The History of Redwork

The History of Redwork is an interesting one. It gets its name from the type of thread that is used. ‘Turkey Red’ is a special colourfast red floss that was developed in Turkey more than 200 years ago.

Prior to this red was typically avoided because the colours either faded or ran making them an unpopular choice. Women were willing to pay extra for Turkey Red thread and when it became widely available it was used to adorn everything from tea towels to garments and so redwork was born and thriving.

Redwork briefly went out of fashion in the early – mid 1900’s in favour of stitching with blue thread. However, it soon came back into fashion when the ‘Turkey Red’ thread became a lot more accessible.

History of Redwork

Redwork consists primarily of embroidering the outline of a design onto a white or off-white background. The simplicity of it and the lack of equipment needed, just thread, fabric and scissors, meant it was accessible to the masses.

Magazine publishers often gave away patterns to promote their subscriptions. As the thread became more readily available, people were able to buy kits. Savvy women used pictures in children’s books and advertisements as patterns, if Pinterest had been around then, this clever hack would have been all over it.

As the trend developed, pre-stamped squares of fabric called penny squares, because they cost a penny a square, became available. They could be sewn together to make quilts and cushions. They were also given to children to help them learn the technique as they were small and the designs were often simple.

There are two important stitches that are used in redwork embroidery, stem stitch and outline stitch. Other stitches used are satin stitch for filling in small areas, back stitch for making tight curves and straight stitch which is used to cover short straight lines in the embroidery design. French knots, the most hated of stitches, was used to get tiny dots in the pattern. The feather stitch was used to join the penny squares together to get a quilt effect.

These beautiful examples of redwork were found on

Redwork Box of DelightsThe Royal School of Needlework first started teaching the striking surface embroidery technique of redwork in the late 19th century. Enjoying many revivals throughout its rich history, redwork is still widely used in embroidery and quilting today. Designed especially for the Craft Sanctuary to neaten, perfect and develop your stitching repertoire, this stunning “Box of Delights” workshop by RSN’s Kate Barlow uses a variety of techniques and specialist materials.

You will get to learn this beautiful technique in the picturesque setting of Eastwood Hall in Nottingham. Surrounded by Nottinghamshire’s magnificent countryside, this charming Georgian country house is the perfect setting in which to learn historic embroidery techniques. The award-winning 4* hotel effortlessly blends the essence of grandeur with stylish and modern amenities.

During your weekend retreat you will be able to step your card-giving game up with accomplished cross stitch designer, Lucie Heaton. Armed with an exclusive collection of occasions cross stitch motifs, you will mount your work on brown paper kraft aperture cards for a stylish and professional finish.

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Embroidery techniques

About Nadine

Nadine dabbles in a wide range crafts. If it's pretty and she wants to make it, she'll learn the technique to do so. She is also never without a cup of tea in her hands.