonderful examples of Swedish embroidery and it is well worth a visit if you get a chance to go there.  I also have this wonderful book, which although it is in Swedish, has fantastic photos of examples of this folk art sewing.

I remember the long winters in Stockholm and they are long...and because in days of old it was difficult to go out in icy weather, the Scandinavians developed their love of 'home'.  It is ingrained in their psyche.  Today of course they are famous for their home style and housewares and when we lived there,  I was fascinated by how this was so influenced by the colours of the landscapes.  The modern scandinavian style is based on water, ice, rock, nature with hues of greys, white, greens and blues.   The older folk style is much more colourful and perhaps this was a deliberate choice to brighten up the dark days.     My cushion is awash with vivid pinks, focusing more on floral imagery.

Swedish Embroidery.JPG

It was fun and informal to work.   Freestyle embroidery nearly always is and I know that alot of people are rather frightened by the idea, but for me, I love the freedom to add texture with different stitches within the design framework.    As the piece grew, the thickness and texture grew too.  It feels hard wearing and warm as well as beautiful.   The wool is quite course and can only be worked in short lengths to avoid fraying as you push and pull it through the thick wool background.  In essence though, the stitches are fairly straight forward and it is the depth of the wool that gives it that touch of magic.  Now that it is made up, I wonder that perhaps I shouldn't have made it into a bag.  Perhaps that will be a project for the future. 

Swedish Embroidery 2.jpg

The wonderful thing about having an interest like embroidery is that there is a whole world out there to explore of different colour combinations and patterns and designs.  This has to rank up amongst my favourites though.  I think I might be exploring wool embroidery a little further in my design work this winter.  Hope you will pop along and see.  Meanwhile,  if you are interested to find out more about the kit, you can check out their website here

Bye for now....and I will leave you with a few of my favourite pics from our time in Sweden.