Hedebo Embroidery. An Introduction (Denmark)

Hedebo type cap border, Denmark, c. 1800-1850. Hedebo type cap border, Denmark, c. 1800-1850. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK, acc. no. T.80-1913.

Hedebo is a form of whitework embroidery, related to reticella work. It is sometimes classed as an embroidered lace. It originates from the Danish farming community of the Heden, 'heath', area between Copenhagen, Køge and Roskilde.

The history of Hedebo embroidery can be roughly divided into three periods: (a) the farmer’s culture, c. 1700-1870, (b) the upper middle class, c. 1850-1920, and (c) later efforts to preserve this form of cultural history by museums, folk dancers, artists etc. The earliest examples of Hedebo embroidery, generally called Hedebosyning, 'Hedebo sewing', were produced by women in various farming communities. They created characteristic white linen stitching, especially in the period from 1700 until about 1870. The embroidery was produced for private use, for clothing and soft-furnishings in the farmhouses, etc.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the National Romantic Movement became very popular in Denmark, and a small group of upper middle class people began taking an interest in Hedebo embroidery. Around 1850, the wives of smallholders subsequently began embroidering for well-off Copenhagen families. In 1873, examples of Hedebo embroidery were exhibited at the World Exhibition in Vienna, although promoted as examples of work from market towns, rather than smaller farming communities. Later on, in Copenhagen, a large exhibition, the Kunst- og industriudstilling af 1879, was opened where the country people showed the products of Hedebo to urban communities. The Austrian embroiderer and writer, Thérèse de Dillmont included Hedebo in her Needlework Encyclopaedia (1884), so introducing this style to various groups throughout the world.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Hedebo embroidery had become popular all over Denmark. This lasted until the 1950's. This popularity was partly a result of the establishment of the Society for the Promotion of Hedebo Embroidery, in 1905. The aim of this society was to spread knowledge about Hedebo embroidery, and other traditional Danish handicrafts, through recognized artists. This meant that the development of the appearance of Hedebo embroideries was shaped through artists’ designs, which were sold in a number of embroidery shops, such as Clara Waevers.

At the same time the concept of ‘good taste’ ruled, and influential women, such as the famous feminist Emma Gad (1852-1921) and the first female museum keeper at the National Museum (Copenhagen), Elna Mygdal (1868-1940), were strong advocates of Hedebo embroidery. Not all sorts of Hedebo embroidery, however, were regarded as beautiful in the early twentieth century, in particular udklipshedebo was seen as decadent, because it was not a counted thread form and the patterns produced were regarded as disconnected. Ironically, udklipshedebo became very popular and could be found in almost every middle-class home around 1900 in the shape of table clothes, flacons, tea cosies and collars of intellectual women’s dresses and blouses, etc.

See also the TRC Needles entry on Hedebo embroidery. The different styles.


  • ANDRESEN, G. (1983). Bondesyninger på lærred 2. Hulsøm, Tællesyning. Historie og teknik. Borgen: Narayana Press, Gylling.
  • BUUS, H. (2008). Hedebosyning: en verden af variationer: katalog (Vol. 1. udgave). Greve: Greve Museum.
  • GLIENKE, Laila and K. EGHOLK (2008). Kulturarv med nål og tråd: hedebosyning for børn og unge. undervisningsmateriale fra Greve Museum 2008. Greve: Greve Museum.
  • HVIDBERG, E. and J. HARBOESGAARD, J. (2000). Tulipanen i Hedebosyning (Tulips in Hedebo Needle Lace), Greve: Greve Museum.
  • WÆVER, Clara (1918). Hedebo Grunde. Samlede og udgivet af Clara Wæver, private publication.

V&A online catalogue (retrieved 6th July 2016).


Last modified on Wednesday, 10 May 2017 11:03
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