Horn Book Cover

This is an edited and republished version of a post that was first written in 2012.

The Jan/Feb 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine is out, with my illustration on the cover. This issue has many wonderful articles and book reviews, including the 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award speeches, which were delivered at the colloquium on Sept. 30th, 2011. As an award recipient for Pocketful of Posies, I had the honor of illustrating a cover for the magazine. You can find out more about my award here.

Read on to see the process of making the cover illustration, which I worked on for about 6 weeks this past summer. The original size of the scene is about 12″ wide and 18″ high. I first found a twisted vine to use as the central tree and made a sketch with the Horn Book logo and child characters. I then drilled holes on the vine where wire branches would go.  

To form the branches, I covered wire with felt and embroidered them to match the real vine/tree trunk. This coiled branch has thread-wrapped wire thorns attached.

The Horn Book logo was rendered in wire branches and found objects. For one of the O’s, I sawed the back of a walnut-shell, so that it would lay flat and not stick out too much.  The O in the word Horn is a nest-like acorn cap from an oak tree in Iowa and the B’s spiky acorn caps are from northern California.

For the background, a solid color looked too plain, so I stitched together scraps of naturally dyed wool felt to make a more interesting field for the action.

I made a little fairy to fit in the walnut-shell.

I didn’t want the characters to be animals, but children dressed in animal costumes. So, I made every effort to make them look like children by giving them bangs, ponytails, hands and shoes. These figures are made with similar techniques found in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.

During the process, I changed some of the characters in the original sketch and substituted a boy in a dinosaur costume pulling an acorn cap wheeled wagon full of books.

I printed out the words on acetate, so that I’d be sure to leave enough room at the bottom edge. I then embroidered plants and leaves to the felt background.

This little child/mouse is getting red shoes.

The Horn Book staff suggested I include a reading child, so I made a felt book for the face-painted mouse.

All of the parts piled up as I worked. It’s a miracle nothing got lost!

It was really fun thinking up costumes to make for these kids. I wanted to create a scene of children immersed in imaginary play and story.

I added a sun to the upper left corner and embroidered a wavy chain-stitched border. Then, I sewed the felt background to a sheet of foam core board, pulling it flat and straight.

Then, I stitched the tree, characters and other props in place, right through the foam core board. After everything was in place, I took it to the photographer, so he could take its picture. After that, I removed it from the foam core board and remounted the felt background and all of the parts on a cloth-covered stretcher. It is now framed behind glass and was recently bought by a collector. It was a joy to work on this project with Lolly Robinson at the Horn Book Magazine! Having my illustration on the cover will be a great opportunity for many people to discover my work for the first time.

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Here I am with Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book.

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.

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.

bed book peek: Scandinavia – part 3

In this part 3 of the 4 part series about the Scandinavian scene, the children and the chair are the focus. Part 1 shows parts of the inside, such as making the framework for the cubby style bunk beds. Part 2 gives a glimpse at the what’s outside: the balcony, flowers, mountains, sun and trees.

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 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America,JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth AfricaNorth America and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

As with all of the characters in this book, I paint their features and personalities on 20 millimeter wooden beads with tiny brushes. Then, I make their wigs and bodies, using the same techniques taught in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures.

This little girl has a custom made nightie, patterned with little embroidered flowers.

Even before threading the first needle to make the finished illustrations, I mapped out the entire book, with sketches of each page. It’s a square book, with artwork covering 3/4 of the double page spread. The remaining 1/4 page will hold the text of the story and the animal icons.

When making the parts of the scenes, I match the layouts pretty closely. Books come with certain constraints: number of pages, dimensions, titles, credits and text. Drawings serve as guides, but there are always little changes here and there to the finished illustrations. Surprises are bound to happen – that’s what keeps it fun! Of course, to do this, your editorial team needs to be supportive. You just have to be mindful of the outside measurements and avoid letting anything important get lost in the center gutter.

I could have made the chair in a lot of different ways, but these cactus thorns called out to me. Please don’t ask where I got them – I’ve lost track, since they’ve been in my stash for decades.

Generally, I use a combination of flat pattern and sculpture in my work, without much regard to formal perspective. In this scene, I felt that the chair seat needed to appear more dimensional than usual, so I tapered the angle, with the yellow stripes accentuating its depth.

I am happy to announce that the original illustrations for the book will tour the country after the book is published in the fall of 2020. The Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, Massachusetts will host the premiere exhibit and other venues will follow. As with Pocketful of Posies, I am scheduling a traveling exhibit, so that more people can see the “real thing”, which is a totally different experience than looking at reproductions on the printed page. Interested museums and art centers are welcome to contact me for information about hosting the exhibit. You can help bring the show to a place near you by reaching out to your local venues and telling them about this opportunity. It would be wonderful to have the original illustrations make their way across the whole country!   

Stay tuned for Part 4 in this series, which will show more interior details.

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 : bunny

How could I resist posting a little cottontail bunny at this time of year? It will be used as a spot illustration in my upcoming children’s book, My Bed: Celebrating Children’s Beds Around the World, which will be published in 2020. Other animals in the series that I’ve written about so far are elephant and goldfish, parrot and sheep, rooster, cat, duck and camel.

As usual, I started by researching pictures of bunnies and then making sketches to work from. I formed an outline of the animal shape in pipe cleaners and wrapped the legs. The wrapping is basically the same technique that I teach for the dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.

The hind leg haunches are made separately. I covered the front side with wool felt and crisscrossed the back with stitches to keep it taut like a drum.

Then, I covered the body with a felt piece. I must have covered the top portion of the front leg with another small piece of felt, but I can’t remember. Each time I make something, I try different ways to do it in a non-linear fashion. That’s why it’s hard to explain the process in a step-by-step manner.

Some people think I “needle felted” the body, but I didn’t. That’s a different process that involves poking wool fleece fibers with a barbed needle. I use flat pieces of wool felt that are cut out and sewn in place. It’s fussy, but it works for me. I admit to not really enjoying the repeated jabbing motion of needle felting and would rather put my energy and focus into embroidery.

The bunny’s head was made from pieces of felt, including the ears. The eye is a seed bead inserted in a cut out hole. The ears are edged with wire, to give them stability and flexibility. Details are stitched with embroidery floss.

The area between the head and body looks seamless, but there are hidden stitches underneath. They are covered with felt fibers, which I coax and smooth over the seam with a needle. That’s the closest I get to needle felting.

Then I covered the body with little embroidery floss stitches. The hind leg was attached next and the cotton tail was last. Happy Easter!

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: North America (part 3)

In this Part 3, I will describe making all the miscellaneous elements in the children’s bedroom. Part 1 was about the little girl and her bed and Part 2 showed the baby, the crib and the dog.

The scene 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 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: 
Holland, South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth Africa and Iran.
To see a list of all my books, click here

Besides making the figures, my favorite part of creating an illustration is filling the artwork with elements that help develop the characters and tell their story. Most of the spreads in this book show the children’s environment both inside and out. In this one, the wholly interior scene was an opportunity to indulge my passion for miniatures, from the wall paper to the lampshade. Making objects in relief is a lot different than rendering mini replicas of furniture for a doll house, though. Since the maximum depth I have to work with is 1 inch, everything is pretty flat and is made to look more sculptural than it really is.

The lampshade is embroidered felt, with wire stitched to the top and bottom rims for structure. I added dangling seed beads to give it some personality. As you can see, the shade is just half a circle, with the flat back sewn to the wall. The lamp is a miniature turned wooden pot that I sawed in half and painted.

Even the kid’s drawings on the wall are embroidered on felt. Chain stitching is my go-to method for forming lines.

This is the first time I’ve made a basket with silk ribbon. In the past, I’ve woven them with thread wrapped wire, like the egg basket in Pocketful of Posies. Like the lampshade, it’s made in relief (about 1/2″), with a flat back. I really like the silk ribbon made by Silk Road Fibers. I used it other scenes for this book, including the palm fronds in North Africa.

I made blocks to fill the toy basket by coloring square wooden beads with different colored magic markers. It’s important to find parts with holes, so you can sew them in place. Just like with painting doll heads, I strung them on a pipe cleaner for support.

Then, I sewed the basket to the background fabric.

Through the window, you can see a thread wrapped tree branch. It’s inside a balsa wood box that I sewed in back, behind the background fabric. I’ve used this method in other scenes where I want to show receding depth. It’s a way to make use of the hidden space inside the stretcher.

This little toy car reminded me of the pins I used to make.

I may have reached my mini limit with this purple bear.

I hope you enjoyed taking an inside look at making this scene for My Bed.
Part 1 is about the little girl and her bed and Part 2 shows the baby, the crib and the dog.

I am happy to announce that the original illustrations for the book will tour the country after the book is published in the fall of 2020. The Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, Massachusetts will host the premiere exhibit and other venues will follow. Like with Pocketful of Posies, I am scheduling a traveling exhibit, so that more people can see the “real thing”, which is a totally different experience than looking at reproductions on the printed page. Interested museums and art centers are welcome to contact me for information about hosting the exhibit. You can help bring the show to a place near you by reaching out to your local venues and telling them about this opportunity. It would be wonderful to have the original illustrations make their way across the whole country! 

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 – North America (part 2)

In part 1, we were introduced to this little girl in her cozy bed and quilt. In this part 2, I will describe how I made her baby sibling sleeping in a crib and her pet dog lying on a rug. Part 3 will come next, with photos of all the miscellaneous elements in the bedroom.

The scene 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 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book:
Holland, South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth Africa and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

I am happy to announce that the original illustrations for the book will tour the country after the book is published in the fall of 2020. The Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, Massachusetts will host the premiere exhibit and other venues will follow. Like with Pocketful of Posies, I am scheduling a traveling exhibit, so that more people can see the “real thing”, which is a totally different experience than looking at reproductions on the printed page. Interested museums and art centers are welcome to contact me for information about hosting the exhibit. You can help bring the show to a place near you by reaching out to your local venues and telling them about this opportunity. It would be wonderful to have the original illustrations make their way across the whole country! 

When making the baby’s head, I was faced with the dilemma of how to deal with the bead hole on top. Normally, when making a doll from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk, the hole is covered with hair or a hat. But in this case I wanted to paint on the hair. So, I glued a small scrap of black felt inside the whole, which blended in with the painted bead surface.

I must say that it felt strange to lay the baby face up, instead of on their stomach, which is what I did in the 80’s with my kids. But, that’s what you’re supposed to do now for their safety. This is just one example of the kind of things that come up when you illustrate a children’s book.

The head, foot and bottom of the crib are made of wood, but the sides are formed with wire, wrapped in embroidery floss. I love using wire for detailed touches because it’s cooperative and strong at the same time. I’d say, when you can’t figure out how to get something to hold its shape, use wire. I use non tarnish beading wire in a variety of gauges and Soft Flex wire for straight lines or wide curves.

I made a black and white mobile-like contraption from beads and wire to hang over the crib. Have you noticed the black and white products for newborns? The reason is that that the sharp contrast of black and white is easier for them to see when their vision is still blurry. So much for pastels.

Now, let’s look at the dog making process. If you follow the other posts about animals for the book, you’ll see that I use pipe cleaners to form their basic shapes. I wrapped the dog’s legs with wool tapestry yarn, so the color and texture would blend with its wool felt body.

For my illustrations, I make all of the parts in shallow relief – characters, animals, furniture, architecture, foliage and everything. After the parts are made separately, they are arranged and sewn to a background fabric. For photographic and framing purposes, nothing should stick up more than an inch from the surface. With that in mind, this dog was made to lay flat on a rug. It didn’t have to be able to stand up or have its back viewed.

I then covered the legs and formed the body and tail with felt.

Looking at this photo, it’s hard to see how the dog’s head was attached to the rest of the body. There is a seam at the neck, but I smoothed the felt fibers a bit with a needle, to cover the stitching. The finishing touch was a stitched fur texture on its body and ears.

Then I stitched a circular felt rug for the dog to sleep on.

After the dog was sewn in place, I added a knotted rope chewy toy, made with beads and perle cotton. Please stay tuned for part 3, which will conclude the series and show all of the miscellaneous elements in the bedroom.

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