Hedebo Embroidery in Denmark

Frontpage of a special print of a lecture given by the Hedebo expert, curator Elna Mygdal, at the Society for the Promotion of Hedebo Broidery, 1909.

Hedebo Embroidery was developed in a peasant society, whose contact with the outside world was through Copenhagen. From the end of the 19th century, exhibition committees elevated the Hedebo culture to a position where it came to represent the genuine Danish peasant culture. The background to this was national sentiment after the Danish defeat by the Germans in 1864. The Hedebo culture and its Hedebo Embroidery were collected by the Danish Folk Museum and, later, the knowledge of Hedebo embroidery was popularised throughout Denmark by the Society for the Promotion of Hedebo Embroidery.

Danish Folk Museum
In 1879 a large national art and industry exhibition opened which developed into the Danish Folk Museum finally established in 1885. Many Hedebo embroideries were collected for both the exhibition and the museum, and they became the foundation for the collection of Hedebo Embroideryin the National Museum today. The white textiles were hung up in reconstructed Hedebo rooms. On the basis of the collected textiles, Denmark’s first female museum keeper, Elna Mygdal, turned “Hvidsøm” into the focus of the first scientific analysis of Hedebo Embroidery.

National Cultural Heritage
The textiles from the Hedebo area were considered to be the expression of a free, popular spirit and of a creative urge. The distinctive compositions and techniques of the embroidery grew out of the peasant culture as a manifestation of the real, genuine Danish culture. In 1911 the architect Martin Nyrop gave a lecture on Hedebo Embroidery to students of architecture. He said: “It is the sense of beauty of the Danish peasants, one gets to know their ingenuity and diligence – and, in its good sense, – their keeping to the rules, their appreciation of the material.” The population in other parts of Denmark also developed unique white embroidery of a high technical quality. This is true of embroideries from Amager, Lyø, Falster, Samsø, Stevns and Odsherred. But Hedebo Embroidery was uniquely elevated to the position of being ‘genuine Danish’ from the end of the 19th and during the first decades of the 20th century.

Spreading and Refinement
The Society for the Promotion of Hedebo Embroidery was established in 1907. Its purpose was to “spread the knowledge of Hedebo Embroidery and other ancient Danish handicrafts, and to ensure that work of this kind was taken up under artistic guidance, and thus to contribute to the refinement of today’s female arts and craft workers.” The purpose was to be attained by establishing pattern and model collections, and by training and sending out female teachers to educate new generations all over the country. A further goal of the society was the promotion of the trade in embroidery, both within the country and abroad.

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