Scandinavian Stitch Craft

Unique Projects and Patterns for Inspired Embroidery


By Karin Holmberg

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From food and fashion to home furnishings and architecture, Scandinavian style has come to dominate the global design sphere. Highlighting traditional Swedish embroidery techniques and featuring easy instruction, Scandinavian Stitch Craft will be an inspiration to modern crafters. Through thirty inspiring projects, Holmberg highlights many of Sweden’s traditional embroidery stitches and uses them in new and exciting combinations. The projects can be used to make new buys more personal, to embroider clothes that you already have in your wardrobe, or to brighten up a flea-market bargain. Also included is information about materials used, tips and tricks, descriptions of the various stitches, and removable pattern templates which can be used to create your own works.



Folk textile, folk costumes, and the rich tradition of embroidery in Sweden have long been my main sources of inspiration. Bright colors and fanciful patterns used to be combined in ways that were often highly original, fascinating, and at times a bit surprising. Not everything was grey homespun; rather, people put a lot of time and work into decorating everyday items. That says something of the human drive to be creative.

Embroidery is a way of personalizing home textiles and clothes; it is also accessible. All you really need to get started is a needle and thread and you’ll be ready to embroider almost anything. Embroideries are easy to take with you: sew on the train, at the coffee shop, or with friends.

The main purpose of this book is to inspire. If you still want to make the designs exactly as seen here, you can use the patterns in the back of the book. Tracing paper tucked into the back cover of the book will help. Trace the pattern onto the paper and use it as a guide as you stitch. I have selected eight classic regional embroideries and show how they can be done traditionally or developed in new directions. My hope is that you will discover the textile treasure trove that these embroideries constitute, as well as be inspired to interpret them in your own way. Take out the needle and start to embroider!


All embroidery techniques that I use in the book originate in old Swedish folk textiles. Often it’s not known precisely when a new technique came into use, or who was the first person to sew it, but most likely people were initially trying to copy exclusive woven damask fabrics. They then borrowed patterns and templates from one another, passing them back and forth between the homesteads. This is how, over time, certain embroideries became popular and distinctive to specific parts of the country.

Järvsö stitch was a way for peasant women to show off their own craft skill as well as the financial status of their farm. To display their work, every farm had one or more beds made with richly decorated bedding, intended only for show. Hanging linens and pillowcases were embroidered with red cotton floss. Some of the floss wasn’t true “Turkish red” and has faded over time, so the embroideries now appear more pink. The motifs are various florals, more or less stylized. The techniques used are one-sided flat stitch and stem stitch. The Järvsö stitch is set apart by the characteristic “tassels” sewn with four or five stitches. In books this type of stitch sometimes goes by the name of “tassel stitch.” Järvsö stitch is fairly fast and easy to sew. It may be wise to secure the long stitches that make up the flowers with small stitches. This will help keep the embroidery in place.

Delsbo stitch is similar to Järvsö stitch, though the patterns tend to be slightly different. The motifs are usually flowers and leaves, but they are rounder than the somewhat more sprawling forms of Järvsö stitch. Delsbo stitch is also sewn using red cotton floss and one-sided flat stitch. Here it is common to secure the stitches with a garland of stem stitches around the center of the flower. The patterns were often drawn using cutout templates made from paper or birch bark. These were passed down through the generations and shared by several embroideresses. This practice might explain why many embroideries are so similar and stylized within a particular region.

Anundsjö stitch is the only technique in this book associated with a specific person: Brita-Kajsa Karlsdotter. She lived in the Ångermanland region in the nineteenth century and took up embroidery late in life. This is said to explain the somewhat shaky and charming style of this type of embroidery. According to one story about her, she would always ask her children and grandchildren to thread her needles when they visited. That way she could continue embroidering on her own. Here too the motif was red flowers with thin stems and lobed leaves. They were given their distinct look by her securing the long stitch with a small, diagonal one. A recurring theme is that she would embroider her initials: BKD, the year, and the letters ÄRTHG, which is a Swedish acronym for “the credit belongs to God.” Anundsjö stitch doesn’t take much time to sew, and you needn’t worry too much about the stitches being the same exact length; “imperfection” is part of its charm!

Halland stitch is most often seen on pillowcases. They are embroidered on just one of the short ends, as that is what can be seen from the room. The patterns differ quite a bit from other types of stitches. Halland stitch has a far more stylized and geometric type of design. It consists of circles, triangles, stars, and heart shapes; sometimes composed to form flowers and a sort of tree of life. Another distinctive trait is the laid filling stitch that fills the shapes. This is sewn by drawing up threads to form a net, either straight and along the thread or diagonally, which is secured using various types of stitches. The edges are neatly hidden using stem stitch, or chain stitch. One-sided flat stitch does occur, but it is more common to cover larger surfaces using herringbone stitch. If the stitches are too long, they can be secured using chain stitch, or stem stitch. Blue or red cotton floss is commonly used. By combining these two colors with different laid filling stiches one can create nearly infinite variations on this embroidery. Halland stitch demands a high level of accuracy, but you get into it quickly and I think it can be quite relaxing to simply fill circles with different stitches.

Blekinge stitch shares traits with many other regional stitches. It combines one-sided flat stitch, encroaching satin stitch (often using two shades of thread intertwined to create further nuance), laid filling stitch, stem stitch, and French knots. Motifs include flowers, flower baskets, birds, stylized humans, and the like. The stitch is sewn using cotton floss in various shades of blue and pink. The embroideries were usually done on wall hangings that were displayed in the house for festive occasions, in which case they might depict scenes from the Bible. If you’re not that religious, Blekinge stitch is a golden opportunity to bring out your most romantic side and indulge in massive amounts of pink flowers.

Sew-on (påsöm in Swedish) is a satin stitch, sewn with wool floss (often called Zephyr yarn, a rather soft and fuzzy woolen yarn in bright, clear colors). This stitch exists virtually only on the folk costume from Floda in Dalarna. That is why it sometimes goes by the name Dala-Floda embroidery. The pattern consists of a cornucopia of flowers and leaves, everything from naturalistic violets to fanciful roses. Apparently, certain embroiderers in Floda embroidered completely freehand, drawing inspiration from nature around them. However, many used templates as an aid. One template always began with the largest flowers; these were placed on the bonnet, jacket, and skirt hem of the folk costume and then the space around was filled in with leaves and smaller flowers. The name comes from saying that one “sewed on” something. Several embroiderers in Floda were so skilled that they could make a living embroidering and selling their work. I try not to play favorites with embroidery techniques, but this is probably the stitch that I think is the most fun and yields the best-looking results. Unfortunately the rather thick wool yarn makes the technique suitable primarily for clothing and perhaps the occasional cushion.

Skåne wool embroidery is also sewn using wool floss on homespun or broadcloth, but is distinguished from sew-on in several ways. It is usually sewn with floss that is harder wound, creating a somewhat coarse effect. The color scheme is red, green, dark blue, white, and ochre. Religious themes are common, especially Adam and Eve in Paradise, with wonderful Naivistic people and tons of plants and fantasy creatures filling up every inch of space. In folk art one speaks of horror vacui, or fear of empty space. Skåne embroidery is a prime example of this. It was especially common as decoration on seat pads for carriages and cushions. This embroidery shares subject matter and palette with röllakan weaves. It is likely that one embroidered using scraps of yarn from the looms. There are also embroideries made entirely out of geometric shapes, such as stars and diamonds, which look even more like woven tapestries. The methods used are flat stitch, stem stitch, chain stitch (used to fill larger surfaces), and twist stitch. If you’re like me and love florals with tons of detail, this embroidery is a lot of fun to work with. Since chain stitch fills an area well, it doesn’t take as long as you may think.

Blackwork has its origin in court costumes from the continent where it is also called Spanish stitch, or Holbein stitch (after the artist Hans Holbein the younger, who skillfully depicted it in royal portraits). In Sweden you see it mainly on scarves for folk costumes from Leksand, Åhl, and Gagnef in Dalarna. Blackwork is a combination of cross stitch, flat stitch, and back stitch, sewn with black silk on fine evenweave linen. Since you count threads when you embroider, you get very exact geometric patterns. In other words, this takes both good eyesight and the patience of a saint, but I think it’s fun to do these types of big and complicated projects once in a while, for a change. You can also experiment more freely with this technique and create very modern, graphic embroideries.


Refer to the resource guides beginning on page 84 for Karin Holmberg’s invaluable information on techniques, tools, and lessons that will help even the most inexperienced crafter get started on the following projects.


On Sale
May 7, 2013
Page Count
128 pages
Running Press

Karin Holmberg

About the Author

Karin Holmberg was trained at Stockholm’s School of Textile Art. Her work has been exhibited at museums throughout Sweden and the furniture fair in Milan Salone Internazionale del Mobile, among others. Scandinavian Stitch Craft is her first book.

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