Näversöm

Tjugondag Knut is a Christmas countdown for Scandinavians. 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.

Näversöm is a completely Swedish needlework technique. 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 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.

Work Basket

For fabric you need evenweave linen. A recommended fabric is 35-count Lambswool. 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., has some great advice. She uses the thread straightener to help grab hold of the fabric thread and pull. It really saves time and your fingers!

The threads you use will depend on the fabric you choose. For a finer fabric like the 35-count Lambswool, you can use threads such as Londonderry Linen or DMC Pearl Cotton size 5 or size 8.

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, you can use stretcher bars or the 14” Slimline Tension Adjusting bars. You will need some tacks to attach the fabric to the bars like the Japan Brass Tacks or the Corjac Tack Kit. The Slimline Tension Adjusting bars also need the T-tool to keep the bars tight.

The Stitches

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 you are used to seeing your stitches worked parallel to the fabric threads, but for näversöm a majority of the stitches will be diagonal. Here is a tip: When you decide to work on this technique, devote your whole stitching time to just this project, since the technique is so very different from other stitching methods.

Here are some instructions from a Swedish kit for a doily. 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 that document this technique are only in Swedish.

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 we 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, Hems, Edges, and Fancy Borders, and The How to Book of Hemstitching and Edging.

Näversöm Designs

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 a private collection.


We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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