Thursday, January 24, 2008

Crazy Quilts and Redwork Embroidery

In America, Redwork embroidering grew out of or along with the Crazy quilt fad in the last decade of the 19th century. Women had not been making quilts as often as they had in former decades, in part because of the loss or injury of so many men who fought in the Civil War. Now many women had to earn money to support their family or run their farm or ranch. If they sewed, they did so out of necessity or for pay and usually it was sewing and repairing clothing. The women-owned quilting cottage industries had not yet begun.

Pieced and appliqu├ęd quilts were still being made in the last quarter as they were necessary; but fancy quilts, with little tiny pieces and lots of quilt stitches was uncommon. Fancy quilts took a long time to make and women still making them often needed to use them for warmth more than beauty. The prevailing message from home decorating magazines was that only the poor and country women have patchwork quilts on their beds anymore. The lady of leisure and affluence prefers store bought bed coverings. And so it was that women of leisure helped progress the art and use of embroidery on quilts in America in the late Victorian period.

Crazy quilts made between 1880 and 1890 are likely to show the most plentiful quantity and quality of embellishments that one could ever imagine. I have seen crazy quilts with three dimensional items, hand sewn and attached to the quilt inside of a patch also surrounded with a great fanfare of stitches. Sometimes a crazy quilt in the high-style is so filled with different stitches and colors of floss, the fabric is hardly noticeable. This heavily elaborated crazy top tells the viewer that this needleworker is very affluent; she has plenty of help around the house which leaves her the time to embroider this much, and extra money to afford to use imported silks, velvets, brocades and damasks. Often what appear to be fabric patches are actually silk ribbons that were quite wide and popular in that day. To view crazy patches before the embroidery has been added, see some of mine here.

Of course embroidery had been a favored form of needlework decorative arts for centuries in Europe and the British Isles. The Royal School of Art Needlework had an exhibit at the Centennial Fair in 1876 in Philadelphia. This world event is credited for opening American women's eyes to other forms of needlework they could learn, which resulted in the American crazy quilt we think of today. It became the fad of the last quarter of the 1800s to use thread, floss or wool in an outline stitch forming an object on muslin or a crazy patch. When a red fiber is used on muslin it is called redwork embroidery.

This was both an easy and an inexpensive way to enjoy needleworking. Not a lot of women were ladies of leisure, but they wanted to make their home linens and bedding more beautiful, and redwork offered that opportunity. Of course other colors of floss could be used in the same embroidered stitching and in fact was, but this is usually not referred to as redwork for short.
This is a bluework quilt that I made using early 20th century blue floss embroidered blocks and 1990s reproduction fabrics.

On a blog from Germany we can see a different way of using red floss for redwork. They incorporate more embroidery stitches than the outline or stem stitch. May 6 2007 post

An American quilter and ephemera collector, Louise Tiemann, has a blog worth checking out for many quilt related ephemera patterns and books, including information on patterns used for redwork designs quiltpapers. Scroll around her site to earlier posts for more patterns used for redwork and on crazy quilts.

A new website that features hundreds of stamping patterns from J.F.Ingalls
1886 catalogue
can now be accessed in a number of ways for your use.

Redwork quilts were usually made with sashing and borders, in solid fabrics, not prints. Blue and red were the most popular solids it seems. Women would each make a blocks and together they joined them into a quilt top which they quilted into a friendship quilt. Newspapers and magazine patterns were regularly offered for Redwork. Women could also purchase "penny squares,"around the turn of the century. This was a small square of muslin printed with the outline of a design on it which they could stitch with the red floss included for one penny total.

This is a quilt made with a wide variety of patterns available then. The blocks appear to be larger than penny squares. The quilters could have found these patterns in newspapers or through needlecraft companies.Women shared patterns and copied pictures out of books, as many of these animals look like those seen in coloring books of the day. Her finished quilt does not have sashing between the squares or a colorful border. This quilter wanted all the emphasis to be on her embroidery. The scallop edge with a red binding corresponds to the red outline stitch of each design. (from Sharon's Vintage Fabrics)

If you browse the Crazy styles of quilts in the Quilt Alliance's Quilt Index you will see (be sure to click on the image to enlarge it)the variety of styles that were produced during relatively short, but intense fad of this style; starting right after the 1876 Fair, they are simpler than the high-style, 1880-90-5 which are the most heavily embellished, and then wool, which took over as the more common style after 1900. Cotton and rayon fabrics were also used for crazy style patchwork quilts in the 20th century. The embroidery stitches were usually made in the feather or herringbone stitch with few, if any other embellishments embroidered on it. Whereas on wool patches, women put dates, initials, birds, animals, cities and other information using floss. The wool type with extra embroidery on the patches are sometimes called folk art quilts, quite popular on the antique market these days.

If you know of other redwork embroidery examples that are different from the ones I have pointed out here, share the link with us, won't you?


Friday, January 18, 2008

Rescue Animals

I know, I know, this isn't about quilts, but what quilter doesn't have a pet or want a pet or love another's pet?? So pitch in, this fundraiser is just asking you to click.

The Animal Rescue Site is having trouble getting enough people to click on it daily to meet their quota of getting free food donated every day to abused and neglected animals. It takes less than a minute (How about 20 seconds) to go to their site and click on the purple box 'fund food for animals' for free. This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors/advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate food to abandoned/neglected animals in exchange for advertising.Here's the web site! Pass it along to people you know.

I checked this out at, and it's true. Check it for yourself: the site below, you can also click to give at five other websites, including breast cancer. This is pretty simple. Please tell ten friends to tell ten today! - - Jan. 18, 2008 post.

Sewing Positions

I recently found a new and formerly unimaginable sewing position that is working very well when sewing bindings onto medium to large sized quilts - I am standing!

I took my Bernina out of it's sunken spot in a sewing table and put it onto a flat large table. I placed it to the right of middle and toward the middle of the width of the table's surface, not near the edge. This makes it impossible to use the knee attachment, but that's not a concern with bindings. An armless chair holds the quilt before it goes into the machine feed and the table holds it as it goes through the machine and out the back. There is no recognizable pull or drag on the quilt resulting from the machine being higher than the table, as I had expected there would be. I stand on one foot next to the chair, with my other foot on the peddle, holding the quilt as usual but standing up I have a better hold on it and I can sew fast and straight much better than when I'm sitting. I zip along with a great view from the top, with my shoulders down, back straight and no fabric stuffed on my lap or over my shoulders. It's more enjoyable to me.

Machine quilters are use to standing up, but it never occurred to me to try this with straight continuous sewing on my home machine.


Maybe I am the only one who hasn't, so I ask you, have you discovered sewing standing up when using your home machine? Do you do piecing this way? I would miss the convenience of the knee attachment and I think my foot would get tried.

Post a comment to let us know yes or no; details or tips are welcome!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Acid Green & Pink Quilts

This is a follow-up to the earlier post about acid green fabric. This is my Robbing Peter to Pay Paul quilt.

It probably dates to the 1880s. This color combination was quite popular then and much less popular in the 1890s, when red, blue, black and white combinations were the most common color combinations in quilts. Why? Synthetic fabric dyes for black and blue were being attempted in various shades starting in the 1880s. Red synthetic dyes began much earlier. Many of the synthetic dyes were not colorfast for nearly two decades.The red were not from the 1870s through to 1920. Why 1920? Because America finally figured out how to make excellent cotton dyes because of WWI, when they were unable to import their dyes from Germany. Proving once again that necessity IS the mother of invention.

Detail photo of this quilt's double pink fabric.

This is my scrap basket quilt. The basket is made with a madder print with a white and brown/black motif, 1870-1890 . Many of the double pinks are lighter in color than the RPtoPP, but they vary. The background of the block is a nice muslin fabric, the green has yellow motifs on it. The yellower center of the quilt is a reflection of the blue dye fading from the green leaving more yellow. The picture quality is so low you can't see the variety of fabrics and true colors. It sings pinks and greens.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Quilting Arts TV

There is now an online home for Quilting Arts TV with host Patricia Bolton. I received feedback from John Bolton at Interweave Press (QA Magazine publishers) today, Jan. 10th, saying the station finder will be launched this afternoon. He said the programs have not been delayed and are currently airing in over 300 markets. So let us know what you think by posting your comments!!

For those of you who can't get it in their area (and maybe that's what's going on in LA) they are releasing a CD of all the programs (13) in early Feb..

Click on "Program Notes" on their website menu and you can read an overview of each show. They sound terrific; a technique such as machine quilting, or photo transfer, a viewpoint such as quilting every day, or a theme such as landscape quilts are discussed in a show with a well known teacher in that field.

Click "Projects" and you will get PDF supply lists and instructions for each program and a picture of course.

What an asset this website appears to be for art quilters or those wanting to try it out and learn about it. The magazine Quilt Arts is one of my favorite magazines, in fact, it's the only how-to quilt magazine I now subscribe to besides Quilter's Newsletter which I love and have since the 1970s. I buy other how-to magazines in quilting and various crafts off the shelf on an as desired basis. I've kept boxes of older magazines from QNM, LCPQ, AQS, NQA, QT, TQ, McC, BHG, and some other International ones like France patchwork, Quilt Mania, and Australia's P&Q; they are filed by date, in easy access (thanks to a recent rearrangement of my attic files which placed them close to the entrance that is off my studio- how convenient, if only it weren't so hot or so cold to go in there!). I really enjoy going through old magazines and reading about what was popular when, what was the style of quilting, what was the newest tool, and what exhibits and shows were of interest when. Also, happily, many of the older magazines included history articles, often about an individual quilter who had passed on but left a legacy of family quilts.

Some of you may not know that I had a regular column in Traditional QuiltWorks magazine from 2000 to 2002 called "Quizzing the Quilt Historian." It was a Q&A feature based upon photos sent in from readers. This predated the common use of digital cameras and scanners, so most people sent actual photographs (remember those??) and their quality didn't always publish well in a magazine, which discouraged the publishers. Eventually the magazine was transformed into QuiltWorks Today Magazine by combining two of their magazines and my column was ended then. It was my pleasure to work for them and to date and describe the quilts that people sent to me via photos. Great fun and lots of wonderful quilts are held in private hands.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Acid Green Fabric

What do the early 19th century dyers of acid green fabrics and the Mad Hatter have in common? Mercury poisoning, and that's why acid greens are also called poison greens.

Acid greens may have yellow or black or dark brown motifs, or a combo.

I happen to love this color of fabric, but it can appear gaudy to contemporary eyes when placed next to the beautiful fondue printed plaids and serpentine chintz prints in mid-19th century quilts. It's easier on the eyes later in the century when placed next to jewel tone double pinks and dark browns and chocolates. (Did you see project Runway last week? They used Hershey chocolate products and premiums as their 'fabric" for the challenge. Great show! It will be re-run this Wed. before the new show if you missed it)

In fact, acid green prints with pink fabrics were a very popular two-color quilt combo in the 1880s. I have a robbing Peter to pay Paul quilt like this, and a scrap basket pieced blocks quilt in this combo with a rust madder brown for the scraps from this time period. Currently the scrap basket quilt is on a Victorian bed in a local museum, Carpinteria Historical Society Museum. RPtoPP is needing to get out more, he has been packed up for too long. I haven't ever taken him on a teaching trip, and I adopted him in 1993 or so.

Read more about mercury poisoning's interesting past in New York's hat manufacturing business in The Mad Hatter Mercury Mystery, by Peg Van Patten.


Get the word out

If you are affiliated with a quilt related historical place, or a place that has an antique quilt collection in addition to being an historical site, then this would be an online place for you to tell others about it and there is no fee. it is not specific to quilts, but the more info we can get out to the public about quilts the better!

FREE PUBLICITY WEBSITE FOR HISTORICAL ORGANIZATIONS is a new website for historical organizations to have free advertising on the Web. The site is the first comprehensive travel guide to historical places throughout the United States and the world, and historical organizations can add themselves to the database for free. The database allows visitors to cross-search their travel destination with their personal interests (i.e., Native American history, literature, famous people), which will produce a list of relevant sites they can visit during their travels. Organizations can add themselves by visiting For more information, contact Dale Berryhill at or (901) 762-8015.

Tell your friends by sending them to and in that way you help me get the word out about my blog too. Thank you!