Redwork Quilts Patterns

Redwork Quilts

Redwork Quilts Patterns  became popular in the late 1800.  Perhaps as a response to the heavily embroidered crazy quilts of the end of the nineteenth century, the redwork quilt style developed at the same time, after the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Redwork is an embroidery technique in which outline drawings are embroidered using red cotton thread on a light colored background, normally white or off-white muslin. These designs were also embroidered in blue. The choice of Redwork Quilts Patterns thread color is almost logical: both red and blue cotton threads were colorfast and could be washed without fear of bleeding or discoloring.
Red was obtained from the root of the madder plant (rubia tinctorum), and although European dyers had used the dyestuff for centuries. The only way to achieve a colorfast bright red dye was by a long, complicated process that was mastered by dyers in the Near East. Thus, the term to describe the color was “Turkey Red”, as most of the fabric and threads available in Europe and America came from there. The red thread was the choice for these redwork quilts. Turkey red refers to the process, not the dye itself. Artificial alizarin, the colorant that makes madder red dye was duplicated synthetically in 1869, though the pigment wasn’t nearly as colorfast, fading to pink after washing.

Around 1880, pre-printed muslin squares became available for purchase to embroider and sew together into quilts and other household linen. These were rather inexpensive, could be bought at dry good stores and chain stores or through mail sources. They became known as “penny squares”. There is controversy regarding the actual price of these, and the term is probably just a way to convey the idea of “inexpensive”, as both muslin and thread were very affordable.
Penny square quilts feature simple outline drawings of animals, flowers, domestic items, children’s fairytales or nursery rhymes. They were perfect for girls learning to embroider, and as the ladies periodical “Peterson’s Magazine” points out in an article from 1880 about outline embroidery “it is very effective, very rapidly done and very cheap”.

Redwork Quilts Patterns Political themes, such as portraits of presidents or important buildings were also printed in these penny squares. The penny squares, once embroidered could be sewn into a redwork quilt top with or without sashings, lattices, or with alternating pieced blocks. The design resulting is simple, yet bold.

The popularity of the redwork quilt continued well into the twentieth century. Periodicals, ladies magazines and pattern companies printed designs suitable for redwork, either as free patterns, premiums for subscribing to their publications or quilt design companies sold their designs in advertisements in these publications, like Laura Wheeler and Alice Brooks.
Most pattern companies offered outline embroidery designs. At first these were perforated patterns, to be transferred to the fabric by means of transferring the pattern onto the fabric with a pouncer and chalk powder (these are known as numo style patterns). Later in the century, the same pattern companies started marketing heat transfer patterns in sheets that could be reused several times. Three companies became leaders in the outline embroidery market: Aunt Martha’s, Vogart and Workbasket. They started marketing their patterns in 1930. The patterns could be transferred to fabric simply by placing a hot iron over the transfer sheet. Some of these early designs are actually still being reprinted and available for purchase.

Redwork became popular not just as a quilt style, but also as means to embellish other bed linen, such as pillowcases and household linen in general. During the decades of the thirties and forties, outline embroidery was widely used on tea towels, doilies, and other everyday use items.

Redwork became one of the choice techniques during World War I to stitch fundraiser quilts. Once again, women rallied to make quilts to help during the war years. Subscriptions were taken to have donor names embroidered onto quilt squares, then the quilts would be raffled off or sold at auction. These quilts became known as “Red Cross Quilts”, and many of these featured the Red Cross symbol in the center and blocks surrounding it with the embroidered names of donors stitched in redwork. Ladies’ magazines such as “Modern Priscilla”, printed patterns for these quilts. The suggested fee per embroidered name was ten cents. Many of these quilts still exist in good condition because they were never used as bedcovers.

The redwork trend returned to quilts in the late twentieth century. As historical quilt patterns became popular during Redwork Quilts Patterns the last years of the century, redwork made an appearance again. Primitive style redwork patterns became widely available to be embroidered either in stem, outline, or backstitch with six strand cotton thread during the ‘90s and are still popular. The three stitches are quite similar and work well with the simple, child-like outline drawings. Redwork can also be done with embroidery sewing machines.

To see examples of antique redwork quilts, visit the Michigan University Museum webpage. Examples from the Deborah Harding collection are available for online viewing.

For more information on making a quilting block click here!

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