Thursday, February 22, 2007


last week, keen eye b and at:chicago got us talking about quilts. after admiring the red and white patterns on that gorgeous hawaiian style quilt, i started thinking about redwork. while not strictly a feathering the nest type post, i wanted to share a little bit about this fascinating craft, and then show you a few of the beautiful things that have resulted from it.

redwork refers to a style of embroidery that originated in the 19th century in europe. the name is derived from the red cotton thread used in the process. up until this point, colored thread was unable to hold its color in the wash, and therefore couldn't be used to adorn everyday items like bedspreads or dish towels - anything that needed to be washed, basically! the colorfast red thread was developed in turkey using a secret recipe (!).

redwork was generally done on inexpensive cotton or muslin fabrics, and the introduction of the red thread meant that colorful decorative items were no longer restricted to clergy and the wealthy. the technique quickly found a niche among peasants, immigrants and the middle class, especially in america and much of its popularity was due to its economy, sublime simplicity and widespread availability.

children often learned how to embroider on "penny squares," designs printed on muslin and sold at the general stores for a penny, because as we all know, "idle hands are the devil's workshop." even children in orphanages were taught to sew and embroider, because it would be invaluable to them in finding employment as a maid later in life.

when synthetic dyes began to be manufactured in the us, the popularity of traditional "red" redwork diminished and embroidering with colors became very popular. however, redwork can be embroidered in any color: bluework is still redwork, only it's done in blue thread and usually called blue redwork. confusing enough?!

today, redwork has seen a resurgence in popularity - for no one single reason. i think part of it is related to the clean, simple design that is present in a lot of modern home furnishings and accessories, as well as the japanese modern aesthetic - zakka even? (as seen in many of these japanese craft books). perhaps it's related to the vintage and antique craze. or maybe it all comes down to the new interest in the handmade and the homemade, something keen eye b touched upon in her quilting post.

whatever the case, redwork, when done right, is gorgeous in it's simplicity and striking in it's ability to combine the antique and the modern in one fell swoop. and did i mention i'm a sucker for red on linen?

redwork on flickr:

• the best source on flickr has to go to Redwork in Germany. not only is her collection of vintage redwork stunning, but her own creations are breathtaking. really worth some browsing time.
Iris Susan has some lovely redwork flowers that she's been working on.
Ribbonwiz has lots of victorian style redwork.
Norththread has a few redworks floating around in her vintage and craft set.

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