In quilting, traditional Redwork is the art of patterning using only red and white fabric. The red fabric is solid red and/or various shades of red within fabrics. The solid white fabric is used to hold hand embroidery sewn with dark red threads, including embroidery floss and pearl cotton.
I was drawn to Redwork because of the beauty in its simplicity. Many Redwork embroidery patterns can be found in books and freely downloaded from the internet. The patterns are usually, children, faces, flowers, birds, animals and fruit. One drawback is that all of the faces reflect one culture. To solve this problem, you can make your own pattern. Make a copy of a photograph and using a lightbox, tape the copy onto the lightbox (to secure it), tape your white fabric over the copy, and then trace using a pencil. If you do not have a lightbox, you can tape everything to a window and use the outside light to trace. You can use a simple stem stitch and add others, such as chain and feather, as the need arises.
The Redwork pillow shown above left is my first Redwork project. Another technique I like is called Stumpwork; it is raised embroidery with threads and wire. I used Stumpwork on the pillow and on The Quilt With Many Names.
The image on the pillow is my great grandmother, Margaret Maynard (1854-1942). Margaret was born a slave in Fitzgerald, Georgia. She told four things of slavery: 1. she had her own drinking cup; 2. she was sitting on a fence when soldiers marched through the plantation where she lived; 3. the soldiers said to her, "You're free, honey;" and 4. she refused to tell other stories, only that whatever bad thing you can imagine happened during that time.
After the Redwork pillow, I wanted to tackle a full sized quilt and next came The Quilt With Many Names because at different times in this quilt's life, it has been called Bitches Brew, Nine Wild Women, Witches Brew, Wise Women Brewing, and Nine Wise Witches.
The Quilt With Many Names began as a scrap quilt, meaning no new fabric, only fabric I had in my stash. But as the quilt progressed, and I saw how big it wanted to become, its size surpassed the amount of red and white fabric in my stash. So, the quilt morphed into what I call a Redwork Variation, meaning that most of the fabric is strictly red and white, but some of the fabrics have other colors. You will see hints of green, yellow and blue. The middle block is traditional Redwork. Its themes are apparent and set the mood for the rest of the quilt.
Then the quilt began to grow around the middle block in a technique called “on point,” where blocks are set on the point of the block instead of its vertical or horizontal side. The wise/witch dolls came next, then the bubbling cauldron and then the Redwork embroidery of the young woman situated next to the magic sticks stirring the cauldron mixture. The young woman is depending on the wisdom of the wise woman to show her, her steady path.
The nine wise/witch dolls represent flora, mother, chef, prosperity, wisdom, mender, divination, artisan and healer. The dolls are made from wooden rods covered with batting and dressed in their particular clothes and tools. Each doll’s face is covered by an antique iron key. My mother, Christine Shefton Richardson (1912-1992), canned vegetables, made pickles, piccalilli and applesauce. She also put white string through red peppers to hang them in her kitchen to dry. The chef doll is holding one of my mother's dried peppers that I rescued after her death.
The Quilt With Many Names was first called Bitches Brew, and I created an artist book to document the process. The Bitches Brew Pensive includes water colors, a miniature quilted nine patch block, calligraphy, machine quilted pages, acrylic paints, threads, buttons, sequins, clay, wood, antique keys and lace. It’s dated 10/18/05. Reading this Pensive again is reminding me of the journey the quilt and I took. I think I might make other artist books to document the journeys of quilts I will make in the future. One humorous thing about the Bitches Brew Pensive is that I used American flag fabric on the back. Not sure what I was thinking about, or perhaps I was just focused on using red fabric from my stash.
Lastly, the quilt takes the shape of a curtained window. Like looking into the next life, the new life, the steady life beyond, our destiny.
Final words about Redwork. You can also do Blackwork, Greenwork or Bluework. Same rules apply. For example, in Blackwork, use black and white fabric and black embroidery floss on the white fabric.
The word Redwork has become a utility word, like pampers means disposable diapers and not necessarily the trademark product, Pampers. In these instances of Black, Green or Blue, you simply say Redwork in Black, etc.
I will share Redwork in Black, Green and Blue (in progress) in later posts. I’m also thinking about Goldwork and Purplework. Who knows? The possibilities are endless.
Whitework, on the other hand, is different. There are no variations, only white on white in white. The quilt on my bed is Whitework. Below is a sneak peek at Redwork in Green in the form of a quilted artist book.
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