Frosty Morning – part 6 (wee folk)

This 6th and final part in the Frosty Morning series is about making the wee folk characters who live in the winter landscape. All of the other stuff, the trees, the icy snow cover and the sparkling sky are just meant to set the stage for the little people to frolic in. While I worked on this piece, I thought about what the wee folk would look like and what they would be doing. Adding a narrative element with human (or animal) faces helps me fall in love with what I’m making. The scenery may be lovely, but without play actors, there is no story. And without that, what’s the point?

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. 

You can follow the progress of the other 3 seasons on Facebook and Instagram.

The full figures are about 2″ tall, with smaller ones peeking out of the holes in the shelters. To make them, I used the same basic techniques that I teach in my how-to book Felt Wee Folk, with some adjustments in the armature material and clothing.

I used wool tapestry yarn or mending wool to stitch and wrap their winter clothing. Whenever I share photos showing dolls wearing sweaters, people actually think I knit them! For something this small it’s much easier to create the allusion of knitting with rows of chain stitches. For other examples of faux knitted outfits, see Polly Doll‘s Irish knit sweater here and her Fair Isle vest here.

When making people, I always start by painting their faces on wooden beads. Then, after meeting them, I feel motivated to bring them to life.

I’ve been saving some really small acorn caps for just this kind of project.

Instead of pipe cleaners, which would be too bulky, I formed the body armature out of 24 gauge jewelry wire. The bead heads were glued to the wire neck at the very end, when the clothing was finished. I glued small pieces of felt onto the top of the bead heads, in a kind of Mohawk. Later, when I added yarn hair, the felt gave the threaded needle something to catch onto.

Miraculously, this old mending wool from my collection of deceased relatives’ ephemera escaped being eaten my moths. It was the perfect weight with which to stitch miniature clothing.

In this sequence of photos, you can see how I wrapped and stitched yarn around the wire arms and legs and then made a separate faux knitted coat to go on top. I completed the look with French knot buttons, striped leggings, wool hair, and a glued on acorn cap.

The group of little people grew and grew until there seemed to be the right amount.

The sled is made from a pod I found so long ago that I can’t remember where it came from. An image search identified it as a coming from a Foxglove tree.

With just a few stitches, I sewed the characters in place – pulling the sled, looking out from shelters and climbing along tree branches.

When all of the parts were finished, it was time to mount the piece.

I made a border frame by padding and covering a wooden stretcher with upholstery fabric. I then hand sewed the layered background fabrics to the back of the stretcher, making it as taught as possible. After that, I sewed the different landscape sections to the background surface, starting with the lace snow cover, stone wall and driftwood house and ending with the trees.

To help prop up the tree limbs, I sewed beads to the back and stitched them to the background fabric.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this close look at the process of making Frosty Morning. When the Spring scene is finished, I’ll write about it as well.

Part 1 shows how I made the tree trunks.
Part 2 gives a close look at how I formed and wrapped the wire tree branches. Part 3 is about constructing the rounded shelters.
Part 4 is about making the stone wall and the ice covered bush in front of it.
Part 5 is about adding sparkle to the scene.

Frosty Morning and the other 3 yet-to-be finished pieces in the 4 Seasons series will have their premiere showing in my retrospective exhibition next year.
What a Relief: The Art of Salley Mavor
May 3 – Sept. 11, 2022.
Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk, ME

There will be more opportunities to see the 4 Seasons series in 2023. They will be included in the following exhibitions:
Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Stitch
Feb. 18 – June 4, 2023, Upcountry History Museum, Greenville, SC
Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches and Social Fabric
Fall 2023, Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester, VT

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.

Frosty Morning – part 5 (sparkles)

Part 5 in the Frosty Morning series is about adding sparkle to the winter scene. This piece was inspired by what I saw outside our front door this past January. That morning, the frozen landscape shimmered like a Las Vegas show costume, with the tips of every branch glittering with crystalline ice drops. I was so dazzled that I decided right then to try to recreate the scene, even though it would mean venturing into more glitzy territory than I was accustomed to.

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’m working on the Spring scene now and you can follow its progress on Facebook and Instagram.

In the same way that it’s challenging to capture the true to life iridescence of any winter landscape in photographic form, I’m finding that this piece is so much more sparkly and engaging than I’m able to convey here. That said, there will be opportunities to see Frosty Morning and the other yet to be completed scenes in the series in person. I’m hoping to have all 4 seasons finished by next year, so that they can be included in my retrospective exhibition, What a Relief: The Art of Salley Mavor, May 3 – Sept. 11, 2022 at the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk, ME.

I rummaged through my stash looking for anything transparent and shiny and found strings of different sized vintage glass beads. Most of these were given to me years ago by an old family friend who was cleaning out boxes of misc. stuff she inherited.

Looking to recreate the ice crystal droplets I saw that January morning, I sewed glass beads to different points along the wrapped wire branches (see part 3).

I must have sewn hundreds of beads onto all of the the branches. It seemed like I couldn’t add too many!

If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know that I don’t really subscribe to the less is more theory. More is more would be more accurate.

I made some of the branches completely white with frost, with both clear ice drops and red berries.

I wanted the sky to shimmer, too, so I used blue tulle that came spattered-painted with shiny spots. It was fun searching through the girly tutu isle of the fabric store, an area I’ve never had a reason to explore before.

A single layer of the mesh looked too dull, so I made 3 layers, transitioning from light on the top, to dark at the horizon. Behind the tulle fabric is the wrong side of a piece of blue upholstery fabric with a subtle floral pattern.

For the snowy spots on the tree limbs. I used the dreaded metallic thread. Even though it’s the most frustrating material I’ve ever worked with, it provided the sparkle I wanted.

Stay tuned for the 6th and final part in the Frosty Morning series, which will be all about making the wee folk characters who live in the winter landscape.

Part 1 shows how I made the tree trunks.
Part 2 gives a close look at how I formed and wrapped the wire tree branches. Part 3 is about constructing the rounded shelters.
Part 4 is about making the stone wall and the ice covered bush in front of it.

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 4 (stone wall)

Part 4 in the Frosty Morning series is about making the stone wall and the ice covered bush in front of it. Part 1 shows how I made the tree trunks, Part 2 gives a close look at how I formed and wrapped the wire tree branches and Part 3 is about constructing the rounded shelters. Yes, I will eventually get to the wee folk characters!

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. Spring, summer and fall will come later.
Note cards are available in my Etsy Shop.

To begin, I cut stone shapes out of a special piece of wool felt that I’ve kept just for this kind of thing. It’s from a bunch of unevenly dyed “seconds” that I was lucky enough to purchase years ago. That source has since dried up, so I guard my stash very carefully. After blanket stitching the felt shapes 2/3 of the way around, I slipped another layer or two of felt inside the pockets and then finished stitching around the outside edges. That way, they puffed up a bit and looked more 3-dimensional.

I’ve used this felt to make stone walls in other pictures, such as Rabbitat and the Netherlands scene in MY BED.

I then outlined the stones and filled in the gaps with chain stitches.

To create the look of snowfall on top the the wall, I blanket stitched a few rows with white metallic thread.

Then I bent and twisted wire to form branches, which I wrapped with white metallic thread. I don’t know about you, but I find stitching with metallic thread frustrating and frankly, a yucky experience! No matter what you do to lubricate the thread, it’s a rough ride. Even though metallic and other synthetic threads are frustrating to work with, I suffered through because I wanted the glittery, magical look that comes with it.

I sewed the wire branches in place…

and embroidered smaller offshoots onto the felt background.

It was such a relief to thread my needle with cotton floss and stitch the curly-cues at the bottom.

To help add a little accent, I dotted the tips of the branches with silver french knots.

Now, with the lower half of the composition sufficiently grounded, I could move on to other more fantastical areas of the piece.

Stay tuned for Part 5 in the Frosty Morning series, which will be all about adding ice and snow and sparkly touches to the winter landscape.

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 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. Spring, summer and fall will come later.
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.