We fell in love with Jo Avery‘s work years ago and we’re pretty sure she may have fell in Aurilove right around the same time. Jo is truly one of those magical creative unicorns who somehow excels at everything she sets her mind to… quilting, embroidery, improv piecing, needle turn appliqué, crochet. Each artfully staged photo reveals something new and so perfectly wonderful.
She has been curating collections for Aurifil since 2017 and is now also an Aurifilosopher (an Aurifil Educator), bringing her passion for thread experimentation and exploration to the masses. Make sure to keep an eye on her blog or Instagram to learn more about new class offerings, like the one she is developing for the gorgeous sampler pictured below!
We are delighted by each new opportunity to collaborate and are particularly excited to launch a brand new collection with her this year. Stitching with Wool is the perfect follow-up to her 2019 collection, Modern Crewel Work. Ten small spools of Aurifil’s wool 12wt = a box full of endless possibilities. This year, the collection is followed by Jo’s brand new book with C&T, Modern Crewel Embroidery. Grab it along with Jo’s two wool thread sets and you’ll be ready for a soothing year of hand stitching.
We have thank Jo for taking the time to chat with us, to share her thread insights and tell us all about what she is up to these days. Thank you, Jo!!
For those readers who are just meeting you for the first time, can you tell us how you first got started in this creative, maker-centric industry?
I discovered craft blogs in 2009 and I immediately started my own. It was a real lightbulb moment for me! At the time I was busy making quilts, crocheting blankets and knitting and sewing toys but in complete isolation as none of my friends were interested in crafts and I had never thought to look online for a community. I came across this blog quite by chance and I remember thinking ‘this is what I am meant to be doing!’ I just had this urgent need to communicate about my craft pursuits and to educate and inspire others.
My teenage sons helped me set up ‘Bearpaw’ (as it was initially known) and within a few months I was part of this amazing online quilting and crafting community and making new lifelong friendships. Within a few years I opened a craft studio and store, myBearpaw, and began teaching a wide variety of subjects. At around the same time I started designing projects for magazines and this whole new career really took off.
Do you have a favorite technique?
Not a consistent one as I am pretty fickle and I don’t think I could just pick one favourite as I need a variety to keep me interested. But I love improv piecing as I find it so relaxing and creative. These days I find myself more and more reluctant to have to cut and sew accurately! So I envisage a lot more improv piecing in my future quilts. I spend a lot of time with hand work too and my love for needle-turn applique is consistent. But it’s embroidery that is really getting me excited at the moment so currently that is probably my favourite.
Tell us about your new book, how did your interest in Crewelwork begin?
Modern Crewel Embroidery is published by Stash books in mid October and is a collection of 15 samplers all stitched with wool. Crewelwork simply means embroidery using wool and is the correct terminology for famous stitched narratives such as The Bayeux Tapestry. In 2013 I heard about a new project to create a ‘Great Tapestry of Scotland’, which would tell the story of our nation through a vast embroidery. I immediately volunteered and together with a wonderful group of stitchers, the Edinburgh Tapestry Tenners, stitched one of the 165 panels, ‘The Wildwood and it’s Fauna c8500BC’. My group included a mix of stitchers from master embroiderers with decades of experience through to complete novices and we all helped and mentored each other during the year it took to finish the panel. Last week I had the great privilege to attend the preview opening of the new visitor’s centre and permanent home for the Great Tapestry of Scotland situated in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. It was a joyful and moving experience and I would recommend a visit to this amazing community arts project to any visitors to Scotland, make sure it’s on your ‘must see’ list!
editor note: See the full quilt below and head HERE for more detailed images.
But back to the book. The tapestry was stitched with crewel wool which can be a little frustrating to use, breaking and twisting. That said, I really loved the soft cosy feel of the wool and the matte texture it gives embroidery. While experimenting with different Aurifil threads one day, I decided to try the 12wt wool for embroidery. A double strand of this is a very similar weight to crewel wool but the mix of wool and acrylic means it doesn’t break and can also be used as a single strand for finer detail. It was exactly what I’d been looking for and I began using Aurifil wool exclusively for all my embroidery. My Modern Crewel Work Aurifil collection box soon followed, inspired by my Pebbles Sampler.
The next obvious step was to write a whole book about Modern Crewel Embroidery with the Pebbles Sampler as a starting point. This design uses the pebbles FMQ pattern and I have used lots of other patchwork and quilting designs to inspire the samplers in the book. An embroidery sampler is a way to show off many different stitches and I have chosen both traditional crewel work and more modern interpretations throughout the book. There are three sections, Doodles, Nature and Geometrics with a wide range of projects from pincushions to pouches and even an embroidered belt. Quilting inspired patterns used for the samplers include hexagons, clamshells and patchwork blocks as well as more FMQ patterns like loops and a square meander. The book is designed to be very accessible and suitable for both complete beginners or more expert embroiderers. Wool thread is very forgiving for new embroiderers and fills quickly, however any thread can be used with the designs.
How is this collection different than Modern Crewel Work?
The new Stitching With Wool collection is designed to accompany Modern Crewel Embroidery but really both collections work with the book. These two collections contain my 20 top thread colours, all of which are specified in at least one of the book projects. If you’re wanting to invest in wool thread then you couldn’t do better than to buy both boxes!
When choosing the threads for the new box I wanted a palette that would hang together aesthetically but without using any of the shades for the Modern Crewel Work box. There wasn’t a project that used just the new threads though so I recreated the Doodle Hoop project for the cover using the threads from the box. I also used the collection for my Flower Journey hoop. This embroidery design was based on a recent quilt I made which in turn was inspired by a previous embroidery! Yet another example of the way that my two favourite crafts constantly inspire each other. The Flower Journey is available as a bonus PDF pattern if you pre-order Modern Crewel Embroidery from my website (UK and Europe customers) or Morris Textiles (North America).
This is your second collection featuring Wool 12wt threads — what is it that you love so much about the Wool?
The wool thread is amazingly versatile. Not only does it work so well for crewel embroidery but I also use it for both hand AND machine quilting. It’s softer and a little finer than 12wt cotton and is easier on my hands for big stitch quilting. When using in your machine make sure you wind 50wt or 40wt on to your bobbin and switch to a slightly bigger needle such as 90 or 100. I like to use a 4mm stitch which gives the effect of a very neat back stitch and looks incredibly striking. Click HERE to check out my Thread Matters blog post all about wool thread for more information and examples.
A few weeks ago I saw a reposted image on the Aurifil Instagram account where someone had used the wool thread to crochet! I love to crochet and I knew I had to give this a try. I used a size 1mm hook and began a tiny granny square afghan, it was a little fiddly to start with but got easier as I got used to the scale. This was so much fun to make and occupied my train journey to and from the Festival of Quilts! The finished tiny blanket reminds me of the afghans an elderly relative made for my whole extended family in the 1970’s (you can see them draped over the back of sofas in all our old photos!).
My son’s girlfriend, Katie, has become obsessed with knitting little woollen creatures and has started an Instagram account where she tells wonderful whimsical tales about them. I love finding tiny props for her stories and knew this blanket would be perfect for one of her enchanting posts. Check out Beaniknitz to find out what happens at Moley and Lavender Mouse’s picnic!
What drives you to continue creating and innovating?
I am always seeing things that inspire me and make me want to create. I take a lot of walks along the coastline and through the woods near where I live. Observing the shapes and colours of the natural world is a constant source of inspiration and ideas just pop into my head as I’m walking. I never have enough time to make all the things I imagine on those walks but the best ideas just have to be brought to life. Also I have been sewing, knitting and crocheting since I was a small child and it is so much a part of my daily life that I really can’t survive without it. I find it very difficult to relax without some handwork to do so I just have to keep stitching!
Are the techniques you’re using with the Wool ones that you’re teaching in your workshops?
I am teaching my Modern Crewel Embroidery class to real live people at my old store, myBearpaw, next week which will be wonderful! I am also producing a virtual version of this workshop which will be available as one of my publisher’s Creative Spark online classes to coincide with the book’s release.
When did you first discover Aurifil Thread and why is it your go-to?
In 2012 I attended the first Fat Quarterly retreat in London and received a spool of Aurifil 50wt in my goody bag. I hadn’t really thought that one thread could be that different to another until I tried that spool for hand sewing. I was amazed at how smoothly it glided through the fabric and how much more pleasurable it was to use!
I soon started using it in my machine and was so impressed with the fact that my bobbins lasted much longer, my seams laid flatter and there was so much less lint left behind than other brands. When I started to use the large 1300M spools I was even more pleased to find that Aurifil was much more economical too. I haven’t looked back since and have now tried out every thread they make!
What is your favorite weight thread to work with? Your favorite color?
I’m obviously going to say 12wt wool here! I have an obsession with this egg yolk yellow, shade 8135. It’s in the new collection and pretty much everything I make at the moment.
Drop some knowledge on us… what is your absolute top thread tip?
One of the things I’ve learnt through the Aurifilosophy programme is the importance of matching needle eye to thread weight. I certainly always thought about this for machine needles but had never considered how important it is for hand sewing needles too. If your eye is too big you will create too much friction and your thread is more likely to break. If you struggle to thread needles it’s always a temptation to select a needle with a larger eye, but instead invest in a decent needle threader and choose one that snuggly fits your thread. Or find a small child who’ll sit beside you and thread all your needles! 😉
What are your plans for the next year and where can we find you for more inspiration?
I am very busy launching the new Thread House Club BOM at the moment. The Thread House is a collective of myself, Karen Lewis, and Lynne Goldsworthy. Last year we launched our first BOM club and it was a huge success so we are doing it all over again this year. Our new quilt is called Free Bird and we are each making a different version using solid fabrics. I’ve just finished my top and it’s about to get loaded to my Moxie long arm. The BOM offers a wide range of techniques from FPP to needle-turn applique, each backed up with expert video tuition from the three of us. We have built a wonderful warm friendly community through our club membership and it’s been hugely rewarding for us all. We can’t wait to get started on this next quilt challenge with our members. There is still plenty of time to sign up as the BOM doesn’t start till October and our Early Bird offer doesn’t end until 1st September! Click HERE to register. Get 15% off by using code FREEBIRDEARLYBIRD at checkout!
We produced an Aurifil thread collection to accompany our 2020 BOM quilt Folk Dance and luckily this box works really well with the new quilt AND it’s still available to buy! In the UK you can buy directly from us or ask your local Aurifil stockist.
Lastly I wanted to share my Temperature Embroidery which is ongoing throughout this year. Last year I made a Temperature Quilt and loved the daily ritual of recording the temperature so much I decided to keep going with a different project. I am using Aurifil 12wt wool and chose the colour palette at the start of the year, matching every thread with a particular degree centigrade. The central circle is worked in satin stitch and records the highest temperature that day. The outer ring is worked in chain stitch and is the lowest temperature. When finished this will be a long narrow wall hanging with 52 rows of 7 circles. Aurifil thread provides another useful tool here as I mark up the centre circle by drawing round the inner part of a large spool top!
Cats or Dogs: Cats
Shoes or Barefoot: Shoes, specifically my trail running shoes which keep my feet dry on my walks all year round.
Country or City: I’m a city girl who lives in the country so I need a bit of both
Camping or Glamping: Can I have a nice boutique hotel instead?!
To the Mountains or to the Sea: Again I want a bit of both (can you tell I am a gemini?!)
Favorite Notion: my Japanese snips
Current binge-worthy show: I’m just re-watching The Witcher and getting excited about the new season!
Jo Avery is a quilt and embroidery designer, teacher and entrepreneur. She is a regular contributor to a number of 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.
** Images by Jo Avery