About Salley Mavor

I make 3-dimensional fabric relief pictures that are photographed and used to illustrate children’s books. I sew together different materials to create fanciful scenes in relief, much like a miniature stage set, with figures imposed on an embellished fabric background. My work is decorative and detailed, full of patterns from nature and found objects, all sewn together by hand with a needle and thread.

bed book peek – Ghana (part 3)

This is Part 3 in a series of posts about how I made the stitched bas-relief scene set in the West African country of Ghana. A photograph of the piece will be reproduced in my upcoming picture book, MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World. An accompanying US tour of the original artwork used to illustrate the book will begin in the fall of 2020. Information about the exhibition is on this page.

Part 1 shows the process of making the smaller house and figure in the background and Part 2 is about making the child and his house in the foreground.

The book is about where children sleep around the world, with each spread depicting a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Sept. 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth America, ScandinaviaHolland 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 this part, I’ll show how I made the shade tree and the bird. Please bear with me while I try to explain ways of working that don’t easily fit into a logical sequence. These are techniques I’ve figured out intuitively over many decades of manipulating materials in my hands and I will do my best to translate into words what my hands have taught me.

In the beginning, I made thumbnail sketches of all of the pages in the book and enlarged them to full size. I used the drawing of the Ghanaian scene to trace and cut out a template of the tree.

Using the template, I traced and cut the trunk shape out of acid-free mat board. Over the years, I’ve gotten more diligent about using archival materials that won’t deteriorate or stain over time. You can read how I learned my lesson in this post about repairing an older piece.

To give the mat board a stitch-friendly surface, I glued layers of thin quilt batting to the front and back of the mat board. That way, there was something to catch the needle onto. I built up the thickness of the trunk by sewing tapered layers of felt to the top.

To make thinner branches, I sewed insulated electrical wire to the top where the trunk divides into 3 sections. I covered the tree trunk and thicker branches with brown felt, using a gazillion stitches on the back to pull it tight around the front.

I stitched a zigzag bark texture to the front with variegated pima cotton (Watercolours by Caron). To make the knot in the tree, I cut out a donut shaped piece of felt and blanket stitched it to the trunk.

To make leaves, I cut out pieces of felt and edged them with blanket stitches. Then, I stitched jewelry wire around the outside edges and formed stems by twisting wire.

I attached clumps of 3 or 4 leaves to the tree branches by winding the thin jewelry wire around the thicker insulated electrical wire.

Then, I wrapped the thick and thin wire with embroidery floss, covering the bumps and lumps until it looked smooth.

The original sketch didn’t include a bird, but after watching the scene come together, I decided to add a third blue focal point to catch the eye. The other 2 are the boy’s blue shorts and the blue skirt worn by the woman in the doorway. They stand out in contrast with the overall orange, brown and green color palette. I researched birds in West Africa and found a spectacular bird called the splendid glossy-starling.

For the bird’s head, I painted a wooden bead blue and formed a beak out of jewelry wire, which I wrapped with embroidery floss. Then I stuck the wire through the bead hole and used the extra length of wire to make the bird’s feet.

I made the bird’s body out of felt and added a wire tail. This starling is really glossy, so I stitched some bling with purple metallic thread on its tail and underbelly.

After sewing the bird’s wire feet to a thick branch on the tree, I could almost hear it sing!

Please stay tuned for Part 4, which will cover how I made the plants and woven fence.

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

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.

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

bed book peek – Ghana (part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts that will show how I made another illustration for my upcoming picture book, My Bed. The scene is set in Ghana, in the sub-region of West Africa. By the time I worked on this one, I’d gotten into the habit of taking photos of almost every little step along the way. So, I have a lot of material to share, which is divided into several categories that I’ll write about over the next few weeks.

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!

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

As with all of the scenes in the book, I started by searching online for photos of buildings and living areas in the region. I took this information and drew a series of thumbnail sketches, working out a composition that focused on a child in their particular environment.

Today, I will show how I made the house that’s off to the side, with a small figure of a woman in the doorway. I selected wool felt from my stash, keeping in mind an overall palette of warm earth tones, complimented with blues and greens. (For questions about felt, please read this post.) It’s actually my favorite color combo, which I chose for my studio walls and window trim.

Even though the house is pieced together in a flat pattern, I wanted to create a sense of inside and outside, so I cut out the side window and door. I sewed wire around the edges to make a structural framework for the otherwise limp felt, adding a crisp outline that helps define its shape.

For the roof, I colored some vintage cotton ricrac with a brown magic marker.

To make the ricrac look more 3-dimensional, I outlined the bottom edge with a darker brown marker. Then, I stitched the ricrac rows in place at the pointed tops, which naturally raised up the bottom part, creating a bit of a shadow.

The window frame is first edged with blanket stitch and then outlined with wire.

I added a subtle zigzag pattern to the window and door frames.

I made a 1 3/4″ figure to stand in the doorway. Her traditional head-wrap is made with silk ribbon that I stitched in place. Throughout the book, children are the featured characters, with very few adults lurking in the background, depicted in tiny scale.

In future posts, I will show the process of making the child resting on a woven mat, the shade tree and other parts of the scene.

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

Polly travels close to home

Always patient and quiet, Polly Doll has been standing watch in the studio for almost a year, wondering what her next adventure will be. Since she came into being in 2012, she’s been all over the place, sporting a new outfit for each location. To see her complete travel log and wardrobe, go here.

Times being what they are, Polly has opted to stay close to home and explore the coming of Spring just outside her front door. It’s been the most hassle-free kind of travel without the usual plane, train, car or boat rides. She didn’t even bother with coming up with a new outfit, but mixed and matched clothing from previous trips. Though, she did spiff up her straw hat with silk ribbon flowers, in honor of the season.

Polly has been exploring the lawn and has taken an interest in the vegetable garden, especially the pea plants, which are as tall as she is.

She took this opportunity to go through her wardrobe and air her skirts and tops outside.

There was a perfect spot under a tall oak tree to set up the clothes line.

Staying close to home has its advantages, like the convenience of having all the necessary equipment close by for photo shoots. Polly liked having her picture taken so much that she posed for a series of environmental photographs, which are immortalized on note cards.

POLLY NOTE CARDS

Polly is featured in a series of note cards, which are available in my shop here.
Free shipping in the USA.
Polly in the Periwinkle – 4 note cards – $10.00 – Buy Here
Polly in the Daffodils – 4 note cards – $10.00 – Buy Here
Polly’s Washing Day – 4 note cards – $10.00 – Buy Here
6 Card Variety Pack – $14.99 – Buy Here

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

bed book peek – back cover

Today, I’d like to share how I made the embellished border strips that will go on the back cover of MY BED. While the cover of the book introduces the children in their beds, the back is purely decorative. I wanted it to be a cross-cultural celebration of color, pattern and texture that hopefully will make the person looking at it to want to open the book. There were a couple of practical requirements, too, like a place for the bar code and an open area for the publisher to print promotional copy and add book reviews in future printings. The above photo is a print-out of an early proof that shows what it will look like.

UPDATE: My Bed can now be pre-ordered in my shop here. It’s release date is isn’t until Oct. 2020, but people have asked if they can 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!

The design includes multiple narrow (about 1/2″ wide) lengths of felt that I embroidered and pieced together in the style of a log cabin quilt. I edged each strip of felt with blanket stitch and then sewed on wire, to make the long sides firm and straight, like bones on a corset. Otherwise, the strips would be too limp and wobbly to work with. You can’t see the wire because it’s wrapped with thread.

After stitching the strips together, I embellished different motifs on each one with beads, silk ribbon and embroidery stitches.

I combed through my vast collection of beads, which all seemed to be waving their hands wildly, calling out “pick me!”. The hardest part was selecting which ones to use and coming up with a combination that was interesting, but not cluttered looking.

I love embroidering simple stitches with silk ribbon.

I wanted each strip to be distinctive, but also work in harmony with the others.

The border looked like a window when it was finished

The last part involved sewing the border in place on top of a solid felt center piece. Since the book is a perfect square, everything had to line up just right.

At this stage of the process, all of the art is finished and photographed. The book is in production and scheduled to be released in October 2020. Autographed copies can be pre-ordered in my shop here. Please keep in mind that while this book is technically a children’s book, it’s really for all ages! Over the past 2 years, I’ve published posts about making several of the different scenes, with more on the way before the book comes out. Here’s a list of the posts I’ve written so far:

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

The Red Chair

During the 80’s and 90’s, life was simpler. At least it seems that way, looking back. All I did was take care of my family and make art. That was before the internet, social media, Netflix and all the other ways of “connecting” and being entertained. So, I look back nostalgically at some of the artwork I made back then, like The Red Chair. It is one of the few pieces that I held onto from that period. I just couldn’t bring myself to sell it and it’s been hanging in my studio for 26 years.

From time to time, I’ve offered printed reproductions of The Red Chair in my shop, where they’ve been a favorite gift for new mothers. The cards have also been popular with breast feeding organizations, who’ve purchased them in bulk. Note Cards and Prints are again available in my shop.
Set of 4 Note Cards – $10.00 Buy here
8 x 10 Print – $15.00 Buy here

Back when I made the piece, my figures were flat in the back, in shallow relief (about 1 inch max). For the skin, I used an old woven wool petticoat of my grandmother’s (she was born in 1890). The cloth had been laundered so many times in hot water that it had felted to the point where you couldn’t see the weave. After painting the cloth with fabric paint, I’d embroider the faces. I had to rip out the stitching over and over, until their expressions came out the way I wanted. I used every last inch of that petticoat until it was all gone and I’ve never been able to find anything comparable. So many of the materials and found objects I’ve used over the years are one-of-a-kind, which forces me to adapt and tailor my approach to meet the needs of every new piece.

The chair was modeled after one in our living room that came from my (wool petticoat) grandmother. I changed the straight angular back into a rounded curve, which seemed to better reflect the subject matter. I sculpted the chair feet with Fimo dough. I used upholstery fabric for the chair, wallpaper (embellishment added), floor and carpet.
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If you’re wondering about the Buddha, it’s been treasured by my family for 4 generations, ever since my great-grandfather, James Mavor bought it from a missionary while visiting Russia in the late 1800’s.

Opportunity to Pre-order MY BED

My upcoming picture book My Bed is now available for pre-order in my shop here. It’s release date is isn’t until Oct., but people have asked if they can 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!

It’s been 10 years since Pocketful of Posies came out and for years I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever feel like doing another picture book. With such a labor intensive techniques, illustrating a book is a big commitment! I needed the freedom to make other kinds of art, which I’ve done. But, I missed being a part of the children’s book world, so here we are!

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

Introverts have the advantage

from “Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures”

In this time of physical social distancing due to the Covid-19 pandemic, introverts have the advantage, plain and simple. Putting aside the widespread disruption, financial hardship and increased anxiety, being told to stay home hasn’t required much of an adjustment for many of us who are already quiet, introspective, and enjoy the pleasures of domestic life.

I suspect that many of you who follow this blog have those traits, too. Further ahead in the post, I share my own story about living as an introvert in Confessions of a Homebody.

from “You and Me: Poems of Friendship”

Introverts are not all the same, but the general thought is that they are prone to exhaustion from too much social engagement, whereas extroverts are energized by being around people. So, for some, the stay at home order can seem like a reprieve from all the hubbub, while others feel as if they’re being sent to their room for punishment. No matter your personality type, we are all confronted by the seriousness of the virus, both individually and collectively. These dire circumstances are forcing everyone to face themselves and reflect on what they value most in life. And during this time when we may not like staying home for weeks on end, I think about the wisdom of this saying, “The place to be is where you are.”

Penikese Island, Massachusetts

I think that artists and introverts in general will get through this period of home confinement better than some, because they have an independent streak and already choose to spend time alone. Personally, I would not be able to make art if I had to be around people most of the day. Even for someone like me, who is cloistered in her studio 7 days a week, the idea of everyone staying at home all the time seems eerily unnatural, like we’re living in a dystopian novel. It takes all kinds to make the world go round and many people who thrive on social interaction are struggling as they try to navigate through this extraordinary time.

I marvel at the human capacity to adapt and innovate within a set of constraints, to get what they need. And if there ever was a time for creative problem solving, this is it. A person can’t really change their personality, but they can strive for a balance between people time and alone time. Just like I’ve had to push myself to engage socially, I hope that more extroverted people will take this opportunity to stretch themselves in the other direction and exercise their independent and contemplative side. However you look at it, people are looking at themselves, reflecting on their lives, and thinking about what’s important. The question is, can we all learn something from this experience that will benefit ourselves and society?


Confessions of a Homebody
I grew up in a family of introverts — mother, father and 3 kids. You could say that we excelled at parallel play. Just look at this photo of me with my siblings – we are either engrossed in art projects or staring into space, not looking at each other or talking. We were all creative, with rich interior lives. Our family connected with each other and our wider community through art, music and dance. It wasn’t until later, when I married a more socially balanced person and we had children of our own, an extrovert and an introvert, that I realized family life could be anything different. From a young age, I have grappled with how to interact with the world outside of home in a way that didn’t become overwhelming. Being a classic introvert, there was only so much socializing that I could take, before melting into a puddle. The length of a school day was about my limit. I enjoyed school and my friends, but enough was enough. After the Woods Hole School let out, I’d carry my empty Flintstones lunchbox, along the path through the woods to home, where I could recharge for the next day. I remember being horrified when a friend of my parents described living in a Kibbutz where the children were raised communally, all together all the time. For me, living in such an environment would have been exhausting, but for my more outgoing son, it would have been heaven.

Woods Hole School 1965 – Salley in middle row, 2nd in from the right

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, a friend called after school to ask if I wanted to come over and play. I remember fingering the cord of the 60’s wall phone in the kitchen and telling her that I couldn’t because I was grounded. I’d heard about other kids getting grounded, so I must have thought it sounded plausible, as well as a good excuse to stay home. I’m sure that I lied other times to get out of things, but I remember this conversation, because the idea of a goody good like me doing anything that would warrant being grounded was preposterous. It just shows how desperate and awkward people can be when they pretend to be something they’re not, just because they don’t want to look like a weirdo.

Self-Portrait detail, 2007

Over the years, I’ve built up a tolerance for social gatherings and can even pass at being moderately gregarious, but there is a limit to how long I can keep it up. My husband Rob knows “the look” when it’s time to leave, before I do the grownup version of melting into a puddle. I’ve come to understand my needs and have learned to communicate them better. And in doing that, I’ve found out that there are an awful lot of other introverts out there!

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram