If you’ve ever wondered ‘what is redwork embroidery?’ read on: we explain the background to this traditional technique.
Redwork is a term that encompasses any type of embroidery worked in red thread on a white or natural coloured fabric. It is worked in basic embroidery stitches such as backstitch and cross stitch.
There is some debate about whether redwork embroidery developed in the UK or the US. It has been reported that the Royal School of Needlework exhibited its simple backstitch technique when it took part in the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition – an event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence – in 1876.
Reports state that the Americans loved this new technique and started to embroider designs with simple outlines to decorate household wares.
Red was a popular thread at the time because the more expensive red threads, called Turkey red threads, were colourfast. While previously, red threads had a tendency to fade to a rose or brownish red, Turkey red was valued for its durability and had the advantage that it would not bleed or run or fade. (Turkey red is a dye process that produces a rich and incredibly colourfast cloth bought to Europe by Jewish and Syrian dyers – ‘Turkey’ was the catchall name used for the Middle East.) The process of using this dye was long and complicated and even to this day red is an expensive dye to produce.
The advances in these red threads and the inspiration provided by the Royal School of Art Needlework lead to the explosion of simple outline designs on a white background embroidered in red, now known as redwork. Pre-printed squares were later sold with all sorts of images from birds and flowers, to nursery rhyme characters and US presidents. These penny patches were used to decorate all sorts of items for the home and later often made into quilts.
So why not try your hand at redwork for some really simple but effective projects?
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