The Artistry of Sheena Norquay: Leaves

Sheena Norquay is one of our all-time thread heroes. She is incredibly talented, always looking for new ways to showcase Aurifil thread with that talent. When we first met Sheena, we were immediately taken with her artistry, her vision, and her undeniable quilting genius. That sense of awe that we feel when we see each new piece never really leaves and we’re entranced all over again with each new project.

Sheena is adventurous with her work, always up for trying something new while remaining meticulous and measured in her experimentation. Every time she creates something, she sends along thoughts on that piece… what she tried and why, which threads were used, and what she thought about the process. Her thread experimentations have covered a multitude of Aurifil threads, including 50wt, 28wt, 80wt, & Aurifiloss. We always love reading about her process and have a sneaking suspicion that you might feel the same way.

Today, we’re delighted to introduce Sheena’s latest collection and to share her thoughts on work created with those featured threads. In case this is your first time meeting Sheena, we’d encourage you to check out her original 2017 interview HERE and scroll through some of our previous posts to really experience the range of her work.

The colours for this collection were inspired by the changing colours of leaves from spring into summer into autumn. I also wanted to use the thread for a variety of techniques, both hand and machine so have stitched samples of hand embroidery, hand quilting, walking foot quilting and free motion quilting.

Sheena Norquay

Sheena Norquay’s Leaves is a glorious lineup of 10 rich Autumnal hues in Aurifil’s 28wt thread, perfect for thread painting with definition and hand stitching with beautiful purpose.

As always, Sheena shows off the thread’s luminescence through her detailed stitching and spectacular thread experimentation.

psssst– if you happen to be at the 2023 Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, England this weekend, you can catch Sheena at Aurifil’s Stand on Saturday at 4pm for a Meet & Greet. You’ll also have the opportunity to see many of the artworks detailed below on display!

Leaves Collection, Sample 1 | THREE GREEN LEAVES  

Finished at: 40 X 30cm (15.5 x 11.5 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 23.9.2022 – 3.10.2022  
Total time: 12 hours 30 minutes

The leaf shapes were free motion quilted using three green Aurifil 28wt threads –1135 Spring Green on dark green fabric, 5018  Dark Grass Green on mid green fabric, and 2892 Pine on light green fabric. I slackened the top tension of the machine to 2, used 50wt thread in the bobbin and a size 14/90 machine quilting needle. The background was hand quilted using a Turkey Track stitch. Each background has three different colours of threads from the collection to add colour texture and to make the leaves stand out.  

Leaves Collection, Sample 2 | AUTUMN LINES I

Finished at: 33 x 16.5cm (13 x 6.5 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 22.9.2022 – 13.10.2022    
Total time: 12 hours 40 minutes

Cream, turquoise and navy fabrics were pieced to see how the threads from the collection would look on each colour of fabric. The ten colours of threads were hand quilted using running stitch, whipped running stitch and Turkey Track. I used a size 9 long tacking/ basting needle for the hand quilting as I was not using a quilting hoop. It means you can run many more stitches on to the long needle compared to a short between needle and avoid wear and tear on the thread as you don’t have to pull it though the fabric so often. I used a chenille size 24 for whipping 2 threads through the running stitches. Of course the chenille needle wass easier to thread and being shorter, it was easier to manipulate when whipping. Both threads were knotted at the cut end next the thread spool and the knots were pulled into the back of the work. I used wool wadding and it felt very easy to quilt through with the 28 wt thread.

Leaves Collection, Sample 3 | AUTUMN LINES II

Finished at: 33 x 30cm (13 x 11.75 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 22.9.22 – 6.10.2022
Total time: 7 hours 20 minutes

Cream, turquoise and navy fabrics were pieced to see how the threads from the collection would look on the three colours of fabric using machined straight lines and satin stitches as well as free motion quilted lines. I used a 90/14 machine quilting needle, slackened the top tension to 3 and used 50wt thread in the bobbin.The top two thirds were quilted in each of the ten colours using the walking foot. ( top tension to 3) The lower thirds were free motion quilted (top tension 2) in S curve lines finishing with leaf shapes and finally the centre third of each line was satin stitched. ( 3 wide and just under a half long, top tension 3) This also hid the starts and stops of the previous stitching where the straight stitching met the free motion stitching. I used 80/20 cotton/polyester wadding. 

Leaves Collection, Sample 4 | FIVE LEAF BORDER DESIGNS

Finished at: 31 x 31cm  (12 x 12 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright  23.9.2022 – 4.10.2022
Total time: 8 hours 55 minutes

I used the ten colours from the Leaf Collection of Aurifil 28wt thread to free motion quilt the ten borders. The left section was pieced using the same ten colours of fabric whereas the right section was cream cotton sateen.  In the top two borders the leaf shapes are repeated. In rows 3 and 4 alternate leaf shapes are turned upside down. The fourth border has two colours as I used green instead of yellow so rather than take it out I stitched yellow around the green! In rows 5 and 6 the leaf shapes are reflected. In rows 7 and 8 the leaf shape goes from corner to corner with every alternate leaf turned upside down and reflected. I used fine polyester wadding. 

Leaves Collection, Sample 5 | SCRAPS AND LEAVES

Finished at: 62 x 78cm (24.5 x 30.5 inches)   
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 1.10.2022 – 26.10.2022
Total time: 34 hours

Fabrics with leaf prints were machine pieced to scraps of calico using Aurifil 50 wt thread. I then drew leaves on the calico or extended the larger leaf shapes on to the calico and free motion quilted them using the ten colours of Aurifil 28 wt threads from The Leaves Collection.Some background areas were hand quilted using detached chain and Turkey Track stitches to add texture. Seed shapes were also free motion quilted on to the backgrounds, either by outlining continuous line seed shapes or filling in individual seed shapes using colours contrasting with adjoining, larger leaf shapes. The binding was pieced using fabrics in the wall hanging. Hobbs wool wadding. Aurifil cotton 28wt threads in top spool, 50 wt in bobbin, 19/14 mchine quilting needle, Bernina 1008 machine. 

Leaves Collection, Sample 6 | TEN FALLING LEAVES III  

Finished at: 12.5 x 33.5cm (4.75 x 13.25 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 21.10.2022 – 29.10.2022  
Total time: 7 hours 40 minutes

Each leaf was hand embroidered using 3 colours of 28wt threads (one thread of each colour in chenille needle) in 2 rows of blanket stitches. The fabric was backed with V S13. For each consecutive leaf I subtracted one colour and added another colour to achieve colour gradations. I used all 10 colours of the Leaves Collection of Aurifil 28wt threads. After the hand embroidery was completed I added 80/20 cotton/polyester wadding and backing. The 3 pieced background fabrics were hand quilted using detached chain stitch.  Each chain shape sits on top of the fabric as the stitch only goes through the top fabric and wadding, while the short tail goes down through the layers to take a stitch up through to where the next chain begins. On the reverse of the fabric, this looks like seeding stitch. One side of each leaf was outlined with running stitch from top to bottom in a continuous line while the other side was outlined with free motion quilting. The border was free motion quilted using  colour 2145 following the shapes and lines of the patterned fabric.  

Leaves Collection, Sample 7 | LEAVES ON 4 BLUES  

Finished at: 19.5 x 39cm (7.75 x 15.25 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 25.9.2022 – 29.10.2022  
Total time: 11 hours 45 minutes

Leaves were hand embroidered on to 4 sky colours backed with Tuscany wool wadding using detached chain stitches and straight stitches. Each of the 9 leaves on light blue fabric have one strand of Aurifil 28wt in 9 different colours from the Leaves Collection. On the other fabrics I used all 10 colours. On the 2nd blue fabric I used 2 colours for each leaf, on the 3rd I used 3 colours and on the 4th I used 4 colours. (one strand of each colour)  On all these leaves, I added and subtracted 1 colour on each consecutive leaf, thus giving colour gradations. Of course I had to use a needle with a larger eye as I increased the number of threads I was stitching with. The backing was added when hand embroidery was completed. The sky backgrounds were hand quilted with seeding stitches to add diagonal movement. The border fabric was free motion quilted following the lines and shapes on the patterned fabric.

Leaves Collection, Sample 8 | TWENTY LEAVES I   

Finished at: 22 X 24.5cm (8.5 x 9.5 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 16-30.10.2022

Twenty leaves were each hand embroidered in two rows of blanket stitch on to pale blue sky fabric backed with Vlieseline 13. I used 2 strands of Aurifil 28wt thread for each leaf. Every alternate leaf is a single colour, every other one has 2 colours so that each leaf colour blends to the adjoining one. Tuscany wool wadding and backing was tacked to the top then Turkey Track stitches were hand quilted on sky background in 5 horizontal bands, each band being a different colour. Several colours were used to hand quilt the navy border in diagonal lines to create movement. Stitches included running. French knots and detached chain.

Leaves Collection, Sample 9 | RED SCATTERED LEAVES  

Finished at: 38 X 8.5cm (15.25 x 11.25 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 5.11.2022 – 17.11.2022  
Total time: 14 hours 55 minutes

Leaf shapes were printed several years ago using red fabric paint. Vlieseline S13 was tacked to the fabric before inserting in embroidery ring and free machine embroidering leaves using Aurifil 28wt threads from The Leaves Collection. In spite of using the stabiliser and ring, the fabric puckered.I trimmed away the stabiliser and tacked the fabric to smooth polyester wadding and backing. I decided to hand quilt around the leaves and then use 2 strands of 28wt threads in different colours to hand quilt the background. I enjoyed mixing pairs of colours as well as quilting with 2 strands of the same colour. I used detached chain stitch in random directions, smoothing out the fabric to get rid of the puckers. Thankfully this method worked! I then machined the borders and flipped the fabrics over on to the wadding and backing. The border was quilted using the walking foot in 3 rounds of straight lines before adding a lighter multi-coloured binding in green/yellow/orange/rust. 

Leaves Collection, Sample 10 | FOUR LEAVES ON RED STEM   

Finished at: 18 x 29cm (7.25 x 11.25 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 13.11 – 24.11.2022  
Total time: 7 hours 40 mins

A pastry cutting wheel was used to print the red stem and a leaf shaped pastry cutter was used to print the four leaves. The calico background was coloured using Inktense blocks.Stitch-N-Tear was tacked behind the fabric before free motion stitching the leaves in the 10 colours of Aurifil 28wt threads from The Leaves Collection.  The border of Bali batik was machine pieced after embroidery was completed then 80/20 cotton/polyester wadding and backing was tacked to the top. Leaves were free motion outline quilted in colour 2395, as was the border. The  background was hand quilted using each of the ten colours of threads. I used detached chain stitches to create bands of colour and movement in straight, horizontal lines in the top section and curving lines at the bottom.

Leaves Collection, Sample 11 | SEVEN FALLING LEAVES   

Finished at: 23.5 x 50.5cm (9.25 x 19.75 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 5.11 – 22.11.2022  
Total time: 7 hours 15 mins

Leaf shapes were printed with a pastry cutter, the seeds with a cotton wool bud and bronze metallic paint. Vlieseline S13 was tacked to the calico, inserted in an embroidery ring and free machine embroidered with the ten Aurifil 28wt colours from The Leaves Collection. Each leaf has 2 colours. Borders were machine pieced then 80/20 cotton/polyester wadding and backing added and tacked. Yellow wavy lines were free motion quilted to add vertical movement. Short lines of running stitches were hand quilted above each seed shape. Free motion quilting in border followed lines of patterned fabric which suggested swirling movement.

Leaves Collection, Sample 12 | TEN DECORATIVE LEAF BORDERS

Finished at: 40 x 49cm (15.75 x 19.25 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 24.11 – 26.11.2022  
Total time: 10 hours 45 mins

Ten colours of fabric matching the colours of the Aurifil 28wt threads from The Leaves Collection were pieced in a strip and joined to navy and pale blue fabrics. Large leaf shapes were drawn on the fabric using a pencil and white marker. Each horizontal border was free motion quilted using a different design in the ten thread colours. I used 50wt threads in the bobbin. You can see the effect of the thread colours on the dark and light blues as well as on the matching fabrics. The narrow borders were machine quilted using four different leaf designs from the stitches on my Bernina machine.I used 80/20 cotton/polyester wadding. 

Leaves Collection, Sample 13 | TWENTY LEAVES II   

Finished at: 21.5 X 30.25cm (8.5 x 12inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 23.9.2022 – 2.122022  
Total time: 16 hours 30mins

Twenty different hand embroidered leaves using 2 threads of 28wt threads from The Leaves Collection sometimes using one colour sometimes 2 colours (one stand of each colour) Stitches used – satin, fly, detached fly, herringbone, chain, detached chain, blanket, running, laced running, backstitch. Wool wadding. Hand quilted suing running, chain and French knots.

Leaves Collection, Sample 14 | THREE ROWS OF LEAVES  

Finished at: 20 x 32cm (8 x 12.5inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 16.10 – 16.12.2022  
Total time: 10 hours 35 minutes

Leaves were hand embroidered in chain and detached chain stitches using Aurifil 28 weight threads from The Leaves Collection. The horizontal row on the left has one strand in single colours, the middle row has 2 strands of 2 colours and the right hand side row has 3 strands of 3 colours. I subtracted and added a new colour in each leaf following the same sequence in both the middle row and the right hand side row. Blue background was free motion quilted using Aurifil 50 weight threads in spiral and loopy lines. Border was free motion quilted using 28 weight threads following lines of the patterned fabric. I used thin polyester wadding.

Leaves Collection, Sample 15 | FORTY FIVE COLOUR BLENDED LEAVES  

Finished at: 32.5 x 33cm (12.75 x 13.25 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright  21.10 – 18.12.2022   
Total time: 15 hours 35 minutes

Ten colours from The Leaves Collection of Aurifil 28 weight threads were used to create 45 different blends of colours on 45 leaves. The pale blue fabric was tacked to VS13 before hand embroidering the leaves with fly stitch. Borders were thEn pieced before free motion quilting the outlines of the leaves and adding movement with wavy lines. The plain pale blue half was free motion quilted with wavy lines and small circles to create a contrasting movement. I used Aurifil 50 weight pale blue thread. The border was free motion quilted with 4 colours of 28 weight threads in crossing S curve lines to create a grid.

Leaves Collection, Sample 16 | LEAF  MEDALLION  

Finished at: 44 x 44cm (17.5 x 17.5 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 12.12.2022 – 22.12.2022  
Total time: 14 hours 20 minutes

The edges of the 10 plain fabrics used for the leaf shapes were fused using bondaweb. The fabric around the leaves was quilted using the walking foot and invisible thread to avoid puckers when doing the satin stitching with the 10 colours of 28 weight thread from The Leaves Collection. The insides of the leaves were free motion quilted using 2 different colours and the navy background was free motion quilted in seed shapes using all 10 colours. Two strands of the same 10 threads were used to hand embroider detached chain stitches in the centre of the medallion. Two fabrics with leaf patterns were used for the binding to complement the warm and cool colours of the leaves.  Hobbs 80/20 cotton/polyester wadding.

Leaves Collection, Sample 17 | FALLING LEAVES IV

Finished at 20 X 47.5cm (7.75 X 18.5 inches)
Sheena J Norquay, copyright 12. 1. 2022 – 14.12.2022   
Total time: 6 hours 50 minutes

Left over pieces of bondaweb leaf shapes from LEAF MEDALLION were bonded to 10 patterned fabrics. The shapes were arranged to create a vertical movement from dark green to dark maroon. The fabric around the leaves was quilted with the walking foot and invisible thread before being satin stitched with the embroidery foot and the 10 colours from The Leaves Collection of 28 weight threads. The background was free motion quilted using contour lines around the leaves and loopy lines as a contrast in movement. Hobbs 80/20 cotton/polyester wadding.  

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Sheena Norquay was born on the Orkney Islands, just off the Northern tip of Scotland. Though she began sewing as a child, it wasn’t until attending University in Aberdeen to gain a B.Ed degree that she immersed herself into the world of sewing, quilting, and textiles. The degree included 2-dimensional design in textiles which inspired her interest in exploring the artistic potential of threads and fabrics.

Having been a Primary School teacher in Inverness for 30 years, Sheena is now a freelance quilting teacher and teaches workshops locally, all over the UK, and sometimes abroad. She also writes articles for magazines and her quilts have been featured in several books.

Sheena’s work has been exhibited locally, nationally, and internationally since 1981 and she has won many awards in competitive quilt shows. She sells her work, cards and postcards of her work, and also accept commissions. In 2019, Sheena self published her first book with the help of Philippa Adams from Crafty Retreats which explains how to use Aurifil’s stranded cotton floss. “Colour Blending – Embroidery using Stranded Cotton Floss.” (available from The Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles on line bookshop)

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