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.

Frosty Morning: part 3 (shelters)

Part 3 in the Frosty Morning series is about making these curious looking rounded structures. Part 1 showed how I made the tree trunks and Part 2 gave a close look at how I formed and wrapped the wire tree branches, from the inside out.

This year, I’m working on a group of seasonal landscapes that capture the wonder and magic of the natural world, both real and imagined. Frosty Morning is the first completed scene in the series.
Note cards are available in my Etsy Shop.

From the start, I knew that the scene would include little characters who needed places to take shelter from the cold. So, I constructed cozy homes for them, like a wee folk housing development nestled in the trees.

Each shelter was custom made to fit between tree limbs. I first cut out pieces of wool felt in the basic shapes. Then, I cut out rounded doorways and trimmed them to conform to the surrounding branches.

To give the shelters a nest-like appearance, I stitched a random cross-hatched pattern onto the felt, using fingering weight Merino wool from Flying Finn Yarns.

As I worked, the spiral around the doorway grew larger, creating a shallow entrance, with an overhanging rim. On top, I added a bit of snow cover with white metallic thread and clear glass beads.

Each shelter was made to be different in shape and color.

This one was built to fit under a piece of driftwood.

In the back, I added layers of felt to make the walls puff out a bit.

Sometimes I drill little holes in wood to sew it in place, but in this case I glued the wood to the back layer of felt.

At this point, I wasn’t sure who would be moving into the neighborhood, but there was much more to finish before they started showing up, anyway

Stay tuned for Part 4 in the Frosty Morning series, which will zero in on the stone wall and its surroundings.

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

Frosty Morning: part 2 (branches)

Part 2 in the Frosty Morning series gives a close look at how I formed and wrapped the wire tree branches, from the inside out. Part 1 was about making the tree trunks.

This year, I’m working on a group of seasonal landscapes that capture the wonder and magic of the natural world, both real and imagined. Frosty Morning is the first completed scene in the series. Note cards are available in my Etsy Shop.

I started experimenting with wire branches in the mid-80’s, while exploring new ways of adding dimension to my work. The trees in the winter scene below are an early example of the same basic technique I use today.

This piece from 1986, along with over 100 works spanning my 40 year career, will be included in next summer’s retrospective exhibition, WHAT A RELIEF: The Art of Salley Mavor, May 3 – Sept. 11, 2022 at the Brick Store Museum, Kennebunk, ME. Rarely seen works on loan from private collections will fill multiple galleries on the museum’s entire first floor. A large selection of sculptures, bas-relief pieces and original picture book illustrations, including the scenes from my newest book, MY BED, will also be shown.

I use jewelry wire or copper filled insulated electrical wire to form tree branches.

As I described in part 1, the trunk and thicker limbs were covered in felt.

Then came the fiddly part, where I wrapped the wire branches in embroidery floss. I wound thread up and down several times, until the wire was no longer visible and the branches looked smooth and even. Using variegated thread gives the tree a more naturalistic look because nothing in real life is just one color.

Despite its apparent fussiness, the process of wrapping the wire is strangely calming. People often remark at how patient I am, which ironically makes me feel annoyed and impatient. I know it’s meant as a compliment, but doing this kind of work has nothing to do with patience. For me, stitching is a grounding daily practice that verges on obsession. Somehow, that feels different than patience. Watch this video and see what you think.

Sometimes I used the copper wire filling inside insulated electrical cables I found at the hardware store.

Part 3 in the series will be all about making these curious looking rounded shelters.

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

Frosty Morning: part 1 (trees)

Are you ready for a blast of cold air in the heat of summer? I hope so, because today, I am giving a behind the scenes peek at how I made the tree trunks for Frosty Morning. Part 2 in the series will concentrate on how I formed and wrapped the wire branches. As the summer progresses, I will share other features of the winter scene, including snow and ice, cozy little shelters, a stone wall and the ubiquitous wee folk characters dressed in warm winter outfits.

This year, I’m working on a group of seasonal pieces that capture the wonder and magic of the natural world, both real and imagined. Frosty Morning is the first completed scene in the series. Note cards are available in my Etsy Shop.

I’m currently deep in making mode, working on a completely different piece – the spring scene, which you can follow on Instagram and Facebook . So, writing this post requires switching my brain into explaining mode. You see, when I’m engrossed in making something, I don’t think about the actual process. I’m focused on bringing my vision to life.

So how did this vision develop? I started by picturing a winter scene in my mind, with expressive branches and sparkling ice crystals. When I sketched out some ideas, rounded shelters showed up, all nestled in the thicket of trees. The original drawing also included a line of little figures climbing high along a branch. The details changed along the way, but the basic thrust and curve of the center tree remained. Over the 4 months that I worked on Frosty Morning, I used the drawing as a guide, but never a template.

Because the center tree is the main focal point of the piece, I constructed it first. The photo below shows how I used matte board and wire to form the structure of the tree trunk.

The concept of using matte board as a base actually began over 40 years ago, when I designed a line of stuffed pins. You can follow the story of my pins here.

i still have the patterns for the various shapes, including the cat. The board inside gave a nice flat backing to stitch the pin fastener onto.

For the tree, I glued a piece of felt (the cheap stuff) to the back of the matte board. That way there is something for the needle to catch onto. Then, I wrapped a piece of felt (the good stuff) around the trunk, covering the front side and stitching it in place on the back.

Then, I stitched a zigzag pattern on the font side with variegated pima cotton made by the Caron Collection.

I used insulated wire of different gauges, sometimes stripping off the rubber/plastic coating to reveal multiple wires inside. It’s the kind of supply that can be found at hardware stores The skinnier wire inside became the finer limbs as the tree branched out.

I searched through my old lace collection until I found something that would evoke snow cover on the center tree’s outstretched branch.

I made the purple tree a little differently.

Being smaller in diameter, the purple tree didn’t need a board backing, so i just wrapped the wire armature with strips of cotton batting until they were the right thickness. I have no logical explanation as to why this tree is purple. I just wanted to cheer up the scene with something besides drab browns and grays.

Part 2 in this series, will be devoted to forming and wrapping the branches.

Frosty Morning note cards are available in my Etsy shop here.

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

Frosty Morning

Since January of this year, I’ve been in full making mode, creating art for no reason other than the pure joy of it. It’s something I regularly promise myself at the end of long involved projects like illustrating a book or animating a film. I’m taking this year to work solely on a group of seasonal pieces that capture the wonder and magic of the natural world, both real and imagined.

Frosty Morning, which is the first completed scene in the series, was inspired by what I saw early one January morning, when every bare branch sparkled with ice crystals. I’m one of those rare people who loves winter so much that it never seems to last long enough. I think it’s because I like long periods of time to work without the distraction of warm weather.

If all 4 seasons are completed in time, they will be included in my upcoming retrospective, WHAT A RELIEF: the Art of Salley Mavor at the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk, ME (May 3 – Sept. 11, 2022). The exhibition will feature a large selection of my artwork, spanning over 40 years, from early on to the present day. Rarely seen works on loan from private collections, as well as pieces I’ve held onto, will fill multiple galleries on the museum’s entire first floor.

Right now, I’m working on the spring scene, which you can see documented in photos and videos on Instagram and Facebook. My followers are so excited about the mossy landscape that it’s all I can do to fend off their questions about how I did this or that. I tell them, “I know you’re curious, but I’m in pure making mode right now and don’t want to dispel the magic by turning on the explaining part of my brain yet. That will come later when the piece is finished and I write about it on my blog.”

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I operate outside of the mainstream, in a different needle and thread universe. It’s been a struggle to find my place in the technique-driven imitation model ingrained in the needle arts community. In the essay, To Teach or Not to Teach, I discuss in detail my approach to making art and my personal philosophy about sharing knowledge.

So, with all of that in mind, I’m preparing to turn on the explaining part of my brain, at least enough to say something to go along with the photos. Over the summer, I will be telling the story of making Frosty Morning in a series of posts that focus on different aspects of my working process. My aim is to inspire more than instruct, to give a peek behind the curtain that may spark your own kind of creativity.

I took lots of photos along the way, so there’s enough material to delve more deeply into several areas including making trees, snow and ice, cozy little shelters, a stone wall and the ubiquitous wee folk characters. The following photos are just a sampling of what’s to come.

Frosty Morning Part 1 – trees, Part 2 – branches, Part 3 – shelters.

For those of you who need a blast of cold air in the heat of summer, Frosty Morning note cards are available in my Etsy shop here. It would also make a fun Christmas card 6 months from now!

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be 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: Pony

Today, I’m happy to give a behind the scenes peek at how I made this pony, which is used as a spot illustration on the Mongolian spread in my new picture book, MY BED. The story about children’s sleeping places in different cultures around the world was published in Sept. 2020.

The pony is also pictured with all of the other animal icons on the book’s end-papers. If you’d like to see posts about making the other animals, please follow the links below: RoosterCamelParrotElephantGoldfishCatDuckSheepRabbitCow,
 Crocodile, Giraffe, Dog.

A touring exhibition of my original embroidered artwork for the book is traveling around the United States. Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches will next be shown at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA, Sept. 15 – Dec. 31, 2021. Then, the the exhibition will head to the Midwest, to the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, NE, Jan 25 – April 10, 2022 . The five year tour schedule is listed here.

Signed copies of My Bed are available in my shop here. Watch this 8 minute documentary about how I created the illustrations for the book.

Making MY BED

I’ll start off by showing this video, which brings you through the different steps of the pony making process, complete with Mongolian zither music in the background.

Making the Mongolian pony for the book, MY BED

in this series of still photographs, I’ll try to explain what I’m doing. As I’ve said before, I work intuitively, so it can be a challenge to describe the process in exact terms. For most of the animals in the book, I bent a pipe cleaner to form an outline shape. Then, I wrapped the legs, using the same technique that’s taught in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk,

This part is all about building up the body with layers of felt. First, I sewed on a back piece and used scraps of felt to fill the cavity until it was a good thickness.

This is the point where I “upholster” the front of the animal with a piece of felt. There isn’t a supporting photograph because I consistently forget to take a picture of this part. It must be because I’m always consumed in the heat of battle. Just imagine the back as a maze of crisscrossing threads, all working to get rid of any bumps or folds.

Well, after the animal shape looked the way I wanted it to, I sewed on a seed bead eye and embroidered a mane.

I can’t remember how I made the top of the mane where it sticks up, but it could have been several rows of blanket stitching.

To make the tail, I covered the pipe cleaner with embroidery floss.

Research was an important and fun part of illustrating this book. To make an accurate representation, I looked at photographs of real Mongolian ponies, with their colorful, decorative saddles.

It took a while to make the right placement of the ear.

With its bridle in place, the pony was almost ready to go.

All it needed was a brass bead stirrup, which you can see in the last photo.

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 Way Home Giveaway

Book – The Way Home

30 years ago in the spring of 1991, The Way Home was published! It was the first picture book for either of us, the author Judy Richardson and me. To mark the occasion, I’m offering a Giveaway of 4 autographed paperback copies! Please find out the eligibility requirements and how to enter the contest at the end of this post.

UPDATE: Congratulations to the 4 Giveaway winners! – Melissa Hopkins, Gerry Bates, Nancy deVillers and Lisa Hunter. I thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone’s comments about your favorite books from childhood. Out of the 363 entries, there was a wide range of books mentioned from well known ones to more obscure titles. Classics like The Secret Garden, Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows, The Borrowers, Pippi Longstockings, Madeline, and Black Beauty were popular. Several people shared their memories of the Little Golden Books, which were sold for 25 cents at the super market. I encourage you to read through the comments to get the true depth and breadth of the influence of children’s books. Thank you to all of you who participated!

The book has long been out of print, so this is a rare opportunity to have your own copy. I’ve previously written about our first adventure in children’s book publishing, from inception to completion, in an in-depth series of posts about The Way Home. Those of you who’ve been following my blog from the start will be familiar with the series, but I think newer subscribers will enjoy the story too! Links are here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

in my studio with the finished illustrations from “The Way Home” 1990

This recent message from Chelsea spurred me on do something to recognize the 30 year mark. “I am still in awe of your work 30 plus years later. I grew up with the images of Savi the Elephant from The Way Home as one of the most magical children’s books I’ve ever seen. I’m actually expecting my first baby this fall. My beloved copy of The Way Home may be a bit worn but it will be a centerpiece for the theme of our little one’s room.”

Judy Richardson and I are still good friends and see each other often. Here we are in 1991 with Bella the elephant at the Barnstable County Fair and 30 years later.

Judy and Salley with Bella the elephant at the Barnstable County Fair, 1991
Judy and Salley 30 years later

Information about the book Giveaway:

Who is eligible? Residents of the United States of America. (Apologies to my international fans, but the cost of shipping is too dear.)
How do I enter? Leave a comment on this post that mentions a favorite children’s book from your childhood, by May 31, 2021. Comments on Instagram or Facebook will not be considered. Good Luck!

4 winners will be picked at random on June 1st. I will contact the winners and mail them the autographed paperback copies of The Way Home.

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

Social Fabric exhibition in Greenville SC

I’m excited to announce that my exhibition, Social Fabric is on display at the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, South Carolina! It’ll be there for a good long while, through Sept. 5, 2021. Seeing the detail and 3-dimensional quality of my work up close is a very different experience than looking at printed or digital images. It feels like you’re peeking into the miniature stitched worlds from a side window, not just through the front entrance. So, I encourage those of you who live within a reasonable distance of Greenville, SC to visit the museum this summer. You won’t be able to miss the humongous banner hanging outside the building!

6 years ago, the Upcountry History Museum hosted my Pocketful of Posies exhibition and I’m pleased to have another opportunity to show my work there! In the near future, they will also be hosting the Bedtimes Stitches touring exhibition. We’re still working out the dates, but it looks like the show will be scheduled in late 2023 or early 2024.

SALLEY MAVOR: Social Fabric
April 3 – Sept. 5, 2021
Upcountry History Museum, Greenville, SC

The museum’s exhibition designer kindly sent photos of the display. I love how the cherry wood frames and the vinyl cutouts of birds look on the slate gray walls!

Birds of Beebe Woods

This exhibition includes a variety of pieces I’ve made over the past 20 years that interpret the theme of social connectivity. The works explore cultural diversity, migration, fashion, the natural world, and a range of social narratives, from the everyday to topical subjects.

The large pieces (24″ x 30″) average about 4 months to make, so it’s taken years to accumulate enough pieces to show together like this. That’s why I’ve decided not to sell my recent work, including Birds of Beebe Woods and Displaced.

Displaced, 24″ H x 22″ W, 2016

Large pieces that feature portraits of people who are connected to each other in various ways include Whiskers, Face Time and Cover Up. There’s also Walking the Dog, Rabbitat and several original illustrations from the picture books, You and Me : Poems of Friendship (1997) and In the Heart (2001).

Dana Thorpe, the director of the Upcountry History Museum wrote this about Social Fabric, “Your work is breathtaking, emotional, and energizing. I have the pleasure of walking through the Mezzanine Gallery, where the exhibition is on display, every day and am inspired.”

The Social Fabric exhibition also includes Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion, which you can see in this film. I hope that you enjoy the nostalgic soundtrack!

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

MY BED: night sky – part 4

This is the 4th and final part in the series about making the night sky illustration for my new picture book, My Bed. In this spread, all of the children are tucked in bed, hovering among the stars in the night sky. Today, I will show how I made the miniature versions of the children and beds from Russia and North America.

But first, I have some GOOD NEWS on the exhibition front! A new museum has just confirmed that they will be hosting the Bedtime Stitches touring exhibition in 2024. The Albany Institute of History and Art in Albany, NY will show Bedtime Stitches, as well as Social Fabric, a collection of other pieces I’ve made over the past 20 years. This all came about because a longtime fan contacted the museum in her home town of Albany about showing my work. Thank you Janny! This proves that the combination of your enthusiasm, along with local connections can get results.

Bedtime Stitches is currently at the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in Mt. Vernon, IL through May 30th, 2021. To see the tour schedule, please visit the Exhibitions Page.

Signed copies of My Bed can be ordered in my shop here. Watch this 8 minute documentary about how I created the illustrations for the book.

For the night sky scene, I made a smaller version of the traditional “stove bed” ” like the one in the Russian scene. Besides its use for domestic heating, people slept on top of the masonry to keep warm.

To start, I cut felt in the shape of the stove and embroidered the details. The fire box door is appliqued black felt, with a metal hook for the handle and black seed beads for the hinges. I edged the stove and bed platform pieces with blanket stitches and sewed them together. To keep it from being too floppy, I stitched wire all around the outside edges. You can’t see the wire because it’s wrapped with thread.

I made a mini version of the sleeping girl, braids and all.

Then, I created a snug place for the girl to lie down. The back wall and curtain are made of felt and the scalloped edge along the top is thread wrapped wire. Then, I added a wire curl of smoke coming out of the chimney top. The last touch was a stack of seed beads “logs” inside the wood box.

I also replicated in miniature the bed and child from the North American scene. For comparison, you can see how I made the full size illustration here.

i simplified the quilt pattern into a grid of squares made with 4 or 5 horizontal or vertical stitches.

As with the other sleeping dolls, I only had to make the top portion of the child’s body.

The bed posts are tube beads topped off with round beads. I glued wire inside the beads to hold them together. The head and foot boards are made of felt.

Here she is, ready to join the other children!

I hope that you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes at how I made some of the tiniest beds in MY BED. The other posts in the night sky series are:
Part 1 – North Africa and Holland
Part 2 – Scandinavia and Japan
Part 3 – India, South America and Afghanistan

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

MY BED: night sky – part 3

This is part 3 in the series about making the night sky illustration for my new picture book, My Bed. In this spread, all of the children are tucked in bed, hovering among the stars in the night sky. Today, I will show how I made the miniature versions of the beds from India, South America and Afghanistan.

Update: Signed copies of My Bed can be ordered in my shop here. Watch this 8 minute documentary about how I created the illustrations for the book.

Rebecca Bond’s words say, “Can you see me in my bed? I fit so nicely, toe to head.” The open-ended nature of these 2 simple sentences is a picture book illustrator’s dream. They give the cozy feeling of a child in their bed, without any annoying descriptions. There’s just enough information to use as a jumping off point. Generally, with picture books, the words set up the trajectory of a story and the illustrator’s job is to provide the visual details. I can’t remember exactly how I came up with the idea of having all the beds float in space above a silhouetted night skyline. It just seemed like a good way to bring together all of the children from around the world, as well as make a fun eye spy game.

The Bedtime Stitches touring exhibition of the original artwork for the book is currently at the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in Mt. Vernon, IL. The exhibition will be there until May 2, 2021. To see the tour schedule, please visit the Exhibitions Page.

To make miniature versions of the beds featured throughout the book, I had to simplify the designs quite a bit. In the case of the child in India, who’s bed is partially seen through an open window in the illustration below, I reduced the scale of the bed and stylized the mosquito net.

I embroidered a geometric pattern on felt for the bed covering…

and fashioned the mosquito net canopy on felt, with wire and embroidery. What would I do without the blanket stitch?

The children sleeping in hammocks in the S. American scene are about 3 1/2 inches from head to toe.

For the mini version, I shrunk the girl down to about 1 1/4 inches tall.

I made a thatched roof for her little hammock to hang underneath. Luckily, I had some straw silk from Silk Road Fibers on hand.

It was a lot easier to replicate the child sleeping on a floor mattress from the Afghanistan scene.

The printed floral pattern was too large in scale for the mini quilt, so I reproduced the flowers and leaves with simple embroidery stitches on a piece of felt.

Here she is, already sleep.

The whole time I was making the children and their beds in miniature form, I thought back to re-imagining the full size outfits depicted in my Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion. By the way, a note card of this detail from the piece is available in my shop.

detail from Self Portrait : A Personal History of Fashion 2007

I hope that you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes at how I made some of the tiniest beds in MY BED. Please stay tuned for Part 4, which will feature more beds in the night sky scene. Previous posts in this series include Part 1 and Part 2.

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

MY BED: night sky – part 2

This is part 2 in the series about making the night sky illustration for my new picture book, My Bed. It’s like a finale at the end, with all of the children and their beds hovering above the nighttime skyline. Today, I will give a behind the scenes peek at how I made the miniature versions of the Scandinavian children sleeping in their cubby style bunk bed and the Japanese child on his futon. Part 1 covered the mini children from N. Africa and Holland.

Update: Signed copies of My Bed can be ordered in my shop here. Watch this 8 minute documentary about how I created the illustrations for the book.

The tiny beds floating in the night sky represent different children, beds and regions of the world that are featured individually throughout the book. To make the mini Scandinavian bunk bed, I simplified and shrunk down the bed frame to the point where it wouldn’t look too unwieldy next to the other beds. You can read about making the full size artwork (below) for the Scandinavian scene here.

Scandinavian scene in MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep Around the World

I painted their faces on really tiny (3/8″) wooden beads and added embroidery floss hair. I think these are some of the smallest braids I’ve ever made. The doll wigs in my how-to book Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures are larger and more manageable than this.

Scale-wise the figures were too big for the bed, but I was determined to fit them in their cubbies nonetheless. The absence of legs helped a lot.

I cut sections of the bed frame out of wool felt and pieced them together on top of a background layer. As usual, everything was edged with blanket stitching. To create depth in the frame, I stacked layers of felt.

I stitched wire around the outside edge to smooth out the bumps and give it a crisp, architectural look.

After making eiderdown quilts and polka-dot curtains, I put the children to bed.

To finish it off, I made a mini ladder with wire and covered it with embroidery floss.

Duplicating the Japanese futon in miniature was easy compared to the bunk bed. To see how I made the full size artwork (below) for the Japanese scene, click here.

I made the the top half of the child’s body and then a futon mattress and pillow for him to sleep on.

Because the scale was all off, I couldn’t use the same blue fabric to make the quilt, so I embroidered a reduced version of the pattern on felt.

I hope that you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes at how I made some of the tiniest beds in MY BED. Please stay tuned for more posts about different beds in the night sky scene. See Part 1 here.

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