When to tell how and when not to

cropped-salleymavorselfportraitfull3.jpgQuite often, I am asked to show more details and to expand on how I work. I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject and wondering how to respond to these requests. In this post, I will explain how I choose when and when not to tell how I make things.

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Salley, Jimmy and Anne, with parents Mary and Jim Mavor 1956

But first, I want to say it’s my birthday today and my sister Anne’s, too. 60 years ago, my mother’s water broke while she was making a bunny cake for Anne’s 3rd birthday. So, she went to a hospital in Boston and had me. Needless to say there was no birthday party for Anne that year. So, I can’t think of my birthday without thinking of Anne. When we were young, we had joint parties, but nowadays we rarely spend our birthday together, as we live on opposite coasts. Growing up, we spent a lot of time making things and my most vivid memories are about creating art, making music and dancing. Today, Anne and I are both artists, bringing our own visions into the world.

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Salley at age 2

Turning 60 has emboldened me to share some thoughts I’ve been mulling over.  As I’ve grown older, I can see more clearly what works in my life and what doesn’t. I try to remember to do what makes me feel whole and alive and to not feel obligated to do everything I’m asked or expected to do. And since a big measure of my well-being comes from making art, I want to set things up so I can continue to develop my art form for as long as possible.

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Anne and Salley, 1956

I could stay cordoned off in my studio, shielded from the distractions of the world and the internet and thereby turn out a higher number of pieces. But, I enjoy communicating with the larger world through this blog, Facebook and Instagram. It take’s up A LOT of time, so I have to find a balance. Interestingly, in terms of artistic output, I was much more prolific before the internet, even with little kids around! When you’re connected like this and the pool of people gets larger, more questions, requests and suggestions come forth. The kind of people who follow me are wonderful and gracious. You are so appreciative when I share behind the scenes photos, especially process close-ups. Your encouragement to keep doing what I’m doing has made a big difference in my life. Your excitement comes through in your comments and it makes me happy! girlindoorway62blog

April 14, 1960

April 14, 1960

So, why do I describe how to make some things and not others? I’ll get to that eventually, but please indulge me a little bit longer, just because it’s my birthday! I also want to address the issue of how embroidery and handwork has been and is still, for the most part, perceived today. Besides being designated as “women’s handiwork”, needlework has a strong tradition of teaching and learning through imitation, with instructions and patterns aplenty. Today, a vast needlecraft industry is built around this culture of copying, with businesses supplying materials, equipment, tools, patterns and kits for stitchers, knitters and quilters of all kinds.

largegirl62blog I realize that people need a place to start and they derive great satisfaction from being guided through the process. That is why I used to make kits and have written how-to books about making dolls (Felt Wee Folk). My goal is to show the basic framework, with a variety of possibilities, so that the reader can gain the confidence to add more personal touches and create something that is uniquely their own. I want to share my techniques for making the dolls, which I see as a much-needed opening for people to play and express themselves.

Siblingsblog Even though the mainstream needlework network doesn’t mesh with what I do, I am a part of it because I’ve authored how-to books, which are marketed within this world. But other than that, I operate in a different needle and thread universe. This is not surprising, since my work is generally an anomaly in any group I’m lumped into; embroidery, stumpwork, dolls, art quilts, miniatures, fiber art, children books, etc. The narrative and decorative style of my fabric relief pieces doesn’t really go with the abstract, conceptual contemporary fiber art that is juried into most group shows. And I suppose that writing the Felt Wee Folk books opened me up to being characterized as only a teacher of doll making techniques. Showing how to make these “cute” dolls, Illustrating story books and organizing fairy house exhibits may have compromised my status in the serious art world, but knowing my work has touched many lives is of more value to me personally.

I identify myself as an artist first, before all of the other categories that I’m identified as. To me, it doesn’t matter what medium or materials you use for your work to be considered art. Not today, in an art world that recognizes all manner of expressions. Not in this age of the internet, where individuals can build careers and gain followers, despite the hierarchy of the art establishment and opinions of curators and critics. 

I don’t want to be the kind of “serious” artist who, in an effort to have their work recognized as legitimate, dissociates themselves from the world of hobby needlework. There is too much real humanity and power in stitched objects that are labored over so lovingly. Just read the comments in last week’s Give-away post to understand the meaning and importance we give to making something by hand for another person. Your stories are so touching and life-affirming!

snowstorm63blog But, where does the artist who creates original work with needle and thread fit into the imitation model engrained in and perpetuated by the needlecraft industry? In order to explore new concepts and ideas, I have found it necessary to educate the public and protect myself from misconceptions about my work. For instance, people ask (not once, but many times) if I have a pattern to make Birds of Beebe Woods. Others want directions on making illustrations from Pocketful of Posies. And I am constantly asked how I make the little hands with fingers. I can understand asking about the hands, but the idea of providing patterns for my larger fabric relief pieces and illustrations has me totally baffled. With needlework, the distinction between art and craft is particularly fuzzy (no pun intended). That subject is another discussion that will still be going on long after I’ve threaded my last needle. For me, it points to the question of when to tell how and when not to. I find reviewing and explaining in detail the process of making something I’ve lived and struggled with for months like sliding backward, hindering any growth and movement forward. I think that artists working in other mediums would be equally taken aback if asked for patterns and instructions.

As an artist, I draw the line on what parts of my process to share and what parts I want to remain a mystery, even to myself. People wonder how I can give away “all of my secrets”, but I don’t look at it that way. In Felt Wee Folk, I’ve simplified some doll making techniques to a point where I can teach them step by step. Nonetheless, I won’t be writing any more how-to books or teaching classes. But, I will share projects in progress, thoughts, inspirations, travels, and give glimpses behind the scene. My sketchbook is brimming with ideas and I intend to devote as much time as I can to making new work.

Mavor kids 1964

Mavor kids 1964

My children’s book illustrations and stand-alone pieces are much more involved and complicated than what I teach in Felt Wee Folk. Through 40 years of experimentation, I have devised methods of working that I consider proprietary knowledge. For instance, the way I make hands with little fingers is too linked to my personal artistic expression to show how in detail. I don’t want to upset the creative process by constantly organizing the steps in my mind and thinking in terms of explaining it to another. That would hold me back and limit the possibilities. I think the act of creating something new shouldn’t be overly dissected, else it lose its magic.

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First book 1963

This blog is full of photos that show the development of projects. What is shown and what is not usually depends on how engrossed I am and if I can remember to take pictures. Sometimes I take photos of different stages of making a piece, but that just skims the surface and may be perceived is a tease of sorts. I see it as documentation, not as a tutorial, which takes a different, more systematic approach. My husband Rob and I sometimes document with video, which we did for my outdoor environmental piece, Hither and Yon. So, the simple explanation is that I show what I’m willing to share and don’t show what I’m not.

I hope that I’ve explained my position on when to tell and when not to in a way you can understand. It mostly comes down to one’s personal preference and when you’re 60, you get to decide. Even though there’s no denying that I’m a grown up now, I’m still going to play with dolls! Thank you for reading my birthday musings all the way to this point.

For now, I will continue to offer glimpses into my world through the wonders of social media.  For the past few weeks, many of you have followed along on Instagram and Facebook, while I construct a fairy house for this summer’s exhibit (June 28 – Aug. 31, 2015), the Fairy Houses of Highfield Hall in Falmouth MA.  There will be many more needle and thread adventures ahead, so please come along on the journey!

Added on April 19th — Thank you so much for your supportive comments. Some of you may have gotten the impression that I do not want to give directions because I don’t want others to copy what I’m doing. That is not my concern. In my opinion, the mainstream needlework world is technique driven as opposed to artistically oriented. It’s OK with me if people make work that is similar to mine, as long as they figure it out themselves and make it their own. I’m more interested in protecting my creative process as a way to keep my muse alive and to focus on growing as an artist.

Also — Attention Scots! I will be in Glasgow early this summer, June 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Knowing the strong needlework tradition of the area and that I have many followers from Scotland, I thought I’d ask if anyone wants to set up a time and place for me to give a talk about my work. I am only available during this time in Glasgow. Please let me know if you’re interested in arranging an event. It would be wonderful to meet you!

Another Also — I’ve just received word that some “Vintage” pins I made in the early 80’s are being sold on Ebay. Talk about getting old! There’s a Hippo and Eggplant.

Give-away: 15,000 views of Rabbitat!

I am excited to say that the Rabbitat video has been viewed 15,000 times! It’s been almost 4 years since Daniel Cojanu and Elise Hugus of UnderCurrent Productions started filming me working in my studio and scavenging for driftwood out at the Quissett Knob. This film was financed with prize money from 2 awards I received for my book Pocketful of Posies; the 2011 Horn Book Award and the 2011 Golden Kite Award. The film was a wise investment and continues to hold up as a great communication tool.

And now for the Give-away! This is a world-wide offer. To enter, please leave a comment telling about a favorite gift that you made for someone else. The prize is a box of fairy making supplies, which includes green wool felt, 12 wooden bead heads with faces painted by Salley, 12 acorn caps to fit, wool fleece hair and faux flower petal skirts and wings.

Follow the directions in my book, Felt Wee Folk and have a fairy making party! The winner will be picked at random on April 14th. FYI, I also sell faux flowers in my Etsy Shop here.

Congratulations to the Give-away winner, Terri from Redlands, California!

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Posies show goes to Newton

The Pocketful of Posies exhibit continues…

Yesterday, Rob and I installed 33 original fabric relief illustrations from my picture book of nursery rhymes, Pocketful of Posies in the Newton Free Library in Newton, Massachusetts. The library has several spaces devoted to displaying art and my work is the first thing you see when you enter the building. The steady stream of patrons who walked through while we were hanging were welcoming and appreciative. So many people stopped to ask questions and engage in conversation, that I hard time concentrating on the task at hand! Thank goodness Rob was there to help, because it would have taken all day.

I’m so happy that the exhibit will be on view this month, especially during the Newton Open Studios weekend (April 11-12). I’ll be there for the NOS preview reception on April 8th at 7:00 pm and will welcome questions and conversation then! I’m also giving a talk and booksigning at the library on April 21 at 7:00 pm.

The work will be on display at the Newton Free Library  April 2 – 29, 2015.

The artwork is going to Maryland and South Carolina next. You can see the schedule here. Will there be any more shows after this? Perhaps.The artwork has been touring for over 4 years, and at this stage, I’m involved with other projects and am too busy to search out and contact more locations. But, I’m always willing to discuss the idea with museums and libraries that are interested in hosting an exhibit.

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Stopping by Mimi K’s

MimiK-1885Yesterday, I stopped by doll artist Mimi Kirchner’s for a little visit before heading down Mass. Ave. to pick up my artwork from the Lexington Library. Many of you know Mimi from her signature tattooed dolls and tiny world pin cushions and she was recently on the Felt Wee Folk blog tour.

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Her studio is so inspiring, with its many wonderful treasures pinned and balanced on every surface. We caught up over lunch, talking about our work and families. We both relish creating in our studios alone, but it’s always nice to connect with a kindred spirit from time to time.

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Blueberry and Lavender notecards reprint!

 Lavender Fairy note card

Lavender Fairy note card

I am happy to bring back two note cards that I first introduced 15 years ago. Please note that the watermark will not appear on the cards. At one time, the Wee Folk Studio collection of Blossom Fairy cards included a couple dozen different depictions of fairies captured in all kinds of natural settings. While I don’t want to reprint them in that kind of scale, I thought I’d reprise two of the most popular cards, which feature blue fairies. The photos were taken as slides 15 years ago, back in the days of film cameras.

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I remember making the little basket for the Blueberry Fairy and setting her up in one of our blueberry bushes in the garden. And I found the lovely patch of lavender at a farm less than a mile from my house. The Lavender Fairy had to be balanced on the stem just right, while I snapped the picture. They were very good models who make a return appearance in my new book, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures!

Blueberry and Lavender note cards are available in packs of 4 and can be purchased from my Etsy Shop. Wholesale inquiries form stores are welcome.

Blueberry Fairy note card

Fairy skirts and wings

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Yeah, more fairies are coming into being! In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a surge in sales of fairy skirts and wings. So, I’ve been resupplying my Etsy Shop to keep up with the demand. The packages contain high quality faux flowers in varying colors that are the right size and shape to make petticoats and wings for 6 fairies. I have not found a source to buy single flower pieces, so just like everyone else, I buy flowers on stems and take them apart. I’m used to scouting them out, like I did during the years when I used to make fairy kits.

As I explain in my book, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures, it’s best to use compound flowers that have multiple petals radiating from the center. Books purchased from my Etsy Shop include flowers to make 2 fairies, along with other goodies. Debbie, from A Child’s Dream let me know that many customers are coming to her shop for wool felt and there’s a lot of interest in their special  Felt Wee Folk Craft Basket of supplies. It’s so wonderful to know that people are using my book and making dolls!

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fairy making supplies

fairy making supplies

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Birds and Rabbits at the Cahoon Museum

The Birds and Rabbits seem to travel together as a pair these days. Ok, I’m talking about my two fabric relief pieces, Birds of Beebe Woods and Rabbitat. They were at the Chandler Center in Arizona last fall and now, they are part of Fiberworks Plus at the Cahoon Museum, Cotuit, Massachusetts until April 19th. I’m happy that they are being displayed out in public, so that more people can see them. That’s the primary reason I’m not selling them.

For those of you on or near Cape Cod, I will be giving a talk at the Cahoon Museum on Tuesday, March 24th at 11;00 am. The museum is undergoing renovations, so the exhibit and my talk will be in their temporary location in Mashpee Commons.

The two pieces will be traveling together again later this year, when they go to Winconsin, Oct 21. 2015 – January 10, 2016 for Insects to Elephants at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

Here’s a mosaic of details showing the process, as well as the two finished pieces: