a virus-free wee world

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Are you wondering what to do while you’re hunkered down at home, staying away from crowds?  I must admit that the concept of “social distancing” isn’t very different from my normal life, so it’s not much of an adjustment. But, I realize that closed schools and work places, as well as travel and event cancellations, is a hardship for many of you. So, to help keep your mind off the worrisome situation, how about immersing yourself in the virus-free fairy and wee folk world? In this post you will find a source list of materials to make projects from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. There are also lots of photos and videos that I hope will inspire you to make your own wee world!

When I posted this idea on Instagram, several people, including a self-described introvert, commented that they were already in making mode:

  • “‘I adore your wee felt folk book and actually hunkered down yesterday and made a little jester. I’ve decided to make more to give to friends during this crazy time💕
  • ‘What a lovely idea! I admit, I’m more worried about craft supplies than toilet paper.”
  • “Introvert here reporting from a cozy studio! I secretly love a good excuse to stay in. I’ve got your book and will be making some fairies while we bunker down!!” 

Many of the supplies needed to make the dolls, such as embroidery floss, paint, brushes, unvarnished wood beads, pipe cleaners and faux flowers can be found at craft stores. Online sources for the book, wool felt, acorn caps, and other materials are listed below:

Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures, with bonus playing cards and flower skirts & wings

I’m keeping my Etsy shop stocked with wool fleece fairy hair and flower skirts & wings.

The dolls and their clothing are portable, so you can bring them where ever you want to settle in.

This is my work table on a random day, the way it really looks.

My Work Table on a random day

I made the Frost Family for a benefit raffle a few years ago. See more details here.

This is a little experimental video from a few years ago.

Of course, all of the dolls pictured in this post were made years ago and the raffles are long past. I just wanted to show you a variety of possibilities.

The Oakley Family was made for another benefit raffle. See the process of making them here.

And yet another fairy family raffle, which you see in more detail here.

I hope that the wee folk help keep your spirits up through this ordeal. Please stay safe!

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the Greta effect

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Ever since learning about Greta Thunberg, the 17 year-old Swedish environmental activist, I’ve wanted to make a wee folk version of her. But, the idea of making such an inspiring public figure into just a cute little doll with braids didn’t seem like enough to do her justice. Greta symbolizes the upcoming generation who will experience climate change much more profoundly than people my age and they must be heard. I kept thinking that the real Greta would not like being turned into a passive fetish object, without her strong message and a call to action. So, I figured out a way to both depict her likeness and quote her, while also supporting the issues she is calling attention to.

After making the Greta doll, I set out to photograph her outside in a natural setting. The aim was to take a photo that would have room to incorporate one of her famous quotes. So, on a recent beautiful day, Rob and I went around the corner to Woodneck Beach. The conditions were perfect! The low tide created an interesting landscape and the late afternoon sun gave off the kind of warm glow that photographers can only wish for. The result was the image below, which we are making into prints to sell as a fundraiser for climate science research.

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8.5″ x 11″ archival print for sale to benefit climate research

BUY PRINTS and NOTE CARDS and support CLIMATE SCIENCE RESEARCH:
The image of Greta Thunberg with her quote is available for sale in my shop HERE. All profits will go to the Woods Hole Research Center, a leading source of climate science that drives the urgent action needed to solve climate change.
____________________________________________________________
Set of 4 Note Cards – $10.00 – Buy here.
Set of 10 Postcards – $10.00 – Buy here.
8.5″ x 11″ Archival Print – $15.00 – Buy here.

Woods Hole Research Center is an organization of renowned researchers who work with a worldwide network of partners to understand and combat climate change. They have been focused on climate change since it first emerged as a pubic policy issue 35 years ago. Headquartered in Falmouth, MA, they currently work in more than twenty countries around the globe – from the Amazon to the Arctic. World-class science is the foundation of everything they do. They share their learning with scientific colleagues, lawmakers, private sector leaders, and the public in order to turn knowledge into far-reaching action. For more information, visit whrc.org


The Greta Effect Animation
During the process of making the Greta doll, the partially made pipe cleaner body sat on my work table, looking at me in an intense way. I thought, we have to film her doing just that! So, Rob and I made this short animated film, “The Greta Effect”.

The following photos show the process of making the Greta doll and the video:

To paint a likeness on the round wooden bead, I referred to photos of Greta. In this small scale, I was limited to a few brush strokes to make her face recognizable.

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With the exception of a few added details, the Greta doll is made with the same basic techniques that are taught in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.
After painting the face, I glued a felt wig to the bead head and let it dry. Then, I stitched embroidery floss hair to the felt, which provided something for the needle to grab onto. It was fun to make her tell-tale braids.

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This photo gives you an idea of how her hands were made.

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Partway through the process, we filmed the Greta doll sitting on my work table, turning her head to look straight out at the viewer, as if to say, “I’m looking at you!”.

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It took 2 tries to do the animation because I messed up the first attempt by kicking the tripod. We started over the next day.

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Even though the scene is only 11 seconds long, it took all day to animate. In addition to my turning the doll’s head incrementally, Rob manually rotated the camera and moved it along the slider, one frame at a time (24 frames per second). It brought back memories of our year in the basement, filming Liberty and Justice.

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Then it was time to make her clothing. I made her pants and shoes and…

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a zippered anorak out of pink felt….

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sewing it in place, so that it’s never coming off!

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Who knows if the real Greta will ever see this, but if she does, I hope that she approves of using her image and quote to support climate science research. Again, prints and not cards may be purchased in my shop HERE. If you live in the local Falmouth, MA area and want to avoid having the print sent in the mail, please contact me via e-mail so we can arrange a pick up time.

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create your own wee world

Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures (2015)

One of the most rewarding parts of writing my book, Felt Wee Folk is hearing from fans who’ve wholeheartedly thrown themselves into the wee world. They don’t just make dolls using the patterns and directions from the book. They lovingly create characters who act out narratives in a very personal way. When the first edition of the book came out almost 18 years ago, I hoped that once people became comfortable with the process, they would start incorporating their own ideas. And I’m happy to say that this has happened! Today, I will share words and photos from two people who’ve been inspired by the book. One is a college student and the other is recently retired.

Mary R. Black is an 18-year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan who wrote to say how much enjoyment she has gotten out of making the dolls from the book. She and her sister have been immersed in the wee world for a long time and it was an important part of their childhood. I just love Mary’s unabashed enthusiasm! (At her age, I was still hiding my penchant for dolls and miniatures.) She says, “I also make fairies, but when I started to see how you made normal dolls, I made dolls for my dollhouse too! They are in some ways more fun to make than fairies because of their variety and accessories, don’t you think?”

Mary goes on to say, “I also have started a little fun project at my college by setting up a fairy house at the base of a tree. I have received so many comments on how it brightens up people’s day, which is exactly what I wanted! But one day, to my surprise and extreme pleasure, I found a little gnome store on the other side of the tree!! I was so excited that my project inspired others to be creative too.”

She wrote back to update me with the news that her little character, Aspen had gotten engaged and married to Cypress. By the way, it looks like the happy couple’s hats are acorn caps from a Burr Oak tree.

Thank you Mary Black, for bringing your delightful imaginings to life and sharing them with your friends and us!

I’d also like to show you what Jane Walster from Chehalis, Washington has been doing in her first year of retirement. She writes, “I have been combining your lovely wee folk designs with additional ideas from Karina Schaapman’s Mouse Mansions.” Look at this comfy rustic living room she’s created for her dolls!

If you haven’t seen Karina’s books, you should check them out. And if you’re in Amsterdam, go visit The Mouse Mansion shop and studio, where you can see all of her amazing scenes on display. Friends have told me that seeing them in person is a wonderful experience.

Jean also sent a photo of her version of the Harvest Folk scene in Felt Wee Folk.

I like how the sheep came out, which I assume are based on the one she saw in a post earlier this year (shown left). It’s an animal icon from my upcoming picture book, My Bed: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World. You can see the post about making the sheep here.

She writes, “Liberty and Justice is such a brave and creative way to share your artistic talent. I love how you combined the personal and political with a big dose of humor. Your work fills me with hope that as I hone my skills, I will discover my own unique artistic style.”
Thank you for sharing your wee world, Jean!

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Euphoria – Ltd. Edition Fairy

I’d like to introduce EUPHORIA, the newest Ltd. Edition Fairy. The group of 25 dolls have been traveling around with me for several months and finally they are all dressed, coiffed and winged! The fairies will be ready to fly off from my Etsy Shop to their new homes on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 at 10 AM (Eastern US time). They will be sold on a first come, first served basis. Sorry, no reservations ahead of time. I realize that the hour of the day is in the middle of the night for those of you on the other side of the world, but I can’t figure out how to make it perfectly fair.

Despite my intention to move on, I haven’t weaned myself entirely from making fairies. It’s a nice relaxing, portable activity when traveling. I’ve had to put limits on myself at home or else I would make them all the time, instead of pushing myself to do new work. 
And besides, I have to maintain the first “P” in my new slogan:
From Precious to Poignant to Provocative.

So, 1 or 2 times a year, I complete a group of 25 dolls and offer them in my Etsy Shop. They’re basically the same fairies from my how-to book of dolls, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures. To see EUPHORIA and the other ltd. edition fairies in the archives, click here.

The only potentially messy part is gluing on their hair and acorn caps, so I usually do that in my studio. The hair is wool fleece, which is available in a multi-colored “fairy hair” sampler in my Etsy Shop. There’s also an assortment of faux flower petals to use for fairy skirts and wings in the shop here.

EUPHORIA is 3 3/4″ tall, with a dark brown complexion, black hair, acorn cap hat, hand embroidered wool felt tunic and petal skirt. Each doll is one of a limited edition of 25 look-alike fairies. They each sell for $85.00 and come with a signed and numbered name tag.

To enter my shop, click here. EUPHORIA will be added on Sept. 7, 2019 at 10 AM. Please know that the Ltd. Editions sell out very fast, so if you really want one, be ready. Good Luck!

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

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.

Polly dresses for the Seashore

For over a year, Polly stood in silence on a high shelf overlooking the studio’s work space. Hour after hour, day after day she saw the same sight – her maker sitting and stitching. Not much action or excitement, to be sure! Then one day she was abruptly grabbed and stripped down to her underwear. She was getting a new sailor suit for a trip to the seashore!

But first, Polly underwent a bit of reconstruction on her shoulder and upper arm. Too much waving, perhaps. Her active lifestyle was the inspiration to add an extra sturdy body to the 2nd edition of my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. Her recovery time was short and she could soon lift her arms while being fitted with a new blue cotton skirt.

It was important for Polly to have a hat to shade her delicate complexion, so she used the straw one that she wore on a previous adventure in 2016 to Anne of Green Gables territory on PEI. For this trip, it was embellished with a new blue rim.

Polly’s felt clothes are sewn on, since she’ll wear the same outfit for the unforeseen future. Until her next trip, that is.

The sailor collar has a wire stitched around the outside edge for stability.

Then, the outfit’s signature stripes were chain stitched around three sides.

The front of the collar was attached in place with a few stitches.

All that blue and white needed a contrasting silk tie!

Last to come was the hat and she’s off on her next adventure to the seashore. Stay tuned for photos of her trip! To see more of Polly Doll’s travels, visit this page.

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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.