Offshoot of Vintage Redwork Embroidery Uses Blue Embroidery Floss
Bluework is a style of outline embroidery almost identical to its close relation, redwork embroidery, except that it is stitched with indigo blue thread instead of red.
Like its kissing cousin, redwork embroidery, bluework got its name from the colored embroidery thread that is used to create it. Bluework became popular around 1910, when colorfast blue cotton embroidery thread dyed with synthetic colors first became widely available. While bluework never supplanted redwork embroidery, it enjoyed a vogue in the first several decades of the twentieth century. Bluework quilts, kitchen towels, and other decorative home items can be found in antique shops or at auctions today.
Bluework Embroidery Technique
The basic bluework technique is to stitch over a line drawing on a white or ecru-colored background fabric. The most popular background fabrics for bluework are white or ecru-colored cotton muslin or white linen. Bluework is usually stitched with deep blue embroidery floss. Any bluework pattern can also be stitched in red thread, in which case it is called redwork, or in black thread, which is called black redwork.
Redwork Embroidery Designs Are Used for Bluework
Most patterns used for bluework today are actually designed for redwork embroidery and simply stitched in blue thread. Most redwork and bluework designs have a vintage look that hearkens back to the early days of the 20th century. Sunbonnet Sue, Mother Goose and other nursery rhymes, snowmen and holiday designs, flowers, cute animals, and antebellum ladies in hoop skirts are all popular themes.
Any line drawing that doesn’t have too much detail can be adapted into a redwork pattern. Vintage illustrations or even coloring books can be used to create bluework designs.
Essential Supplies for Hand Bluework Embroidery
A few inexpensive supplies are all you need to get started with blue work:
- Fabric. Bluework is typically stitched on a solid white cotton muslin or linen. Some people dye the fabric with tea or coffee to give it a vintage look. The fabric should be prewashed to shrink it before embroidering.
- Embroidery floss. Six-strand, indigo blue embroidery floss is the traditional thread choice for hand bluework. Many different shades of blue embroidery thread are available. Use only one shade for each project. Embroidery floss has six strands that can be separated to create finer stitches. For very fine details, try using one strand, two strands for outline stitches, and four strands to create a very bold, heavy line.
- Embroidery needle. Sharps or embroidery needles in sizes 9 or 10 are recommended for hand bluework. Make sure the needle has a large enough eye to hold thick threads, and a sharp point to pierce the fabric.
- Embroidery hoop. Many hand stitchers use a hoop to stabilize the fabric while they stitch, but it isn’t required.
- Design transfer tools. Many commercial redwork/bluework patterns can simply be ironed onto the fabric. You can also trace the design onto the fabric by putting the fabric on top of the pattern on a lightbox or taped to a window, then tracing the design onto the fabric with a pencil or very fine permanent marker in a color close to the thread color. Make the line thin enough so the stitches can hide it completely. Designs can also be printed directly onto printable fabric sheets with an ink jet printer.
Bluework Embroidery Stitch Technique
The most common bluework stitches are:
- Outline stitch
- Stem stitch
- Split stem stitch (also called the Kensington stitch)
How to Find Bluework Embroidery Patterns
The easiest way to find bluework designs is to search the internet for redwork designs. Look for iron-on transfer designs that will be simple to transfer to your fabric. Some specialized embroidery retailers also offer patterns for redwork/bluework embroidery.
Bluework embroidery is an easy, cozy way to decorate quilts or items you use around the house.