The Artistry of Sheena Norquay, Part 6 — The Peacock Collection in 50wt

Our 6th installment in the Artistry of Sheena Norquay series comes almost exactly a year after the 5th, celebrating the release of a brand new thread collection! We absolutely adore Sheena’s work and are forever in awe of the art she creates, with our thread center stage.

The Peacock Collection – Floss was released in August of 2018 at Festival of Quilts in Birmingham. This year, we’re excited to bring The Peacock Collection – 50wt, a followup to this popular colorway, further highlighting the stunning thread illustration for which Sheena is so well known. The collection officially releases today, again on day 1 of Festival of Quilts.

When Sheena initially put the ideas together for The Peacock Collection, she auditioned our 80wt, 50wt, and floss, stitching out a series of samples that now serve as a traveling tribute to her collection subject, the Peacock. After the success of last year’s floss collection, we thought that a 50wt set would make sense and are so thrilled with the result! The breathtaking feature thread illustration makes for a stunning collection cover and is the perfect representation of Sheena’s brilliant artistry. (Make sure to scroll to the Polly feature in Sheena’s gallery below. There is quite a story behind this now famous bird!)

100% Cotton, 10 Small Spools, 50wt (220yds each)
2810, 2860, 4093, 2740, 2745, 1147, 5015, 5022, 2340, 5013

To view this info on our website, please click here. For purchasing, please contact your local Aurifil Dealer.


(Make sure to check out Part 1 of this series for a more in depth look at Sheena’s background)

What first inspired you to start sewing? 
It was my mother and grandmother. My mother made all our clothes and my grandmother did embroidery, all kinds of crafts and  paintings.I was also taught to sew at school but what I really liked to do was to use scraps of fabric to make clothes for my dolls and have fashion parades. I started making my own clothes when I was in my teens but when I went to college I had a very inspiring design teacher who taught creative embroidery. She taught me how to look at the world with creative eyes and I will always be grateful to her and to my mother for all her encouragement.

What is your absolute favorite thing that you’ve ever made?
I have made so many I don’t really have a favourite but I guess a quilt I made called The Three Norns in 1995 was the first memorable and well known creative piece I made. It won a best of show and many people have said to me it changed their perception of what a quilt could be like.

The Three Norns by Sheena Norquay

Do you have a favorite technique?
It is free motion quilting as I love to doodle and draw with the needle. I love using lines and creating patterns and shapes with lines.

Detail of Periwinkles in a Spin by Sheena Norquay

<When did you first discover Aurifil threads?
I think it was the mid 2000’s. I couldn’t get Madeira tanne 50 any more as I think they stopped making it but Barnyarns replaced it with Aurifil cotton 50 which I was very impressed with and then I noticed Aurifil had a stand at the Festival of Quilts a few years after that. The rest is history!

You’ve experimented and worked with all of Aurifil’s thread weights — do you have a favorite?
Actually I love them all. But which one I use depends on the techniques and fabrics I am using. For most machine work I use cotton no. 50, For hand quilting no. 28 is a dream to stitch with as it goes through the fabric and wadding so smoothly. The 80 weight thread gives a lovely invisible stitch for hand applique and is also great for fine detail for free motion quilting. More recently I have been using no. 12 for hand embroidering on to silk dupioni – the shine of the thread matches the shine of the silk beautifully. I also like to use the wool acrylic for hand embroidery if I am using tweed or wool fabric.

Your new collection is a followup to last year’s floss collection. What do you love about being able to offer these colors in two different weights? 
It is because I like to combine hand embroidery with free motion quilting so I use the stranded cotton floss for the embroidery and the no. 50 cotton for the free motion quilting.

Detail of Highland Cows by Sheena Norquay

You’ve just released your first book — Congratulations!! We’ll have a bigger showcase for fans soon, but for now, could you tell us a bit about the book?
I take you through various methods of how to use the stranded cotton floss. I explain how to create colour and number combinations with the floss, ranging from very simple to very complex pieces. I also illustrate how you can use the threads in a more painterly way using landscapes for inspiration or  by using printed motifs to embroider.

What first drew you to this type of experimentation? 
It was when Alex gave me a few reels (spools) of stranded cotton floss and asked me to try them. I thought it was  a great idea to have this type of thread on reels rather than on skeins. It made me look at my collection of vintage embroideries to see how the thread was used. I wondered why they did not actually blend different colours together and so I began to experiment.

We love that you are always trying something new, pushing the boundaries… what is a technique that you’ve always wanted to try, but just haven’t gotten to yet?
There are still some ideas I want to try where I combine hand and machine stitching. I also want to try a double needle and I want to experiment with ruler work for free motion quilting.

Your new collection launches at Festival of Quilts in Birmingham this week — Just for fun: 

What do you love most about Festival of Quilts?
I love catching up with the Aurifil team. Being on the stand also means I have more chance of meeting lots of quilters I haven’t seen for a while and showing them what I have been doing with the threads. Of course I also love seeing all the wonderful quilts and exhibitions which are always very inspiring.

How long will it take you to get there?
It takes about 8 hours to travel from Inverness to Birmingham by train.

Where and when will we find you?
I will be on the Aurifil stand most of the time apart from when I am giving my lectures on Birds and Feathers which are mainly about work created with the Seabird Collection of no. 80 threads and the Peacock Collections.

We are honored to share some of Sheena’s sample gallery for The Peacock Collection. She is wonderfully talented and thoughtfully detailed. <3

Finished at 29 x 44cm
Created between November 16, 2017 & November 22, 2017
Total time: 11hours 20minutes

The feathers were printed with an  Indian block in the shape of a feather which I bought from Coloricious at the Festival of Quilts in 2017. The prints were second prints from another piece so as not to waste paint and I had no plan as to the composition. I made it up as I printed each feather. I dabbed the square tipped paint brush with left over brown paint on the background.

Medium weight Vilene was tacked to the back and the feathers were free machine embroidered in an embroidery ring.  I used 12 colours of no. 50 Aurifil cotton threads from the Peacock Collection, the same colours as sample 6 Bird and Flowers.  A combination of 3 colours were used for stitching each feather and 4thcolour for the “eye.” Shafts were satin stitched twice. I realised after stitching a few it was more effective to taper the ends.

I found a piece of feather print fabric that seemed right for stitching along one side and it took a while to decide which way up to hang it. The background was free motion quilted with cream thread in a pattern of squares and straight lines.

Finished at 72 x 30cm 
Created between November 23, 2017 & December 21, 2017
Total time: 33hours 10minutes

Ten feathers were printed on to calico using an Indian printing block bought from Colouricious at the Festival of Quilts 2017. I used 10 different colours of paint, either Dylon or Jacquard Lumiere. A square tipped brush was used to print the marks at the bottom of each feather.

After tacking Vilene Light Sew In stabiliser on the back of the calico, I hand embroidered each feather in fly stitch, laced running and running stitch in different combinations of 10 colours of Aurifloss threads from the Peacock Collection. I used 2 strands for stitching, sometimes of the same colour, sometimes one strand each of 2 different colours to create a blend.

The background is free motion quilted with Aurifil cotton no. 50 threads. I used 10 different colours in the bottom section to quilt between the printed marks. The same quilting design of horizontal lines with curved ends was used to quilt the rest of the background in cream thread as far up as the top section of the feathers and the very top was quilted with flowing lines to create movement. The feathers look as if they are tied to the shapes at the bottom and are floating from left to right, hence the title “Ten Swaying Feathers.”

Finished at 32 x 42cm
Created between November 26, 2017 & December 16, 2017
Total time: 14hours 30minutes

Twelve colours of fabrics to match the threads in the Peacock Collection were machine pieced, calico borders added then tacked to 80/20 cotton/polyester wadding and a calico backing. The seams were stabilised by quilting with the walking foot and invisible thread. A different feather design was free motion quilted in each shape using a contrasting thread, while the background fabrics were quilted using matching threads. The calico borders were quilted in the same thread colour as the adjoining fabrics so ten colours and patterns were used.

I liked the effect of the wholecloth stitching on the back so added tabs instead of a hanging sleeve to make it reversible.

Finished at 42 X 32cm
Created between November 25, 2017 & December 19, 2017
Total time: 18hours 50mins

Twelve different colours of fabric were pieced in a horizontal row with calico and a patterned fabric pieced above and below the pieced row. Thin Vilene stabiliser was tacked behind the coloured rectangles and curved shapes were hand embroidered using one or two strands of single and blended colours of Aurifloss.

The feather curves, which I marked with pencil on the calico, were free motion quilted with 12 colours of Aurifil cotton no. 50 threads from the Peacock Collection. I quilted up one side of the shaft and down the other side.

The feather shafts or centre lines of the lower feathers were satin stitched to create bolder lines and to emphasise the thread colours.

Finished at: 29 x 29cm
Created between January 26, 2018 & February 3, 2018
Total time: 10 hours 40 mins

Forty five squares were free motion quilted with 9 different colours (a –i) using Aurifil cotton no. 50 threads from the Peacock Collection. The shapes were inspired by small, green peacock feathers whose edges were brown but I decided to use lots of Peacock colours. The grid was quilted with the walking foot. The edges of the shapes were hand embroidered using Aurifloss in 9 different colours (b-j) creating 45 different combinations of Aurifloss and no. 50 colours. I used 80/20 cotton/polyester wadding.

Finished at: 28 x 43cm (11 x 17 inches)
Created between September 25, 2018 & November 27, 2018
Total time: 39 hours 35 minutes

The four vertical rows on the top left of the sample illustrate ten single colours, blending 2, 3, and 4 colours together.

The five horizontal rows of squares illustrate a six step blend from one colour to another, a five step blend from one colour to another, a four step blend, a three step, and a two step blend.

The two vertical rows of ten squares underneath illustrate combinations using three colours with ten number combinations  and four colours with ten number combinations.

The two large triangle shapes on the bottom left illustrate 45 progressive colour and number combinations using two colours at a time.

The triangles on the right illustrate 120 progressive colour and number combinations using three colours at a time.

All the hand stitching was done on to a layer of fine, polyester wadding. Another layer of 80/20 cotton/polyester wadding was added and then machine quilted with the walking foot. Some areas were free motion quilted in a basketweave pattern.

Finished at: 79 X 65cm (31 X 25.5 inches)
Created between March 12, 2018 & February 14, 2018
Total time: 54 hours

Inspired by a peacock called Polly who belonged to my late father. He was given a peachick by a neighbour who said it was female, hence the name Polly. However, at about a year old, a beautiful tail appeared and it became obvious it was a male. Polly had several wives and chicks during his lifetime. He used to admire himself in a mirror which my late mother propped up against the garden wall next to the compost heap which was surrounded by chicken wire. Sadly, Polly put his head through the wire to eat something in the compost heap and accidentally hanged himself.

I had a photo of Polly eating a slice of bread so used this to draw his portrait on to cotton sateen fabric which was then painted. I tacked one layer of fine stabiliser to the back of the fabric, inserted it in an embroidery ring and free machine embroidered the peacock shape. Unfortunately I caught a piece of the bottom corner of sateen while embroidering and had to cut it free. This resulted in a “bite” out of the bottom of the fabric which I repaired with appliqued, printed pebbles to match the background. The left hand side was painted with flat flagstones. I free motion quilted around the pebbles and stones and added grass between the stones and pebbles.

The top section of fabric puckered badly so I cut it away and hand appliqued Polly to a piece of grey fabric. I drew a chicken wire fence on this grey fabric which I free motion quilted in continuous lines. Above this I measured and drew semi circles and used 10 colours of Aurifil no. 50 thread to free motion quilt feather patterns within the semi circles. In every 4th or 5th column, I used 2 colours so that the colours blended from one to another. To blend the feather shapes with the chicken wire shapes, I free motion quilted oval dots inside the top few rows, varying the number of dots as I went along to lead the eye up and down rather than straight across. I also added grass of different heights along the base of the fence to soften the line.

The semi circle shapes with radiating lines were repeated in the border and I used a repeating c curve to flatten the background.

Finished at: 26 X 31cm (10.25 x12.25 inches)
Created between March 4, 2019 & May 4, 2019
Total time: 14 hours 30 mins

The idea here is to subtract and add a colour using 10 colours from The Peacock Collection, thus creating colour progressions.

Top Row – Two colours in each shape. Two strands of each colour. – ab, bc, cd, de, ef, fg, gh, hi, ij, ja. Semi-circle shapes are straight stitched, stems are in running stitch.

Middle Row – Three colours in each shape. One strand of each colour. – abc, bcd, cde, def, efg, fgh, ghi, hij, ija, jab. Oval shapes are stitched in detached chain, tops have single strand of each colour in each shape. Stems are laced running stitch.

Bottom Row – Four colours in each shape. One strand of each colour – abcd, bcde, cdef, defg, efgh, fghi, ghij, hija, ijab, jabc. Circles are stitched in rows of detached chain stitch. Tops have straight stitches in 4 individual colours. Stems are back stitched.

After hand stitching on fine, polyester thermore, I added 80/20 cotton/polyester wadding and free motion quilted c and s curve lines and seed shapes with Aurifil no. 50 cream cotton.


Sheena Norquay was born on the Orkney Islands, just off the Northern tip of Scotland. Though she began sewing as a child, it wasn’t until attending University in Aberdeen to gain a B.Ed degree that she truly dove into the world of sewing, quilting, and textiles. The degree included 2-dimensional design in textiles which inspired her interest in exploring the artistic potential of threads and fabrics.

Having been a Primary School teacher in Inverness for 30 years, Sheena is now a freelance quilting teacher and teaches workshops locally, all over the UK, and sometimes abroad. She also writes articles for magazines and her quilts have been featured in several books.

Sheena’s work has been exhibited locally, nationally, and internationally since 1981 and she has won many awards in competitive quilt shows. She sells her work, cards and postcards of her work, and also accept commissions.

1 comment

  1. So gorgeous! Such talent! Love your style! LOVE peacock quilt blocks! Thanx for sharing. I’d love to see an Indian peacock pieced wall quilt that you make!

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