Welcome to 2010 .. the New Year has me off working on my designs site.  It is truly a daunting task to find art that you are allowed to replicate and sell, digitize it, sample it, load it on the site, define the design, and ready it for sale and distribution.  No matter how tough, our staff can do it.  One of the sections that I have added and have been working on is our REDWORK section.  Redwork seems simplistic, but, when you are trying to digitize for it, it is not as easy as the final product looks.

For those that don't know what REDWORK is, redwork is an embroidery design that uses red thread (originally called "turkey-red" in the late 1800's).  Today, with the availability of many colors of thread, the term redwork is now used for a certain type of embroidery; any color of thread is used now to trace the outline of line-drawings .. some are simple designs, and others get quite involved.  Redwork is enjoying a revival of sorts, which I directly relate to the internet and the designs available on embroidery design sites.  Redwork is typically found on quilts and home furnishings (coverlets, dish towels, laundry bags, pillow covers, etc.).  The 'commoners' in the late 1800's used cotton thread due to its availability and color-fastness; wealthier folks used silk thread.

For you history buffs, redwork was originally called the Kensington stitch due to the fact that it was created at the Royal School of Art Needlework in Kensington, England.

Some think that redwork is solely running stitches, whether they be stem-stitches or quilt-stitches.  It is not commonly known that satin stitches can be used sparsely in redwork designs to fill in small areas, and where dots are needed, the french-knot is a great stitch to use.

All these factors come into play when digitizing for redwork.  First, I treat the design as a typical embroidery design; I load the art on my computer screen and visually run through the design to see how I want it to run.  Typically I try to make the design run without any trims so it starts and doesn't stop embroidering until the design is finished.  Now a trick my grandmother used to use when she did this type of work by hand was that she would use TWO strands of thread for areas that need more of a dense look and stuck to one strand for the lighter/finer areas.  Remember, the lighter floss thread she used to use was much finer than our standard 40# embroidery thread we use on our machines.  So, today I CHEAT!  I repeat segments of the design if I feel an area needs more density.  I also use light satin and light fill stitches for effect, also.  Grandma wouldn't be impressed with my machine embroidery skills, but she'd be proud that I'm not in jail !!

Other than the larger thread size, the tools I use for redwork on embroidery machines are similar to the delicate tools used by hand embroiderers.  The needle that I use is a light-weight size 65/9 so the needle penetrations are small for the delicate work.  I also try to limit the use of my backing.  When I feel I can use a backing, I use a light tearaway.  When I think a backing will be "distracting" to the work, I use a water-soluble topping as my stabilizer; I do this often, not just for redwork.

Some recommendations that I would make regarding your redwork project:
Make sure the thread you use is colorfast.  Items that adorn redwork are typically laundered.  And, red thread typically migrates TO the material during laundering, so, takes all efforts to further set the color by soaking it in water/vinegar bath (my mom's idea, so don't blame me if your pillowcase smells like an Olive Garden's salad).  
If you are going to digitize for redwork, try to stick to ONE or TWO stitch types.  Remember, redwork is supposed to be a one-color design and simplistic in it's look .. no matter how difficult/complex the design is.  And, be concerned with designs with TOO much detail may not work since the design is done in all one color.  
Great themes for redwork are days of the week, holiday designs, bible stories, and nursery rhymes.

Comments (8) -

cherrylmaree 1/9/2010 7:30:40 AM

Thankyou...very interesting and well written

popper2350 1/9/2010 9:06:06 AM

Great blog Rick! I always appreciate a bit of history along with what we are doing. you are correct that digitizing redwork really is a little more complex than it looks but no matter I still love the vintage look for so many things . I just love digitizing it though, it is sew much fun.

I can remember my Grandmother sitting and embroidering by hand onto flour sacks towels and feed sack as well.

Oh and I'm glad you're not in jail too, I would miss your blogs so much!

I also enjoy a bit of history with a lesson.  Thank you for your informaion.

I've tried a similar process for quilting.  It is fun to see stitch-outs that you have personally created.

has anyone seen the redwork kitties around the world lately? i got it about 5 years ago and my computer and back up discs were stolen and now i can't find them? also a great chef redwork? they were all free. if anyone knows where i can find them let me know at thanks

this bio of rick is fantastic! i wish him well. it seems like he is really giving a lot of legitimacy to our craft that many just pass off as rich'old women's wasteful and costly pastime. thanks rick

wasteful, definitely not .. costly, well, what hobby isnt costly?! ha  .. i have 15 fishing rods and reels that my wife reminds me for the price of that equipment, we could fly to Tahiti, eat at the best seafood restaurants for 2 weeks and still spend less than my fishing equipment costs !!

But this craft is very legitimate .. as a matter of fact, the "home" embroiderers are MUCH better at embroidery than the commercial embroiderers.  You are not a production facility just trying to get out piece after piece .. you take your time and make sure the whole project is 100% perfect ..

I admire all of you ..


A very interesting article!  I, too, appreciated the bit of history on this art form as well as, of course, the technical information provided.  Thanks!!

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