to teach or not to teach

Quite often, I am asked to teach how I make things. Requests for classes, tutorials, patterns and directions from groups and individuals who are eager to learn my methods regularly fill my email box. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask such questions and I’m happy that people are interested in learning new ways of working. But for me, these inquiries only remind me of how much I operate outside of the mainstream, in a different needle and thread universe. In this post, which is a rewrite of a story published 5 years ago, I will do my best to explain my approach to making art and my personal philosophy about sharing knowledge.

Stitching foliage in the S. America scene.

There’s a strong needlework tradition of teaching and learning through imitation, with instructions and patterns aplenty. It used to be that women passed down their knowledge to the next generation in the family. Today, a vast needle-craft industry is built around a technique driven culture of copying, with businesses supplying materials, equipment, tools, patterns and kits for embroiderers, knitters and quilters of all kinds. It’s a challenge to find my place within this culture because that’s not how I came to do what I do. I learned how to embroider from diagrams in a simple booklet I bought at the Needlewoman Shop in London in 1978. And I only use half a dozen basic stitches in my work. Everything else I taught myself through experimentation and lots and lots of practice.

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 wrote Felt Wee Folk., a how-to book about making dolls. 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. Through the book, I share my techniques for making the dolls, which I see as a much-needed opening for people to play and express themselves.

With needlework, the distinction between art and craft is particularly fuzzy (no pun intended). That subject will still be discussed and debated 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.

But, where does the artist who creates original work with needle and thread fit into the imitation model ingrained in and perpetuated by the needle-craft 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 frequently ask if I have a pattern to make Birds of Beebe Woods. Others want directions for making the illustrations from Pocketful of Posies. The idea of providing patterns for my fabric relief pieces has me totally baffled. I think that artists working in other mediums would be equally taken aback if asked for patterns and instructions.

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.

Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe from “Pocketful of Posies”

Even though conventional needlework businesses don’t completely mesh with what I do, I am a part of it because I’ve authored a how-to book which is marketed within this world. But other than that, I operate independently, outside of the mainstream. That 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. I suppose that writing Felt Wee Folk opened me up to being categorized as a teacher of doll making techniques. And since delving into political satire with the Wee Folk Players, my work is proving to be even harder to classify!

Props and characters from “Liberty and Justice” animation

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.

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.

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

So, the simple explanation is that I show what I’m willing to share and don’t show what I’m not. I will continue to offer glimpses into my world through the wonders of social media and I hope you come along on the adventure!

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the Greta effect


Ever since learning about Greta Thunberg, the 17 year-old Swedish environmental activist, I’ve wanted to make a wee folk version of her. But, the idea of making such an inspiring public figure into just a cute little doll with braids didn’t seem like enough to do her justice. Greta symbolizes the upcoming generation who will experience climate change much more profoundly than people my age and they must be heard. I kept thinking that the real Greta would not like being turned into a passive fetish object, without her strong message and a call to action. So, I figured out a way to both depict her likeness and quote her, while also supporting the issues she is calling attention to.

After making the Greta doll, I set out to photograph her outside in a natural setting. The aim was to take a photo that would have room to incorporate one of her famous quotes. So, on a recent beautiful day, Rob and I went around the corner to Woodneck Beach. The conditions were perfect! The low tide created an interesting landscape and the late afternoon sun gave off the kind of warm glow that photographers can only wish for. The result was the image below, which we are making into prints to sell as a fundraiser for climate science research.

8.5″ x 11″ archival print for sale to benefit climate research

The image of Greta Thunberg with her quote is available for sale as a 8.5″ x 11″ archival print. Prints may be purchased for $15.00 in my shop HERE. Sets of 4 note cards are also available in my shop here.

All profits will go to the Woods Hole Research Center, a leading source of climate science that drives the urgent action needed to solve climate change.

Woods Hole Research Center is an organization of renowned researchers who work with a worldwide network of partners to understand and combat climate change. They have been focused on climate change since it first emerged as a pubic policy issue 35 years ago. Headquartered in Falmouth, MA, they currently work in more than twenty countries around the globe – from the Amazon to the Arctic. World-class science is the foundation of everything they do. They share their learning with scientific colleagues, lawmakers, private sector leaders, and the public in order to turn knowledge into far-reaching action. For more information, visit

The Greta Effect Animation
During the process of making the Greta doll, the partially made pipe cleaner body sat on my work table, looking at me in an intense way. I thought, we have to film her doing just that! So, Rob and I made this short animated film, “The Greta Effect”.

The following photos show the process of making the Greta doll and the video:

To paint a likeness on the round wooden bead, I referred to photos of Greta. In this small scale, I was limited to a few brush strokes to make her face recognizable.


With the exception of a few added details, the Greta doll is made with the same basic techniques that are taught in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.
After painting the face, I glued a felt wig to the bead head and let it dry. Then, I stitched embroidery floss hair to the felt, which provided something for the needle to grab onto. It was fun to make her tell-tale braids.


This photo gives you an idea of how her hands were made.


Partway through the process, we filmed the Greta doll sitting on my work table, turning her head to look straight out at the viewer, as if to say, “I’m looking at you!”.


It took 2 tries to do the animation because I messed up the first attempt by kicking the tripod. We started over the next day.


Even though the scene is only 11 seconds long, it took all day to animate. In addition to my turning the doll’s head incrementally, Rob manually rotated the camera and moved it along the slider, one frame at a time (24 frames per second). It brought back memories of our year in the basement, filming Liberty and Justice.


Then it was time to make her clothing. I made her pants and shoes and…


a zippered anorak out of pink felt….


sewing it in place, so that it’s never coming off!


Who knows if the real Greta will ever see this, but if she does, I hope that she approves of using her image and quote to support climate science research. Again, prints and not cards may be purchased in my shop HERE. If you live in the local Falmouth, MA area and want to avoid having the print sent in the mail, please contact me via e-mail so we can arrange a pick up time.


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lace bombing

It being near the end of my retrospective exhibition “Once Upon a Stitch” at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, I thought I’d squeeze in a post about how I “lace bombed” a pole in the gallery with doilies and other lacy items from my stash.
Carloads of visitors have been flocking to see the show before its last day on Sunday, Jan. 26th. If you’re thinking of making the trip, please note that the museum is open Thursday 10 am – 7 pm, Friday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, Sunday 12 noon – 4 pm. 

When I first checked out the gallery and saw the plain white column in the middle of the room, I thought,”How unfortunate, but maybe this is an opportunity waiting to happen.” To me, displaying artwork and decorating a space for an exhibition is like a piece of art in itself. On the drive home, I came up with the idea of covering the pole with lace and doilies in the spirit of yarn bombing.

My collection of lace and linen was passed down in the family or was given to me by people who were trying to find homes for their relative’s stuff. As the pile grows, I keep thinking that I’ll use some of it my artwork, but lace rarely matches my vision. The exception is a doily that I dyed green for the “Ring Around the Rosie” illustration in Pocketful of Posies.

Doily used in a illustration from Pocketful of Posies

After finding out the pole’s height and circumference, I unpacked my stash of doilies, lace and antimacassars, and laid them out on my work table.

This project didn’t require any fussy hand-stitching, so I dusted off my sewing machine and plugged it in. I pinned together rows of doilies and sewed the overlapping edges with the zig-zag stitch.

I wanted the covering to be one piece that could be easily installed. A large piece of green felt left over from my fairy kit days seemed like a good background fabric, with just enough contrast to show off the delicate lace patterns. Then I pinned the rows of doilies and lace to the felt and sewed them in place. Since I don’t use a sewing machine very often, it was fun to push the peddle and go!

When it came time to install the exhibition in the gallery, I wrapped the column with the felt and lace cover and pinned it in place. Then I finished it of with a simple whip stitch along the seam, which was the only hand stitching on the whole project. I even remembered to bring my trusty thimble, which I feel naked without!

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.

scavenger hunt

The scavenger hunt at my retrospective exhibition of original picture book art at the Cape Cod Museum of Art has been a hit! Not just with kids, but with all ages. Searching for the details is a fun way to engage with the artwork and helps you see things you might not otherwise notice.

I got the idea from my friend Deb Coulombe, who 10 years ago, put together cards for school groups who came to see the touring exhibition of original art from Pocketful of Posies. With the hunt, the kids experienced my artwork in a playful way that enhanced their museum experience.

So, I took the scavenger hunt concept and brought it to “Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Stitch”, which will be on display for only one more week, until Sunday, Jan. 26th. People are coming from far and wide to see the show, driving and even flying in from out of state. If you’re thinking of making the trip, please note that the Cape Cod Museum of Art is open Thursday 10 am – 7 pm, Friday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, Sunday 12 noon – 4 pm. 

Rob and I spent last fall photographing closeup images of the artwork to use in the scavenger hunt. Because my pieces are sculptural, its a challenge to take pictures that bring out the detail and 3-dimensional quality of the real thing. We’ve tried different approaches, sometimes using a light box (above) to diffuse the light and soften the shadows. I’m constantly getting in the way, fussing and tweaking, which drives Rob crazy!

Rob printed the images on good quality paper on his super duper Epson printer and I cut them up. Even though they’re all square, it reminded me of playing with paper dolls.

Then I divided them up into groups of 4 that I knew would keep people moving around the gallery, like an aerobic activity.

Anyone can play the game and choose from about 20 different laminated cards in the gallery.

You can also do the scavenger hunt at home by searching for the following images in my books. Each group of 4 that you see below is labeled with a list of books where you can find the images. Have fun!

Details from “Pocketful of Posies”
Details from “Hey, Diddle, Diddle!”, Pocketful of Posies and “In the Heart”
Details from Pocketful of Posies”, “The Way Home”, “Hey, Diddle, Diddle!” and “Wee Willie Winkie”
Details from “Pocketful of Posies, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, You and Me” and “Come to My Party”
Details from Pocketful of Posies” and You and Me”
Details from “Pocketful of Posies” and “Jack and Jill”

SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch
Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020

Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Winter hours: Thursday 10am – 7pm,
Friday – Saturday 10 – 4, Sunday 12 – 4

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just a few more weeks

Once Upon a Stitch, my retrospective exhibition of original embroidered picture book art will be at the Cape Cod Museum of Art for a few more weeks, until Sunday, January 26th. So, if you’ve been thinking about going to see it, act quickly. It’s been wonderful to have a place to send people, although it is limited to those who can make it to our beautiful peninsula.

For those of you from far away, here’s a brief video tour of the gallery.

A brief tour of “Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Stitch” at Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis MA

There’s also a scavenger hunt with lots of cards made up of different close-up details to find in the framed artwork.

Images in the scavenger hunt

Last Saturday, I talked about my work to a very nice group who nestled themselves into the gallery. After being introduced by Benton Jones, the museum’s Director of Art, I shared stories about growing up in a household where making things was as routine as brushing one’s teeth.

This was different that my usual slide presentation, in that I just talked off the cuff, making it more like a Show & Tell. I brought some things to show like my first book (mixed media, of course) which I made at around age 8. People often ask when I started making the kind of art I do. I have to say that I’ve been on this path my whole life. Manipulating materials in my hands has always been more satisfying that just drawing or painting. As a child, I felt that crayons were not enough and that my pictures weren’t finished until something real was glued, stapled or sewn to it.

My first book from about age 8

Most of the audience were women who share a love of stitching and sewing. There are a lot of us out there and we tend to gravitate toward each other. It was a pleasure to meet and share my work with such kindred spirits!

SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch
Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020

Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Winter hours: Thursday 10am – 7pm,
Friday – Saturday 10 – 4, Sunday 12 – 4

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Moving forward, looking back

Happy New Year! Thank you for coming along on my artistic journey. You come from all corners of the globe, from Croatia to Australia and from Brazil to South Africa, helping to link the wee folk world with the big wide world. It’s been such a pleasure doing “show and tell” with you for 10 years now! Choosing images and writing about different projects and goings-on not only connects my artwork with the world outside my studio, it’s helped me develop a clearer sense of purpose. Through this forum, I can share my own needle and thread universe in a free and independent way. When what you make doesn’t easily fit into any category, it’s nice to have a place to call home.  

From time to time in this wee folk world, the not-so-docile fairies stir things up on Facebook, Instagram and this blog, delighting most of my followers, while upsetting a few who wag their fingers in disapproval. The feisty fairies have taught me so much. They’ve given me a voice that will not be scolded into silence. As Rep. John Lewis says, “Get into good trouble.” The images I share are precious and poignant for the most part, but sometimes they are provocative. I am aware that calling attention to the angst around us can be jarring to those who don’t expect it, but I don’t see mixing it up like this as incongruous. It reflects both the beauty and the struggle of life in these tumultuous times. And that is the story I wish to tell. Every now and then, when things get to the point when the fairies can’t hold back any longer, they’ll shake a little hot pepper into the sweet sauce. So, with that in mind, I invite you to join the fairies and me as we venture into a new decade. May we all face the New Year with brave hearts and undaunted spirits!

To help review the year, I’ve organized a list of posts published on this blog in 2019. They are grouped by topic, including a miscellaneous category at the end.
But first, I want to mention a special event that I will participate in very soon:

Film Screening and Presentations:
Thursday, Jan. 9th at 5:30 pm at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis, MA:
“Liberty and Justice” – Three presentations on the role of civil disobedience in a healthy democracy.
There will be a screening of my politically satirical animation, “Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free” as well as a reading of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and A First Hand Account of the Hong Kong Protests by Cole Silva. Discussion to Follow. The event is not intended for young children.

Screen shot from “Liberty and Justice” animation

Links to blog posts from 2019:

More is More
Once Upon a Stitch
The Art of Cute
finding my voice
The stitching lady speaks!
Liberty and Justice exhibit in Cotuit
Migration exhibit
3 upcoming exhibits

My Bed: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World” will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Sept. 2020. The following posts give behind the scenes peeks at the process of illustrating the book. For information about the upcoming touring exhibition of the original art from the book, please go to this page.

Bed book peek: Duck
Bed book peek: Camel
Bed book peek: Bunny
Bed book peek: North America part 1, part 2, part 3
Bed book peek: Scandinavia part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
My Bed is made
bed book delivered

Wee Folk:
Euphoria Ltd. Edition Fairy
Judy Sue in miniature
Polly dresses for the seashore
Wee Folk playing cards

shifting focus
Self Portrait poster is back
Studio goings-on
create your own wee world
Behind the Glass – part 1
Behind the Glass – part 2

baby banner for Xavier
Wedding Banner: Shawn & Max

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.

“More is more”

My retrospective exhibition of original picture book art, Once Upon a Stitch has been at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis, MA. for 2 weeks now and I’m happy to hear that lots of visitors are specifically coming to see it. If you’re thinking of making the trip, please note that the museum’s winter hours are Thursday 10 am – 7 pm, Friday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, Sunday 12 noon – 4 pm. The show runs until January 26 and I’ll be giving a Family Gallery Talk on Saturday January 4th, 1:00 – 2:00 pm.

It took 2 trips in my Subaru Outback to transport the more than 50 bubble wrapped frames to the museum. That doesn’t count the dozens of wee folk characters I brought along to set up in a display case. At first, the curator was skeptical that everything would fit, but after explaining how I envisioned the layout, with clusters of double hung frames, he relaxed. The museum’s very able crew ended up filling the gallery walls with what could be a record number of pieces!. After everything was hung, my husband Rob looked around and said, “You must understand, with Salley’s art, more is more.”

The first thing you see when entering the gallery is a grid full of of prints showing enlarged animal faces and other characters staring at you. They are blown up details from pieces in the exhibition, which includes a wide selection of original hand-stitched children’s book illustrations I’ve made over the past 300 years. Oh, I mean 30 years!

I set up the figures from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures on and around a Dala horse and cart elevated on top of 2 wooden cigar boxes.

Four original illustrations from Mary Had a Little Lamb are on loan from collectors. It’s the largest reunion they’ve had since the book was published in 1995.

Most of my books are represented in the show, with groupings of pieces from either my own collection or ones that are borrowed from their owners.

A rather plain concrete pole in the middle of the gallery called out for some kind of embellishment, so, I lace-bombed it with doilies. To make it, I cut a length of green felt to the right circumference and machine stitched lace and doilies to it. I pinned the seam and stitched it in place on site. Like a lot of textile geeks, I have a collection of misc. old lacy things and it feels good to finally use them for something.

The opening was well attended by many people who knew of my work, as well as others who were seeing it for the first time. I got to watch people’s reactions to seeing the originals, which is a totally different experience than looking at the pages of a printed book. I can honestly say that without exception, everyone was smiling. In the photo below, a man is telling me that he just came from visiting New York and that my show was more impressive than anything he saw at MoMA. As you can see, I was flabbergasted!

There’s a scavenger hunt with about 20 cards, each one showing 4 different close-up images that you can look for in the artwork. This game is certainly not just for children!

The exhibition is an opportunity to see the detail and 3-dimensional quality of my work.

I was happy that my friend and picture book collaborator, Judy Richardson came to the opening. Here we are in 1991, having our publicity photo taken with Bella the elephant at the Barnstable County Fair.

And that’s Judy and her husband Phil at the show, looking at the originals from “The Way Home“, which she wrote and I illustrated.

I hope that many of you can make the trip down the quaint and historic Old King’s Highway (Rt. 6A) to Dennis, Massachusetts to see the show!

Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020
Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Winter hours: Thursday 10am – 7pm,
Friday – Saturday 10 – 4, Sunday 12 – 4
Family Gallery Talk with Salley Mavor –
Saturday January 4th, 1:00 – 2:00 pm

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.