The art of Redwork was born from a unique, colorfast dying process developed in Turkey where cotton could be dyed red. Until then only expensive silk was used for embroidery. Redwork or Turkey Redwork as it was sometimes called, spread through Europe and then America in the mid to late 1800s. The most popular application for redwork was on “penny squares,” which were squares of white muslin with a pre-printed design. Needle-workers wanting an authentic look stuck to primitive lettering and hand-drawn images.
Well before WWII, this fashion fell out of favor due to the availability of multiple embroidery thread colors and the advent of cross-stitch and crewelwork.
However, with the popularity of television programs featuring antique appraisals and auctions, Redwork is making a big comeback and commanding high prices. Aside from that, it’s a relaxing, rewarding pastime.
Below I have outlined instructions that adapt redwork embroidery into an eco-friendly, kid-friendly activity that travels well.
1 white, Styrofoam, clam shell take-out container
Red embroidery floss
Needle with a large enough eye to accommodate strands of floss
type/pictures from magazines or photocopies of book illustrations
Use a toothpick to draw or trace an image onto a take-out container. If your image is from a book, make a photocopy first so that the book is not damaged.
Thread your needle. (Helpful tip: embroidery floss is usually comprised of 6 strands. Using all of them at once can look clumsy. Try using 2 strands for body work and 1 strand for details.)
Insert the needle up through the back of the Styrofoam then back down to make a single stitch. Then poke the needle back up through the Styrofoam a space away from the first stitch. This is called the backstitch. Continue stitching until you’ve covered your image impression.
Other fun stitches to try are the chain stitch, blanket stitch, split stitch and stem stitch!