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 appliquéd 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?