Thread Matters 2021: It’s All About the quilting

Happy New Year all!! Thread Matters is back for a brand new year of Aurifil Thread Education and we’re thrilled to kick things off with a delightful and incredibly informative cross-over post from Program Director Karen L. Miller of Redbird Quilt Co. This month, she takes us through the quilting of Aurifil’s 2019 DOM Quilt and it’s magnificent. Karen is a quilting master and we’re always grateful for an opportunity to learn from her.

If you missed the 2019 introduction of Aurifilosophy and this fun new Thread Matters series click here to read more.  Consider scheduling an Aurifilosophy Program for your shop, group or guild – learn more here.

Hello fellow thread lovers and welcome back to Thread Matters – The Aurifilosophy Series.  We’re kicking-off 2021 with a throwback to 2019– celebrating the Aurifil 2019 Designer of the Month Quilt with some fun quilting using Aurifil Forty3 (40wt 3ply) thread!! Many thanks to Designer of the Month host Pat A. Sloan who for 10 years has chosen and rallied a talented team of 12 to design and document free blocks for the annual event.  Each year Pat prepares the setting layout and 2019’s 62.5″ square design will certainly be one for the books. Pat’s whimsical star blocks and simple yet elegant sashing design perfectly highlight the unique custom blocks prepared by the amazingly talented 2019 team that included:  Alyce Blyth, Andrea Tsang Jackson, Annette Plog, Beverly McCullough, Carl Hentsch, Jenni Smith, Karen L. Miller, Kristy and Shayla Wolf, Laura Piland, Lissa Alexander, Natalie Barnes, and Sedef Imer. WOW — What a lineup!!

I was thrilled for the opportunity to custom quilt the 2019 DOM because, you know, it’s RED and white and has ample negative space and all that! But seriously, with some of the amazingly creative blocks in the quilt, it was hard to imagine applying an edge to edge design that would not highlight the beauty of these really spectacular blocks.

First– choosing a machine:
Hmm… ya’ll know I love to quilt on my domestic machine but in this case time was of the essence and space in my temporary transient “studio” was non-existent. So that left my trusty longarm which was in tip-top condition and anxious to have a quilt loaded. I quilt on an Innova 26” longarm with the famed lightning stitch feature. I’ve been dabbling in FMQ on the longarm for a few years now — practice practice practice.

Second– batting selection:
Ahh, the batting. Batting can add so much texture to the stitching and that dimension helps setup a “WOW” factor to a completed quilt. With this in mind, I decided to go with 2 layers of batting — Quilters Dream Wool for loft and Quilters Dream Blend for stability, layering the wool over the blend next to the quilt top.

Next– thread:
Oh, this one was easy! You see, in 2017 Aurifil introduced Forty3, a 40 weight / 3 ply thread made specifically to handle the rigor of today’s high tech, high speed longarm machines. Forty3 has 3 strands of 40wt and is delivered on a yellow cone sporting 3280 yards of amazingly strong thread. While using Forty3 on the longarm, I choose to use an MR needle size 100/16 (or 3.5) with Aurifil 40/2 in the bobbin.

Finally– Quilting motif:
Choosing the quilting motif is often the hardest part of finishing a quilt, but I was fortunate in that each designer was asked to design their block inspired by “a tradition”. While choosing a quilting motif for the blocks, it was fun to read about the “tradition” that inspired each designer and let that tradition inspire the quilting motif. Now that was easy. I’ll explain more with each block.

A couple of thoughts before we begin:

  • Aim to be consistent with the density of the quilting and repeat your motifs across the quilt. For instance, if I choose swirls, pebbles, and feathers for a block or sashing, I’ll try to repeat those same designs other places in the quilt. This adds a cohesiveness to the finished quilt. You’ll recognize the swirls, pebbles, and feathers “theme”, along with a little ruler-work throughout this quilt. Some blocks have a bit more quilting than others. The variation was somewhat dependent on the “inspiration” for the block.
  • When quilting on the longarm, I generally quilt a row at a time. I start at the top with the border and move down from there, basting the top and sides a row at a time as I advance.
  • Because the completed rows disappear into the take-up bar on a longarm, it’s important to take pictures of what you quilted before advancing the quilt, otherwise you’ll have to roll backward to “refresh” your memory on what you did above –ask me how I know.
  • The motifs chosen for this quilt are easily duplicated on ANY machine. Everything was free motion and achievable on a domestic, a sit down, or a longarm of any brand.

So here we go!! I’m thrilled to share a ton of images with you and attempt to explain what motivated both the thread color choice and the quilting design for each block.

First up, Pat Sloan’s beautiful Star Blocks:  
I loved the variation of fabric and shades of red in these blocks, especially the red stripe, but that same variation posed a challenge for thread color selection.  Aurifil variegated thread to the rescue! In the negative space the background Forty3 color #6722 was perfect, and Forty3 variegated #4668 worked wonderfully across the center of the star. In all cases 40/2 color #2026 was the right selection for the bobbin as the backing fabric is a simple red and white print.

Before image:

I loved quilting pebbles and swirls in the negative space of the star block, but the block needed something more. The center square of the block was the perfect spot for a bit of curved ruler work using Aurifil variegated # 4668. Ta da!

Next, Carl Hentsch of  3 Dog Design Co. Carl created a unique paper pieced block inspired by visiting Florida beaches as a child. The quilting design needed to be whimsical in support of this tradition.

The variegated red and solid white threads weren’t the right solution for Carl’s block, so I chose to use Aurifil clear monofilament to stitch the ditch around the beach dunes and umbrella. Echo quilting of the ditch and some added ruler work helped add to the depth of the block. A few whimsical swirls and feathers enhance the beach playtime.

Kristy and Shayla Wolf, the dynamic mother/daughter duo of  Sassafras Lane, prepared a beautiful foundation pieced log cabin-like block named Tradition with a Twist where two halves make a whole.

To allow the “whole” of the circle to shine I decided to quilt this block very simply, segregating the halves along the log cabin color change and adding a slight break in the center to gain some loft and a bit more quilting density. I adore the unique colors and fabric designs these two very talented ladies used. In hindsight, I may have considered quilting the interior of the circle with concentric circles — highlighting the “whole” of the team.

Natalie Barnes of  beyond the reef prepared Hanalei’s Garden, a block inspired by traditional Hawaiian quilts and the plants found in the garden of her dear friend Jill Marie Landis of Hanalei.

This block is one of three that convinced me to use an Aurifil variegated thread for the quilting.   I’m not likely to choose a variegated color to quilt on solid fabrics, but the extensive variety of colors representing Hanalei’s Garden in Natalie’s block screamed variegated.

This block begged simple quilting to allow the fabric colors and pieced design to shine.  Stitch in the ditch was my quilting of choice with a little match-stick quilting to knock down the negative spaces and let the garden bloom!  Love this block Natalie – although for me to piece it would be quite an achievement. 😉

Beverly McCullough of Flamingo Toes prepared a pieced block inspired by a vintage wedding ring quilt that belonged to her great-grandmother. Beverly’s love of vintage shines through in all her designs, and this uniquely pieced wedding ring block was icing on the vintage cake. It was also really fun to quilt!

In an attempt to support the wedding ring block inspiration, I choose to quilt a circle of feathers in the negative space and support the remaining components of the pieced block with simple continuous curve stitching.   I do love the simple design Beverly created and in hindsight would probably add a bit more quilting to her red wedding ring cuts.

Andrea Tsang Jackson of 3rd Story Workshop prepared the Ruby Red block featuring simple gemstone shapes inspired by jewelry designed by her  grandmother. Andrea’s block screamed modern quilting and something that would highlight the cut gem inspiration, don’t you agree?

Modern quilting often takes on simple straight lines, and with this particular block “ghosting” the gem shape in the negative space was an added bonus. Pay special attention to the double echo around each gem — again highlighting the gem shape so that the remaining geometric quilting would not take away from the beauty of the gems. Someone asked how I came up with the “plan” to quilt those straight lines and the truth is I didn’t plan it. I quilted a few straight lines, changed direction and continued with straight lines until a point where echoing the remaining space made sense. I had so much fun with this unique block!  Thanks Andrea.

Note: My favorite straight-line and curved ruler sets are made by Linda Hrcka (pronounced Hersh-ka) of The Quilted Pineapple

Laura Piland of Slice of Pi Quilts designed a unique Pi block aptly named Pi Day Games. You see Laura and her Pi-land family take pi very seriously, turning Pi Day (March 14th) into a holiday full of fun traditions, including eating everything round (pie, pizza, pancakes) and making circle art with a few circle math activities too!

Laura’s block and tradition inspired me to turn her pi circles into pi slices with somewhat round pebbles as a background fill.

Echo quilting the pie {or is it pi – wink wink} shape helped accentuate the design and segregate the slice from the background fill. Thanks for a fun block to quilt, Laura.

Sedef Imer of  Down Grapevine Lane designed a unique Harvest block to represent a newly adopted family tradition of joining the Adelaide, South Australia town-folk in harvest. The region grows grapes, fruit, and other crops and is often referred to as the “food bowl” of Australia.

Sedef’s block inspired me to quilt feathers up a vine.   An echo of the feathers helps them pop.  Some straight line quilting in the sashing allowed more focus on the harvest component.  It was great fun to quilt this simple but elegant block.

Karen Miller of Redbird Quilt Co. (yeah — that’s me!) designed a quilt block inspired by a family tradition of gardening. Flowers, shrubs, and hosta adorned the family garden where Karen was reared. The Redbird Garden block was created in honor of the gardening tradition instilled by her mother. Karen used a faux ruched flower technique and needle-turn appliqué to create this unique floral block.

I’d been dreaming of quilting this block for years!!  Adding feathers to anything that has a stem seems “natural”. I used an air soluble purple pen to rough-in a feather spine; then I changed my mind and marked one that fit more naturally with the block. You can find my “curled feather” tutorial on YouTube.

With most any applique block it helps to “pop” the applique by quilting dense motif in and around it. I stitched and echo stitched the appliqué before doing one of my favorite background fillers “wild goose chase”. So much fun to prepare and quilt this block. How about we all make a larger version of it one day?

Alyce Blyth of  Blossom Heart Quilts was inspired to prepare the Advent block based on a family tradition of having an Advent Calendar to celebrate these special days during the Christmas season.

This simple quilt block in beautiful red and white was a perfect opportunity to stitch out some Christmas stars.  The weight of Forty3 helped the stars make a statement in the negative space.

I just love the simplicity of the block and the quilting.  It’s calming.   Thank you Alyce.

Jenni Smith took the opportunity to prepare a Poppy block in honor of Armistice Day in the UK, where it is a tradition to wear a paper Poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those that fought for their country in war. Jenni used beautiful Liberty Tana Lawn fabrics to create this thoughtful block.

Jenni’s brightly colored Liberty fabrics worked perfectly with the variegated red thread, but the center blue colors challenged my collection of blues.  As you can see my best choice was to go with Aurifil monofilament in this area.  If you’re not familiar with using Aurifil monofilament, check out my 2019 Thread Matters post on the topic.

The poppy quilting left me clamoring to stitch something “like” a poppy.  With the busy fabric it’s hard to see the quilting, but a gentle circular meander proved useful here. Thanks for sharing your precious design with us, Jenni!

Annette Plog of Petite Quilts designed the Summer Fun block. It was inspired by her family tradition of opening the backyard swimming pool on Memorial Day weekend and having all the family over to test the waters. Annette loves that, like the triangles in the pieced block, they have adults, kids and pets going in all different directions, having lots of fun, eating lots of food, and enjoying the warm summer weather and each other’s company.

The shading of the background color on Annette’s block warranted a change in color from the #6722 I’d been using.

I chose color #2310 for the background quilting where the straight line quilting represents the family all going in different directions yet coming together in the center of the block.

Lissa Alexander aka Moda Lissa prepared the Inside My Window block inspired by her childhood home that has now comforted 3 generations of family and is occupied by Lissa and her husband. The 3 windows represent the 3 generations of family and the spool block represents the view of her studio shelves from the outside looking in.

Lissa’s quilt was another that challenged my available thread colors, so I decided again to go with Aurifil clear monofilament.

I was excited to stitch out a gentle curved roofing design. You can see I did this completely unmarked and free motion (it’s a little wonky if I do say so myself). In the main house section I felt it appropriate to show all the LOVE that Lissa and her family have for their home — what better way than with hearts. <3

Thanks for a fun block, Lissa!

In a few of the previous images you’ll notice the negative space was stitched with a combination of swirls, pebbles, feathers, and straight lines — adding a ribbon candy like design in the center block sashing. The outside border was also stitched with straight lines appx ¼ – ⅜ “ apart (taking care to NOT worry about the spacing — it all worked out fine).

Many thanks for joining us today for a throwback to the 2019 Designer of the Month quilting adventure. I hope you gained a few tips to aid in your future quilting experiences.

Have you tried Forty3? Educators, Professional Longarmers, and Industry Professionals can purchase it through the Aurifil Supply Closet.  Retail customers can ask for it at their favorite quilt shop. It works beautifully on a longarm or domestic machine and is a must-have for every quilting fanatic.

Website — FacebookInstagram — YouTube

Karen L. Miller, owner of Redbird Quilt Co. is an Aurifil designer, Aurifilosopher, national educator, author, and cheerleader of all things free motion quilting. She launched Redbird Quilt Co. to share her love of appliqué and show others how free motion quilting on home sewing machines can bring their projects to life. Karen plays with all weights of Aurifil thread and openly contributes her knowledge and experience to the greater quilting community. When she’s not outside enjoying the multitude of songbirds that grace the Finger Lakes Region of NY, you’ll find her sharing her love of Free Motion Quilting via ZOOM with Guilds, Shops and Groups across the Globe.

Karen and her husband Cliff own one crazy Yellow Nape Amazon parrot named “Cayman”. Their children are grown and they are blessed with 8 grandchildren, many of whom love to sew with Gramma Karen!

The Subtle Sampler
Karen is a master at quilting with all weights of Aurifil thread. Her goal when creating The Subtle Sampler was to enable you to try each weight too.  You’ll love experimenting with the subtle 12wt, 28wt, 40wt and 50wt threads in the collection. Don’t miss her tutorial for The Subtle Tree right here on Auribuzz.

12 Large Spools
Clear Monofilament, Smoke Monofilament
12wt: 6722, 6723 || 28wt: 2430, 2130, 2880
40wt: 2530, 5017, 5006 || 50wt: 2312, 2000


  1. WOW! Thanks for such detail. As someone just starting ruler quilting, I really do appreciate the details! It gives me ideas and directions to follow!!

      1. Cheryl — thanks for the kind feedback. I had dreamed of quilting that block (since I designed it 😉 ) . It was great fun to make it happen. I really want to make that in a wall hanging size and quilt it again!! Thanks for the follow and continuous support <3

    1. It’s Art!!! I love the texture and detail. You have inspired me! Wool batting ordered and 28 wt Aurifil!!!

  2. This is amazing, and thanks for all the details. Question: Is the Quilter’s Dream Blend used to help with stability when quilting or general stability when using the quilt after it is finished?

    1. Aww… thank you my friend. You are too sweet. The Dream Blend stability is intended to be post quilting stability- during hanging. The Dream Wool isn’t as densely woven so I worry that over time it might go wonky. A completely untested concern though. Does this help ?

  3. Wow !!! I’m totally blown away by the quilting….it really makes everything in the blocks pop !!! Karen does a superb job once again !!!

  4. Love the entire quilt, but Karen I believe your block with the applique and quilting was my favorite

    1. Ahh — Jane — you’re a woman after my own heart <3 Thank you so much. I really enjoyed quilting each block but it seems there was a little less pressure on my own. I think it would be so fun to make and quilt a LARGE version of this block — can't seem to get that out of my head. Join me ? Thanks again — you're a doll.

  5. It`s all about quilting! You did an amazing job! Every block is more outstanding with the quilt design. I think the batting did made a difference too. How to chose the right batting?

    1. Simone — my goodness — thank you for such kind words. I was so thrilled to quilt this already amazingly beautiful quilt. The designers put much thought and heart into their blocks and it was important for me to recognize and continue to highlight their inspiration. Now — about that batting — I love to say that if you’re quilting for texture or loft then use a high loft batting. Dream Wool is my favorite because it’s a natural fiber and it washes well and my goodness — does it give great dimension to the quilt top. The Blend by Quilters Dream provides a bit of loft but also dense fibers that give stability. If you’re quilting for someone that doesn’t are at all about loft and texture then use a Cotton batting — which is generally less expensive. Does this help ? Thanks again for your kind comments.

  6. Your creativity with the quilting is amazing! I especially like the Flamingo Toes block – the quilting takes it from nice to fantastic! Thank you for sharing all of these great photos and inspiration!

    1. Aww Brenda — thank you. Bev @flamigotoes was such a beautiful block and I wanted to do it justice. I wish I had done just a little more quilting on it – to highlight the wedding ring but sometimes you don’t see these things until the quilting is done. Thank you though — for your thoughtful comment.

    1. Thank you Pat — for being open to me quilting it. What an honor !! The quilt was already spectacular when I rec’d it — I just added a little icing on top of the cake. You are an amazing designer — thanks for all the years of pulling this together.

  7. Wow!! I love all of it! Karen’s block is my favorite, love the appliqué and feathers around it. It really makes the flowers stand out. I love Sedef’s block too. The feathers up the vine make it look full. And the feathered circle in Beverly’s vintage wedding ring block really bring that block out. I could go on and on. This is a work of art! I love how you took the time to quilt the blocks based on the tradition or story of each block. It makes the quilt have its own special meaning. Just love this! 💕

    1. Gwen t– you are a gem — thank you. I was thankful that each designer told their story — it certainly gave me a jump start on the quilting motif. Having the flexibility to “do as you choose” was another bonus. I’m honored that they trusted me with that. thanks again for your sweet comment — hope to see you again soon 😉

  8. Great quilt and great quilting! Inspiring! Would you please elaborate on why you chose the 6722 (a pale tan/beige) over a white for the background filler quilting? I will be quilting a scrappy double Irish chain quilt that has whites and white tone-on-tones for the background fabrics and would like to try Forty3. I was planning on using white but I like the look of the 6722 on this quilt. I am no where near the quilter that you are so i don’t really want my quilting stitches to jump out and scare someone. LOL

    1. Laurie — thank you — that is a great question. It all boils down to how the thread strand looks on the “negative space” and if I don’t have an exact match I will choose a thread color that is slightly lighter than the fabric. The #6722 (once unwound) looked perfect for most of the background fabrics. I would suggest you get both colors, unwind them and place them over your background fabric. If they don’t match exactly then choose a slightly lighter color over the darker color. My goal is to always match thread colors (so texture shows but the mistakes don’t 😉 Just like you said above {wink wink}) and sometimes it’s really hard to make that choice. Do you have an Aurifil color card ?? That helps too!! Thanks for the kind comment.

  9. The quilting is stunning. Each block was turned in an extrordinaire wonderful block. Thanks for explaining and sharing each Process. Now it can really be seen: Thread matters.

  10. I love, love, love, luv….. red & white quilts. These red and white blocks are even more stunning when detailed thread work is added. Great opportunity to embellish with beautiful thread!!

    1. Elisa — RIGHT !! I love Red and White too — one of the reasons why I so enjoyed quilting this gem. I was lucky that the quilt was already amazingly beautiful when I rec’d it — I just had to put a few cherries on top of this hot fudge sundae 😉 Thanks for the kind comment and for having me at the Brown Sugar Stitchers this past week. Hugs to all today as we honor Dr. King.

  11. Love learning about how to use thread to make a difference in the quilting of different design blocks.

  12. Beautiful quilt. Love the red and white. The story behind each block made me want to hear and see more. The choice of different thread types and colors added that special touch. But it was the unique quilting specific for each block that made this quilt a true WORK OF ART.

  13. Karen, after being part of your workshop Saturday, Jan. 16, it really helped reinforce what I learned about FMQ patterns to see them executed in such a lovely quilt! Thank you!

    1. Oh — Leaigh Ann — I didn’t even thing of that as we were learning — bad on me. I’m so happy you hopped over and checked the quilt out. My goodness I do love still looking at it. I wish it was mine to keep. Anyhow — thanks for joining in the Workshop this past weekend. I hope we all get to meet again soon. Take care now.

  14. Karen, I loved your FMQ Basics and Beyond class. I learned so much and can hardly walk by my machine without practicing some of the designs you taught us. I was at my sewing machine until 11pm after the class ended at 5. I wish I could quilt all day, every day. 🙂 . I am looking forward to learning more.

    1. OMG!!! I just read the entire article and just to document each block is impressive. The blocks are all nice but you enhanced each of them with very thoughtful quilting. The diamond block stood out to me because it looks textured and 3 dimensional. Your flower block is my favorite because it reminds me of my grandma who quilted when she wasn’t tending to her flowers or baking. I made a quilt for my grandma called Grandma’s Garden. I never completed the quilting because I was in a hurry to give it to her. She died three months later. I just LOVE your quilting. You are truly a master.

      1. Michelle — I can’t thank you enough for your kind and thoughtful feedback. I’m so happy you enjoyed the Workshop – I know I had great fun with everyone. As for the quilt — wowee — I sure enjoyed playing with each and every block and it is my pleasure to my thoughts with ya’ll. Now — Keep on Quilting and let me know how else I can help you !! You’ve got this.

  15. Hi Karen, Your thread class was so amazing that I’ve become ADDICTED to this thrread. It wil be the only one I will use . Your class Saturday was outstanding even though I didnt stay. You are aso bessed . Thank you agian


  16. This is AMAZING and the quilting is awe-inspiring. Karen, your quilting makes every block “pop” in its own unique way. I love hearing the story behind each block, and how you are able to translate that story with your quilting is phenomenal!

  17. Karen! Oh my goodness you are so artistic and talented. I love your creativity and wow
    I’d love to fmq like you do. These post are sooo informative perhaps someday I’ll be able to do it too. Thank you so very much. 🧵

    1. Thanks so very much Sue — I just love the quilting and sharing with ya’ll makes my day too !!

  18. The feathers you create are amazing. All the quilted elements fit very well with the blocks. Thank you for sharing!

  19. I love sampler quilts but worry about how to quilt them. Thanks for all the wonderful tips and ideas!

  20. So love the red and white quilts. I love your quilting! So very beautiful! I wish I Ioved to quilt as much as you. 🤣

  21. I’m a newbie quilter and am not even near your ballpark. BUT I am inspired to learn! Thanks for the info!

  22. So many different designers, and their feelings, memories, and creativity to honor with your special quilting skill, and you kept it cohesive and individual and beautiful, Karen. What a special quilt!

  23. This is amazing! Your work is so inspiring! I love all of the detail in the negative space. You have such amazing talent. I’ve enjoyed the blocks and reading about each designer.

  24. Thanks so much for this post! It’s fascinating to see the blocks transformed by the quilting. I’ll keep practicing . . . .

  25. Absolutely love this! Thanks for all the detailed information! Great for quilters of all levels!

  26. Of course RED is always my fave too !
    The 3D dimension brings life to this quilt !
    (another) AMAZING quilting, Karen 🤗s

  27. I love your work Karen! My favorite blocks were Hanalei’s Garden, Ruby Red and my very favorite was Redbird Garden with the texture of the block, vibrant color and the quiltin was beautiful accent.

  28. I love using Forty-3 on my long arm. It was fun seeing the variety of designs you picked to enhance the blocks. I keep practicing. Thanks for the details, too.

  29. What a beautiful quilt! I love the traditional theme and how the quilting reflects that theme for each block. Thread choice is so important and in this case the Aurufil Forty 3 thread really makes each block come to life with the exceptional quilting designs on it….a skill I will always be working on to improve.

  30. I love the trapunto effect, the exactness of your stitching, the pebbles!! and the explicit instruction and awesome detailed photos.

  31. The two layers of batting really made the blocks “pop. Also, the explanation of why you used certain threads was interesting. I realize that I have been twisting the fabric, which is probably the reason that I get frustrated when I try to free motion quilt – thanks for the tip.

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