Why Is The Color Red So Important In Quilting


I've asked the question, "Why is the color red so important in quilting?" Here's what I learned.

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Why Is The Color Red So Important In Quilting

One month into my first year of quilting, my friend, who was also brand new to quilting, and I went to our first quilt show. The show featured a quilt that was only red and white, with embroidery as the main feature. Being new, we turned to each other and said, "I wonder what that is?" A friendly experienced quilter stopped beside us and explained Redwork.

Why Is The Color Red So Important In Quilting


Redwork is a form of embroidery that came about in the 19th century in the US. These embroidered quilts were sometimes made without batting. Popular themes were kitchenware, toys, and animals. Patterns sold for a penny. This photo shows chicken scratch done by mother on a tablecloth in the 1980s. Because the tablecloth didn't survive, I am in the process of cutting it into squares and making a quilt top.



Both Redwork and the popularity of Red and White quilts trace their origins to the availability of a stable red dye. To answer the question, "Why is red important in quilting?", we will look back at its history.


Red is a difficult color to work with. Pink underwear is not uncommon in any household as someone has always thrown a red towel into a load of whites. Even today, you can purchase red fabric that will run. One of husband's first and favorite flannel quilts ran when it was washed. (My husband says to tell you to always wash your red fabric with color catchers before using it in a quilt.)



For all these reasons, red was not used much before the 1800s when a colorfast method of creating red dyed fabric was developed. The big problems were that it was expensive and no one in the West knew the formula. Thus, it was dubbed "Turkey Red". Turkey was not the place of origin for this stable color. Developed in India, it moved to Turkey and Greece. Deborah Roberts, a textile historian, has a great story of a French manufacturer in 1747 who persuaded some Greek dyers to teach him the method.


Both the embroidery thread in Redwork and good red fabric owe their beginnings to Turkey Red. One of the reasons it was so popular is that the color didn't fade. Collections of these beautiful Red and White quilts, with their geometric designs, survive today. Solving the problem of printed red designs on fabric came next, and by the 1830s, both solid and printed fabric were being imported to the US.


Red is still celebrated in the US. In 1999, a Red and White quilt show was held in St. Charles, Missouri. In 2002, a Red and White exhibit graced the Museum in Paducah. The Houston International Quilt Show in 2014 raised a display of Red and White quilts high in the rafters for their Ruby Jubilee. Ruby is the color of the 40th anniversary.



In 2022, the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Guild will hold its Ruby Jubilee Quilt Show. Red and White quilts will be a special category and Mom's "Chicken scratch" will be there!

Make sure you list your guild and events on the QuiltingHub Network.

Decatur Quilters Guild


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The layer in the middle of a quilt sandwich between the Top and Backing layers consisting of wool, polyester, blends, silk, or cotton.

Same As: Stuffing, Filling, Wadding, Filler
A soft fabric which can be made from cotton, wool or synthetic fibers. It is usually loosely woven and slightly furry and is very warm. It's tendency to ravel makes it a very good fabric to use for rag quilt.
Quilt Top
The top layer of a quilt Sandwich.
Simple embroidery designs worked in running stitch in either turkey red color or in blue (then called Bluework) and used for quilt blocks.

See Also: Penny Squares
Debi Warner
Author and humorist, Debi Warner, retired after many years as a clinical librarian and information specialist. She has her Master’s in Library and Information Science and achieved a Distinguished level in the Medical Library Association’s Association of Health Information Professionals. She has worked on teaching physicians to use computers and electronic resources. She also worked on several grants teaching the public how to use the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus public database and is co-author of several articles on health literacy. She took up quilting after retirement in 2012 and chaired the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Show in 2019. She currently teaches several quilting classes over Zoom and writes for QuiltingHub.
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