Slow Work… Fine Work


In art school, I began as a print-maker, working in etching, engraving and lithography. Printmaking is all about lines, dots and dashes, which all combine to create an image. It’s very different from watercolor painting, for instance, where color can merge and fade gradually. Embroidery uses distinct lines, dots and dashes, too. They show up in my artwork as chained-stitched doodles, french knots and felt-covered and thread-wrapped wire.

My newest fabric relief is a kind of contemporary sampler, which celebrates the Chinese proverb Slow Work… Fine Work, which resonates with me.

slowworksketch2WM copy

I decided to incorporate an old wooden frame that has been sitting around for years, waiting to be useful. I wrote out the words in felt-covered wire. This is a new technique that I’ve been developing over the past few years, starting as part of the border in Rabbitat and later featured extensively in Birds of Beebe Woods. I’m pretty open about how to make a lot of things on this blog, but this new process is a personal artistic expression that I wish to keep private.



I pieced together small scraps of felt with a feather stitch and chain-stitched a free-form pattern on top.


I spent the hours on the train trip to New York last January stitching this back ground piece.


By the time we were at the hotel, I had finished half! The other half was completed on the way home.



I covered the embroidered felt background outside edges with a rounded outline of brown felt. Next came the thorny vine, made with wire and black embroidery floss.



I strung some beads to go around the double oval word sections and made some spider’s webs with wire and metallic thread.


Then, I drilled holes in the inside corners of the frame to sew the spider’s web’s in place.


I made a blue felt-covered wire border and sewed it to the frame’s top two inside corners. No glue, just stitches, through more drilled holes.


The two lower corners are finished off with a scalloped-edged triangular felt shape, decorated with a bead in each corner. I couldn’t resist adding more blue wavy lines with thread wrapped wire, too.



The center double oval section needed more definition, so I added another border of hot pink scalloped felt. I like to represent something alive in my artwork, so I made a spider of buttons and thread wrapped wire legs. The original piece is 15″ x 13″. My husband Rob took a photograph of it on the stairway, which gets nice natural light.

slowworkphotoAnd this is the photo we used to make a print, without the watermark, of course.



Slow Work... Fine Work, 8.5" x 11" Print

Slow Work… Fine Work, 8.5″ x 11″ Print

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26 thoughts on “Slow Work… Fine Work

  1. From far away your pieces are stunning, but from up close they are simply breathtaking. Thank you for sharing the close ups. You can’t see the stitching on the words and boarders, from far away.

  2. As a knitter who knits v-e-r-y—s-l-o-w-l-y, I love this!
    My husband and I attended a concert last week at Woods Hole Library and while we enjoyed the concert, I must admit we were entranced with your autobiographical self-portrait work on display there. I love dolls, the tinier the better, and was just completely captivated by your work. I stood and stared at it for the whole intermission! I haven’t felt like that since visiting the Smithsonian as a child and spending the entire school field-trip in front of the dollhouse they have on display there.

  3. I am always blown away by your incredible work, and how long it must take you to finish a piece! I could look for hours at each little stitch and the color you choose and of course I do!! This is so great for those of us who try to make little masterpieces and take forever doing it! This can explain a lot to families! Thankyou Salley for another beauty to examine and share with others!

  4. O, Salley, fine work indeed though I don’t think I can say you were very s l o w !!!!!!
    A wonderful way to show us the way you work again, always a joy and inspiration ! Thanks

  5. I love the spider detail…this really is an amazing piece and shows the value of taking one’s time to create masterpieces. Thanks for all you do, and for sharing it with us!

  6. I have a question…. What size drill bits did you use to drill the frame?. How ingenious!! I love the scalloped edging around the frame as well..and…. What are you listening to on your IPOD?..You are the BEST EVER for sharing so much.. I am leaving now to go purchase your print … Later… nc

    • Don’t know the drill size, but it is the smallest I can find at the hardware store. It’s the same with sewing needles–people ask and I have no idea what size I use. Got your print order and will send it tomorrow.

      • Thank you… It can’t get here soon enough. I have decided to print this off, fold it up, and put it in a vellum envelope attached to the back of the frame. Then when anyone admires it, I can whip it out and show them just how much work goes into each picture. I do wonder if you listen to classical music when you work. Thank you Salley Mavor. Respectfully, n.cooper

  7. Salley, I have been following your work for many years, and one thing I can never figure out…How Do You Get Sooooooooooo much amazing work done???? The amount of exquisite work you do in what seems like a short time is mind boggling!!! On that note…what do you do to take care of your hands and arms? I struggle with carpal tunnel, thumb problems, and tendonitis from all the handwork I do. Do you have any magic stretches or lotions you use?
    Thank You so much for sharing your work, and I love your blog for opening your world to us.

    • Well, despite the fact that Slow Work… Fine Work is my motto, I do work fast, but I never rush anything. It takes the time it takes, period. I’m also devoted to making things– it is what makes me happy. I’m sorry that stitching creates problems for you. Sewing and embroidery have never bothered my hands and arms. For me, using a computer mouse creates more problems that doing handwork. And, I use a thimble to protect my finger tips.

  8. hi, I like your opuses, I am a Taiwanese. , sorry , my English is very poor, but I hope I can tell you , the Chinese proverb meaning is …..Slow Work get Fine goods .

  9. I like Stacey’s translation…and I like the fact that you have given us the incentive to slow down and enjoy the process of creating something….well…worth creating. We are not in a race with our needlework, it should be enjoyed and done well…to the best of our abilities. Slow Work Fine Work….Fine Work indeed. Well done, my friend.

  10. Such a beautiful collage and with an important message. However, I’m puzzled about the last step. You have used a lovely old frame, but in the last photo it looks as if it is set within another frame—plain wood with some beading. If so, does it become very thick or difficult to hang on a wall? Or perhaps it is your poster that is framed. Can you tell me this last step?

  11. I discovered your blog two years ago and you are still amazing me with your work! If only I was half as good

  12. The amount of work and the detail is incredible. So easy to look at the finished print without really thinking about all the work that has gone into it. Thank you for sharing. It’s inspiring.

  13. Hello Salley — I’m so glad I clicked on your sidebar link to this piece of work. Perfect words for me today as I try to settle into work and can hear, from the next room, my toddler who is not settling down for his much needed afternoon sleep. Ah, it seems today, my own personal proverb will be “No work today. High hopes for tomorrow (because I have a deadline to meet.)”


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