Behind the Glass – part 2

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

In this second post in the series Behind the Glass, I’ll show close-up photos of a double page spread reproduced in Hey Diddle, Diddle! (2005) and 2 illustrations from You and Me: Poems of Friendship (1997). You can see part 1 in the series here. These loaned pieces were temporarily removed from their frames in preparation for my upcoming exhibition, making it possible to get up close and take photos from different angles. I’m enjoying seeing the characters again and remembering making them all those years ago.

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

The retrospective exhibition, Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Thread will be at the Cape Cod Museum of Art Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 16, 2020. It will include original illustrations from my picture books, from the first (The Way Home,1991) to the latest (Pocketful of Posies 2010).  Between the borrowed ones and others that I’ve kept, there will be lots of original pieces on display, with a dozen titles represented. This show will be an opportunity for visitors to see the detail and 3-dimensional quality of my artwork in person and also view pieces from private collections that are rarely shown in public.

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

Yes, that’s a real silver spoon, a tiny one meant to go with a salt seller. The plate was cut out of Fimo clay with a cookie cutter. After hardening it in the oven, I painted the face and dish pattern.

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005
Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

The next set of images show closeups of 2 spreads from You and Me: Poems of Friendship (1997). One illustrates the poem Sidewalks, which describes different ways of showing oneself and interacting on a public sidewalk.

Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997

The last piece in this post is from the poem Snow. I hadn’t seen it for over 20 years and was happy to take it out of its frame and get up close with a camera. The owner seemed reluctant to part with it for a few months, but the timing ended up being convenient for her, since she’s selling her house and moving into a new place. I told her that it would be returned in better shape with sparkling clean glass.

SNOW, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
SNOW, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
SNOW, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997

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baby banner for Xavier

Since delivering the artwork for my upcoming book, My Bed to the publisher, I’ve had time to catch up on overdue gifts. Like this baby banner for Xavier, the newest member of a family of dear friends. He is now a toddler, and I hope the banner is something he won’t ever outgrow.

I make banners for friends and family that commemorate special events like weddings and births. You can see others I’ve made by scrolling through the archives here. They all feature 2 of my favorite things; embroidery and handwriting. When I form letters in wire, I think back to that day in 3rd grade in the Woods Hole School, when Mrs. Cleveland called each student up to her desk, one at a time, to show us how to write out our names in cursive handwriting. I was transfixed, watching her make a line of loops and bumps that magically spelled my name, without lifting her pencil off the paper.

I use floral wire to make the letters, because it’s covered with green thread that provides a non-slippery surface to wrap embroidery floss on top of.

I usually use variegated floss to wrap the wire, which can look like stripes on the 2nd pass. The wire ends are bent over and wrapped, so that no raw ends are hanging out. It’s similar to the technique I use to make doll limbs in my how-to book Felt Wee Folk.

Out of my stash, I selected bone beads to make a decorative separator between the names and birth date.

And what better than a bead to dot the i.

A little chain stitch never hurt, either.

Writing out the letters in wire sometimes follows a different path than actual handwriting, especially for b’s.

Over the years, I’ve adapted my handwriting on paper as well as wire to a personal style that’s part cursive and part block letters.

I went through my collection of driftwood, picked out a bumpy piece, and cut it to the right length with a saw.

Many years ago, I bought these beach stones with drilled holes. I use them sparingly on special projects.

This shows how I sew the wrapped lettering to the felt banner piece.

For a hanging cord, I braided pima cotton made by Caron.

I have lots of Wee Folk Studio labels left over from when I made felt purse kits, so I sewed one to the back of the banner.

I attached the cord to the wood bar with knots and stitched it to the banner at the top corners.

This banner will soon hang on Xavier’s bedroom door. Welcome to the world little Xavy and congratulations to his parents, Mark and Cal!

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Wedding Banner: Shawn & Max

Today is Shawn and Max’s wedding day. The bride is a family friend and I wanted to make a banner to commemorate the occasion. This kind of project is quick (about a week) in comparison to the other work I do, which takes months or years. In the weeks since delivering the artwork for my upcoming book, My Bed to the publisher, I feel like a free woman! Besides gardening and paying attention to my husband Rob, I have indulged in making fun gifts like this.

It’s been a long time since I made a banner – you can see others in the archives here. I’ve also made personalized wedding dolls, which match the look and style of real-life couples. They inspired the new chapter in the 2nd edition of my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures.

Personalized wedding dolls from the archives

The banner features 2 of my favorite things, cursive handwriting and embroidery. I start by forming the letters with paper covered florist wire.

Then, I wrap the wire with a double strand of variegated embroidery floss.

The letters flow from one to the next, with occasional breaks, like in Max’s name below. I made a separate piece to complete the “x”.

In a nod to the theme of love, I made a heart shaped vine of wire and glass beads.

After I sewed the wire heart to the background felt, I stitched more leaves with embroidery floss.

For much of my art, borders are an important element. I like to define the edges using blanket stitching with a thick variegated thread – Watercolours by Caron.

The wedding date is written in light letters and numbers on a separate dark piece of felt.

I added glass leaf beads and silk ribbon French knot roses.

I put 2 carved bone fish beads in the open areas around their names and sewed the felt sections to the long banner piece.

After chain stitching spirals to the scalloped bottom edged, I sewed shells to the points. These shells are from old souvenir necklaces from Hawaii.

I even remembered to sew a Wee Folk Studio label to the back.

I cut a piece of driftwood to hang the banner from, drilled holes in it and attached the banner with thread. I then made a braided cord with variegated thread – Watercolours by Caron.
Congratulations Shawn and Max. May you have a long and happy marriage!

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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 peek: Scandinavia – part 2

Let’s continue with the Scandinavian scene. Part 1 showed parts of the inside, such as making the framework for the cubby style bunk beds. This post will give 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, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussia, North Africa, North America and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

To make the balcony, I cut out holes in a piece of felt and edged everything with blanket stitch. I finish every raw edge this way to help contain the object I’m making, so that it’s less obviously made of felt. I want the viewer to take in the whole scene and be immersed in the subject, before noticing what materials I use.

For the flowering plant, I tried something new for the leaves; silk ribbon. I will now attempt to describe how this works in steps. Keep in mind that you use one long length of ribbon to make multiple leaves. 1. Twist wire to form stems. 2. Starting at the tip, loop a silk ribbon leaf. 3. Cover wire stem and ribbon by wrapping with embroidery floss. 4. Loop more leaves down the stem, covering the ribbon and wire with floss. Yikes, this is hard to explain! I hope that you can understand the process somewhat.

The flowers are clumps of French knots stitched with pima cotton thread.

I made stylized fir trees with covered wire trunks and branches. The branches and pine needles are stitched with variegated pima cotton made by Caron.

I’ve been using wire more and more to create a raised edge or outline, like on the sun and mountain below.

And the chain stitch is becoming a favorite way of forming lines.

I sewed curtains from blue felt, chain stitching lines to look like folds and decorating with white French knots.

The whole time I’m working, I refer to the drawing, making sure that the scene will fit into the page dimensions, without anything important getting lost in the book gutter.

To make the window, I edged a piece of felt with blanket stitches and wire. Even with photos documenting the process, I wasn’t immediately sure how I made the window grilles shown below. I remember looping lines of thread on wire, which was similar to casting on a knitting needle. Then, I joined 2 lengths by stitching them together down the middle. The wire gives the grilles enough firmness to hold their shape after being sewn in place inside the window frame.

Stay tuned for Part 3 in this series, which will show the children and more of the interior. To see Part 1, click here.
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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!   

bed book peek: Scandinavia – part 1

It feels like time to share another illustration from the bed book. This one is set in Scandinavia, with children sleeping in a cubby style bunk bed. I must have made it last summer, from the look of the green leaves outside the window in the photo above, It’s hard to keep track of time because I’ve been working 7 days a week for about 2 1/2 years straight. Between the Wee Folk Players series, the animated film and this book project, it’s been a stitching marathon around here. Hey, I’m not complaining – this is what I love to do and it’s a handy excuse for getting out of social obligations. But, I’m almost finished, with just the cover to do this month. And then, I’m going to switch gears to the garden, which has 2 years worth of overgrowth!

This 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,JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussia, North AmericaNorth 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. 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!   

To make this double page spread, I started with the roof, which has a string of felt shingles folded over, accordion style. Then, I got to work on the walls and bed frame in the interior.

I cut out little tree shapes and edged them with blanket stitch.

There was enough variety in the brown hues to make the shapes stand out on top of the background strip. So, you may ask, “Where do you get your felt?” The stuff I use is a plant dyed, thick wool/rayon mix, that I hoarded a few years ago. Unfortunately, the business seems to be on hiatus. You can get some nice plant dyed and commercially dyed wool felt from A Child’s Dream, though.

I sewed Soft Flex beading wire along the edges of the architectural details in this illustration. It adds a firmness that helps keep the felt pieces from flopping over.

Stay tuned for part 2, which will cover the exterior scenery.

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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!

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