Redwork FAQ

Grandma Rachel loves to do Redwork! That’s why we carry one of the largest selections of Redwork Embroidery to be found on the internet. We have created several Redwork embroidery programs that allow you to stitch a variety of Redwork blocks. You’ll also find a large inventory of books, patterns, and stamped goods that are sure to inspire you to create your own bit of Redwork History and Nostalgia.

History of Redwork

Redwork embroidery was very popular from about 1880-1920. Patterns were stitched in Red (sometimes Blue) on a muslin background. This type of stitching, popularized by the Kensington School for Girls in England during the 1880s, was called the Kensington Stitch but we mostly know it today as backstitching or outline stitching. The reason Red was chosen is because it was a sturdy cotton thread that could be counted on not to fade or bleed. This time period was prior to the availability of DMC cotton embroidery floss in the United States, making color options in cotton limited to red, blue, black, white and beige. Other color choices were available only in silk or wool embroidery floss.

Redwork became such a fad that before long, women were using this type of embroidery to create table and luncheon cloths, dishtowels, quilt blocks, pillow shams, pillowcases, tea towels, splashers (used behind a wash bowl), shelf decorations, and anything else they felt needed a bit of embroidery.

Catalogues of the time offered"penny squares" which were small sheets of muslin with stamped patterns that sold for pennies apiece. Prices ranged from five or six cents, to35 or 50 cents, depending on the detail on a particular pattern. Older women have told stories of how they remembered going to the local dry goods store as a little girl to pick out a pattern to have stamped for embroidery. Once the shopowner had transferred the pattern and the penny square had dried, their designs would be embroidered with red cotton embroidery thread. The ladies said they would stitch their penny square during their free time each week. Many looked forward to these Saturday trips to town to pick out the next Redwork design.

Stampings were made by the shop owner using products such as Walter P. Webber’s Modern Stamping Material.Instructions for its use included pouring a bit of kerosene oil or benzine into a dish or cover. A pad made of felt or scrap cotton would be saturated with the oil, then rubbed over the paste so that the coloring would absorb into the pad.Next, a pattern would be placed smooth side up on the fabric to be stamped, andthe saturated pad would be rubbed over the pattern to create the desired design.

Themes on these penny squares included historical figures, animals, flowers, household items, fruit and vegetables, children, and nursery rhymes. Pictures had different meanings. For instance, horseshoes were a sign of good luck; angels ensured the safekeeping of children; spiderwebs caught dreams; and flower had secret meanings.

Children were often given penny squares to work on, especially when convalescing from an illness. Once a child had created enough penny squares, they would be stitched into a quilt top.Seams were often covered with feather stitching. Many times, these penny squares were not quilted but left as a bed covering, although during the GreatDepression of the 1930s, many women thought these earlier coverings needed to be “quilted up.”

Grandma Rachel’s grandmother was born in 1913. She recalled how she learned to do Redwork embroidery, which she called “fancy work,” at the age of six. Her mother said that she could not goout and play until she had devoted at least thirty minutes to this task. WhenGrandma Rachel herself was nine years old, her grandmother decided that she needed to learn this skill as well. Pleasant afternoons were spent stitching penny squares while her grandmother, a history buff, told her stories of family history, and what “women’s work” had consisted of in days gone by. Back in the day, waiting until the age of nine was considered quilt “old” for a girl to learn embroidery and other needlework.

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For embroidery patterns, click here >

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Free Reword Patterns to download for personal use.

Barn Owl Redwork Pattern

Butterfly Redwork Pattern

Chasing Butterflies Redwork Pattern

Galvanic Soap Girl Redwork Pattern

Godey's Magazine Rooster Redwork Pattern

Sunbonnet Babies Free Redwork Pattern