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Turkey Red Cutwork
(circa 1865, unknown maker)

Quilt History

Turkey Red Cutwork (circa 1865, unknown maker)

I found this Turkey Red Cutwork quilt on display at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum last year.

This fabulous Turkey red and white quilt was made by unnamed black and white needlewomen.  It is entirely hand pieced and hand quilted with a snowflake like design that has stunning impact when viewed from a distance.

Turkey Red Cutwork photo 1.jpg
Turkey Red Cutwork photo 2.jpg

Turkey Red is a dye process (not a color) that was widely used to dye cotton in the 18th and 19th century. It was made using the root of the rubia plant, through a long and laborious process. It originated in Turkey, and was brought to Europe in the 1740s. In France it was known as rouge d’Andrinople.  By the 1880s, the range of fabric colors were still very limited, and, due to the stress of washing, they tended to fade very quickly. 

Turkey red cloth was a highly prized cloth that was intensely rich in color that would not fade or bleed.  Because of the expense, Turkey red quilts were usually found in the homes of affluent white families.


Cutwork is an appliqué technique that originated in Italy at the time of the Renaissance, during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.  Overtime, cutwork migrated to countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, India, and eventually the United States. It is still prevalent in fashion today, but it looks different and commonly mistaken for
 eyelet patterned lace. 


Hand cutwork is the most traditional form of cutwork. The appliqué design is cut from a single whole cloth like paper snowflakes (usually enough to make 9 to 12 large blocks).  They are then applied to a background fabric.  Below you can see detailed areas behind the photograph(1), where the ‘snowflake’ design is cut away and hand stitching is done to stop the raw edges from fraying.

(1) The Piney Woods Country Life School.  Founded in 1909, is now an independent coeducational college preparatory school in Mississippi, and is still offering, “a one-of-a-kind education in a faith-based environment”.



Getting Started


Step One: Transfer the design to the front side of your appliqué fabric.


Step Two: Position the appliqué piece onto the background fabric, checking orientation and margins.


Step Three: Pin baste the design to the background fabric. Now you are ready to appliqué.


Cut as You Applique


As you appliqué, cut one edge at a time.


If you are working on a curve, only cut one side at a time, appliqué, secure the turn, then cut the other side and continue to appliqué.


If the parts you are cutting away begin to get in the way, simply cut them off.

Once you’ve appliqué around the design, you are finished.

Download Block B here.

Block designed by Lynda Smith.

Turkey Red Cutwork photo 3.jpg

8″ appliqué. Enlarge as desired.

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