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Thursday, January 29, 2015


What is it? As we understand it, Redwork is a combination of using red and white fabric, along with some red embroidery. The era for this stitchery in the US was 1885 to 1935. Designs were stitched on pillow shams, towels, splashers for washstands, tablecloths, napkins, dresser scarves and bedcovers. Many were stitched in one color of red cotton thread, known as ‘Turkey Red,’ on a white linen background.  

First seen in Europe the stitchery was called "Turkey work" referring to the name of the red thread, a color fast dye (Turkey Red) that had been developed more than 200 years ago, though its recipe still remains a mystery. This cotton thread became quite popular because it was color fast and was not nearly as expensive as the silk threads used during that period.

Redwork patterns began to come into the US in the form of 6” muslin squares that were printed with simple patterns in red ink. You could find these squares in any General Store. The stitching quite simple. In fact they were so easy everyone, young and old, could do them.  These 6” squares became known as “penny squares” for children to practice their sewing and embroidery skills.

The majority of the redwork quilts were made for children and were meant to be used and washed. These "embroidered picture quilts" often featured pictures that were of interest to children. The squares were sometimes personalized with the name of the child or a favorite pet or family member. Other "outline quilts" were made as presentation quilts, friendship quilts, remembrance quilts and fund raising quilts that combined embroidered names with stitched images.

In time women began to use blue embroidery floss in the same way. This became known as Bluework. One color for all the blocks in one quilt. Now quilters are taking the designs and doing both Redwork and Bluework and evolving it many other ways. A local quilter and longtime co-worker at The Cotton Club has made a wonderful chicken top drawing of 12 different chickens and embroidering them with red variegated pearl cotton then using assorted fabric on the pieced corners to form a connector block.

Redwork continues to thrive and develop.  The white and red fabrics are not necessarily solid colors – they might have prints on them and the colors of reds, whites, beiges might vary in value just in one quilt.  Some quilts are now even embroidered using varying shades of red thread as well. However the stitchery and embroidery designs remain to be quite simple.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Threads of Many Colors and Fibers Too!

Which is the right one to use when and why do we offer what we offer?

We have always heard and still agree that using 100% cotton thread is still the best thing for cotton quilts. However, now with quilts being used in more ways, we find quilters are willing to use other threads for a variety of reasons and so are we. Quilts are no longer used just for bedding, so not every quilt made has to endure many washings and hard use. The silk, polyester and rayon threads allow us to get new elements into the quilting, but they aren't for every situation. Decorative stitching can be added to make the quilt prettier, more interesting or fun or a piece of art. Thread painting and machine embroidery has become very popular among crafters and artists alike.  Below we only hope to offer you a guide for the selection of thread in relation to its use.

In general, we almost always use cotton for piecing, whether by hand or machine.

However – again depending on the quilt’s use, wear and tear – if there are lots of tiny pieces, like there would be in Paula Nadelstern's Kaleidoscope blocks, then we love our 100% Cotton Fine Thread (120 weight) for machine piecing. It reduces the bulk in the seam allowance.
For piecing quilts with larger pieces or quilts that will receive more wear, i.e. a baby quilt, we love 100% Cotton Silk-Finish Mettler - 50 weight 3-ply. We carry the twelve most popular solid colors and all 54 variegated colors.  All Mettler silk-finish cotton thread is mercerized which creates that beautiful silk-like sheen, high breaking resistance, color fastness and optimal elongation.

Sidebar:  Variegated colors are ideal for machine quilting, machine embroidery and other special thread effects. We especially love the Mettler Silk Finish 50-weight variegated colors because the colors change at regular 1” intervals, therefore creating that lovely variegated look.  Aurifils variegated thread changes color more spread out and more randomly in length, therefore the effect might appear more “stripey, or bunched,”   for lack of better term. So in truth, as a more decorative look, it just depends on what you want.

The 100% Cotton Aurifil 50 weight 2-ply is good for peicing too, but it is a 2 ply so it isn't as strong as the Mettler 3-ply. To us, Mettler, is still the utilitarian thread.

However, that being said – we do tend to recommend the Aurifil 50-weight 2-ply thread as a universal thread.  Though truthfully consideration should be given to how much wear and tear the quilt will receive. And because it is only a 2-ply thread, it will reduce seam allowance bulk, it is great for wall-hangings, heirloom quilts, hand and machine appliqué, as well as machine quilting.

When we took a thread painting class locally, we noticed the Aurifil had the ability to absorb more light and therefore produced more beautiful motifs. It was far superior to any of the other cottons being used which were duller, but, of course, even it doesn't have the brilliance of the rayon and metallics and NOW gorgeous trilobal polyesters - the newest addition to our thread family - more below.

The Invisafil polyester thread is whole new generation. When Harriet Hargraves introduced Heirloom Machine quilting – over 25 years ago, some quilters didn't take to it right away because of the monofilament thread.

Now, with Invisafil, we see a whole new generation of machine quilters as well as hand and machine appliqué because it takes very close inspection to find it at all. Invisafil is a 2-ply 100-weight soft polyester thread.  It can be ironed.  It will disappear into the fabric.

Another use for Invisafil is to use it as the bobbin thread for machine embroidery. By its nature embroidery thread produces bulk, therefore if you use Invisafil in the bobbin will make the end result much lighter and softer. Or stipple with it to enhance your finished quilting work.  And it is taking the machine and hand appliqué world be storm because it virtually hides into the fabric.

We thought we would see it replace monofilament altogether until we discovered Madeira 60 weight Monofilament – smoke and clear – and the thread of choice for art quilter Barbara Shapel. Oh my, it is nice. It too has been added to our thread family.

And last but not least – Kimono Silk thread.  This is a 100-weight, 2-ply filament silk thread, and the finest Japanese thread made.  Because it is silk, it naturally has a lustrous sheen and excellent strength.  There are 80 colors available which gives you 20 more choices in color for machine or hand appliqué than the Invisafil thread.

When all is said and done, it all does come down to your own preference.  And if you do think about how the quilt will be used (wear), or the effect you wish to create, then hopefully the information above will guide you towards the right direction.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Here's something a former co-worker of ours was given and we are just passing it on. (Let us know if you think you deserve credit for this method. Also, please keep in mind that we have not tried it ourselves, therefore we do not wish to appear we are recommending or endorsing the method, just sharing.) Here goes:  2 c. water
1/4 t. soda ash
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. Procion dye

  1. Mix above ingredients in large (2 quart) bowl - one that will NOT be used for food preparation later. 
  2. Add 2 yards fabric and let fabric soak up all the liquid. I scrunched the fabric up for a mottled affect.
  3. Cover bowl with Saran Wrap. 
  4. Microwave on HI for four minutes. 
  5. Poke a hole in the Saran Wrap IMMEDIATELY after microwaving. (This step is VERY important as it will allow steam built up during microwaving process to be released slowly - STEAM IS HOT - BE CAREFUL - TAKE PRECAUTIONS TO NOT BURN YOURSELF WHEN DOING THIS.)  
  6. Rinse fabric until water runs clear - and we all know how long that takes! Actually, this method seems to lessen the rinsing step.
NOTE: The member who passed this along tried this: She mixed a batch of the water/soda ash/salt solution, then used 1/4 cup in a 2-cup measuring cup with a 1/4 teaspoon of dye and 1/4 yard of fabric. For darker (or lighter) color, she would adjust dye amount for desired intensity.
If you're game - give it a shot, tell us how it worked.

Enjoy and have fun!