In the last newsletter I talked about things we counted such as days until Christmas and minutes until midnight on New Year’s Eve. Another part of the Christmas holiday that has a count down for Scandinavians is Tjugondag Knut. This is the Swedish name for the holiday meaning Twentieth Day. It is always celebrated on January 13th, which is the 20th day from Christmas, counting Christmas Day. The Swedish calendar celebrates a person’s name every day, and January 13th is Knut’s Day. So, on this day all the decorations are removed from the Christmas tree and any remaining cookies or candies hung on the tree are plundered. Then after some dancing and singing around the tree, it is literally picked up and thrown out the door! The Swedish Culture Heritage Society here in Fargo celebrated Tjugondag Knut on January 9th. Here are some of the pictures as the kids “plunder” the tree and then throw it out the door.
I thought this would be a great time to talk about the totally-Swedish needlework technique of Näversöm. I mentioned it briefly in the November 8, 2010 newsletter. This technique appears to have originated in Sweden as early as the 17th century. Näversöm is translated as Näver = Birch bark and söm = seam/stitch. It gets the name from the piece of birch bark that was used as a frame. Shepherdesses did the embroidery as they tended their animals, so this frame could be rolled up, protecting her work, and could easily be carried.
What makes this technique unique is the design is worked from the back. The birch bark protected the front of the piece, so the final design was not revealed until it was completely done! One of the first projects the young ladies were expected to do was the stitching of the long bier (burial) band that would be used to lower her casket into the grave. These bands were about 3.25 yards long and 15” wide, with a border on the ends of näversöm and fringe. Since the band remained with the casket there are not many remaining examples of this traditional design.
Thankfully, many stitchers also used the technique to embellish household items such as linens and doilies. In modern times, it has become a popular technique for lampshades and other household items where the light can shine through and accent the beautiful needlework. Here is a wall sconce I got from Sweden The stitching has been done on a cream fabric with cream thread, however, it is lined with a light pink fabric over a metal frame.
For fabric you need evenweave linen. A recommended fabric is 35-count Lambswool (66-135). The individual fabric threads need to be strong, so a fabric like Edinburgh, may not be your best choice. The fabric is prepared by creating a grid withdrawing two fabric threads, leaving three fabric threads, done in both directions. This gives a nice open area to start stitching in. Preparing the fabric can be the most time-consuming part of this technique. Phyllis Maurer, Ethnic Fiber Arts, LLC., had some great advice when I met with her last summer. She uses the thread straightener (6610) to help grab hold of the fabric thread and pull. It really saves time and your fingers!
Traditionally, the fabric and threads were a natural color like flax or ecru. Even the more recent examples for the 1970’s are muted in color with the thread matching or complimenting the fabric.
If you want to have an authentic experience working from the back of the fabric so you don’t see the design until you are finished, get a thick foam board from a craft store. Stretch the fabric over the board and pin the fabric along the edges with straight pins. For a more modern approach, (and so I can see my progress!), I use stretcher bars or the 14” Slimline Tension Adjusting bars (345-263-0014). You will need some tacks to attach the fabric to the bars like the Japan Brass Tacks (6936) or the Corjac Tack Kit (6937A). The Slimline Tension Adjusting bars also need the T-tool (345-263-0001) to keep the bars tight.
Despite its intricate appearance, näversöm is a relatively easy technique to learn as there are only four stitches used: darning, diagonal, goose-eye, and ground. Remember, what adds a bit of the challenge is working these stitches from the backside. In other techniques I am used to seeing my stitches worked parallel to the fabric threads, but for näversöm a majority of the stitches will be diagonal. I have a tip: When you decide to work on this technique, devote your whole stitching time to just this project. Sometimes I like to jump around on projects. Working on a Hardanger bell pull for an hour and then immediately picking up the näversöm project can be hazardous to your mental health! Your brain says “go this way” and your hand is used to “going that way” and you spend a lot of time ripping out stitches.
I purchased a Swedish kit for a doily and here are the stitch “instructions”. Yes, there are just these photos! Next is the diagram as it would be represented on a chart. So far, a majority of the books I have found are in Swedish, which doesn’t help much either!
DARNING STITCH (Stoppsöm, which means Stop stitch/seam) »
DIAGONAL STITCH (Bjuråkersömm which is Bjuråker, a town near Hudiksvall, Sweden, and stitch/seam) »
GOOSE-EYE STITCH (gåsögon – this translates to goose (gås) eye (ögon)) »
GROUND STITCH (Bottensöm which translates to bottom/ground stitch/seam) »
FINISHING THE PIECE
Most of the doilies I have seen have an edge of at least two grid units. The ends have been folded over at least twice and then a darning stitch is used to secure the edges. Some pieces such as linens are finished with a nice hemstitch with mitered corners. Several great resources for learning the hemstitch are Hemstitching (2404A), Hems, Edges, and Fancy Borders (140-400-0001), and The How to Book of Hemstitching and Edging (2404).
This technique is best suited to geometrical shapes, especially the square, rectangle, and triangle. This makes the designs very symmetrical with repeating bands or sections. Here are several samples from my own collection.
We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!
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