Nøkken – The Water Spirit



Salme V


Outline the story …

Once upon a time... in the dark lakes of the Northern forests lived a mischievous water spirit: nøkken, näkki, the Neck. They were a shapeshifter that could take many forms in order to lure people to their watery realm. They loved music and in the form of a human they often wandered to nearby villages to play their fiddle and dance.

But in the deep waters no one has the need to weave and tailor - how would a nøkk with only a cape of watergrass spellbind fair young villagers at the winter’s dance? One needs to be as dashing as any townsfolk to get close to them.

Who dresses the shapeshifter? The clothes should be fashionable but also represent the essence of the magical creature. The water spirit might have witnessed the effect that a beautifully embroidered French waistcoat worn by a foreign traveller has had on the locals. They would summon up a waistcoat with the patterns they find most beautiful; flowers, bugs and plants from the nature around them.

Scandinavian folk stories about the water spirit Neck described for example in “The Fairy Mythology” by Thomas Keightley (1828) and ballads like the Norwegian “Nykkjen og Heiemo”:

Så gjeng han seg i stova inn
Med håge hatt og blomekinn

Nykkjen han dansa, og Heiemo kvad
Det gleddest folket i stugone var
He then enters their house
With high hat and rosy cheek

The nykkjen danced and Heiemo sang
It pleased all the folk in the houses

Outline the construction…

My entry for the Foundations Revealed Competition 2021 is a hand-embroidered waistcoat in the style of the 1790s. The cut is based on extant waistcoats in many museum collections, especially the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Norway.

There are examples of Scandinavian extant garments that are following the cut and design of high fashion of the 18th century, but are in the use of materials or the skill of making a bit more simple or even coarse. “Rough rococo of the North” was my main style and construction inspiration and resource.

The idea was to have a design resembling pages of a botanical book. Embroidered patterns are inspired by drawings by early European naturalist and scientific illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717). Most drawings I used are published in the book "De Europischen insecten" (1730), but some are based on extant embroideries on museum collections. I chose plants I especially like or that have meanings and memories attached to them.

I re-drew and painted the patterns in the correct size for the embroidery. That also helped to study the pattern and simplify them a bit. Embroidery was done as a single panel and worked in satin stitches and french knots. I have drafted and fitted the pattern for myself.

Japanese silk embroidery threads
Silk sewing thread
Bone button bases




  1. Avatar Missy on March 11, 2021 at 9:40 pm

    Oh, this is spectacular! The embroidery and plants are beautiful, but I love that you were also inspired by a shapeshifter in a folksong/tale. One of my favourite Swedish tunes to play is a Nekken.

  2. Kitty Mortensen Kitty Mortensen on March 12, 2021 at 9:44 am

    I love this! The storytelling and the craftsmanship! I’m in awe! gorgeous

  3. Avatar Nathalie on March 12, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    I love all the detail that you’ve put into this and am so charmed by the insect on the inside of the collar. I also really like the photo where you show the outlay of the pattern/embroidery pieces on the fabric. Just beautiful.

  4. Avatar Laura Wemyss on March 12, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    Gorgeous work. And exquisitely styled. I’m so very impressed!

  5. Avatar Cora Mia on March 12, 2021 at 8:34 pm

    I am in love with this! It’s beautiful.

  6. Avatar Kate Worek on March 12, 2021 at 8:59 pm

    I love everything about this! If you told me this was an original from the 1820s, I would totally believe it! Also, I love the embroidered buttons! Everything is beautiful!

  7. Avatar Lindsey on March 13, 2021 at 1:50 am

    WHOA… thats it.. thats the comment!

  8. Avatar Mathilde on March 13, 2021 at 1:14 pm

    This waistcoat is trully adorable. So much lovely details on this embroidery, i love it!

  9. Avatar Viktoria Cudkova on March 13, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    Spectacular!! Great job! <3

  10. Avatar Elise on March 13, 2021 at 4:56 pm

    Wow, that embroidery is amazing! The fit and construction of the vest in general are also really clean and smooth — well done!!

  11. Avatar Rebecca on March 14, 2021 at 12:19 am

    *wistful sigh* my that’s lovely! botanical illustrations are some of my favorite things, and… it’s just beautiful. i want to make something insprired by this! good luck! (from icarus!)

  12. Avatar Mandy Pursley on March 14, 2021 at 2:48 pm

    Wow, what spectacular embroidery! I’m in love with all of the details!

  13. Avatar Marion Brégier on March 16, 2021 at 8:33 pm

    Wow, this is incredible !

  14. Avatar Amanda on March 19, 2021 at 1:16 am

    This is so gorgeous and thoughtful! Fantastic job on the embroidery, it’s really stunning.

  15. Avatar Carly Van Groeningen on March 19, 2021 at 10:48 am

    Wow, this embroidery is insanely gorgeous!

  16. Avatar Maeri Certo on March 22, 2021 at 1:21 pm

    This is delightful! It feels like a period botany book come to life!

  17. Avatar Stephanie Murison on March 25, 2021 at 4:32 pm

    This is absolutely stunning! I am SO in love with this design and the amount of work that went into embroidering this whole piece by hand is incredible! I just hope my embroidery can be as good as yours one day!

  18. Avatar Giorgio Ronchi on March 27, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    The embroidery work is absolutely beautiful!

  19. Avatar Anna Östman on March 27, 2021 at 7:44 pm

    Great idea and such lovely work. I’ll have to save your images for myself as inspiration.

  20. Avatar Kikkii von Fustian on March 27, 2021 at 9:21 pm

    Wonderful detailing<3 Such a beautiful vest, well done! I love Nøkken, hehe.

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