Birds at Highfield this summer!

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I recently cleaned the glass which protects the Birds of Beebe Woods. While the piece was uncovered and exposed, Rob took some new photos. This time he didn’t aim the camera straight on. We thought we’d try coming from the side a bit, to emphasize the sculptural quality of the birds.

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Birds0001blogWMI think these photos better translate the experience of looking at the real piece. Of course, it’s best viewed without glass, but it’s necessary for protection from light and dust.

Birds of Beebe Woods is on display at Highfield Hall, Falmouth, MA until Sept. 15th. I’m also excited about the upcoming outdoor exhibit, Fairy Houses of Highfield Hall (June 28 – Aug. 31), which I’m curating again this year. So, there will lots to see this summer! If you’re planning a trip to Highfield Hall, check their open hours.

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Fairy Family Video!

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My husband Rob and I had so much fun putting together this 2 min. video to spread the word about the Fairy Family RAFFLE for the benefit of Highfield Hall. While I worked on the dolls, I kept having to pester him about coming to film different stages of the process, from wrapping their bodies, to dressing them, to painting their faces. Make sure that you watch long enough to see these process shots, as well as the animated close-ups of the fairies.

Here’s the info about the RAFFLE:
Take a chance to win a fairy family of 5, handmade by Salley Mavor. 3 tickets for $5.00. Tickets may be purchased online or at Highfield Hall and Gardens in Falmouth, MA, where the fairy family is on display. The Fairy Houses of Highfield Hall outdoor exhibit will be held from June 28th to August 31, 2015. The raffle drawing will be August 30, 2015. The prize will be sent to the winner anywhere in the world! Good luck!

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Wee Folk see themselves

BRIDESlookingfeltweefolknewcoverblogThe wee folk have been getting a kick out of seeing pictures of themselves on the pages of my new book, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures! The brides, woodland and winter folk, and Mary and her lamb are tempted to walk back into their familiar scenes, but they have new separate lives now.

Supplies to make the wee folk dolls, including wool felt can be ordered from A Child’s Dream. I sell faux flowers to make fairies, as well as the book (with autograph and extra goodies) in my Etsy Shop.

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Fairy Family RAFFLE!

fairyfamilyraffleI am excited to introduce my newest creation — a Fairy Family! All five doll-house sized  family members, Mom, Dad, brother, sister and baby were specially made for a raffle to benefit Highfield Hall and Gardens in Falmouth (Cape Cod) Massachusetts.The raffle will be held from now until the end of this summer’s outdoor exhibit, the Fairy Houses of Highfield Hall, which I am curating again this year. If you visit this blog regularly, you’ll know that I don’t sell one-of-a-kind dolls, so this is a rare chance to have a unique family of wee folk, all hand-stitched by yours truly. At the end of this post, you’ll find information about the fairy house exhibit and purchasing raffle tickets online. But first, I want to show you some behind the scenes photos. Fairy_Family-1765 To make the fairy dolls, I gathered faux flowers in a purple and blue color scheme. For the felt clothes, I cut out patterns from my new book Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures. FAIRYRAFFLE1 The book also has directions for adding breasts to make shapely, more womanly fairies, instead of just flat chested nymphets. fairyraffle-1755 fairyraffle3I used some unusual acorn caps that have been hanging around my studio for years. For the life of me, I can’t remember where they came from. fairyraffle2 Here are the fairies on my work table, before they were given wings. Fairy_Family-1787-2 The children are already flying around and having adventures! fairychildrenraffle It’s going to be quite the fairy summer on Cape Cod! I hope that many of you will make the trip to see the fairy houses. And everyone, near and far can take a chance at winning the fairy family. Good luck! Fairy Family Raffle: 3 tickets for $5.00. Tickets may be purchased online or at Highfield Hall, where the fairy family will soon be on display. The raffle drawing will be held August 30, 2015. June 28 – August 31, 2015 ~ Fairy Houses of Highfield Hall, Highfield Hall and Gardens, Falmouth, MA. This outdoor exhibit, curated by Salley Mavor, will feature 32 fanciful fairy houses made by local artists, architects, potters, felters, woodworkers and fairy house aficionados.

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FELT the noun, not the verb

detail from “Pocketful of Posies”

I’m in love with wool felt! Aren’t you, too? Quite often, it’s my material of choice, along with embroidery thread. Once you use the wool variety, it’s hard to go back to handling the cheap acrylic type commonly found in craft stores. It’s like retiring your polyester pant suit in favor of cotton, wool or linen. Wool felt is seductive– it not only feels better, but has an integrity and durability not found in imitation fabrics. I primarily use wool felt that comes in sheets of different thicknesses.

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detail from

detail from “Pocketful of Posies”

People inquire about wool felt all the time, so I’ll address that right away. The cottage industry that made the plant dyed felt I used in the illustrations for Pocketful of Posies no longer dyes felt.

Pocketful of Posies 2010

Pocketful of Posies 2010

Many online businesses sell wool felt, from garish commercially dyed colors to softer, plant dyed and “heather” shades. A Child’s Dream has a nice selection of  premium quality 100% wool felt. Sweet Emma Jean sells a less expensive rayon/wool blend. Of course, 100% wool felt is pricey, but it is certainly worth it. The doll clothes pattern pieces from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk don’t require very much material, so a little can go a long way. If you want to try natural dying your own colors, take a look at this informative blog post from Willodell.

nativity project from Felt Wee Folk

nativity project from Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures

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Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures 2015

I want to clarify something — I use felt (noun) in my pieces. I do not make felt or do felting (verb). I don’t know why it bothers me, but my work is often described as “felted” when it is not. Felting has a rich history and has been around since ancient times. The verb to felt involves the manipulation and meshing of wool fleece fibers to form sheets of felt or a 3 dimensional felted form. Needle felting is immensely popular now a days, so I can see how the noun and verb are becoming interchangeable in some people’s minds. I’ve tried felting and think it’s fun, but find myself more interested in embroidering and decorating existing felt pieces.

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from Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures 2015

Many of you have said that embellishing and stitching together little outfits is your favorite part of making the dolls from Felt Wee Folk. Women of a certain age have fond memories of sewing felt clothing for their Troll dolls during their first invasion in the 60’s. The later version of wide eyed Troll dolls where much cuter and not as appealing, in my opinion. I can still remember sewing snaps on my Troll clothes and trying to figure out whether to make the stitches jump from hole to hole or go outside the snap. I decided that it doesn’t matter which is the “right” way and tried both. Decades later, I’m still figuring out new ways to make and clothe little dolls and my early experience with making Troll clothes may have been what spurred me into writing how-to books.

project from Felt Wee Folk - New Adventures

project from Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures

Face Time premiere showing

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For the past 9 months or so, while working on it, I’ve been offering occasional peeks at Face Time. This new piece deals with themes that I continually return to; passage of time, patterns that show change and growth, and connections between living beings.

It’s finished now and I’ll bring it with me this Tuesday, April 21st, when I give a talk at 7:00 pm at the Newton Free Library in Newton, Massachusetts. Face Time has been tucked away in my studio and has not yet been exhibited publicly, so this will be its premiere showing. It’ll only be on view for a few hours, while I’m at the library.

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Face Time features a tree with a variety of embroidered felt wreath-like “cameos” with heads and shoulders representing a broad cross-section of humanity. The 41 individuals include a wide swath of characters that show changes in style over time. They branch out through history, from long ago civilizations at the tree’s roots, to present day portrayals at the tree top. It’s not my family tree, but a depiction of the world’s collective heritage.

In this piece, I’ve basically used the wig making techniques introduced in my new how-to book Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures, but have added more period fashion details, like beards, hats and glasses.

I hope to meet some of you from the Boston area on Tuesday night at the Newton Free Library. My talk, Once Upon a Thread will be at 7:00 pm. I’ll bring along books to sell, too. The Pocketful of Posies Exhibit will be on display at the library until April 29th.

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Where can Face Time be seen in the future? I can’t say for certain, since I’m entering it in juried shows and won’t know for a while if, where and when it’ll be exhibited. I’ll be sure to include any showings on the exhibits page.

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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, before all of the other possible labels. 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, 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.