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 technique driven 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 fit into the abstract, conceptual contemporary fiber art scene. 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 and foremost. 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 for 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. I think that artists working in other mediums would be equally taken aback if asked for patterns and instructions.

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 am not worried about individuals copying my techniques, I just don’t want to spend my time and energy telling how I do it — time and energy that would otherwise go toward artistic growth. I find reviewing and explaining in detail the process of making something I’ve lived and struggled with for months like sliding backward into the muck, hindering any movement forward.

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.

Mavor kids 1964

Mavor kids 1964

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.

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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!

Updated 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. It’s OK with me if people make work that is similar to and inspired by mine, as long as they have the experience of figuring it out themselves and they make it their own. I’m more interested in protecting my creative process, so that I can keep my muse alive and focus on growing as an artist.

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

Making the blog tour cart

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A few days before the BLOG TOUR began earlier this month, I decided that the wee folk needed a cart to ride in while they spread the word about my new book, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures. Thank you to the wonderful participating bloggers who shared my wee world with their followers!

So, I spent an afternoon making this cart. I was almost giddy as I worked because the process was so fast compared to my stitching! First, I rummaged around my studio and found a driftwood board and a pair of old wooden spools that have been waiting to be useful for decades. I sawed off the spool ends to use as 4 wheels. I also found a bag full of metal bed spring parts I salvaged 20 years ago from a dump in Maine. A hack saw did the trick of cutting them in half. Then, I drilled holes in the wood and glued the metal pieces around the edge to make a guard rail.

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I glued wooden block axles underneath the drilled holes in the ends. I glued dowels in the holes, which stuck out far enough for the spool wheel to slip onto. I nailed a bead that was just a little bit larger than the spool hole to the end of the dowel. Thereby, making it possible for the wheels to go around. I screwed on a hinge to the front of the cart and added some other misc. metal parts to attach to the horse. The Swedish horse has been in my family for a long time and it was just the right size to pull the cart.BlogTour-1759

I then tied the top railing pieces in place with thread.

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And I made a Blog Tour sign with water-color paper and thread. Since there was (and still is) too much snow outside to find any straw, I covered the cart bed with pine needles that I’d collected last fall.

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The wee folk had signs, too. It was fun getting the colored pencils out!

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We set up the parade, with an old rug as a back drop and took pictures.

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And off they go! I am happy to say that the tour has been a great success and the book has been properly launched. The book trailer has been viewed thousands of times and Felt Wee Folk  – New Adventures has been holding steady as #1 in Toymaking on Amazon! I’ve been getting reports of sightings in bookstores and craft/quilt shops around the country. Quite a few autographed copies (with extra goodies) have sold through my Etsy Shop, too. It warms my heart to know that more wee folk and fairies are multiplying around the world!

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Blog Tour host Phoebe Wahl

feltweefolknewcoverblogPoday, I am pleased to have up and coming illustrator Phoebe Wahl join the Felt Wee Folk BLOG TOUR. The tour schedule is listed at the bottom of this post, with links to participating blogs. I invite you to follow along. There are reviews of my new book and opportunities to enter Give-aways for copies of Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures.

My regular followers may remember when Phoebe came to visit my studio in 2011, when she was a junior at the Rhode Island School of Design. I wrote a post about it here.

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1423278487124Many of you were so taken with Phoebe’s art that you started following her career, which has since blossomed in several directions. She works in collage and watercolor and also constructs the most beguiling fabric people and animals. She embraces themes of home and family, with a counter-culture and feminist twist that keeps her artwork from becoming conventionally cute. If you haven’t already seen her remarkable work, be prepared to fall in love!

Since graduating from RISD, Phoebe has kept up a busy schedule contributing to Taproot Magazine, which describes itself as “a quarterly magazine celebrating food, farm, family and craft through writing, photography and the arts, both fine and domestic.” And they will be featuring her work even more because she is their cover artist for 2015!

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She also sells cards, prints and other items printed with her artwork in her Etsy Shop.

I’m so glad to see that her first children’s book, Sonya’s Chickens (that she both wrote and illustrated) will be published this summer.

Please hop over to Phoebe Wahl’s blog to get a glimpse of her magical world! While you’re there, read her review of Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures and enter the Giveaway.

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Felt Wee Folk BLOG TOUR Schedule:

March 3 – Mary Corbet – Needle n’ Thread

March 6 – Mimi Kirchner – Doll 

March 10 – Margaret Bloom – We Bloom Here

March 12 – C&T Publishing’s Blog

March 13 – Kimara – Wee Folk Art

March 15 – Phoebe Wahl

Blog Tour: Wee Folk Art

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Today, I am pleased to have the wildly popular site, Wee Folk Art come along on the Felt Wee Folk BLOG TOUR! The tour schedule is listed at the bottom of this post, with links to participating blogs. I invite you to follow along. There are reviews of my new book and opportunities to enter Give-aways for copies of Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures.

It’s easy to mix up Wee Folk Art and my own  Wee Folk Studio. Besides the similarity in name and our shared interest in folksy handwork, we are 2 distinct entities, with different purposes.  My site is a personal platform to share my artwork and inspirations, whereas Wee Folk Art’s mission is to support and inspire families that want to bring art and craft into their lives in a natural way. And they have a huge following in this endeavor!

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The people behind Wee Folk Art, Kimara and Michelle combine their love of Wee Folk (children) with their love of Folk Art, creating a place to find patterns and tutorials for a whole slew of projects. They are a mother /daughter team who share their mutual love of crafting and the gentle art of homemaking. Most of their ideas and projects are focused on children, but they throw in crafts for the home, self or yummy recipes just to keep it interesting. 

portrait-wmwmThey write, “We both share a belief that less is often better, as long as the less has quality. We love working with natural materials, and are ever mindful of respecting our environment. We hope that is reflected in our crafts.”

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Wee Folk Art has a treasure trove of information, with lots of resources, tutorials and patterns to learn from. There is something for everyone, whether you are a parent, grandparent, home-school family, teacher or just a crafty, home-loving person.

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Wee Folk Art has been incredibly supportive of my artwork and books over the years and I am thrilled to have them on board for this tour! They are offering a book Give-away, along with the other tour participants below:

Felt Wee Folk BLOG TOUR Schedule:

March 3 – Mary Corbet – Needle n’ Thread

March 6 – Mimi Kirchner – Doll 

March 10 – Margaret Bloom – We Bloom Here

March 12 – C&T Publishing’s Blog

March 13 – Kimara – Wee Folk Art

March 15 – Phoebe Wahl

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C&T book kickoff and other news

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Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures 2015

Today, my publisher, C&T is posting my story, “Return of the Wee Folk”, which is about my new book Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures. I talk about the wee folk doll phenomenon that was sparked a dozen years ago with my first book (Felt Wee Folk: Enchanting Projects) and also how this new updated version came to be. You can read my story, see lots of behind the scenes pictures and enter their book Give-away on C&T’s blog here.

Other Exhibit News: Birds of Beebe Woods and Rabbitat will be exhibited in two shows this year. For more information, read further in this post.

Book - Felt Wee Folk 2003

Book – Felt Wee Folk 2003

So much has been happening this week, with book launch events and the BLOG TOUR well underway! Word about my book is spreading fast and lots of people are entering the Give-aways. You can follow the tour schedule at the bottom of this post. I’ve already heard from excited people who’ve used the book to make their first wee folk dolls!

The rest of the month looks to be quite busy as well, with book signings and talks at several locations in my home state of Massachusetts (see schedule below). I’m putting together a brand new talk which focuses on the background and development of the wee world I share in my how-to books. This material will be part of my next presentation, which is on Sunday, March 15th at 2pm at the Sandwich Public Library, here on Cape Cod.

The wee folk (pictured below) are traveling around with me, too. Tonight, Thursday, March 12 (6 to 8pm) they’ll come along for my book signing at Gallery 65 on William during AHA! Night in New Bedford, MA.

Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures is available in bookstores and online booksellers. I also sell autographed copies, along with extra goodies (winter scene poster (folded flat), faux flowers to make 2 fairies and a wee folk note card) in my Etsy Shop (here).

Continue reading for more info…

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I also want to let you know that my two fabric relief pieces, Birds of Beebe Woods and Rabbitat are getting out a bit this year. They’ll be on display in the Fiberworks Plus exhibit until April 19th at the Cahoon Museum‘s temporary location in Mashpee, MA. I will be giving a talk and book signing there on Tuesday, March 24 at 11:00 am.

And later in the year the pair will travel to Winconsin. Oct 21. 2015 – January 10, 2016, for the Insects to Elephants exhibit at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

UPCOMING BOOK LAUNCH EVENTS ~ A collection of dolls from the book will come along for show and posters will be included with book purchases:

Thursday, March 12 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm ~ Book Signing at Gallery 65 on William, New Bedford, MA.
Sunday, March 15th at 2:00 pm ~ Book Signing and presentation by Salley Mavor, Return of the Wee Folk at the Sandwich Public Library, Sandwich, MA
Tuesday, March 24 at 11:00 am ~ Artist Talk by Salley Mavor at the Cahoon Museum in Mashpee, MA. (In conjunction with the Fiberworks Plus Exhibit)
Tuesday, April 21 at 7:00 pm ~ Artist Talk and book signing at the Newton Free Library, Newton, MA. (In conjunction with the Pocketful of Posies exhibit.)

Felt Wee Folk BLOG TOUR Schedule:

March 3 – Mary Corbet – Needle n’ Thread

March 6 – Mimi Kirchner – Doll 

March 10 – Margaret Bloom – We Bloom Here

March 12 – C&T Publishing’s Blog

March 13 – Kimara – Wee Folk Art

March 15 – Phoebe Wahl

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