The Subtle Tree

We’ve been keeping a close eye on Aurifil Designer Karen Miller of Redbird Quilt Co.‘s gorgeous free motion quilting. She is a true master and educator and we love that she always finds the perfect way to bring her technique and skill to an achievable level for new and developing quilters. She has been paying special attention to the threads in her debut Aurifil collection, The Subtle Sampler, and has created a brand new project to help showcase them. Please welcome Karen to Auribuzz to present The Subtle Tree. Thank you, Karen!

Hi Everyone! I couldn’t wait to dive into The Subtle Sampler and create a project that would allow you to use nearly every spool in the box — mission accomplished!

The Subtle Tree allows you freedom to play with needle and thread without the worry of “messing up” a large project.  The 11″ x 13″ mini can be finished in a weekend.   We’ll use 4 thread weights plus monofilament.   Buddy up with your home sewing machine for a little thread painting, machine applique, and a bit of free motion quilting.  It’s really FUN!!

Here’s a list supplies you’ll want to have on hand:

Supply List (or click on the image above)
Karen’s Blog Post
Video Tutorial

We’ll start out with the amazingly fine yet strong Aurifil 50wt to stitch an outline of the tree on muslin after it’s backed with fusible batting.  Make the tree organic, have fun with it…

As part of the process, be sure to wind a bobbin with Aurifil 50wt #2312 Ermine. This Subtle Sampler color complements 9 of 10 spools in the collection.  I love when one bobbin color will support several different colors of top thread.

Once the tree is roughed-in we’ll do some thread painting – Oh What Fun!  Drop or cover those feed dogs, grab your gloves, put that darning foot on, and get filling-in that tree with 28wt and 40wt Subtle Threads.  I used nearly every one!  Take long brush-like strokes while you’re stitching, envision the beautiful tree branches glistening in the summer or winter sun. Use the colors that grab YOU!

Don’t forget to thread paint a Redbird… What’s a quilt without one?

Once we’re done painting with thread, we’ll cut away the excess muslin and use that wonderful Aurifil NYLON Monofilament for some invisible machine applique.  Remember to set your machine tension lower AND run with 50Wt in the bobbin.  Stitch around the outside edges of the tree & redbird to secure them to the background….   See the video for details!

Time for some Free Motion quilting….after layering with batting (love my Dream Wool) and backing, you’ll want to quilt around the tree.   A simple loop design around the tree will make it pop off the fabric.  Love the 3D effect!

Don’t you just love the V and Co. Mint Ombre background — it’s luscious…

Onto the Wild Goose Chase motif  — a perfect background for The Subtle Tree…. Trace the design (from the video) on paper to build your muscle memory.  Try it out a few times and get into the groove of it.

When you’re done consider adding a few prairie point hanging tabs, a label, and binding.

I had sew much fun with this project we may just need a few more Subtle Trees – maybe one for each season? Are you in?

You can experience The Subtle Tree in person by attending an Aurifil Lecture with Alex Veronelli.   Find the lecture nearest you — I would love to hear your thoughts.

Finally, be sure to jump over to my Blog to watch the Subtle Tree video tutorial and enter the amazing Subtle Tree Giveaway.

Stay positive and keep on quilting,

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Karen L. Miller is the owner of Redbird Quilt Co., launched to share her love of wool and cotton applique and to demonstrate how free motion quilting (on a home machine) can bring fabric to life!  At Redbird Quilt Co., the Northern Cardinal takes center stage in many of the designs.  The entire Miller family enjoys feeding, observing, and photographing the many Songbirds that grace the North East USA landscape and therefore Songbirds are often found in Karen’s designs.

Karen lives in the Finger Lakes Region of New York where there is a fantastic array of forests, lakes, farmland, and families.  She and her husband share their home with one crazy Yellow Nape Amazon “Cayman”.  Their children are grown and they are blessed with 8 special little grandchildren of which the 3 girls LOVE to sew with “Gramma Karen”.


The Subtle Sampler
12 Large Spools:
Clear Monofilament, Smoke Monofilament (1094yds/spool)
100% Cotton 12wt: 6722, 6723 (356yds/spool)
100% Cotton 28wt: 2430, 2130, 2880 (820yds/spool)
100% Cotton 40wt: 2530, 5017, 5006 (1094yds/spool)
100% Cotton 50wt: 2312, 2000 (1422yds/spool)


  1. That tree is really pretty. I love the thread painting, and It’s wonderful that Aurifil is working with talented Karen Miller.

  2. I thought Karen’s video was very comprehensive. I appreciate the way I can pause it, read the instructions, and jot them down. Great job–I would not have known it was her very first video tutorial had she not shared that fact.

  3. What a great project. I love everything you do & you always give great words of encouragement for those of us afraid to try fmq. You are a joy to watch!

  4. This is a lovely project with great video instructions. Thanks so much Karen, for your inspiration & sharing your skills with us. ❤❤❤

  5. Wow Karen, I just recently signed up for your newsletter – was a little surprised to see you on Aurifil threads! What I want is some of those fabrics with the birds on them! I do a lot of applique; they would be so fun to have! I live in a nursing home now with a not too large excess spending money! If you would ever agree to cut some pieces, I will have my son give you his credit card info. I’ve followed you a long time on bloglovin! I am too old now to get out and do classes but I am definitely not dead and your project excites me! Thanks! Kay

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