Red Work in My Cupboard

January has been a fast month!  I have been busy finishing up some old projects and starting some new ones.   Organizing is still on my mind.  Today I was going through all of my red work pieces that I collected or inherited from my mother.  My favorite piece is a small crib size coverlet that was made for my mother by my grandmother in 1929.  Nursery rhyme characters are stitched in turkey red thread to make up the nine squares. And my grandmother dated the little gem of a quilt making it even more special.  


History is always a part of my handwork and embroidery. These are real things done by real people...each with their own story.  Here is a basic primer on red work. Red thread for embroidery was developed in Turkey over 200 years ago. Up until then the red thread used in hand embroidery was not colorfast and therefore “ran” when laundered. Turkey red thread solved the problem which made it very popular for hand stitching in ante bellum (pre-Civil War) America.  Six inch squares of muslin fabric with a printed motif and red thread to stitch it could be purchased for a penny at the local general store.  The children practiced their hand embroidery skills using these little squares

Another “find” for my collection is a twin bed size coverlet.  A Sunday school class made the coverlet for their Sunday school teacher in 1918.  It consists of sixty embroidered red work penny squares all using a different floral motif.  All students signed their squares.  Additional signatures adorn the sides and the center of the coverlet.


My thoughts always go to the story behind the needlework.  Who made it? Where was it made? How old was the person who made it?  And oftentimes…why wasn’t the piece finished?  All interesting questions that mostly go unanswered. The take away from those unanswered questions: SIGN AND DATE YOUR WORK!!!


I always keep a little sewing basket of red work (or blue work) by my favorite chair where I can usually squeeze in a little stitching time. Next time we will explore blue work.



By Ginger Mangie