Embroidered Feathers

I first met Sheena Norquay shortly after I started working with Aurifil, a mere 4 years into my time in this industry. Up until that time, I’d never seen anything quite like her work and was immediately taken with her artistry, her vision, and her undeniable quilting genius. She is adventurous in her work, always up for trying something new, while remaining meticulous and measured in her experimentation. Every time she creates a new piece, she sends along thoughts on that piece… what she tried and why, which threads were used, and what she thought about the process. It is both fascinating and breath-taking and I’m always excited to share her work.

Sheena’s Embroidered Feathers is one of her latest series of work, using threads from her 2 Peacock Collections (Aurifloss & 50wt). Not only has she masterfully outlined her process for a variety of ways to realize one pattern, but she has also graciously offered up the pattern for free for all of our readers. Click HERE to download the Feathers Pattern.

The primary technique used and referenced in this series is Colour Blending. In an earlier interview with Sheena, she gave us a bit of insight into her process:

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 (Veronelli of Aurifil) 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’ll let her share thoughts on this series in her own words, with our unending gratitude!

Thank you, Sheena!

The mini on the left is a hand embroidered feather in fly stitch using floss from the Peacock Collection. I used 4 strands and embroidered the feather through cotton onto V13 interfacing. After completing the embroidery, the interfacing was trimmed around the feather shape before adding polyester wadding and backing. The background was machine quilted with the walking foot using white 50wt cotton thread.

The mini on the right has a free motion stitched feather with 50wt threads in the same colours but from Peacock 50wt Collection. Again, I used V13 interfacing and inserted the piece in a 6 inch embroidery ring for the embroidery. The top section or eye of the feather was stitched in single colours but the rest of the feather has blending which was done by stitching 2 separate colours following the colour plan outlined in the pattern. The background was quilted with the walking foot using white 50wt cotton thread.

Both of these pieces use the same colour progressions – colours are in the same arrangement.

The piece above is all hand stitched. The colour arrangement is in a different order from the first 2 feathers and illustrates the color blending outlined in the pattern. The feather is embroidered through the cotton fabric on to polyester wadding in fly stitch using floss. The left hand side uses 4 strands (2 of each of 2 colours) and the right hand side uses 2 strands (1 of each of 2 colours). This was to illustrate the different effect that can be achieved with a different number of strands.

The eye of the feather is embroidered in satin stitch using 3 strands of single colours. After completing the embroidery, cotton fabric was added and the background was hand quilted using 12wt thread on the left hand side and 28wt thread on the right hand side.

The embroidery took 5 hours 20 minutes and the quilting took 5 hours 30 minutes.



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.




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