Complex Norwegian 'Hardanger' stitchery occupies mathematical mind HOWARD COUNTY SENIORS


The appearance is one of tiny holes -- hundreds of squares of threads connected in intricate patterns that make lacy-looking angels or linens or tablecloths.

The complexity and fine detail of Hardanger, this Norwegian needlework technique, may be its strongest appeal for 70-year-old Hilda Harvey, who has won awards for her precise and beautiful handiwork.

"Math is my field; that's probably why I do it," said Mrs. Harvey, a retired bookkeeper living in Ellicott City.

Hardanger is a combination of about 10 styles of stitches, cutwork and weaving.

"You have to plan ahead of time and chart it from the beginning," Mrs. Harvey explains.

"There is a lot of figuring involved; you can't make a mistake, and you have to count every stitch," she said.

Mrs. Harvey's fascination with Hardanger began when she was a small girl and an elderly neighbor gave her a piece of the work, which Mrs. Harvey still owns.

As the years passed, Mrs. Harvey searched for someone to teach her the craft, which she says originated in Hardanger Fjord, Norway.

Although she learned other types of needlework, she was unable to find a Hardanger teacher until she moved to Ellicott City 11 years ago and joined the Constellation chapter of the Embroiderer's Guild of America, Inc. A speaker at one of the meetings was teaching the Norwegian needlework, and Mrs. Harvey joined the class.

She earned a blue ribbon at the Potomac Women's Club annual needlework show for her first piece -- the one she calls her "learning" piece -- a 14-by-15-inch square of 12 Hardanger stitches.

Last spring, she earned another blue ribbon for a lacy Hardanger collar that was displayed at the First Howard County Cultural Arts Exhibit.

She has won additional awards for other types of needlework.

Her most important tool is a pair of sharp embroidery scissors.

For very small stitches, Mrs. Harvey also uses a magnifying glass, which she attaches to her glasses.

She says that once she gets started on a Hardanger project, she doesn't like interruptions.

Hugh Harvey, a retired manager who worked for American Telephone & Telegraph Co. in Baltimore, understands the tediousness of the activity that his wife does.

"When she gets into that kind of work, I won't interrupt," Mr. Harvey said. Instead, he turns to household chores.

"When I make gifts for my family," says Mrs. Harvey, "I tell them it's from both their father and me.

"Without his help, I couldn't do it."

Some projects, like her most recent one, require her to leave her sunny sewing room, which is equipped with two sewing machines and decorated with samples of her work, and head to the dining room table, where she can spread things out.

For the five clerical stoles she recently completed for a daughter who is an associate pastor in Washington state, she meticulously charted the design on graph paper, spent 1,440 hours stitching and an additional 50 hours sewing the stoles together.

"I felt like a ton had been lifted off of my shoulders when I finished the last piece," she said.

"You can fudge when doing styles like counted cross-stitch. On Hardanger, you can't."

And she isn't taking any chances on the U.S. Postal Service.

The stoles will be hand-delivered when she and her husband visit Washington at Thanksgiving.

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