Studio goings-on

After being almost exclusively in making-mode for the past few years, I now wake up every morning with a different agenda. Besides paying attention to my husband Rob and having lunch with friends, I’m photographing my work, organizing exhibitions, and preparing lectures. Making art is one thing, but if you want to share it with the world, you have to figure out ways get it out there. It’s a different creative exercise that not all artists can or want to take on. Although I would rather be stitching right now, I know that doing the promotional part is worth it down the road.

Before showing what’s happening in my studio, I’d first like to invite those of you in the Boston area to an Artist Talk I’ll be giving in Watertown, MA. It’ll be at the Quilters’ Connection, on Thursday, October 24, 2019 at 7:00 PM at St. James Armenian Church, 465 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, MA. $10.00 guest fee for non Quilters’ Connection members.

I will share the joys and challenges of making art that ranges from precious to poignant to provocative, as well as explain where this doll-infested needle and thread universe comes from. I’ll also bring along some original pieces, including Birds of Beebe Woods (pictured left) and books to sell. I look forward to meeting you!

Over the past few weeks, Rob and I have been photographing a lot of older artwork. My pieces are displayed in cherry wood shadow-box frames that Rob makes. Glass protects the bas-relief embroidery from dust, bugs and curious fingers.

The process includes removing each piece from its frame, taking its picture and then putting it back in the frame. So, why didn’t we take photos before framing them behind glass? It’s a long story involving deadlines, a broken wrist, and consequently being behind schedule. So, here we are, doing the job years later. Many of these pieces will be part of a solo exhibition this coming winter at the Cape Cod Museum of Art.

The family-friendly exhibition, SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch, will feature a wide selection of original embroidered artwork from my 25 year career illustrating children’s books. You can see them here. Several pieces will be on loan from private collections. These are rarely seen by anyone other than the owner’s friends and family. This is a unique opportunity to see the detail and 3-dimensional quality of my artwork in person.
SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch
Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020
Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Opening Reception: Friday, Dec. 13 – 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm ~ Artist Galley Talk at 4:00 pm

To photograph the art, we set up the equipment in the spare room, with a light box to minimize harsh shadows. The room’s sky light affected the light balance, so we covered it with another defuser. The camera was propped up on a tripod, facing straight down. To counteract the weight of the heavy camera lens, we hung a bag of stones at the other end of the extension pole. When I asked why the camera had to be so far above the art, Rob told me that the long 100 mm focal lens maintains the correct perspective. I’m glad that he understands this stuff!

For closeup shots, we lowered the camera.

The closeup photos will be used for a treasure hunt for kids (and adults) that I’m putting together for the Once Upon a Thread exhibition.

An advantage of taking high resolution close-up is that the photo quality isn’t lost when they are blown up big. For the exhibition, I’m playing with scale by juxtaposing extra large details with my miniature artwork.

This week, we had a storm and the power was off for 3 days. So, instead of working at the computer, I settled in near a window and stitched, like a character in a Jane Austen novel. Although I’m glad to have electricity back, so that I can write and publish this post, I’m missing the simple pleasure of making things by hand by the light of the sun. That and a cup of tea is my idea of heaven!

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baby banner for Xavier

Since delivering the artwork for my upcoming book, My Bed to the publisher, I’ve had time to catch up on overdue gifts. Like this baby banner for Xavier, the newest member of a family of dear friends. He is now a toddler, and I hope the banner is something he won’t ever outgrow.

I make banners for friends and family that commemorate special events like weddings and births. You can see others I’ve made by scrolling through the archives here. They all feature 2 of my favorite things; embroidery and handwriting. When I form letters in wire, I think back to that day in 3rd grade in the Woods Hole School, when Mrs. Cleveland called each student up to her desk, one at a time, to show us how to write out our names in cursive handwriting. I was transfixed, watching her make a line of loops and bumps that magically spelled my name, without lifting her pencil off the paper.

I use floral wire to make the letters, because it’s covered with green thread that provides a non-slippery surface to wrap embroidery floss on top of.

I usually use variegated floss to wrap the wire, which can look like stripes on the 2nd pass. The wire ends are bent over and wrapped, so that no raw ends are hanging out. It’s similar to the technique I use to make doll limbs in my how-to book Felt Wee Folk.

Out of my stash, I selected bone beads to make a decorative separator between the names and birth date.

And what better than a bead to dot the i.

A little chain stitch never hurt, either.

Writing out the letters in wire sometimes follows a different path than actual handwriting, especially for b’s.

Over the years, I’ve adapted my handwriting on paper as well as wire to a personal style that’s part cursive and part block letters.

I went through my collection of driftwood, picked out a bumpy piece, and cut it to the right length with a saw.

Many years ago, I bought these beach stones with drilled holes. I use them sparingly on special projects.

This shows how I sew the wrapped lettering to the felt banner piece.

For a hanging cord, I braided pima cotton made by Caron.

I have lots of Wee Folk Studio labels left over from when I made felt purse kits, so I sewed one to the back of the banner.

I attached the cord to the wood bar with knots and stitched it to the banner at the top corners.

This banner will soon hang on Xavier’s bedroom door. Welcome to the world little Xavy and congratulations to his parents, Mark and Cal!

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Self Portrait poster is back

I am happy to announce that a newly designed poster of Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion is available in my Etsy Shop. When the first edition sold out a few years ago, I thought that would be it. But, this piece continues to resonate with a lot of people and I regularly receive requests to reprint the poster. So, here it is, back by popular demand!

Self Portrait – 18″ x 24″ Poster

The 18″ x 24″ high quality reproduction is off-set printed on extra thick gloss cover 100 lb. paper. The poster will be rolled and shipped in a heavy duty mailing tube. As with most items in my shop, shipping is FREE within the United States.

Salley with her Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion in the Woods Hole Public Library

Here I am in 2007 at the Woods Hole Public Library, where the framed original bas-relief embroidered sculpture is on semi-permanent display. The Self Portrait is a time-line of my life from birth to age 52, with a spiral of dolls dressed in outfits I would have worn each year. When choosing the fashions, I relied on family photographs and personal recollections. Since the clothes are so tiny (the dolls range from 1″ to 3″), I had to embroider felt or find fabrics with prints that fit their small scale.

As well as clothing memories, we all have a personal soundtrack that goes with different times in our lives. This video is a nostalgic tour through fashion and music that my husband Rob and I put together. At the end, there’s a list of the music.

 

I’m glad to once again offer the Self Portrait in the poster section of my Etsy Shop. These affordable reproductions are the next best thing to seeing the original embroidered pieces. A customer just wrote a 5 star review about the Birds of Beebe Woods poster, saying “Absolutely excellent photo quality. Love it!”


For those of you in the Boston area, I will be speaking in Watertown in October. This event is open to the public, with a $10.00 guest fee for non-members of the Quilters’ Connection. I hope to meet you there!

  • Salley Mavor will give a lecture about her art at Quilters’ Connection
  • Date: Thursday, October 24, 2019
  • Location: St. James Armenian Church, 465 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, MA
  • Time: Doors open at 6:00 PM, meeting starts at 7:00 PM.
  • $10.00 guest fee for non Quilters’ Connection members

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

shifting focus

This past summer, I emerged from an intense 3 year stitching marathon just in time to put in a garden. The plot had laid fallow for a few years, while I grew art instead. I was so happy to dig in the dirt again! Maybe it was good to rest the soil for a while because I don’t remember it producing such a generous bounty before!

I also made the switch from total making mode to marketing mode, where I let the world know that my art exists. This internal/external dynamic isn’t new for me and I actually like both parts, but I find that it requires a major shift in mindset. Sure, I can write blog posts periodically and fill orders from my Etsy Shop while also being immersed in creating artwork, but some “public relations” tasks use a different part of my brain and call for all of my attention. And my approach is careful and methodical, just like my stitching, so it takes a lot of time and effort!

Making art is so much easier than writing about it, so I have to set aside time to concentrate on giving interviews, setting up future exhibitions and generally promoting my work. I try to think of these activities as creative undertakings, too. They can be crafted and honed into something that reflects who I am and what I think. It just feels more like work than making art does. Here are a couple of results:

  • Interview with Create Whimsy, which you can see here. I describe my journey as an artist and share thoughts about the challenges of making art in the face of long standing attitudes that needlework is just a woman’s hobby, with lots of accompanying photos.
  • Guest writer on C&T Publishing‘s blog, which you can see here. In addition to announcing C&T’s new Felt Wee Folk playing cards, I introduce my traveling companion, Polly Doll to a whole different audience.

I’ve mainly concentrated on writing and sending out proposals for the upcoming touring exhibition, Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stories, which will be shown in museums around the country for several years. The exhibition will be a unique opportunity to see the detail and 3-dimensional quality of the original sculptural embroideries from my next picture book, MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World (Houghton Mifflin, Sept. 2020). To find out more about the exhibition and to see the schedule, visit this page. New locations will be added as they are confirmed.

The switch from one mindset to the other didn’t happen all at once. Between the Bed Book project and the escapades of the Wee Folk Players, I’ve been in making mode for more than 3 years straight. When the book’s illustrations were delivered to the publisher, I started the transition by paying more attention to my husband Rob and cleaning my studio.

Besides putting all the materials away in boxes and baskets, I completely cleared my nature and ephemera table, dusting and washing each object before returning it to it’s place among the other treasures. I took some delight in thinking of how horrified Maria Kondo would be by my cluttered aesthetic sense! I know that she says, “Keep what gives you joy.”, but it all gives me joy!

I also reorganized some things I made long ago – these pins, for example. You can read their story here.

The other day, this 40 year old cat pin was spied out in public. I didn’t keep many of these, so it’s nice to capture them in photos whenever possible.

I’ve also had time to meet other artists like Jodi Colella, who was in the area for her exhibition at the Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, MA, which is on display until Oct. 31, 2019. Jodi is an innovative mixed media artist who uses many different methods and materials in her work. Her beautifully evocative Unidentified Woman series is part of the 3 person show, Look This Way. She uses a process where she crops and enlarges old tintype photographs, then prints them on aluminum and embellishes with needle and thread. We had a great time chatting in my studio about making art with a clear vision that pushes the boundaries of needlework. We could have talked for a long time and I hope that we can get together in the future!

Soon, I will get back into making mode, threading my needle and diving into a new project. I’m not exactly sure what it will be, but several ideas are swirling around in my head.

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Euphoria – Ltd. Edition Fairy

I’d like to introduce EUPHORIA, the newest Ltd. Edition Fairy. The group of 25 dolls have been traveling around with me for several months and finally they are all dressed, coiffed and winged! The fairies will be ready to fly off from my Etsy Shop to their new homes on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 at 10 AM (Eastern US time). They will be sold on a first come, first served basis. Sorry, no reservations ahead of time. I realize that the hour of the day is in the middle of the night for those of you on the other side of the world, but I can’t figure out how to make it perfectly fair.

Despite my intention to move on, I haven’t weaned myself entirely from making fairies. It’s a nice relaxing, portable activity when traveling. I’ve had to put limits on myself at home or else I would make them all the time, instead of pushing myself to do new work. 
And besides, I have to maintain the first “P” in my new slogan:
From Precious to Poignant to Provocative.

So, 1 or 2 times a year, I complete a group of 25 dolls and offer them in my Etsy Shop. They’re basically the same fairies from my how-to book of dolls, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures. To see EUPHORIA and the other ltd. edition fairies in the archives, click here.

The only potentially messy part is gluing on their hair and acorn caps, so I usually do that in my studio. The hair is wool fleece, which is available in a multi-colored “fairy hair” sampler in my Etsy Shop. There’s also an assortment of faux flower petals to use for fairy skirts and wings in the shop here.

EUPHORIA is 3 3/4″ tall, with a dark brown complexion, black hair, acorn cap hat, hand embroidered wool felt tunic and petal skirt. Each doll is one of a limited edition of 25 look-alike fairies. They each sell for $85.00 and come with a signed and numbered name tag.

To enter my shop, click here. EUPHORIA will be added on Sept. 7, 2019 at 10 AM. Please know that the Ltd. Editions sell out very fast, so if you really want one, be ready. Good Luck!

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram

Wedding Banner: Shawn & Max

Today is Shawn and Max’s wedding day. The bride is a family friend and I wanted to make a banner to commemorate the occasion. This kind of project is quick (about a week) in comparison to the other work I do, which takes months or years. In the weeks since delivering the artwork for my upcoming book, My Bed to the publisher, I feel like a free woman! Besides gardening and paying attention to my husband Rob, I have indulged in making fun gifts like this.

It’s been a long time since I made a banner – you can see others in the archives here. I’ve also made personalized wedding dolls, which match the look and style of real-life couples. They inspired the new chapter in the 2nd edition of my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures.

Personalized wedding dolls from the archives

The banner features 2 of my favorite things, cursive handwriting and embroidery. I start by forming the letters with paper covered florist wire.

Then, I wrap the wire with a double strand of variegated embroidery floss.

The letters flow from one to the next, with occasional breaks, like in Max’s name below. I made a separate piece to complete the “x”.

In a nod to the theme of love, I made a heart shaped vine of wire and glass beads.

After I sewed the wire heart to the background felt, I stitched more leaves with embroidery floss.

For much of my art, borders are an important element. I like to define the edges using blanket stitching with a thick variegated thread – Watercolours by Caron.

The wedding date is written in light letters and numbers on a separate dark piece of felt.

I added glass leaf beads and silk ribbon French knot roses.

I put 2 carved bone fish beads in the open areas around their names and sewed the felt sections to the long banner piece.

After chain stitching spirals to the scalloped bottom edged, I sewed shells to the points. These shells are from old souvenir necklaces from Hawaii.

I even remembered to sew a Wee Folk Studio label to the back.

I cut a piece of driftwood to hang the banner from, drilled holes in it and attached the banner with thread. I then made a braided cord with variegated thread – Watercolours by Caron.
Congratulations Shawn and Max. May you have a long and happy marriage!

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Horn Book Cover

This is an edited and republished version of a post that was first written in 2012.

The Jan/Feb 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine is out, with my illustration on the cover. This issue has many wonderful articles and book reviews, including the 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award speeches, which were delivered at the colloquium on Sept. 30th, 2011. As an award recipient for Pocketful of Posies, I had the honor of illustrating a cover for the magazine. You can find out more about my award here.

Read on to see the process of making the cover illustration, which I worked on for about 6 weeks this past summer. The original size of the scene is about 12″ wide and 18″ high. I first found a twisted vine to use as the central tree and made a sketch with the Horn Book logo and child characters. I then drilled holes on the vine where wire branches would go.  

To form the branches, I covered wire with felt and embroidered them to match the real vine/tree trunk. This coiled branch has thread-wrapped wire thorns attached.

The Horn Book logo was rendered in wire branches and found objects. For one of the O’s, I sawed the back of a walnut-shell, so that it would lay flat and not stick out too much.  The O in the word Horn is a nest-like acorn cap from an oak tree in Iowa and the B’s spiky acorn caps are from northern California.

For the background, a solid color looked too plain, so I stitched together scraps of naturally dyed wool felt to make a more interesting field for the action.

I made a little fairy to fit in the walnut-shell.

I didn’t want the characters to be animals, but children dressed in animal costumes. So, I made every effort to make them look like children by giving them bangs, ponytails, hands and shoes. These figures are made with similar techniques found in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.

During the process, I changed some of the characters in the original sketch and substituted a boy in a dinosaur costume pulling an acorn cap wheeled wagon full of books.

I printed out the words on acetate, so that I’d be sure to leave enough room at the bottom edge. I then embroidered plants and leaves to the felt background.

This little child/mouse is getting red shoes.

The Horn Book staff suggested I include a reading child, so I made a felt book for the face-painted mouse.

All of the parts piled up as I worked. It’s a miracle nothing got lost!

It was really fun thinking up costumes to make for these kids. I wanted to create a scene of children immersed in imaginary play and story.

I added a sun to the upper left corner and embroidered a wavy chain-stitched border. Then, I sewed the felt background to a sheet of foam core board, pulling it flat and straight.

Then, I stitched the tree, characters and other props in place, right through the foam core board. After everything was in place, I took it to the photographer, so he could take its picture. After that, I removed it from the foam core board and remounted the felt background and all of the parts on a cloth-covered stretcher. It is now framed behind glass and was recently bought by a collector. It was a joy to work on this project with Lolly Robinson at the Horn Book Magazine! Having my illustration on the cover will be a great opportunity for many people to discover my work for the first time.

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Here I am with Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book.