Thread Matters 2021: Wool, the Thread Cinderella

Greetings Aurifil family!   As Master Educator and Aurifilosophy Program Coordinator I’m excited to introduce UK based Aurifilosopher Jo Avery of The Stitch Gathering.  Jo is one of those amazing designers whose fresh, bright creations keep you coming back for more. Besides being a treasured Aurifil Designer, Jo is a pattern designer, an educator, a retreat host and an author. Fellow bird lovers, you’ll be sure to swoon over Jo’s spectacular Bird Applique patterns! 😉 Huge thanks to Jo for sharing her love of Aurifil 12wt Wool with us today.   

Aurifilosophy has gone Virtual!  Consider scheduling a virtual program for your shop, group, or guild. Learn more about Aurifilosophy and find your favorite Aurifilosopher here.  

Happy Stitching!

Karen L. Miller ~ Redbird Quilt Co.

Hello! My name is Jo Avery and I am a quilt and embroidery designer, maker, teacher and author living in beautiful Scotland. I’m also a new Aurifilosopher, one of only three based in the UK, and I’m here to talk about Aurifil 12wt wool! 

Out of all the Aurifil threads, wool feels a little like the Cinderella spool that gets overlooked and doesn’t get to go to the ball. Well today, I get to be the Fairy Godmother!  I’m going to transform the wool thread before your very eyes by showing you how fabulously versatile it is for embroidery, embellishment, AND quilting. Yes, wool thread will go to the ball!

Crewel Embroidery
As a quilter and hand stitcher I use all the weights of Aurifil cotton thread. I love to use the 12wt cotton for embroidery, but a few years back I began to use Aurifil wool for a modern take on crewelwork.

Crewelwork simply means embroidery using wool and is the correct terminology for famous stitched narratives such as The Bayeux Tapestry. But crewel wool can be difficult to obtain and tricky to work with, twisting and breaking easily.  So I started experimenting with Aurifil 12wt wool and soon discovered that the effect of crewel wool could be achieved by using two strands together, but with the added advantage of finer detail when using a single strand. As Aurifil wool thread contains 50% acrylic it has extra strength and doesn’t break easily. In fact, I can safely say I have never had a strand break on me while stitching!  My Pebbles Sampler was the first piece to grow out of this experiment and it was such a big hit that it inspired it’s own Aurifil collection box, Modern Crewelwork, which features the ten shades of wool that I used for the Pebbles Sampler. 

I just love the soft, cosy feel of the wool and the dense matt texture it provides. Wool is a great choice for embroidery because it works up quickly and the fluffy threads hide imperfections more readily than cotton or silk. Another thing I like is that it comes on spools rather than skeins and is much easier to handle. As a naturally untidy person I have always found embroidery skeins very frustrating to use and store.  

Two strands of wool thread are perfect for filling stitches. I start by cutting one long piece that is double the length of a usual strand, and thread one end though the needle before knotting the two ends together. This works perfectly for me and the strands rarely separate or twist. The usual advice when cutting a single strand of thread is to knot the end you cut from the spool which ensures a smoother thread. However, the way I double my thread leaves the strands running in both directions. Having also experimented with two strands parallel and threaded together through the needle, I can confirm that with wool thread it makes no difference that I can discern. 

Unlike the 12wt cotton, the wool thread will flatten enough to thread through the eye of a crewel or embroidery needle, but I prefer to use Sharps needles in a size 4 or 5 eye. Millward is my favourite brand, but John James or Tulip are also good.

My wool embroidery obsession has continued long enough for me to write a book about it! In October my new book Modern Crewel Embroidery will be published by Stash Books. This offers fifteen fresh samplers all stitched with wool, the majority using Aurifil. A new collection of wool threads will be released to coordinate with the book, including all my favourite shades that I used in the different projects. Aurifil wool is available in 192 colours so there is a wide and wonderful selection to choose from.

If you can’t wait till October to start embroidering with wool then I have a new design to share with you today. I was inspired by a TV nature programme set in the jungles of India to create this peacock hiding amongst lush foliage. My peacock embroidery is available in the next issue of Stitch magazine.  This comes out in the UK at the end of March, but I have special permission from the editor to give you this exclusive preview today!  Stitch magazine is available to buy from all good newsstands in the UK (on sale March 25) or you can purchase a digital copy from elsewhere in the world (available March 19). I will be offering kits from my website to accompany the magazine pattern, containing the Zweigart linen and Aurifil threads that I used. Sign up to my email newsletter to find out more when they are ready to go. 

Did you know you can use Aurifil 12wt wool thread in your sewing machine?  It actually works like a dream and as with embroidery I have never had a thread break while stitching. I use Aurifil 50wt in the bobbin and a size 100 needle (though you can get away with 90 at a push).  For quilting I turn my stitch length up to 4 or even 4.5 and the effect is like a super neat backstitch worked by hand. So far I have only used this for smaller projects such as pouches, pillows or mini quilts and always with my walking foot attached.  My favourite method is to create close wavy lines and to use a variegated thread. The soft texture combined with the movement created by the variegated colours is really effective.

I also love to use wool thread for hand quilting, either to add detail to machine quilting or on it’s one. All my hand quilting tends to be ‘big stitch’ using thicker thread, but I find stitching with 12wt wool is easier on my hands then 12wt cotton. The wool is a little finer and slides through the layers with more ease putting less strain on my poor old hands (which are constantly stitching something as I think you will have worked out by now!).

If my hands are feeling up to it I’ve been known to completely cover a mini quilt with dense hand stitches, even adding some simple embroidery stitches for extra texture. I find hand stitching so calming and meditative that it’s sometimes difficult to stop! The wonky curve piece below is all worked in single strands of gorgeous 12wt wool.

I make a lot of pouches (it’s another addiction!) and if I don’t quilt them with wavy lines I tend to use matchstick quilting and 50wt thread, leaving gaps that I fill later with 12wt wool. This extra textural detail elevates the project to something really special.

Wool on Wool action
Recently I’ve been enjoying using wool felt. Originally it was as an embellishment, like the small pieces I added to my Pebbles Sampler. It seemed such an obvious fit to use wool felt with wool thread. But the chunky texture of wool felt is so pleasing that I’ve started making things with it, such as (yes you guessed it!) pouches.

I was recently struck by a pleasing symbol on one of my bottles of gin (it’s been a long lockdown over here!) and I decided to recreate it using felt. I really just wanted to have a bit of fun using my pretty colours of wool felt and equally pretty shades of wool thread. I created these two panels with added button details. But then I had no idea what to do with them next!

My lovely followers on Instagram gave me lots of suggestions but in the end I decided they needed to be something structured and three dimensional. I also realised that if I joined the sides together and made them into a tube one more motif would fit perfectly on the top. So these two sturdy pincushions emerged, they remind me of mini ginger jars and though I really don’t need another pincushion, their shape, textures and colours please me.

This concludes my tour of all things Aurifil wool. I do hope the wool spool now appears as wondrous to you as it does to me.

Your carriage awaits 12wt wool…

Website | Instagram

Jo Avery is a quilt and embroidery designer, teacher and entrepreneur. She is a regular contributor to a number of quilt and embroidery publications and the author of New Patchwork  and Quilting Basics published by Stash Books. As part of The Thread House she organises both physical and virtual quilting retreats and hosts an annual BOM club. Inspired by nature and our craft heritage her eclectic style perfectly blends modern and traditional aesthetics. Her next book Modern Crewel Embroidery will be published in October 2021.


  1. WOW Jo! This is an amazing amount of information and inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  2. I bought several spools of Aurifil wool thread awhile back because I love working on wholesale but wasn’t sure how to use it. Thanks for your great information. Has anyone tried to machine blanket stitch with wool? Any suggestions for machine settings?

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