Vintage Style of Hand Embroidery Stitched in Red is Popular Again
Redwork embroidery designs, known for their old-time charm, are easy enough for just about anyone to sew. Hand redwork’s must-have element is red embroidery floss.
Redwork embroidery got its name from the colorfast red embroidery thread that first became widely available in the late 1800s. After going out of favor for decades, redwork is back in style today and being stitched on quilts, linen towels, and other accessories for home décor. See the photos at the bottom of the page for some examples of contemporary redwork embroidery.
The basic redwork technique is to stitch over an outline drawing on a solid white or tea-dyed cotton muslin or linen fabric background. Any redwork design can also be stitched in blue thread, in which case it is called bluework, in black thread, which is called black redwork, or any other color thread. Red is by far the most popular color, though.
Popular Redwork Embroidery Designs
Redwork designs drawn in the style of the 1920s and 1930s are very popular today. Holiday patterns, Mother Goose and other nursery rhyme characters, animals, flowers, Sunbonnet Sue, and hoop-skirted ladies are all favorite redwork themes. Any line drawing that doesn’t have too much detail can be adapted into a redwork pattern. Some stitchers use coloring books or vintage illustrations to create redwork designs.
Essential Supplies for Hand Redwork Embroidery
There are just a few special supplies you’ll need to get started with redwork:
- Background fabric. Redwork is typically stitched on a solid white cotton muslin or linen. Some people like to give the finished piece an antique look by dyeing the background fabric with tea or coffee. Prewash the fabric to shrink it before stitching.
- Embroidery floss. Six-strand embroidery floss in red is the preferred thread for hand redwork. Many different shades of red embroidery floss are available. Use only one shade for each project. Red threads are notorious for bleeding, so test for colorfastness and avoid getting your embroidery wet while you work. Don’t moisten the thread to put it through the needle – use a needle threader instead. If you are going to wash the finished item, consider soaking the thread in water or a vinegar bath before you start, to avoid color bleeding later. Embroidery floss has six strands that can be separated to create finer stitches. Try using one strand for very fine details, two strands for most outline stitches, and four strands for a very bold line of stitches.
- Embroidery needle. Sharps or embroidery needles in sizes 9 or 10 are good for hand redwork. Make sure the needle you choose has a sharp point and a large enough eye to hold thicker threads.
- Hoop. Many hand stitchers like to use an embroidery hoop to hold the fabric taut while they stitch.
- Design transfer tools. Many commercial redwork patterns come in an iron-on format, which makes transferring the design onto the fabric easy. 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 very fine permanent marker in a color close to the thread color, a pencil, or . The drawn line should be thin enough that the stitches can hide it completely. Designs can also be printed directly onto the fabric by using an ink jet printer and printable fabric sheets. These are available at any fabric or craft store.
Redwork Embroidery Stitch Technique
Several basic embroidery stitches are commonly used for redwork:
- Outline stitch
- Stem stitch
- Split stem stitch (also called the Kensington stitch)
Where to Find Redwork Embroidery Patterns
The internet is a great place to look for redwork designs, especially if you are just getting started. Look for iron-on transfer designs that will be simple to transfer to your fabric.
Try redwork embroidery to give a cheery, cozy look to a quilt, a hand towel, a tablecloth, or any decorative item around your house.