What is Redwork?
Redwork is a form of embroidery which uses red floss to trace simple line drawings. Traditionally, animal themes, children’s themes, nature themes, and kitchen themes. Redwork can be done in other colors, changing the name to greenwork or bluework, etc. Redwork done in black is called Black Redwork because Blackwork refers to a specific single thread embroidery technique. It became popular during the Victorian era as women searched for new ways to decorate their homes. The idea of Redwork came to America from Europe, where it was called “Turkey work”. Turkey red was one of the few colorfast colors of the time.
These embroideries were also called “penny squares”. According to quilt historian Cindy Brick, “the term ‘penny squares’ only holds true for a brief time, when a square of fabric stamped with a pattern was a penny – and so was a skein of red cotton floss.” Muslin squares were sold with the patterns marked for a penny each. These then could be used as quilt blocks with sashing added around the borders. Redwork was also used to embellish tea towels, aprons, pillow covers, splashers and other Victorian decorations.
Traditionally the main stitch that was used to outline the designs was the Stem Stitch (right, worked with the working-thread to the right of the needle) or Outline stitch (working-thread to the left of the needle). This type of stitching was called the Kensington stitch and was popularized by the Kensington School for Girls in England during the 1880s. The Satin Stitch was used sparingly to fill in small enclosed areas. The Backstitch or the split stitch was used to cover tight curves and occasionally to outline the designs. The Straight Stitch was used to cover small straight lines. French Knots were used for eyes, strawberry specks, and any other place where a small dot was needed. The Feather Stitch was used along the seams of pieced quilt blocks.
To begin your redwork project, first trace the design lightly on the muslin with a sharp lead pencil or water soluble pen by placing the design under the muslin. A light box makes this easier, but taping your design to a window will work, too. Clover makes a pen that makes a fine white line which can be erased or removed with water. If you prefer, you can trace your design with pencil or pen onto tulle or nylon netting, then lay the tulle over your ground fabric and trace through the tulle using a white pen or chalk.
Whether you use a hoop or not depends on how you stitch. If you stitch with your hand below the fabric, push the needle to the front, then transfer your hand to the top and push the needle to the bottom, you should use a hoop as that type of hand use won’t put as much stress on the tautness of the fabric. If you keep your hand on top of the fabric to make your stitches, then not using a hoop may work best since this places more stress on the fabric’s tautness. If you choose to use a hoop, be sure to remove your project at the end of each session to avoid hoop marks.
Usually you will thread your needle with 2 strands of floss. One strand is used for very delicate outlines while 4 strands gives a bolder coverage. (DMC embroidery floss – number 817 (dk coral red), 498 (dk Christmas red) or 304 (med Christmas red) If you are using Sulky (Cotty) thread, the BayBerry Red is the closest in color to DMC 498, and the 12wt is about two strands of floss.
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