Rabbitat – part 1 (driftwood house)

After working all winter long, I’ve finally finished Rabbitat! It’s large, compared to my book illustrations, measuring 24″ x 30″ , with a depth of 1 1/2″. I’m waiting for professional photographs of the finished piece, so for now I’ll just show pictures I’ve taken during the process. It’s got lots of parts, which I’ll be showing in several posts. This piece was unlike my book illustrations, which have to meet size and subject specifications and are planned out ahead. I let this project evolve by itself and just followed where it led.

To start, here are some drawings from my sketch book. My first ideas include a vine-covered house, which could be a topiary. A bunny showed up, too.

Then, the house became a structure made of driftwood pieces, with a rabbit topiary outside. I didn’t know who’d be living inside yet.

I combed through all of my driftwood and selected pieces which I could see as a roof and side beams and a doorway.

And carved them in spots, so that they fit together and lay down as flat as possible. I don’t know how the little chair appeared in this picture. Some of you may recognize it from another scene–the Driftwood Clan in my book, Felt Wee Folk.

I drilled holes at the joints and glued wire pins into the holes. That way the parts are held together, but the wire joints keeps the structure flexible. I don’t know if this description is clear, but I essentially use wire in place of dowel pins because I don’t want the joints to break while I’m manipulating and working on the house. I’m always adjusting things until the last-minute, so the joints need to be somewhat bendable.

I decorated the house walls with an embroidered chain-stitched vine pattern on felt. The green mossy patches have lots and lots of french knots.

At this point, I’d decided that rabbits live in the house, so I made a father and son to sit on the bench outside.

I told my husband Rob that I was making a habitat for rabbits and he immediately said, “Oh, it’s a Rabbitat!”

Continued at Rabbitat – part 2 (topiary)

See the Rabbitat film here.

See all of the Rabbitat posts here.

22 thoughts on “Rabbitat – part 1 (driftwood house)

  1. I love your work. I own 4 of your books. I love making the dolls. I am in the process of making some for Operation Christmas Child boxes.

  2. Wow Salley, I love your work, can’t wait to see the finished result. I know it will be amazing and charming. I just love the sweet little rabbit face.

  3. Hi Salley, it’s me again. Do you begin with a complete concept? or does it just evolve as you go along. I am so curious and you are always so generous sharing your ideas.


  4. Rabbitat is such a clever name! I so loved how you came up with the driftwood pieces to make an adorable little house. So much fun to see your work progress – looking forward to more of Rabbitat!

  5. Oh, goodness!…… rabbits and houses, two of my favorite things!!!! Wonderful, Salley! Can’t wait to see more!!!

  6. That is just stunning…thanks so much for showing right from your first ideas. I love seeing your design process. Your rabbits have such wonderful characters. Fantastic work, my jaw just dropped when I read this post! Looking forward to seeing more.
    Jane x

  7. Those french knots, Salley!! How many wraps around the needle do you do? And what else do you do while you are making them? Watch movies, TV, or listen to music?

    • Emily, I do two wraps around the needle for most of the french knots. And I listen to the radio. I can’t watch anything because I need to see what I’m doing constantly. Visual media is too distracting and stimulating, anyways– it removes me from the process of making. We haven’t had TV in decades and when I rent a movie to watch, I like to pay total attention, with no needle and thread around!

  8. Oh my goodness, all those French knots! What a labor of love. The rabbits have such personality. I love seeing your sketches and can’t wait to read the rest of the posts about how it all came together!

  9. Thanks for sharing your process, Salley. Your posts inspire ideas! Making bendable joints for the driftwood house is very clever, and of course the charming rabbits complete the home. Beautiful!

  10. It is so fascinating to see your process!! You have an amazing imagination and such wonderful precision in your work. I just love what you do, Salley!

  11. What a generous soul you are sharing the process with us! It is something more than just seeing the finished piece. Thanks for this and.. can’t wait for more 🙂

  12. Love it – husbands are occasionally handy to have around! Love seeing the wood come together out of thin air – your process is always fascinating!

  13. What inspiration would’ve given me today, Salley! Years ago I hand-stitched 2 felt boy bears and 1 girl for my 3 kids. I made the boys vests and the girls’ dress. That was our first Christmas ornaments as a complete family. I still put them on the tree each year. All 3 together holding hands. I love your little fairies. I went to the store today and bought some felt. Can’t wait to continue this tradition for my grand-daughters:-) And I will be checking out your book, too. That would make a nice addition to the felt critters:-) Thanks again for inspiring me!

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