When I’m not writing, I love to sew clothes for my girls. And when I’m not sewing pretty skirts, I like to sew pictures. And the pictures I like to sew are red work embroideries.
A few years ago, I discovered a couple of embroidery books by Wendy Brigg: Sew Red and Simply Red. All the patterns use very simple stitches and have been embroidered using red thread. As soon as I saw the books I had to buy them and then as soon as I arrived home, I had to start stitching. I couldn’t wait to create.
I chose a pattern, taped a photocopy of it to a well-lit window and traced the design onto a piece of calico. Soon the fabric was captured between the two rings of my embroidery hoop and I was stitching away.
My girls soon appeared and stood watching me for a while before saying, “Do you think we could embroider too?”
“I don’t see why not,” I replied. And soon we had a little sewing circle, creating red pictures on unbleached calico fabric. Another family passion had been born.
When our embroideries were finished, we washed them in warm soapy water to remove any pencil marks.
Then it was time to tea dye them. We used one tea bag to each cup of boiling water, in a non-metal bowl. The tea bags were allowed to soak for about ten minutes before being removed. Then the fabric was added. After half an hour in the dye (with frequent stirring), the embroideries were rinsed in cold water and hung on the line to dry. Next they were ironed carefully before framing.
We have framed some stitcheries under glass. Others, we have displayed in glassless frames, after adding a layer of craft wadding. We sometimes display our pieces of work a third way: We cut three identical sized pieces of fabric: the embroidery, a backing piece of tea dyed calico and a piece of wadding. All pieces are sewn together around the edges, leaving a small opening to turn the embroidery the right side out. After ironing, it can be hung from a fancy hanger, similar to hanging a small quilt.
Red work embroidery is sew easy. All our girls have learnt to sew while embroidering. As soon as they understand how to keep returning the needle back and forth through the fabric, they can try red work. It is very satisfying because the end result is very impressive despite the easy stitches.
I think my girls were all about 5 when they first started red working. Most of their embroideries have been given away as gifts but here’s several they gave to me:
I have lost count of the number of embroideries I have worked. Most of mine have been given away too. Here’s one I gave away and then regained.
I embroidered this one for my grandmother for her 90th birthday. I actually took bits and pieces of several designs and put them together to make my own unique picture, adding my grandmother’s name and birth date. I have embroidered similar pieces using a different central picture, for other members of family and friends. A photocopier can be used to change the size of a design. It helps to buy the frame first and then adjust the size of the design to fit.
How did I regain this picture? After my grandmother died, my mother came across my embroidery when she was sorting out her possessions. She asked me if I’d like to have it back. So my picture travelled all the way across the world to England and then came back to me. Now it sits in my lounge where it reminds me of the grandmother who shares my birthday and my daughter’s name.
Bronwyn Hayes is another embroiderer who has produced some very attractive designs. I bought her books Flowerbed, Tea and Friends and Flower Patch. All the photographs in the books show the designs worked in different coloured threads. However, I decided to stick to my red thread. It looks effective and I find it relaxing, sewing without worrying about when I should change colour. Bronwyn Hayes gives instructions on how to incorporate her designs into quilts and bags, table runners and gift tags… But we still prefer to frame the embroideries we work from her patterns.
Two additional useful bits of equipment include a light box and a magnifier. Tracing patterns taped to a window can make arms very tired. And if you’re like me, and losing your near vision, you will appreciate a magnifier. Mine clips to the edge of my hoop. With it I can sew tiny little stitches which look very impressive.
Soon it will be time to think about Christmas. What will we make as gifts this year? No doubt we will hunt through the pattern books and start some embroideries. They make very inexpensive but impressive gifts which never fail to please.
Perhaps you’d like to have your own sewing circle and make some too!