Hedebo Embroidery on the Heath

Grevegaard 1910

Grevegaard 1910. Grevegaard was the biggest farm in the parish, linked to the University of Copenhagen from 1537 - 1831. In 1988 Grevegaard was converted from a farm to Greve Museum.

The rich embroidery tradition on the treeless plain, known as the ‘Heath’, between Copenhagen, Roskilde, and Køge, developed as the result of a combination of circumstances.:The peasant society of the area benefited from fertile soil and limited villeinage obligations. The population of the capital bought their surplus products and hired the rural young people as servants and wet nurses. The economic success of the farmers thus largely depended upon their households’ own abilities. This stimulated innovation which was also encouraged by the trade with the capital.

Peasant Reform
The rise of Hedebo Embroidery in the 18th century coincided with movements within Danish peasant society as peasant reform began to take shape. The reforms manifested themselves in, for example, the emancipation from serfdom in 1788. It was a time when the peasantry was much discussed, both within the European and the Danish context. The corvée was criticised, and copyhold tenure, freehold of farms, and the enclosure movement were all part of the political agenda. The characteristic Hedebo Embroidery, in all its variations, was developed by the women of these rural societies alongside the growth of a conscious peasantry.

Special Conditions
An explanation of the peasant women on the Heath cultivating a rich tradition of embroidery is that it was a consequence of the farmers’ villeinage obligations towards the landlord being fewer, compared to many other places. The land was mainly owned by the Crown, the Church, or the University of Copenhagen who did not insist on an extensive form of villeinage. The industrious farmers could, therefore, benefit from their hard work. Furthermore, the Heath land was very fertile.In 1844, the fields of the farm’ Vendalsgaard’ in Karlslunde were said to have the most fertile soil in Denmark. The opportunities for selling the farmers’ crops, vegetables, and milk were good in the nearby capital. The roads to the capital were in such a condi-tion that it was possible to trans port goods there, and trade middlemen were cut out. All these circumstances combined to give the farmers excellent conditions.

Decoration and Design
The interiors of the farmhouses in the Hedebo area bear witness to the fact that the farmers did not spend their income in the capital, or on buying goods from foreign countries like, for example, the farmers of Amager did. It appears that the money was spent on purchases from local craftsmen, who thereby got the opportunity to develop a rich tradition of designing furniture, such as the Roskilde cabinet and neatly decorated chests. The contact with Copenhagen also led to skills such as those which enabled the production of the special gold and silver metalwork embroidery on the back of women’s bonnets, which the Hedebo area is famous for. All this gives us the impression of a population for whom it was important to be surrounded by beautifully designed textiles and furniture, created by the local community.

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