Hedebo Embroidery and Women

Vendel, Herman (1875-1848). Johanne Ryder. Oil on canvas. 94x105 cm Greve Museum. Johanne Ryder wears a big collar of Hedebo cut work. She was married to a medical doktor in Copenhagen i 1896.

The women on the working farms carded and spun wool and flax themselves. A village weaver took over the weaving at the beginning of the 19th century. The women on the farms sewed and embroidered the linen and clothes for the household from the woven textiles. The embroideries illustrated both the woman’s skills and her character. The process itself was both liberating, as it was a creative act, and disciplining, as a result of the demands for focus, cleanness, and precision.

Education and Ability
The production of the fine Hedebo embroideries from the end of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century has been attributed to the peasant wives in the Hedebo area in general. But it is hard to believe that all women had the special abilities required for embroidery. The preserved embroideries are presumably sewn by women with the greatest stitching abilities. The home industry/handicraft movement was strong at this time, and part of the education of all peasant girls was likely to be to learn the secrets of embroidery. Some women probably only experienced the disciplining side of embroidery, others gained substantial recognition for their ability to sew Hedebo Embroidery. In addition, some may have experienced the inner joy of producing their own creations.

Light and Darkness
In the literature there is disagreement over where and when the women embroidered. Some accounts tell of women taking their sewing kits everywhere and sewing at every opportunity. Other records tell of the women sewing in the twilight of summer nights, in the handmade candle’s cone of light, or in the sunbeam coming in while sitting on the windowsill. Some authors tell how the basic parts of the embroidery were made in the dim light, so that the few free light hours could be used for the complicated and creative parts of the sewing. All the sources are certainly right, for the time and place would depend on the woman’s age, work, and experience, and on the season of the year.

Commissioned Work
In the second half of the 19th century Hedebo Embroidery became a potential source of income for the most skilled peasant women. Some migrated to Copenhagen. Others supplemented the family income by treating their craftwork as a part-time job. Typically they sewed “Udklipshedebo”, which became a popular variation of Hedebo embroidery after 1870. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was possible to graduate as a professional teacher from a state recognised institute of handicrafts. The head of the Drawing and Artistic Industry School for Women was active in the Society for the Promotion of Hedebo Embroidery, which now focussed on older variations of Hedebo embroidery like “Hvidsøm” and drawn thread work. The technical level of “Udklipshedebo” did not live up to the quality standards set by the arts and craft experts of that time.

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