Modern Crewel Work

We are completely smitten with pretty much everything that Aurifil Designer Jo Avery of myBearPaw does. We’ve been following along with her for ages, and love her delightfully staged photos with perfectly arranged spools of Aurifil thread. She now has three collections with Aurifil — Sherbet Dip (release in 2017) is a collection of 12 of Jo’s absolute go-to 50wt colors on Large spools (1422yds/spool). It is a marvelous stash builder and a natural choice for the regular quilter, always in need of that perfect shade to piece and quilt project after project.

Passionflower was released last year, boasting 10 vibrant small spools of our 12wt thread — 54yds of coveted hand-stitched opportunities! Jo’s embroidery has taken center stage over the past year, and we’ve loved watching her project in progress, each creation more delightful than the last.

Today, we’re thrilled to present Jo’s third collection — Modern Crewel Work. A lineup of 10 small spools of our Wool 12wt, this collection promises to bring a whole new look to your hand-stitched creations. Our wool thread is 50% Wool and 50% Polyester. It is available in 192 rich colors and we truly adore what Jo has done with them!

Modern Crewel Work
10 Small Spools, 12wt (54yds/spool), Aurifil Wool
8402 – 8823 – 8810 – 8120 – 8965
8003 – 8310 – 8083 – 8005 – 8530

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

What is your absolute favorite thing that you’ve ever made?

As I have quite a short attention span it is usually the last thing thing I made! But actually, this time I think it is something I finished very recently, my Spotlight@40 quilt, of which I am incredibly proud.  The Quilter’s Guild of the British Isles is celebrating their 40th birthday this year and one of the ways they are marking it is to create a new permanent collection that represents quilting today. Each of the Guild’s regions chose a quilter to represent them and make a quilt. I was so honoured to be chosen by my region, Scotland, and ’40 Layers of Quilting’ is the quilt I created. It is being exhibited at the Festival of Quilts in a special gallery alongside all the other quilts from the different regions. Of course, I used Aurifil thread throughout – 50wt for piecing and machine quilting, 80wt for the needle-turn appliqué and 12wt cotton for the hand quilting and embroidery. You can read the roller coaster story of the quilt’s creation on my blog HERE.

Spotlight at 40 Quilt by Jo Avery

This is your third collection with Aurifil and your third featured weight. What drew you to work with the Wool 12wt this time around? 
Originally I was just curious as to how it would look and feel. I had a commission for a new embroidery pattern for Stitch Magazine that needed to be themed around food. I chose to depict pomegranates and decided to use the 12wt wool thread for this, pairing it with some wool felt. I loved working with the wool, if you use it doubled it has a similar weight to regular crewel wool, something that is increasingly hard to get hold of these days. But unlike the crewel wool I have used in the past, the Aurifil thread hardly ever breaks. I also really like the depth of colour you get with the wool as opposed to the cotton. The cotton has this fabulous sheen which is almost reflective, whereas the wool seems to draw you in more with its matte texture.

What do you love most about the practice of hand-stitching? 
I really enjoy doing fiddly work. I am very practised at hand stitching now (after many years) and have very good dexterity, and there is something to be said for delighting in a skill that you are practiced at. I also like the repetitive methodical side of it — your mind is free to wander but you are still busy. I can’t bear to sit down and not be productive, I find that stressful. I am much calmer and more relaxed if I am sewing or crocheting.

As an educator, what is one thing that you’d tell your students about working with the wool?
It is incredibly versatile! Since the new collection arrived at our store a week ago I have been experimenting with the wool thread. I already know how lovely it is for embroidery but I have also been using it for hand quilting, creating a colourful kantha texture all over the jug in my Flower Jug Appliqué panel. It hand quilts like a dream! The thread feels so soft and light to stitch with.

Flower Jug Appliqué Panel by Jo Avery

After a comment on an Instagram post about using the thread for machine quilting I tried this out too. I was really doubtful as I thought the thread would break too easily. I experimented on some scrappy panels for a pouch and again I loved the result and the threads didn’t break once! I used four different colours from the collection to stitch wavy lines, with Aurifil 50wt cotton in the bobbin and a size 90 needle. The quilting looks like I have laboriously hand stitched it with very neat stitches!

One thing I would say is be careful about pressing your work as it could scorch if your iron is at the usual setting for cotton. Again this came as a warning in an IG comment, rather than from my own experience as I rarely press something I have quilted and I always press embroidery with care, but it is definitely something to remember.

What drew you to Crewel Work and what was your process for modernizing the practice? 
I’ve always loved the look of traditional crewel work. My Mother-in-law was very skilled at Jacobean crewelwork and created these beautiful bell pulls that she’d hang all over their house. A few years back I was part of a group that made one of the panels in the Great Tapestry of Scotland. This was an ambitious project to tell the story of Scotland through stitches. Over 150 panels were created by more than 1000 stitchers. As we used crewel wool to stitch with it was strictly speaking crewel work, as the meaning of this is simply ‘embroidery using wool’.

I have been meaning to try crewel work again ever since. Last year I created my Passionflower Embroidery which was worked in Aurifil 12wt cotton, and became the inspiration for my second collection box. I used a few stitches that are common to crewelwork such as laid work and coral stitch. However I didn’t want to replicate the look of traditional crewel work, where soft shading often occurs. Usually stem stitch or long and short stitch are used to create a naturalistic effect on leaves and flowers. Instead I tried to keep a more graphic appearance with firm outlines and strong contrasts. In that way I hope to give the look of crewel work a bit of an update.

Tell us about your color selection and the stunning cover art that you created as a feature.
After I had stitched the Pomegranate Tote Bag I wanted to try more designs using the wool thread mixed with the felt. The idea behind the Pebbles Sampler was to use the pebbles free-motion quilting pattern (something I am very partial to when machine quilting) to create a framework for a stitch sampler. FMQ is a bit like doodling and that’s really what I did to create this pattern. I drew pebbles that ‘locked’ together in a range of sizes and shapes and then began filling them with different stitches. I appliqued felt to cover the larger pebbles (to add another texture and to save a bit of time!), using matching 80wt thread. I used all my favourite stitches such as colonial knots, spider web back stitch, and rose stitch. You can find out how to make your own version with illustrations for all the stitches I used in the new issue of Stitch Magazine.

I had chosen the 10 shades before I started this piece with (fingers crossed!) a new collection in mind. Choosing colours is one of my favourite bits about creating and starting a new project. I never have any trouble doing it and it is usually over far too quickly! I chose the colours completely instinctively as they just felt right to me in that particular moment. Sometimes I think it is the colours choosing me rather than the other way around. I made sure that I had a couple of variegated shades and a charcoal for outlining.

The mixing of quilting and embroidery in this piece got me thinking. Since then I have been trying out a few other ways of combining my two great crafting loves while using the wool thread. I have begun embroidering a patchwork pattern. This is similar to an EPP pattern (in fact it would be lovely for that!) and I am doing ‘slow colouring-in’, as embroidery reminds me of, using these 1970’s inspired colours.

Next I created another geometric embroidery and framed it with a mini Dresden plate! You can find a free tutorial along with downloadable templates for this hoop art on my blog here

The collection launches at Festival of Quilts in Birmingham this week — Just for fun:
What do you love most about Festival of Quilts?
The excitement of meeting all my quilting friends! Some of them ‘friends from my phone’ who I am meeting for the first time IRL. I also I love looking at all the amazing quilts, though you do need to pace yourself as the shear beauty and creativity can be a little overwhelming and, a bit like staring at the sun, it has to be done in short bursts.

How long will it take you to get there? 
Only a couple of hours. I fly from Edinburgh and as I live only 15 minutes drive from the airport and the NEC is next to Birmingham airport it is very time efficient (though not good for my carbon footprint unfortunately!)

Where and when will we find you?
You can find me on the Aurifil stand J36 at 11am on Friday morning. I will be giving a demo of some of those favourite crewel work stitches I used in the Pebbles Sampler. You can have a little chat with me there and buy one of the new collection boxes so you can start your own Pebbles Sampler!

On Sunday I will be making my annual visit to the Sewing Quarter to appear in two live TV shows. First up at 9am I will be showing you how to make my Feathers Quilt, then at 11am I will be sharing more embroidery stitches with my Scandi Stitch cushion. I have created a new version using my Passionflower collection of 12wt cotton threads (which are also available to buy on the Aurifil stand at FOQ this year). Though I have been going on and on about the beauty of the wool threads in this post I still adore the bright sheen that the cotton thread gives! It really works well here, especially on those satin stitch petals. Sewing Quarter will be selling both my Passionflower and Sherbet Dip collections on the show and for those of you not able to watch live you can catch the shows later on their YouTube channel.

Do you have a favorite festival destination? 
The Aurifil stand of course!

Thanks so much, Jo!! 

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A lifetime of playing with fabric and yarn has culminated in a career as a teacher, entrepreneur and designer. Jo’s natural affinity with colour and detail informs all her quilts as well as a love of intricate techniques such as needle-turn applique and embroidery. Straddling both modern and traditional aesthetics, she enjoys inspiring others through her workshops and retreats.

As well as teaching regularly at her Edinburgh studio Jo runs the adjoining shop, organises the annual Stitch Gathering retreat and designs quilts and projects for a wide range of quilting publications and books.

Alongside Karen Lewis and Lynne Goldsworthy she is part of  The Thread House,  a UK based quilting retreat and pattern publishing venture.

In any odd moments left she crochets shawls, knits socks, eats liquorice, listens to the Archers, and dreams of the day when she can take delivery of her longed for miniature donkeys!

** Images by Jo Avery

1 comment

  1. Has misleading others about the nature of our work become the goal of creating?
    Because I keep hearing ”it looks so much more complicated…they’ll think you spent hours/days/weeks…and did it by hand”…
    Everything has become about a trend, trying to impress others, to compete and to judge, to win some stranger’s approval…

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