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.

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.

bed book peek – cow

Today, I’m happy to show how I made this cow, which will be used as a spot illustration in my upcoming picture book, MY BED. The story is about children’s sleeping places in different cultures around the world. It’s written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Sept. 2020. Autographed copies can be pre-ordered in my shop here. A touring exhibition of my original embroidered artwork for the book, Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches, will travel around the United States beginning in Nov. 2020. See the updated tour schedule here.

Each country or region represented in the book has an animal icon that appears on the text panel adjacent to the full illustration. The cow shows up next to the Scandinavian scene, which I’ve written about here.

To see the other animals from the book that I’ve written about so far, please click on the following links.
Animals (spot illustrations) – Rooster, Camel, Parrot, Elephant, Goldfish, Cat, Duck, Sheep, Rabbit

I’ve enjoyed making cows over the years, including the one below, which is from the 2005 board book, Hey, Diddle, Diddle! (Sorry, it’s out of print) Cows are fun to depict because they are so distinct from other animals.

Close Up from “Hey, Diddle, Diddle!” 2005 board book

To begin, I drew sketches that exaggerated the cow’s squarish head, outspread ears, big eyes and prominent nostrils.

As always, I wrapped the legs first, leaving enough extra pipe cleaner to shape the body.

It’s been a while since I made this, so I can’t remember how I attached the felt body. From the looks of it, I first added a thread wrapped wire tail and then stitched pieces of felt to the front and back of the pipe cleaner form.

Then, I made a little pink felt udder with seed bead teats.

For the cow’s face, I embroidered a nose and sewed on bead nostrils.

To make the eyes more prominent, I outlined them in white.

The ears are felt, edged with blanket stitch and wire.

After sewing the ears in place, I looped Silk/Merino wool thread on the top of her head.

The first cow collar I made was embroidered with pretty flowers, but I had to change it to a plainer version because decorations like that are a Swiss specialty and not Scandinavian.

Before (above) and After (below).

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 delivered

Before delivering the finished illustrations for MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World to the publisher in Boston, I cleaned up the studio and invited friends and neighbors for an impromptu “Show and Tell”. It felt good to pack up my supplies, which had become a huge mess during the past 3 years of working non-stop on either the book or the Liberty and Justice animation.

This was a good opportunity to organize my felt by color and size. A frequently asked question is, “Where do you get your felt?” The felt I use for much of my work is a thick, plant dyed wool/rayon mix. Unfortunately, the source for this most extraordinary product disappeared a few years ago. I could tell that it wasn’t going to be available forever, so I hoarded enough to last me into old old age. The closest thing that you can buy now is sold through A Child’s Dream, which has all kinds of felt and supplies. Some people dye their own felt to get those gentle soft colors, but I’m more interested in making things out of it than producing it. But, if I didn’t have this stash, I could be motivated to get out the dye pots.

For the “Show and Tell”, I set up the illustrations around the big center table in my studio, saving space by propping up a row of stretchers, back to back. It was risky to display the pieces unframed and exposed, but my “Do Not Touch” signs kept fingers at bay. Right now, the artwork has raw edges overflowing onto a stretched white background fabric. That’s so that the photographer can shoot the images with extra room for cropping later. When the pieces are returned next winter, I’ll add fabric borders and Rob will make frames, making them presentable for exhibition.

It was so nice to see friends and meet younger family members. They really loved seeing the detail and 3-dimensional quality of the artwork, which is totally different than looking at the printed pages of a book. Even with excellent photography, there is no way to replace the experience of seeing the real thing. That is why I’m organizing a touring exhibit of the originals, which will begin after MY BED is published in the Fall of 2020. The exhibit, “Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches” will premiere at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit, MA in Nov. 2020 and travel to a dozen or more venues in the United States. As locations are confirmed, I will add them to the Exhibits and Events page. Museums that are interested in hosting the show can contact me for information and a shipping cost estimate. If you want to have the exhibit shown near you, please let your local museum know about this opportunity!

Last week, I packed up the artwork into 4 huge plastic bags and delivered it to the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Boston.

The publishing production team and other staff members came out of their cubicles to see the scenes, which we spread out in the conference room. They mentioned that since artists work digitally so much these days, they don’t often get to see “real” art. It was wonderful to see their excitement about sending this book out into the world. I’m excited, too!

The next step is very important: photography. The publisher has hired Rick Kyle, of 5000K, who also took the photos for Pocketful of Posies. We met in his home studio and talked about lighting the pieces. I also had a chance to look over everything, removing lint and making sure wires didn’t get bent during packing and unpacking. I enjoyed seeing Rick again and have full confidence that he will do an excellent job!

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.

MY BED is made

I am happy to say that the illustrations for MY BED are finished and ready to go to the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt! Please also know that I’m not finished sharing posts about the process of making the artwork. Until the book is released in the fall of 2020, I will periodically show details of more scenes and animals.

The project has been a slow and steady 3 year marathon and I haven’t yet adjusted to the idea that it’s really done. Hand stitching is slow and methodical and that’s probably why I’m attached to the process. It forces you to slow down and figure things out as you go, one stitch at a time. That’s where innovation happens and happy surprises show up. I need time to translate what’s in my imagination into something real. Simply put, machines can’t do what I do; their stitches are too regular and they can’t get into the little nooks and crannies. People comment on my perfect stitches, but that isn’t what I’m after. Yes, it’s all neat and tidy, but I know there’s a subtle imperfection that only the human hand can make.

When I began working on the book, I thought my artistic path for the next couple of years was clear. That sense of security was interrupted by the 2016 election. I quickly shifted gears, feeling a pressing need to do and say something about what is happening in our country. I told my editor that the book would have to wait. For 1 1/2 years I was totally immersed in making cartoons and the stop-motion animated film, Liberty and Justice. When the film was finished, I resumed work on MY BED and stitched my little heart out to meet the extended deadline. I’m very pleased with how the book illustrations turned out and think that my detour into real world issues has only made my work stronger, even in a sweet and comforting book like this.

The project is ready to move into its next phase, when lot’s of people will work to make MY BED into a hard cover printed book; photography, editing, book design, printing, marketing, etc. Making a high quality picture book is a long and involved process.

It’s also time to shift gears and clean up 3 years worth of clutter, grime and stray threads in my studio. Oh, I’ve vacuumed occasionally, but the place looks like it’s overgrown with piles of misc. fabric, dusty thread balls and “interesting things” that just might make their way into a piece. Once, I gave a talk where I described what happens to my work space during a years-long project, how it’s like sitting in the middle of a tangled nest, with a narrow path in and out. I’m sure that I exaggerated for effect, which triggered a question from a man in the audience, who wanted to know what my husband thought of all the mess. I answered that it didn’t seem to bother him and that I’d never asked him what he thought about it. — I feel lucky to have a place of my own, where I can freely mess around, with no one looking over my shoulder in judgement.

After the original illustrations are photographed and returned, I will add borders made of upholstery fabric. These are not for the book, but will be part of their 2nd life as a framed piece of art. Each one will have a unique border that compliments the colors in the scene. I had to make the borders now, while I could match the colors, because after the illustrations are delivered to the publisher, it will be months and months before I see them again.

After the original art comes back home, I’ll scramble to get everything ready for a touring exhibit, which premieres at the Cahoon Museum in the fall of 2020. Like in the past, Rob will help by making his wonderful shadowbox frames. He’s also putting together a video to accompany the exhibit, which documents my working process. The first year (2021) is booked, with availability beginning in 2022. Inquiries from museums are welcome – Please  contact me for information about hosting “Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches.”

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: Scandinavia – part 4

In this 4th and final post in the series about the Scandinavian scene, I will show extra details, such as the ladder, shoes and rug. Part 1 is about making the framework for the cubby style bunk beds. Part 2 gives a glimpse at what’s outside: the balcony, flowers, mountains, sun and trees. Part 3 focuses on the chair and the children.

This illustration will be included in My Bed, a book 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 HoughtonMifflin in the Fall of 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth AfricaNorth America, Holland and Iran.


Pocketful of Posies Exhibit at the Upcountry History Museum, Greenville, SC – 2015

The photos I show on this blog and the reproductions printed in my books are a way of sharing my artwork with a large audience. But seeing the actual 3 dimensional hand stitched pieces is a different experience. No matter how good the photography is, there is no substitute for the real thing. When the originals from Pocketful of Posies toured the country (see photo above), the response was terrific. So, I want to do something similar with My Bed.

A touring exhibition of the originals will premiere at the Cahoon Museum of American Art (Cotuit, MA) in Nov. 2020 and travel on from there. So far, 2 more venues have signed up for the first year: Cedarhurst Center for the Arts (Mt. Vernon, IL) and New England Quilt Museum (Lowell, MA). Openings are available beginning in 2022. My goal is to have the show travel to as many different regions of the country as possible. I wish I could wave a magic wand and send the artwork to all of the places you live. I’m doing my best to spread the word about this opportunity and encourage you to talk it up with your local museums. Inquiries from interested venues are welcome. They can contact me via e-mail to find out more about hosting the exhibition.


Back to this scene – The bunk beds needed a ladder, of course. To make it, I began by picking driftwood from my collection. I wanted wood with a bit of curve to it, as a relief from all the straight lines in the design. For some reason, I decided to make the ladder rungs out of wire instead of wood. Maybe I thought it would be less fragile. After attaching the wire through drilled holes, I wrapped it with embroidery floss.

In this book there are several instances where I use the space behind the backdrop layer to create more depth. In this illustration, I put the children inside their cubby beds, in a shallow space framed with a 1/2″ deep box of made of balsa wood covered with felt. I didn’t think to take a picture, but you can see what it looks like in the photo below, which is from the Holland scene.

This is what it looks like before the background fabric is added to the back of the box. You can see my studio wall through the open area behind the child.

I’ve always thought that the area inside the back of the stretched fabric was wasted space. So, I’ve been figuring out ways to use it, with interesting results. I cut a hole in the stretched fabric, inserted the box and secured it in place with stitches.

With this extra layer, the viewer has the experience of looking into the picture and entering the children’s world.

The last touch was a pair of little shoes, which show up in many styles within the illustrations in this book.

And I made a red rug for the floor. The fly stitch is turning out to be one of my favorites.

What can I say about making the hiking boots? I basically copied the structure and stitching details of real shoes, only shrinking the scale to about 3/4″.

I’m happy to say that all the illustrations are finished and will soon be heading over to the photographer and production team at HoughtonMifflin. Leading up to the book’s publication in the Fall of 2020, I will continue to share more peeks behind the scenes about making the spreads and animal icons for MY BED.

For more about making the Scandinavian scene, please look at Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

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.