Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Redwork embroidery

Who has heard of Redwork? I had heard of Blackwork,* I have even done some Blackwork many years ago. There are many similarities.  I came across Redwork recently, I can't remember where or how though. It may have been a Facebook post or on Etsy. Either way it piqued my interest and I had to investigate.

It seems that Redwork was popular between 1880 and approximately 1920. It involved stitching patterns on muslin using red thread although sometimes blue was used.  I have no idea if that was then called Bluework! **

The patterns were mainly stitched in what we today know as back stitch or outline stitch but at the time it was known as Kensington stitch because the craze was started by the Kensington school for girls.  They used red cotton thread from Turkey which was strong and colourfast. Because of the origin of the thread the work was also sometimes known as Turkey Redwork.

Many companies at the time sold what were known as "penny squares" which were small squares of muslin with stamped designs ready for over stitching. They sold for a penny hence the name.  Many themes were used for the designs on penny squares but the more popular ones were historical figures, flowers animals, household items and nursery rhymes.

Often the pictures had special meaning. EG. Horseshoes for good luck, angels for watching over children and each different kind of flower would have its own secret meaning.

Children were often given penny squares to practise and improve their stitching skills. Starting as young as 4 or 5 years old.  Beats computer games don't you think?

The designs ranged from the fairly basic to the far more intricate.  The example below was made in 1910 by a 10 year old girl called Helen Wells. It shows English nursery rhymes.  The pattern for this can actually be purchased via Grandma's Attic website.

Penny squares were often incorporated into quilts and it is some of these surviving quilts that are today responsible for a bit of a revival in Redwork.   The quilting community see the antique quilts at auction and then replicate the same design elements.  This has led to new Redwork designs becoming quite widely available.

Redwork is also being used for much more modern designs.  I think the technique is equally as charming today.


This is just the bare bones about Redwork.  Should you be interested then there are many places online to check for more information. The Information for this post came from several places:

If you want to have a go yourself then check out Grandma's Attic for free downloadable patterns. I am adding Redwork to my list of To Do Projects for 2014.

* Apparently it would seem that Blackwork is actually a totally different thing altogether.  I should know this, I have done Blackwork.  It seems Redwork done with black thread is properly known as Black Redwork!

**  I have found out that work carried out using indigo blue thread is in actual fact known as Blue Redwork as all elements are identical except the colour!

Jilly @ Fabrilushus