The term “Redwork” refers to designs with an outline embroidered in red thread on a white or unbleached cotton fabric. The outline is worked with a running stitch, a stem stitch or back stitch. Occassionally cross stitching or French knots are added.
Redwork became popular in North America in the late 1800’s after a Turkish-made colorfast red thread became available. Before “Turkey Red’ was introduced, the color in threads washed out or “bled” onto light-colored fabric. From 1910 to 1930, a colorfast blue thread was popular (called Bluework).
Redwork was popular in the United States from 1855 to 1925. Napkins, tea towels, chair cushions, sofa pillows and chair back covers were the typical projects women would make for their homes.
Most designs were simple to stitch. Popular themes included animals, the classic French rooster weathervane, flowers, toys, nursery rhyme characters and scenes with happy children at play.
Designs preprinted on fabric squares cost about a penny. The designs on these “penny squares” were stamped- a process for transferring designs onto fabric that became a source of income for many women working from home. Around the 1870s, iron-on transfers were developed. Using a warm iron was an easier method to apply the design onto the fabric.
The squares were embroidered and stitched together into bedcoverings or quilts (often without sashing). Redwork quilts were mostly “summer weight” with no batting.
It’s interesting that a method of stitching that started because of a lack of access to good supplies has continued into modern embroidery, including using a machine for the stitching!
Barbara Parrish has posted a wonderful assortment of free Redwork patterns featuring vintage scenes and motifs. Be sure to check out the main sections of her webpage for helpful redwork tips and information.
This site features quite a few designs suitable for redwork embroidery. Most of the designs are whimsical and will fit nicely on a flour sack kitchen towel. The free patterns feature a variety of themes including Holiday and every day.
Tipnut offers a series of Kitchen Proverbs for redwork embroidery: A Watched Pot Never Boils, Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth, and First Come, First Served.
If you’re a history buff, you’ll love learning a bit more of the history of redwork, along with blue work and blackwork. Embroidery Library, a site that sells patterns and files for machine embroidery, gives a great overview of the types of patterns used for this style of embroidery, as well as how and why redwork came to be.
Barbara Parrish has posted a wonderful assortment of free Redwork patterns featuring vintage scenes and motifs. Be sure to check out the main sections of the webpage for helpful redwork tips and information.