Monday 20 May 2013

A brief history of Redwork -and some sneaky peeks.


I wanted to share some photos of the quilts, but my phone camera has decided it doesn't want to port the pictures I took over to my pc!  

I bought some lovely new Perle threads I'll show you later, and enjoyed looking at lots of beautiful stitching. One of the quilts which took my eye was a  piece with simple old fashioned flower blocks in redwork. As I've been designing some redwork stitcheries I was interested to know more about where this style of embroidery originated. (The pictures below are some peeks from three of my new designs.)

I did a bit of research and  learnt some fascinating social history I thought you my like to hear about... Redwork began in England in the 1800's. Students at the Royal School of Art Needlework in Kensington decided to  work on designs using just outline stitch.
In 1876  the Centennial Exposition saw held in Philadelphia, and The Royal School of Art Needlework exhibited a display of redwork items. The simplicity of the work really caught on in the US and it became very popular. 

Redwork is traditionally stitched on calico with red thread, which makes a great contrast!  (In the US calico is known as muslin, - this confused me for ages -  as here in the UK muslin is a very loosely woven cotton fabric, and calico is plain woven, unbleached cotton!)

The original thread was red because Turkey Red dye (from the root of the Madder plant,) became available during the late 19th century. It cost a little more than synthetic dyes - but it was colour fast, which was a huge plus! Now you could embellish quilts, coverlets, tea towels, laundry bags, table runners, pillow cases, and loads of other other household items - and they could be washed.

In the late 1800s, calico/muslin was cheap, and a skein of Turkey Red thread cost about a penny. Designs were printed onto squares ready to embroider, and this gave rise to the name 'Penny Patches'.  These were ideal for teaching young girls how to stitch. Magazines often sold penny patch patterns and kits. 

Bluework originated a little later, when a colour fast Indigo blue dye became available.It used exactly the same stitches. The style fell out of fashion when other of colour fast threads became available, but the simple one colour style has picked up popularity again in recent years. Other one colour work is usually called 'Green redwork', or 'Purple redwork'. I think I  prefer 'Purplework' etc though!  

(Sorry for the weird text size and paragraphs, Blogger and I have had a tiff this morning and it's obviously not forgiven me yet!)

 Have a sunny, stitchy week!x


  1. So interesting, I do like one colour embroidery. Great post wonderful photos

  2. As usual, you have created and interesting and informative post! The area where the show was held is gorgeous. Look forward to seeing those quilt shots.

  3. Ah Jules, So lovely to read this post about Redwork. I love blogger because there is always something new to learn from friends. It is such an old sewing craft and very beautiful and delicate.
    Looks like you had a glorious day in Worcestershire. We have to make the most of going out while the sun shines in the UK! ;-)
    By the way, thank you for the very kind mention in your last post, I have only just noticed it!
    If you are ever visiting Wiltshire, let me know and we could meet up for a coffee.
    Have a lovely week!

  4. Like you I loved the show, between me and my friend Cheryl we took over 400 photos.I also was drawn to the redwork quilt and have enjoyed reading your blog about red work, will post some photos soon but it is difficult to decide which ones!

  5. Delightful. There are so many interesting details in the history of needlecrafts, aren't there!

  6. So interesting to know the history of needlework. I was there last summer for a garden show it is really a beautiful part of the country

  7. thank you for a wonderful post, Jules. I love learning the history of needlecraft. I've always been a little confused when I would see things called "rework" that were obviously NOT red! Now, I understand. Thank you!


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