Chris English is a magnificent quilter and artist based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK. He is well known for his use of recycled fabric, his passion for improv quilts, and for his eclectic use of fabrics and colour.
We were delighted to introduce Chris’s debut Aurifil collection, Street Art, in July of 2021 — a gorgeous and bold set sharing a variety of thread weights and hues.
Over this past holiday season, Chris had the opportunity to experiment with making quilted cards and ornaments. It felt like the perfect opportunity to share a bit more about why he uses different thread weights and how they can enhance the finished look of a project. So today, we turn to Chris for a bit of creative insight and hope you leave feeling a little more inspired to try something new!
This year I decided to use up more scraps and make and send some quilted Christmas cards and postcards rather than buying and sending the usual ones. This was a great opportunity to experiment with different thread weights and try out ideas and techniques on a much smaller scale rather than on a king size quilt. These smaller experiments are great fun and can lead to all sorts of possibilities.
Why I use different thread weights….
I love quilty texture and love experimenting with different thread weights to see how they look. My favourite thing is to combine hand and machine quilting. I think contrast is incredibly important in quilting (and most things actually) and by combining hand and machine quilting it’s easy to achieve.
The more ad-hoc nature of my hand quilting is very different to the uniform stitches the machine creates, and this contrast is what I love.
How I use different thread weights…
I love 12wt cotton. It’s fine enough to go through the machine and creates beautifully defined stitches. For the Christmas card I used 12wt for the hand quilted crosses and bird foot stitch. I varied the size of each of these stitches as I feel that adds to the uniqueness of each card. It draws attention to the fact that the gift is handmade, with care and attention having gone into each stitch.
I especially love the variegated 12wt. The changing colours seem to have a happy way of appearing just where you want them. Sometimes these happy accidents produce the best colour combos– certainly ones that you wouldn’t normally plan!
I do also use 12wt in the machine. Try experimenting with the stitch length to create the appearance of hand quilted stitches (but conveniently achieved much quicker)! Aurifil 12wt has always worked well in my machine but I’d recommend practicing on a smaller sample to get comfortable with how it performs in your machine. Some tension and stitch length adjustments may be necessary.
I use floss in a variety of different ways. Sometimes I’ll use it as a traditional embroidery thread… separating the strands. But, I also love using it with all 6 strands together to hand tie my quilts. This truly adds a whole new level of texture. My preferred method is to cut two 4” lengths of thread and, using a large eyed needle, sew through the quilt from front to back and then back up. Tie the two loose ends, so it ends up being a normal stitch but with both ends cut. There are other ways to hand tie a quilt but I find this method gives me the control I want, as I don’t often add the knots in a uniform way.
I love using 28wt in my machine as it provides clear and visible stitches. I also use it to hand quilt, usually alongside the 12wt, as an echo to the bolder 12wt stitches.
I use 50wt for everything! I generally use a neutral colour for piecing and branch out to other colours for machine and hand quilting. If I’m doing a quilt with more machine quilting, the 50wt is always my go-to. The stitches are crisp and visible, adding the perfect amount of texture, particularly when your quilting lines are close together. It sews beautifully.
80wt is what I reach for when I want a more subtle texture. It’s also perfect for a variety of appliqué techniques when you really want a barely-there thread. It almost disappears into the fabric! Believe it or not, 80wt and 12wt look absolutely stunning when partnered. The contrast is especially apparent when people are close up to your quilts and suddenly see the more subtle thread!
My collection contains 2 of each of the above thread weights. When choosing the thread, my idea was that it would enable people to experiment with their thread choices– combine thread weights and colors to create a new quilty texture.
My top tip is to go for it and try something new. Create some small samples or rescue your orphan blocks to try out some of the above ideas. Think about all of the decorative stitches on your machine that never get used! Turn these samples into quilted cards or postcards to brighten someone’s day.
This is also the time to try different colours and weights. Many quilters I’ve met often shy away from bold colours as they either aren’t confident in their color choices or don’t think their quilting is good enough. These small sample pieces are a great way to become more confident and develop your own quilting style. In my opinion, perfection is the most overrated quality. Stitching is as unique as your handwriting. It’s part of you, so don’t worry about trying to be as ‘good’ as someone else or to mimic a style. It’s the same with colour, if the colours speak to you… use them! Don’t worry about different rules or conventions, it’s your quilt.
Find Chris via his website and on Instagram @afullenglish
Wow I’ve been reading your blogs lately and I’ve learned so many tips! I’m on my second quilt now and I think I want to add in some pizazz like embroidering flowers in each block. However, I’m not sure if I should embroider(by hand) before sewing all the blocks together with a free-motion swirly design(using a machine). Or… having the quilt blocks sewn together with the swirly design first, before I hand embroider flower designs on the blocks. I can’t find anywhere else to find tips about that particular issue. But any sort of help is greatly appreciated!! (:
As someone who has always loved to embroider, the answer for me would depend on how much detail you want to do with your embroidery. If you are talking about hours of work, do it first. It’s easier to work with smaller pieces and thinner layers. If you are thinking of broader strokes, yo may want to wait until you have a larger “canvas” to determine what to embroider. Check out some Victorian Crazy Quilt examples to get a sense of smaller detailed embroidery on quilts and the Japanese Sashiko (not sure on the spelling there) to see some larger hand stitching. Maybe start with mini quilts to experiment. Above all, have fun rather than wo9rryng about perfection!!!
Really interesting and unique!