Turkey (windows)

As promised in the earlier post of Turkish Doorways, here is a selection of window pictures, which I took on my recent trip to Turkey.  My traveling mates learned to be patient while I stopped to click photos around almost every corner. What is it about windows and doors that makes me stop and look? They frame shapes, patterns and textures that reflect the style and culture of a place, as well as bring a mood of mystery as to what’s on the other side.

Horn Book poster giveaway

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. Subscribers will soon be receiving their copies. You can read my “Pocketful of Posies” speech in the magazine or on the Horn Book website, which includes a close up photo of my hands making a tiny hand. They’ve  also printed a poster that will be given away at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, TX, Jan. 20-24. So, if you’re a librarian who will be there or know a librarian who’s going, have them pick up a poster at the Horn Book booth. At the end of this post, I’ll announce a Poster Giveaway and also give information about ordering magazines or posters through the mail.

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





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 having red shoes made.

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.


UPDATE: Obviously the poster giveaway is past.

Magazine Orders: To special order the January/February issue of the Horn Book Magazine, go here.



Close-ups (winter solstice)

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.

Salley, age 8

They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.

detail from “One Misty, Moisty Morning” in “Pocketful of Posies” 2010

And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!

detail from “Little Jack Horner” in “Pocketful of Posies” 2010

All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.

detail of balsam pillow in “Felt Wee Folk” 2003

And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

detail from “Little Jack Horner” in “Pocketful of Posies” 2010

Autographed copies of Pocketful of Posies are available from my Esty Shop.

Felt Wee Folk around the kitchen table

fairies from "Felt Wee Folk"

fairies from “Felt Wee Folk”

Sometimes I look at my blog statistics to find out how people find me. Quite frequently searches like “pipe cleaner dolls”or “wee felt people” bring them here. This week’s wordy favorite was “how to wrap embroidery floss around pipe cleaners for fairies”.

Last week, I received the most wonderful e-mail message from Michele in Nebraska, who wrote, “I didn’t do anything else yesterday evening except enjoy every single thing on your blog.” She went on describe how she and her family have enjoyed the doll projects in Felt Wee Folk.

“I purchased your book when my daughter was 15 (she is now 20 and a new mother). She had a close friend spend the night once that year and I brought my new book, along with lots of felt, threads, combed wool (I spin) and all manner of goodies, into the kitchen with the two girls and announced we were going to make tiny dolls. You should have seen their teenage faces! At first hesitant and then fascinated and completely absorbed, those two girls insisted on staying up till 2:30 in the morning so their little people could be finished! We talked about everything and laughed and laughed and when we were done, we sat and looked at our little people with the greatest satisfaction and joy. Just recently, my daughter’s same good friend came to our house to visit and told me that night spent here was the most fun she has ever had and that she felt so much love in our home. She has her little Wee Folk doll still and wants to make more with her children when she has them.

I just thought you might like to hear that your art has the most profound effect on others in such a positive and loving way. Thank you for your years of sharing. Thank you for leaving your examples of doll art on your website as inspiration for those of us who cannot get enough of them. I am sure you will be blessed in all your new endeavors.

And finally thank you for being true to yourself, for in doing that, what you have created is truly magical.”

Stories like Michele’s make me feel that sharing my fantasy/play world is truly worth it. It warms my heart to think of kitchen tables around the world scattered with silk flower petals, pipe cleaners and acorn caps. I can imagine faces of all ages and colors bowed in concentration and busy hands engrossed in making wee dolls. It’s been almost 9 years since Felt Wee Folk was released by C&T Publishing. Since 2003, the book has been reprinted many times, selling over 50,000 copies, which is way more than any of my children’s books.

introducing Phoebe Wahl

One Monday afternoon in October, I had the pleasure of meeting Phoebe Wahl, who is a junior illustration student at RISD. She’s taking a class with my friend and former teacher Judy Sue Goodwin-Sturges this semester, so Phoebe must have learned about my artwork from her. She sent me an e-mail with a link to her blog and I was so charmed by her paintings and cloth characters that I invited her to visit my studio. It’s a manageable distance, so she took the bus from Providence to my home on Cape Cod. She gave me this gnome doll, which she had made the night before.

I love how she works quickly, so her dolls are fresh, not fussy. She draws beautifully, too and she showed me her sketch book.

Look at this juxtaposition of pages!

After talking with Phoebe for a bit, I spontaneously called my neighbor, illustrator Molly Bang and asked if we could walk over for a short visit. Phoebe remembers seeing Molly’s book, The Paper Crane when she was young, so it was nice to connect the two. Molly enjoyed meeting her and looking at her work, too.

I recently saw on Phoebe’s blog that she’s made an animated film called CIRCUS. In a few weeks, she made a whole cast of animals and performers, then made the film all by herself in one weekend! The character’s movements could be smoother, but this animation shows such potential!  She describes the film as an experiment and she plans on learning more about stop motion animation this winter. I’m so impressed by her diligence and artistic drive. She is really taking advantage of her time in school to try different ways of bringing her artwork to life. CIRCUS can be seen on vimeo here.

Phoebe describes the project in her own words:

“I made ‘CIRCUS’ for Judy Sue Goodwin-Sturges’ Artist Book class. The assignment was to make a large book, using no paper, and we had another assignment where the theme was ‘circus’ or ‘carnival’. I was stuck trying to think of ideas for traditional artist books and decided to combine both assignments. My visit to your studio definitely inspired me to start incorporating the handmade dolls and animals I have always loved to make into more of my schoolwork. Working hands-on sewing my characters into life is what feels right a lot of the time, although I will always love to make more traditional on-paper illustrations as well. I loved seeing your work from when you were my age at RISD, how even then you were making things that spoke in your voice, and your characters were so wonderful and created with so much love. I was inspired to take my little dolls and animals further even if it meant stretching the boundaries of assignments, since the process of making them is so important to me.
Originally I didn’t make the animals to be animated, (maybe somewhere in the back of my mind…) but after I brought the basket of elephants and lions and tigers into class, my professor Judy Sue decided to send me on a different route than the rest of the class, realizing how excited I was about what I was doing, and that I needed to take it further. It took me about two weeks to make all of the animals and dolls, and I made the animation in one sitting the next weekend. I did it completely on my own, locked in our spare room surrounded by desk lamps and animals with my camera taped to a box on a stool instead of a tripod…
A lot of my work is rooted in nostalgia. I feel like all the things I am drawing or painting or sewing, I am making for my childhood self. I think ‘CIRCUS’ is less about an actual circus, and more about a toy circus coming to life. That all the characters were touched and loved and imperfect is important to me. I find myself constantly illustrating places or people I want to be. I think ‘CIRCUS’ is an example of my constant quest to return to the magical places I inhabited as a child, where I didn’t even need a camera and a computer to make my toys and drawings come alive.
This Wintersession a friend in the animation department and I are doing an independent study, working on another animation. I’m excited to learn the real techniques of stop-motion animation and puppet making, since ‘CIRCUS’ was a bit of an experiment. Hopefully the first of many adventures in animation!”
Phoebe’s circus characters remind me of Alexander Calder’s famous miniature circus (shown below).

Phoebe sent a thank you note in this envelope. Be sure to look at her blog to see other envelopes she’s decorated. Thanks, Phoebe. I’m looking forward to seeing what you create next.

book signing at NE Quilt Museum

This Saturday, Dec. 10th, I’ll be signing books from 1:00 to 3:00pm at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts. This will be the last event of the year, professionally, that is. Some original illustrations from Pocketful of Posies will be displayed during my visit. The old woman who lived in a shoe will be there, as well as Peter the pumpkin eater.

I’ll also bring the orignal illustration I made for the Horn Book Magazine. To see a preview of the Jan/Feb magazine cover, go here. I hope to meet some of you at the Quilt Museum this Saturday!