bed book peek – Ghana (part 2)

This is Part 2 in a series of posts about how I made the stitched bas-relief scene set in the West African country of Ghana. The piece will be reproduced in my upcoming picture book, MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World.

Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth AfricaNorth AmericaScandinavia and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

Update: My Bed can now be pre-ordered in my shop here. It’s release date is in Sept. 2020 and people have asked if they can pre-order autographed copies ahead. So, if you put your order in now, I’ll have a better idea of how many copies to get. The book will be shipped to you as soon as it arrives!

In Part 1, I showed the process of making the house and the small figure in the background. Now, I will concentrate on the house and child in the foreground.

Way back in the beginning, after my sketches were approved by Houghton Mifflin’s editorial team and before I started working on the finished scenes, I made heads of all of the children who would inhabit the pages of the book. I wanted to meet the children before embarking on what I knew would be at least a 2 year commitment. After falling in love with them, it didn’t matter how long it would take to make the places they call home.

Except for the fingers and toes, the children’s bodies are basically made the same way as the dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. I painted their faces on wooden beads and made wigs by gluing on a piece of felt to the crown of the head, which acts as a needle friendly surface to sew on thread hair.

I dressed the Ghanaian boy in cotton shorts and a shirt.

He needed a woven sleeping mat, so I blanket stitched rows of “weaving’ on a piece of felt with variegated pima cotton thread.

To help make it look like the boy is inside the porch, I built a 1/2″ deep box out of balsa wood that I covered with felt. I’ve also used this method in other scenes for the book to create more depth, such as the inside of the house boat in the scene from Holland. It takes advantage of the space inside the stretcher, behind the background fabric. The box is inserted in a hole cut out of the stretched fabric. Objects recede (about 1/2″), as well as protrude (about 3/4′), making the piece more spatially dynamic.

To replicate the stone and mud texture on the house, I appliqued pieces of felt with blanket stitches. For extra structure, the window frame is outlined with wire.

I also chain-stitched spirals to look like stones in the wall and sewed a row of over-lapping bone bead shingles to the roof.

I stitched silk ribbon on felt to create the texture of a straw roof for the porch.

I made a mud and stone wall out of felt to go along the back of the property.

This photo gives an idea of how the box in the porch area recedes.

In future posts, I will show the process of making plants, the shade tree, the bird, and other parts of the scene.

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9 thoughts on “bed book peek – Ghana (part 2)

  1. Can you explain how you knot off the ends? Especially on the tiny 3 dimensional details. I always have trouble with this, I think I may over do it.
    Would you be able to show a back side of a piece? Love reading about the details of your creations.

    • Hi Maryn,
      I will try to explain. To knot off the ends I usually make a few stitches in the back, out of view. Nothing fancy. As for showing what the backs look like – sorry, but I don’t have any photos and everything is neatly mounted now. It sounds like you want to see all the messy looking parts, which I don’t even think to take photos of!

  2. I am so impressed by your needlework skills. When did you start to learn embroidery and needlework? Not only is your work beautiful, it’s also amazing!

    • Thank you for asking Jeanne. I’ve been sewing in some form or another since childhood, so it’s always been something I liked to do. Other than a bit of instruction from my mother and grandmother in the daisy stitch, I’m completely self-taught in embroidery. I’ve never learned the right way to stitch and surely would have resisted that kind of instruction. I like to experiment with a needle and thread and the techniques I come up with are directly linked to my desire to communicate ideas. So, for me it’s about about translating what I imagine into something real to share. And somehow, needlework is the easiest way I’ve found to do that.

      • Thank you Sally. It’s good to know. I’ve been encouraging my granddaughters to do needlework and will use your art as an inspiration.

  3. I think this is so wonderful! Having followed you for many years, I had most of your books, but I was ill and lost my job and we lived in a moldy 70’s trailer that was making my COPD and heart failure worse. My kids made me throw all my books away as they smelled terribly of mold, and all of yours I had were lost. This one will be the start of my new collection in our newer mold-free home!

    I am Caucasian, but my kids, now both 23, are adopted from China. I remember with pain my daughter running up and down the aisles every time we went to Target or Walmart looking for dolls that looked like her. There were never any Asian dolls. She went through a phase where she hated her looks, stretched her eyes out looking in the mirror with tears. It broke my heart that this beautiful child felt ugly, and I could not reassure her. She rarely saw herself represented anywhere. I imagine there will be a lot of children like that who see themselves and their cultures represented, and they will be thrilled. Also the ladies with head coverings will be a delight to many I am sure. They already are to me. Everyone matters.

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