Ever since I started embroidery a few years ago, simple vintage designs featuring pretty flowers and helpful little animals have been one of my favourite go-tos. There is something so pleasing about their simplicity, and they’re so easy and quick to stitch. Perfect for beginners, and perfect for adding handstitched touches here and there without it taking too long. And that’s exactly what redwork embroidery is all about!
I’m the absolute worst when it comes to deciding what to embroider because there are just SO many options! I’m working on improving my own doodling and drawing skills to be able to stitch more of my own designs, but I do love working with vintage and historical designs – and what better place to browse for them than Pinterest? Which can easily end up taking hours since we all know Pinterest is a most wonderful vortex of endless ideas! And if choosing or coming up with a design wasn’t time-consuming already, choosing floss colours can take just as long!
An easy solution to that demanding conundrum is to opt for a single-colour technique like Redwork.
What is Redwork?
As you might have guessed, rework is embroidery worked entirely in red thread, typically on white fabric (like linen or cotton). It emerged in the late 19th century, when red was one of the only colourfast dyed threads available on the market. Easily accessible to people of all classes, it was often worked on schoolgirls’ samplers and embroidered on various home items such as pillows and tablecloths. Its popularity endured well into the 20th century and is still practiced today, especially on quilts and other patchwork. Redwork designs are typically very simple and full of old country charm. It features things like Sunbonnet Sues, flowers, fruits and vegetables, birds, and other cute little animals. Of course, there are no limits to what you can choose to embroider in redwork! Any design of your choice worked entirely in red thread can constitute redwork.
Advantages of Redwork
Redwork is probably one of the most beginner-friendly types of embroidery out there. If you’re looking to start stitching, a redwork project would be an excellent place to start. Not only don’t you have to worry about colours, but redwork designs are usually all worked in basic outline stitches, using very few variations and little to no filling. Typical stitches used in redwork include the backstitch, split stitch, stem stitch, French knot, lazy-daisy, and sometimes a bit of satin stitch. You can easily decide to combine as few or as many as you want.
Even for the seasoned embroiderer, the charm and simplicity of redwork lends itself beautifully to handmade accents for the kitchen or the sewing room. Plus, if you don’t worry about filling in any shape, it’s so quick to stitch!
I had been wanting to try redwork for a while now, ever since falling in love with those cute, whimsical vintage patterns found all over the Internet. This box project was the perfect opportunity. In an effort to further organize my embroidery supplies, I decided to convert an empty Lindt chocolate box into a nice cozy home for them. As always, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide what to embroider on the lid…in the end, I finally decided to try redwork thanks to my fabric choice.
I have this bag of miscellaneous quilting cotton squares (used for anything except quilting, apparently) and I had just the right amount of the red gingham ones to go around the box to cover it. And what would look better paired with red gingham than redwork!
I chose a vintage “sew on Wednesday” design found via Pinterest, modified a little by adding my own quote. You can see the original here.
I worked most of it in backstitch and splitstich. I also used lazy-daisy for the flowers and some straight stitches here and there. It was super quick and easy! Using only one colour made it so much easier to re-thread the needle and carry the project with me for on-the-go stitching! I used two strands of DMC no. 816 for the entire design.
I love filling blank spaces, so naturally I had to add a few other decorative touches, and found some little scraps of lace and the cutest buttons in the perfect shade of red.
I sewed my little 3×3’’ gingham squares together to go around the lid, and then I stitched them to the redworked fabric for the lid top. More squares were sewn together to go around the bottom of the box, and hot glued them to the inside to hold in place.
Turns out hot glue + fabric create bulk! No! Who would have thought?! Lo and behold, said bulk made the lid too small for the bottom and my box could no longer close…OOPS. Clearly I did not think this through. Guess that’s why they always told us not to mix fabric and glue in Costume Studies, lol!!
At least, I had started with the lid and the bottom was yet untouched. I was able to cut open one side and cut off a bit of the box bottom to make it smaller to fit under the lid. I can’t cut a straight line to save my life so it turned out crooked, but you can’t tell once the box is closed. And it closes so that’s all that matters!! 😉
Overall I’m very happy with it despite its imperfections. It makes a charming addition to my attempts at organizing, and my little birds remind me to stitch everyday 😊. It really is an easy project to do, the possibilities are endless and it’s a great way to recycle a perfectly good, sturdy box. Pick any fabric you like to cover it, and embroider or decorate it however you want! (wow, I really don’t make it easy to narrow down choices, do I??)
Let me know your thoughts on redwork in the comments! I hope you try it and are as charmed by it as I was.
The book Simply Redwork by Mandy Shaw (published by David & Charles in the UK, 2014) and the article “Black and Blue and Red All Over” from the Embroidery Library website (last accessed March 25th, 2021) were consulted to learn more about the history of Redwork.