A Brief History of Redwork Embroidery

Redwork Embroidery is an almost forgotten handicraft that, together with other traditional crafts, enjoy a revival of interest. It first became popular in the late 1870s and was an innovative redwork embroidery style that changed the seven worlds forever.


For years, redwork embroidery was consider a trade for the rich. Silk thread was the only thread available and it was expensive. Only the richest could afford to buy silk threads to embroider their detailed dresses and home. fashion style and trends

Cotton redwork embroidery

Cotton redwork embroidery thread had existed for years, but only in the color white. Dyed cotton yarn could not be use because it would soften on the back at the first drop of moisture. Thereafter, a process was invent in Turkey whereby cotton yarn could be dye to a color-fast shade of red. The recipe was complex and keep under lock and key, but the result were surprising. Ordinary people could now embroider everything from bedding and towels to clothes with red thread that could withstand frequent washing and air drying without losing a single drop of color.


This cheap, color-fast dental floss was the driving force behind other new products to hit the market. Soon, all fabric stores and regular stores sold six-inch muslin squares marked with simple redwork embroidery motifs. Known as Penny Squares. These pattern were quick and easy to embroidery and were incorporate into light duvet. Pillowcases and other bedding for the home.

Penny Squares and red cotton redwork embriodery

Penny Square and red cotton thread were use to teach young women to sew and embroider. This skill was consider so important that organization from orphanage to private schools require their student to learn to sew.


The contrast between the red yarn and the white or cream-colored fabric created an impressive and attractive finished product. Other colorfast dye were soon create. And redwork  embroidery enthusiasts can now use blue, purple, or green threads in their project, but even though the color was different. The technique was still know as redwork.

Classic type of redwork embroidery

Red work, quilting and other crafts cease to be popular in the mid-1900s. But in the last fifty years they have returned. Sewing craftsmen, impressed by the simple charm of vintage redwork duvets and canvas, have breathed new life into craftsmanship. Some redwork embroidery enthusiasts even color their linen fabric with tea or coffee to recreate the attractive aged look of the original pieces.


Today, you can find groups across the country that support rework. Appreciate vintage design, and share your passion for art with like-minded seamstresses.

If you are interest in trying this classic type of redwork embroidery, there are many patterns available. Use them as wall-hanging duvet blocks, or choose a household pattern to decorate a muslin tea towel for your kitchen. This easy and fun sewing style is also a great beginner project for kids interest in learning to embroidery.

Redwork Embroidery – Then And Now


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