We have been so inspired by Aurifil Designer Sarah Ashford‘s creative journey. We’ve been working together for years, having begun our partnership back in 2018, with a perfectly curated and bright collection of Aurifil 50wt thread created in celebration of The Great British Quilter challenge. Even then, Sarah’s affinity for her craft and her passion for sharing it with the world was abundantly clear.
Sarah’s time since has been spent championing strong names in our industry with The Quilter’s Planner, talking with talented UK-based makers via the Great British Quilters podcast, creating her own superfab sewing collection in partner with Home Bargains, writing articles for Today’s Quilter, teaching sewing and quilting at her local correctional facility, collaborating on the 40th Anniversary Memorial quilt for Terry Higgins in partner with the Terrence Higgins Trust, and so much more. She is generous with both her time and her expertise, which makes her new role as a Wellness Coach a natural step.
We were absolutely delighted when she approached us about creating a collection that would combine her creative and wellness journeys, encouraging makers to incorporate mindfulness and wellness practices into their daily routines and to celebrate the power of stitching.
The Wellness Collection is a lovely range of 10 small spools– nine in 12wt for big stitch quilting and embroidery, and one in 50wt for general sewing construction. We can’t wait to see how you all incorporate these spools into your own wellness practices and know that Sarah will be the perfect guide along the way.
psssst– if you happen to be at the 2023 Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, England this weekend, you can catch Sarah at Aurifil’s Stand on Sunday at 10:30am for a Meet & Greet.
Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for joining us today! While you are not a new face around here, we realize that some of our readers may be meeting you for the first time. Would you mind sharing a bit about yourself and your background? How did you first get started in this industry?
Hi and thank you so much for having me, it really is an honour to collaborate with you again! I’m a modern quilter, and have been sewing all of my life. I live in the South West of the UK with my husband, 2 kids and our dog Leo. I have a background in primary school teaching, and 7 years ago I jumped ‘all in’ into the world of patchwork and quilting; designing quilt and project patterns, writing, teaching and even podcasting. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way, including writing 2 books, having my own sewing range with a major retailer here in the UK and of course collaborating with Aurifil! This is my 4th collection, and I’m so excited about it.
These last few years have brought a wealth of new opportunities and a honed direction for your creative path, including a recent Wellness Coach certification – what has inspired this shift?
Connecting with people has always been something I love to do, and increasingly, I have felt this need to make deeper, more meaningful connections. Perhaps it’s because during the Pandemic our interactions had to be restrained and very limited, so now I value them so much more. This collective trauma impacted us all in some way, and it’s more important than ever for people to have the option to talk and open up if they need to. Life has thrown us all many curve balls and it continues to do so. In my role working with The Quilter’s Planner, I’ve spent the last few years writing about time management, organization, self care, goal setting and planning (as well as quilting) and I’ve spent a lot of time working on my own self development, which has included prioritizing my health and wellbeing. I realized that I wanted to support and empower others to do the same, so it seemed like a natural progression to become a Wellness Coach. It’s great that conversations about mental health and wellness are taking place far more than ever before, and I can facilitate a safe space to talk, and help people make informed choices and take positive actions to help them create a life they want. I believe there is a big cross-over with wellness and creativity. Through creating and honing our craft we are expanding our skills set and our minds. Using our hands to create is so rewarding and definitely good for the soul. Taking time out to be creative is a great form of self-care. Then of course there are the benefits of slow, mindful stitching, which is a good way to slow down, feel a sense of calm and purpose.
What does being a Wellness coach mean to you and what do you hope to help people achieve?
I was so excited to train as a Wellness Coach with an accreditied provider and the experience has been fantastic. To gain a better understanding of wellness, and have a toolkit of strategies, ideas and frameworks to support others has been really empowering and I have already worked with a range of people from different backgrounds to support them. I want people to help people to live with intention; to create positive habits, make positive choices and feel empowered. Self awareness is a big part of this, and we work together to identify areas where things are going well and areas where there needs to be some work. Sometimes it can be changing simple things like your morning and bedtime routine, or slightly modifying habits. Then there is the bigger picture of setting goals and working out together how they can be achieved and how to overcome any barriers that might be in the way. I also want my clients to value and believe in themselves. Self belief and self care is an important part of this and creativity can play a big part.
How do you bring your own wellness practices into your craft?
This is a very good question, and we were taught that we are our own first client, so everything has to start with ourselves. For me it’s really important to lead by example. I spend a lot of time talking about positive habits, self care and creating time for ourselves and this is definitely something I’m trying to do more of in my own life. I’m consciously trying to make time to create each day. Hand stitched projects are great for this as they can be picked up and put down easily. I’ve taken to taking stitching with me around the house, so when I’m talking to my family or have a spare moment, I can still work a few stitches.
Sometimes I give myself a time limit of 15 minutes, and focus on achieving as much as I can into that short time. It’s surprising what can be accomplished when the mind is focused and there is a self-imposed deadline! I also love reading and have a wealth of quilting books, but many I have not looked at for years. So I’m trying to carve out time to absorb myself in my precious books. Even if I’m not sewing, I am immersed, learning and inspired. One of my favorite quotes is ‘Do more of what sets your soul on fire’ so I’m trying my hardest to do just that.
Your latest curated collection with Aurifil was designed with wellness in mind. Can you elaborate and talk about your thought process?
I wanted to curate a collection that was bright, colorful and uplifting and so I drew inspiration from the colors of spring and summer. Sewing and quilting is such a visual art form, and I wanted this collection to literally feel like happiness in a box. I can confirm that using these colors for stitching really has brought me so much joy and I hope that others are inspired by this collection too! What threads are included with the set and why? There are 10 colors included in the Wellness Collection; one 50 weight spool, and nine 12 weight threads. The 50 weight thread is in Dove Grey and It’s perfect for piecing as it blends so nicely with almost every color. The 12 weight thread is perfect for big stitch hand quilting as it creates definite, intentional stitches that both serve a purpose and look wonderfully decorative. This thread weight is also great for embroidery and I’ve loved experimenting with different decorative stitches and admiring the results.
You’ve designed a specific block that is directly connected with this collection– what does this block mean to you?
Ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved butterflies, and I had the idea to create a simple foundation paper pieced butterfly to showcase some of the colors within the collection. As well as the obvious association with spring and summer, butterflies represent metamorphosis; from caterpillar, to cocoon, to transforming into a beautiful butterfly, spreading their wings, taking off and finding freedom and joy in the world around them. To me, the spirit of the butterfly is exactly what I want my clients to embody. Becoming the best and most beautiful version of themselves, inside and out, so that they can go out into the world confidently and live their very best life. This butterfly block foundation paper pieced (FPP) pattern is available on my website; it’s a great starter block if you are new to FPP. I also stitched it in Pride colors for Pride month which was such fun! It’s available in 2 sizes, 12” finished and 5” finished.
How are you hoping people might use The Wellness Collection?
I see The Wellness Collection as having multiple uses. The 12 weight thread is great for hand quilting and produces thick, defined stitches, that add wonderful texture and another layer of interest to your work. You can use either a matching color or a contrasting one to really make your stitches stand out. It’s also great for embroidery, and because it’s not stranded, it’s easy to work with, and gives great definition. I’ve had a lot of fun creating the ‘Make Everyday Count’ wallhanging, that incorporates both embroidery and hand quilting to showcase some of the Wellness Collection. I pieced the butterflies with the 50 weight Dove Grey thread then I hand quilted them in matching 12 weight threads to add interest. I’ve embroidered the antennae on each of them and embroidered the words ‘Make Everyday Count’ using a satin stitch. This has given the piece a lovely 3D definition and the text looks bright, bold and colorful. I can’t wait to see how others incorporate these beautiful threads into their work.
Do you have any suggestions for how to get started with incorporating slow-stitching into a daily mindful practice?
Creating time for slow stitching is the key, even if it’s just for a short amount of time. If it can be at roughly the same time each day then it becomes part of your routine and you’ll find that it’s more likely to happen. Be intentional in giving yourself that time to get absorbed in the ‘flow’ of creativity. There is a positive psychologist called Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is best known for his theory of flow. He suggests that people are happy when they are in a state of flow, that he describes as “a type of intrinsic motivation that involves being completely involved in an activity for it’s own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” In order to get into this ‘flow’ state, you might want to play some of your favorite music while stitching, or perhaps go outside. Or maybe you just want to listen to the sounds around you and focus on your stitches and your thoughts. If you’re anything like me, once you start stitching you won’t want to put it down again!
What are your top hand-stitching tips?
First of all, I like to use a Hera marker to ‘score’ the guide lines on my quilts, as this doesn’t leave any ink in my quilt, and if I it mark it incorrectly it can just be ironed out. If it’s a really ‘busy’ fabric, then chalk pencil is a good option as it just brushes away. I do try to avoid pens as much as possible. I have used a quilting hoop on and off over the years, but now I find I get on better without one. It really is personal preference though. However, I do like to work at a table to support the quilt and take its weight. When it comes to the thread length, cut it the length of the tip of your middle finger to your elbow. This will ensure it’s long enough to stitch with for a good amount of time, but not too long that it gets in a tangle. Finally, it’s good to remember that finished is better than perfect! Don’t worry if your stitches aren’t completely straight or even. our project will still look fabulous!What’s on tap for the rest of this year?
Where can we find you and what’s coming up next?
I am excited for the rest of the year ahead, working both on quilting projects, teaching and Wellness Coaching. I have just written a talk all about the Rajah Quilt, which tells the fascinating true story of the only quilt ever to be made at sea back in 1841. It was stitched by convict women, on board the Rajah ship, which was headed from London to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). I’m so captivated by this quilt, and the role that patchwork played in the women’s journey, their mental health and their relationships with one another. It is also true that the quilting instructor married the captain of the ship – it’s a real life love story!
I’m currently taking bookings in person and on zoom for this fascinating talk. I’m also taking on clients for my wellness coaching. This can either be in person or on zoom. For the quilters out there, this can also have a creative focus. It’s never too late to create positive habits, prioritize yourself and work towards your goals. I can help with all of this and so much more.
FIND ME —
Quilting website: www.sarahashfordstudio.com
Wellness website: wellnesscoaching.sarahashfordstudio.com