Jo Avery is, quite simply, one of our absolute favorite makers. We routinely get lost in an endlessly delightful IG scroll, ohh-ing and ahh-ing at each new image, marveling over the insane variety, wild creativity, and absolute skill showcased. If you’re not following Jo, we’d recommend that you remedy that straight away: @joaverystitch.
Jo 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. Over the past few years, she has developed a deep love for Aurifil 12wt Wool. She has curated two collections dedicated to Aurifil’s unsung hero and seems to be on a quest to inspire and educate so that makers everywhere are as enamored with the wool as she is. Stitching with Wool & Modern Crewel Work both feature 10 small spools of Aurifil’s Wool 12wt — 20 unique hues for endless stitchy possibilities.
Add a little Aurifil 80wt to the mix and we’re onto Jo’s current obsession… organic appliqué + embellishment + big stitch. We’re in love and were so thrilled when she presented the idea for a brand new collection. Dream Flowers is a stunning mix of hues in both Aurifil 12wt Wool & Aurifil 100% 80wt Cotton. For those keeping track — there are no color cross-overs, so you can truly collect all three!
Learn a little more about Dream Flowers, Jo’s inspirations, favorite spools, and more via the interview below. BIG thanks to Jo for playing along with us!!
psssst– if you happen to be at the 2023 Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, England this weekend, you can catch Jo at Aurifil’s Stand on Saturday at 2pm for a Demo & Sunday at 10:30am for a Meet & Greet!
Hi Jo! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. We are so excited about this new collection release and can’t wait to hear more about it! We realize that we may have a few readers who are meeting you for the first time– can you tell us a bit more about you, your background, and how you first came into this gloriously creative industry?
Hi everyone! I am a British designer based near Edinburgh in Scotland. I have been making quilts for over thirty years and turned this into a career over a decade ago. I started my blog myBearpaw back in 2009 and soon after opened a teaching studio and fabric/yarn store in Edinburgh. At around the same time I began designing quilts for magazines and this led to writing books on patchwork and embroidery. In 2016 I got together with my two friends Karen Lewis and Lynne Goldsworthy to create The Thread House, originally to publish patterns and host sewing retreats. In 2020 I sold the myBearpaw business (though I continue to blog at Jo Avery) and the pandemic meant that The Thread House branched out into virtual retreats, an annual BOM Club and now an online Academy. My work is now split between designing, making, teaching and selling (from my small select online store).
What was the very first thing that you made and how did that serve to set you off on this creative path?
The very first thing was a toy squirrel made with red curtain fabric remnants when I was six years old. My big sister is sixteen years older than me and was a very keen dressmaker. She showed me how to sew a back stitch for the seams and I can still remember how much I loved that process even now. After that I made a lot of soft toys throughout the rest of my childhood! I stopped sewing in my teenage years (too distracted by boys!) but returned to it in my early 20’s when I made my first quilt and have continued ever since.
You are an incredibly versatile maker– it seems there aren’t many mediums that you haven’t explored. Do you find yourself pulled to a particular project type or technique or do you thrive on the variety, shifting form handwork to machine quilting to knitting and more?
I am very easily distracted and love trying out new crafts and enjoy switching between them on a daily basis (sometimes hourly!). I think this keeps me constantly stimulated and stops me from getting jaded. I have my ‘work’ projects like needle turn applique or machine piecing which I tend to do during the day. And then I have my ‘fun’ projects like fairisle knitting which I keep for the evenings and weekends. It’s difficult to manage the work/life balance when you are self-employed and work from home, but working on ‘fun’ projects makes me feel like I am taking a break and doing something for myself. However in reality they are all fun projects as I turned my hobby into a job!
We’ve been entranced with your current projects, which rely heavily on organic needle turn appliqué and hand stitching. What inspired these projects and what is your favorite part about creating them?
One of the main inspirations was my love of Aurifil thread and wanting to use as much of it as I can! I recently wrote a whole book about Modern Crewel Embroidery where I used the Aurifil 12wt wool. Once I’d finished the book I wanted a break from embroidery and so returned to another passion of mine, needle turn appliqué, but I was missing that lovely wool thread. Last year I was creating a lot of ‘freehand appliqué’, not using any patterns but cutting simple shapes like circles and hoops freehand with scissors. I then used the 12t wool to hand quilt these. I just love the soft matte texture of the wool thread, especially as I had started to use a lot of linen and woven fabrics for the applique and the wool works so well with this more textured fabric. At the beginning of this year I took the combination of needle-turn appliqué (worked in 80wt thread of course) with 12wt wool a step further and began to embellish the appliqué with the wool thread. But I continued with the freehand, organic approach to the designs and this is the bit I like the best, the freedom to create without fuss, just cut shapes out and stitch them down and decorate with more stitches.
Let’s talk a little more about the process of creating these fabric books. How do you work through the planning and what is the finishing process like? Do you find that the design direction is more organic or do you plan everything out in advance?
I never plan everything out in advance no matter the project. I feel like every design is a journey and I need to be free to take divertions along the way and stay open to complete changes in direction if necessary. I came up with the idea to create fabric books when we were trying to think of an activity for our next Thread House Retreat. We had sold the retreat as a slow-stitching, mindful weekend but hadn’t worked out any of the specifics. We wanted to demo a range of different hand stitching techniques and then let our retreaters work away at their own pace. But what should we do with all the samples? A fabric book was a total genius light bulb moment for me and Lynne and Karen fortunately agreed! Of course I then needed to create one to illustrate and started with some simple organic applique flowers, using the wool thread and simple embroidery stitches to embellish. I actually posted this on Instagram on January 1st and boy did it go down well! So I created more ‘pages’ and they were equally well received. I then trawled my orphan block box and found all sorts of abandoned embroideries, sashiko squares and hand stitched class samples that were perfect to fill the other pages. I love the idea of rescuing these precious pieces of stitching and securing them forever in a little work of art.
How did the 100 Days book lead into Dream Flowers?
I’ve always planned to take part in the 100 Days project but the timing has never been quite right. Around the time I was experimenting with the organic appliqué and the fabric books I saw that the 100 Day project would be starting in February. I knew right away that I had time to do it this year and that the organic applique with embroidery would be a perfect subject. I planned it as a fabric book right from the start, working out how to get 100 blocks into a book format and setting the size of the block with that in mind. I loved stitching this project so much! Every day I designed and stitched a new 4” block with some simple shapes, just from a quick thumbnail sketch or by creating a small collage from my scraps. Almost all the shapes were cut freehand without templates. This extreme freedom was so invigorating that I feel it has started a whole new creative chapter in my life which continues still.
Of course while I was stitching the 100 Days blocks I was already planning new fabric book projects for the future in my mind. In fact as soon as I finished it I missed the daily stitching so much that I began working on the Dream Flowers fabric book. I flicked through the pages of 100 Days of Organic Appliqué, very much using it as the inspirational sketchbook I had hoped it would be, and chose my favourite flower motifs. I then expanded and added to these to fit the larger block space and drew up the designs (ten in total). As I have actual patterns for these blocks I may write this up as a PDF pattern one day.
Is it true that these books were the inspiration behind your latest curated thread set, Dream Flowers? How did you determine colors and the split between 80wt and 12wt Wool?
Yes! The combination of 80wt thread for the needle-turn applique and 12wt wool for the embellishment was so delicious that an Aurifil collection box seemed like a no-brainer. I actually designed the first Dream Flower ‘page’ with this in mind, and this first block ended up on the cover of the thread box and inspired the threads inside. For the 80wt threads I chose the most useful shades and the ones I’ve been using the most while working on these projects. These four colours will stretch to match a huge range of fabrics.
I have already produced two collections of 12wt wool, both with twenty shades each, and I didn’t want to replicate any of the colours from these as I know some of my customers like to collect these boxes. I also wanted a more subtle selection than my usual brights to match the slightly more subdued look of the linens and wovens I’ve been using recently. And lastly I definitely needed some variegated thread as it is like having a two-for-one shade and adds so much movement and variety to the collection.
Do you have any key tips for us to share with makers who may be new to 80wt and 12wt Wool?
The most important thing is to match your thread with the correct needle size. If you are using a fine thread such as the 80wt then you also need a fine needle. If your needle eye is too big for the thread it will cause friction as you sew and the thread is more likely to break. This is something I think we are all aware of with machine needles but neglect with hand sewing. Often people struggle to thread needles due to eyesight changes as we age and therefore choose a needle with an eye too big for the thread. My advice is to reduce the size of the eye and invest in a decent needle threader. Failing that persuade a small child to sit beside you as you sew and thread your needles 😉
For 80wt thread I like a Straw/Milliners number 10, this is longer than an applique needle and I find it easier for turning under the edges as I sew. You will also find that a fine needle with a fine thread will make for fine stitches.
For 12wt wool I like a Sharps number 5 or 4. The 4 works well for both the wool and the 12wt cotton (which I also use) so I tend to have more of these around, however the number 5 fits the wool a little neater.
We know that there are some key connections between these fabric books, the thread collection, and events & partnerships that you have coming up later this year. What do you have planned and where can makers learn more about your technique?
At the beginning of this year we launched The Thread House Academy, an online teaching school. Over the last few years we have amassed a huge amount of experience in online teaching and video tutorials. We decided to take this shared wisdom to the next level by offering a whole year of online tuition. The Academy year is split into three terms and each has a theme with the final term being all about sustainability. I had something else planned for this but once I started creating the fabric books I realised this would fit in perfectly with this theme. So I will be teaching my Keepsake Fabric Book in January 2024 which is the second from last class in this academic year.
Along with encouraging students to reuse and recycle (precious scraps, baby clothes, vintage embroidery, etc.) I’ll be sharing the same organic applique with embroidery technique I’ve used to create both Dream Flowers and the 100 Day book. If you don’t want to wait that long to learn freehand applique with me then my next class in September is Organic Improv Applique which uses the Vetch Cushion as a sample, all stitched with the same combination of Aurifil 80wt and 12wt. Our Academy classes can be purchased as a single class or as a Term or Annual Pass. The classes are delivered as pre-recorded videos and with the pass you also get live zoom sessions with your tutors and access to an online community for advice and sharing.
Where do you go from here? What comes next in the world of Jo Avery and where can we find you?
The immediate future includes Festival of Quilts which is one of the highlights of my quilting year! As I type this I am in full-on prep mode with mostly all my packing done. I am so looking forward to my demos and the meet and greet sessions on the Aurifil stand and being able to share my love of Aurifil thread with quilters from all over the world.
I’m also on the faculty for QuiltCon 2024 in Raleigh. I am super excited to be teaching in person at QuiltCon for the first time and being able to catch up with all my international quilting pals and meet some of the friends from my phone IRL!
We are also about to start planning our programme of classes for next year’s Thread House Academy which is such a lovely prospect. This first year has been such a huge success and we have been knocked out by the feedback from our students. Somehow we need to top this for our second year! And I’ll also be trying to get some of these book projects published as patterns. Pattern writing is the thing I dislike the most about my job so please excuse me if I put this off for as long as possible!
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 AND Modern Crewel Embroidery 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