The Penny Square Project

1892 Redwork quilt top

Redwork Embroidery was very popular from about 1880-1920, and got its name from Turkey red cotton embroidery thread, a machine-made thread that became popular in the late 19th century because it was inexpensive and colorfast. Most other threads of the day suffered from color bleeding. Patterns were stitched in red (and later, sometimes blue) on a muslin background. This type of stitching, popularized by the Kensington School for Girls in England during the 1880s, was called the Kensington stitch but we know it today as backstitching or outline stitching.

It wasn’t until the turn of the century that women began to use redwork embroidery for bedcoverings. Preprinted squares ready to embroider were sold. Sears & Roebuck and other catalogues of the time period offered “penny squares”-small sheets of muslin with stamped patterns for one penny each. The quilt blocks used for redwork quilts ranged from six to ten inches across. They were usually embroidered then sewn together without any sashing between the blocks. Often a feather or cross-stitch was used to cover the seam line. Later a red or red print sashing was sometimes used. Some of these bedcoverings were quilted while others were simply lined without batting and then tied at the corners of each block.

1904 Penny Square quilt

I first learned about Redwork from a quilting client, who commissioned me to finish an 1892 Redwork quilt top she had found for $5.00 at a garage sale. Then, another client (and friend) gave me an antique Penny Square Redwork quilt, made in 1904. Not long after, I invested in an embroidery sewing machine since I knew I would not have the patience to hand-embroider, and began the Penny Square Project.

For these quilts, I use the term Penny Square loosely. Block size varies, thread color varies, and quilt designs vary. Some use new fabrics, some use thrift store shirts and vintage linens and fabrics from estate sales. What they all have in common, though, is the element of outline-stitched machine embroidery.

The Penny Square Quilts

Heart and Home Quilt
Acorn Squash Quilt
Snowflake Quilt
Florals and Feedsacks Quilt
Farmers’ Market Quilt
St. Nick Quilt
Winter Birds Quilt
Valentine Pals Quilt
Reindeer Redwork Quilt