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Marketing Redwork

During the 1880s, Redwork supplies became accessible across the nation. Widely distributed American women's magazines such as The Ladies' Home Journal and Godey's Lady's Book published embroidery patterns, listed advertisements for patterns, and offered patterns and Redwork stamping kits as premiums for subscribers. Newspapers and journals also carried advertisements for pattern companies, thread manufacturers, needlework products and local sources for these items.

Supplies could be purchased through the mail or at local department stores, fabric stores (called "dry goods stores"), or even at small businesses specializing in Redwork. Some of these outlets also offered customized patterns for their customers. Today, Redwork designs can also be obtained through the Internet.
Photo of Boy's Quilt  

Boy’s Quilt
Emilie Ann Clarke
Detroit, Michigan
72” x 84”
MSUM #6119.12
Clarke Family Quilt Collection

The Clarke Family quilt collection, given to Michigan State University Museum in 1986 by Dr. Harriet A. Clarke and her brother, George M. Clarke, includes forty-five quilts and quilt tops completed between 1926 and 1946 by Bozena Vilhemina Clarke, her daughter Laura May Clarke, and daughter-in-law Emilie Ann Clarke. The collection also includes numerous hand-made templates and patterns, unique hand-colored graphs of planned quilts, newspaper and magazine clippings, and personal inventory notes written by the quilters. Because the Clarke quilt collection represents virtually the entire output of quilts made by one family over a 20-year period and the supplemental materials reflect the entire quiltmaking process from inception to completion, it offers a unique glimpse into the quilting lives of one family. The collection also provides an excellent study example for understanding quilting activity in Detroit during this period and the relationship of the Clarke family quilters to the regional and national rejuvenation of interest in quiltmaking and home arts of the 1920s to the 1940s.

For a pair of children’s quilts, Emilie Clark pieced together squares featuring outline embroidered pictorial images. This quilt, known by the family as the “Boy’s Quilt,” features designs rendered mostly in blue embroidery floss. After World War I, colorfast cotton embroidery threads became available in a variety of colors. As other dye colors became more stable, outline in other colors became increasingly popular. Post-1910, bluework, or all blue embroidery designs, became more common. Emilie completed a companion quilt, known as “Girl’s Quilt” whose designs include florals, “kewpies,” and sunbonnet figures.

Redwork as Income

Redwork demands skill in stamping (transferring designs onto fabric) and in embroidery (stitching the designs). Both embroidery and stamping for others became a way for individuals, usually women, to earn money in the home. Stamping pattern companies even recruited women to become professional stampers.

Most Redwork embroidery was done by the person who purchased a stamped design but in some cases, particularly in items produced as fundraisers, a talented embroiderer was recruited to do the needlework.
Redwork: Design Types, Designers, Sources, and Influences

Designs used by needlework artists in Redwork are varied and reflect individual interests and creativity as well as social, political, and artistic influences. Many designs were of images or motifs thought to be closely associated with woman's domestic experiences: children, animals, birds, flowers, nursery rhymes, characters from children's fiction, household items, women's hairstyles, and fashion accessories such as fans or purses. Redwork designs were also made to commemorate significant events or important elements of popular culture in our nation's history, such as the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

Certain designs were intended to be used on particular types of textiles. For instance, designs with the phrases "Good Morning" and "Good Night" were intended as pillow shams. By the early twentieth century a number of Redwork designs were developed and marketed specifically for use on quilt blocks.

Most designs and motifs used in Redwork were professionally drawn by illustrators and then commercially distributed. Although most designers were anonymous, two were well known. Artist Kate Greenaway was known for her drawings of children and flowers and Ruby McKim, for her designs often used for quilt blocks.

Redwork stitchers also created their own patterns. Their designs were often inspired by fashion illustrations, children's books, advertisements, political cartoons, teacher manuals, and wallpaper designs.

The designs used on a particular textile are important clues to dating the work, because many designs can be traced to specific manufacturers or relate to specific events in history.
Photo of Redwork quilt  

Redwork Quilt
Betty Quarton Hoard and Winnie Quarton
Birmingham, Michigan
ca. 1929
72” x 85”
MSUM #2006:142.1
Durkee-Blakeslee-Quarton-Hoard Family Collection

The Durkee-Blakeslee-Quarton-Hoard Collection consists of quilts representing four generations of women from Oakland County, Michigan. Concern that family pets might damage a collection of pristine family quilts prompted Betty Quarton Hoard to donate seventeen quilts made by her grandmother, Martha L. Durkee Blakeslee, great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Beardslee Durkee, and mother, Emma Blakeslee Quarton, to the Michigan State University Museum. Following Betty’s death in 2005, her family donated an additional three quilts, including this quilt made by Betty and her sister Winnie.

Oakland County, Michigan has been home to members of the family, since 1823 when Betty’s forebear Wilkes Durkee moved from Cayuga County, New York to the town of Franklin. Betty's grandfather, Frank Blakeslee, owned a dry goods store in Birmingham, the city in which resided. Betty recalled that the boxes of fabric, lace, and other notions that were available from the family's store always provided her with scraps from which to make doll clothes. Ownership of the store undoubtedly contributed to the eclectic variety of fabric found throughout the family's quilts.

Betty's own quilting began with this detailed Redwork piece created with her sister, Winnie. The project commenced when Betty was about fourteen, an age she thought was too old for this task and thus she only completed around four of the blocks. Winnie finished the remainder. The motifs embroidered on blocks set with a red sashing include numerous depictions of nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

Redwork and Fundraising Quilts

A strong and longstanding quilt tradition is the use, especially by women, of quilts to raise money for a wide variety of causes. Individuals and organizations have made thousands of dollars by making and selling, raffling, and auctioning off quilts. A particularly effective means of raising funds is through the making of subscription quilts, a form in which individuals, businesses, and organizations pay a small amount of money for the privilege of having their name inscribed on a quilt in support of a particular local, national, or even international cause. When other avenues to engage in support for these causes were denied women, making subscription quilts proved an effective tool to demonstrate their convictions and to channel skills and energies that would make a difference in the causes they believed in.

Names on subscription quilts were often done in Redwork. Because their primary purpose was to raise funds, the design and construction of subscription quilts were generally, though not always, simple. Many of these forms of quilts show little or no wear and are still extant in good condition, partially because these quilts were designed to be used as fundraisers and only incidentally, if at all, as bedcoverings, and partially because subscription quilts have been kept by organizations and individuals as documents of history. Many have been recorded in state and regional quilt documentation projects.
Photo of Ishpeming Fundraising quilt  

Ishpeming Fundraising Quilt
Maker unknown
Ishpeming, Michigan
81 ¾” x 81 ½”
MSUM #2006:128.1
Gift of Walnut Creek Historical Society

This quilt includes the names of more than 400 church members who contributed money to the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Ishpeming, Michigan. The names are placed around a center block commemorating the congregation’s newly built church building. The majority of surnames are Cornish, reflecting one of the ethnic groups represented in the mining population of Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula.

The Methodist Episcopal Society of Ishpeming, Michigan held their services in a schoolhouse from 1867 until their first church was built in 1869. A foundation for a new church was laid in 1891 on North Third Street, but economic conditions and labor problems halted the project, and instead Ishpeming Greenhouses was eventually constructed on the foundation. Later, a new church was built on the site of the original church at Division and Second streets. The new church was completed in 1903 and was known as the First Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1955, the church was renamed Wesley Methodist Church following a merger with another congregation. The church building depicted on the quilt was razed in 1972 following a fire. Wesley Methodist Church can currently be found on Hemlock Street in Ishpeming.

Glossary of Needlework Terms

  • Batting - The middle layer of a quilt that provides padding and warmth.
  • Blanket or Buttonhole Stitch - A stitch sometimes used around the edges of a finished Redwork quilt or coverlet.
  • Featherstitch - A rounded, looped stitch used to cover joined seams (the point where two pieces of fabric are stitched together). During the late nineteenth century, the term Featherstitch was also used to describe a Herringbone Stitch.
  • Herringbone Stitch - A stitch comprised of crossed lines sometimes used to cover joined seams.
  • Muslin - A plain woven cotton fabric in a natural or bleached white color.
  • Penny Square - Muslin squares with stamped designs. Penny squares could be purchased for a penny at local department or fabric stores.
  • Splasher - A textile hung behind a washstand or sink to prevent walls from being splashed with water.
  • Stamping - A technique used to transfer Redwork designs to fabric.
  • Stamping Outfit - A craft kit that was sold to needleworkers. The kit included patterns, instructions, and supplies to transfer designs onto cloth in preparation for embroidery.
  • Stem Stitch - The basic stitch used in Redwork. It is a ropelike stitch that forms an unbroken line, giving the effect that the image has been sketched onto the fabric. A Stem Stitch is similar to an Outline Stitch.
  • Summer Spread - A single layer coverlet with finished edges or a lined coverlet that contains no batting.
  • Tidy - A textile used to protect the back, arms, or headrest of a chair or sofa from wear and soil.
  • Tied - A technique used to hold the layers of a quilt together using tied knots rather than quilting stitches.
    Photo of Splasher  

    “Clean Hearts and a Pure Heart” Splasher
    ca. 1900
    29 7/8” x 20 ¾”
    MSUM #2001:160.14
    Deborah Harding Redwork Collection

    Water-related motifs, such as swans, cranes, cattails, frogs, lily pads, or children engaging in activities like boating, fishing, or swimming were usually intended to be used on splashers.

    Redwork: Techniques of Transferring Designs to Fabric

    Redwork decoration on fabric is done by embroidering (or sewing stitches) over a design that has been directly drawn onto fabric or a design that has been transferred to the fabric from another source. Several methods can be used to transfer a design.

    Perforated paper technique: Designs are printed or drawn on thick, stiff paper and then small holes are pricked along the pattern lines to create a perforated pattern. A powder is rubbed over the holes which results in small dots in the same design on the fabric. Perforated patterns could be purchased or made at home and could be used multiple times. Stamping kits-- including a box of dark powder, one of light powder, and devices known as pounces to distribute the powder were widely advertised in women's magazines for purchase or as premiums. As an alternative to powders, stamping ink, sometimes in the form of wax cakes, could be used with perforated patterns.

    Iron-on transfer technique: A hot iron is pressed against the back of a pattern sheet. The iron's heat transfers the design to the fabric.

    Carbon paper transfer technique: Carbon paper or tracing paper is placed between the design and the fabric. Tracing the design transfers it to the fabric.

    As the popularity of Redwork grew, pre-stamped fabric, sometimes known as "Penny Squares," became available. Today, designs can be printed directly onto fabric using a computer and printer.


    Photo of Coth or Curtain

    Cloth or Curtain
    ca. 1910
    24” x 46”
    MSUM #2001:160.23
    Deborah Harding Redwork Collection


    Tips on Storing and Caring for Your Quilt

    Caring for and displaying old quilts can be difficult and expensive, but following a few simple guidelines can add years to the lives of your quilts.

    Handling Your Quilt

  • Wash hands frequently or wear cotton gloves
  • Do not smoke, eat, or drink around textiles
  • Use only pencils when writing or sketching around quilts.
  • Storing Your Quilts

  • Store in a dark, dry place.
  • Keep quilts out of direct sunlight.
  • Quilts are best stored rolled, in acid-free boxes, or flat.
  • Use archival supplies such as acid-free boxes or tissue for storage. Clean cotton sheets or muslin can also be used. Plastic, unsealed wood, or cardboard should not be used for storage.
  • Cleaning Your Quilt

  • The safest way to clean your quilt is low suction vacuuming.
  • Wet cleaning must be done with great caution and is not recommended unless done by a qualified textile conservator.
  • Dry cleaning is not recommended.
  • Credits
    Redwork: A Textile Tradition in America

    Project Coordinator and Curator: Mary Worrall, Michigan State University Museum
    Curatorial Assistance: Marsha MacDowell, Michigan State University Museum
    Research Consultant: Deborah Harding
    Collections Manager: Lynne Swanson, Michigan State University Museum
    Quilt Collections Assistant: Beth Donaldson, Michigan State University Museum
    Photography and Digitization: Pearl Yee Wong, Michigan State University Museum
    Virtual Exhibit: Mary Worrall, Michigan State University Museum, Justine Richardson, MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University
    Exhibit Design and Installation: Juan Alvarez, Michigan State University Museum
    Graphic Design: Melinda Hamilton, Michigan State University Museum
    Public Relations: Lora Helou, Michigan State University Museum
    Public Relations Assistant: Julia Meade, Michigan State University Museum
    Museum Director: C. Kurt Dewhurst, Michigan State University Museum

    The exhibition is supported in part by funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, MSUM Traveling Exhibition Endowment, and Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs with additional support from Michigan State University Museum and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University.

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