Whiskers (part 3)

WhiskersblogIn this 3rd and final post about Whiskers, there are lots of close up photos, including individual shots of all the bearded and mustached guys. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to take a detour from making sweet faced wee folk characters and delve into the world of hairy men! The styles range from handle bars to goatees to hipster beards. There’s more about Whiskers in Part 1 and Part 2.

Last summer, when I started making the piece, I posted a photo on Facebook of my work table full of bearded heads. Someone asked if there would be women as well. I answered that this piece was about facial hair and that only bearded ladies could be included! Don’t fret, a crowd of women (with head coverings, not beards) are featured in my next piece Cover Up, which I’ll write about in the future.

Whiskers, Cover Up and more new large (24″ x 30″) works will be included in my upcoming show, Intertwined – Needle Art of Salley Mavor at the Bristol Art Museum in Bristol, RI this fall, Sept. 16 – Oct. 30.


I pinned the head and shoulder portraits in their peep holes before sewing them in place. At this angle, don’t the guys look like they’re floating in swimming pool lanes?



After consulting with my artistically perceptive son Ian, it was clear that the piece needed another element to help finish it off. At the last minute, just before it was scheduled to be professionally photographed, I decided to add a red thread zigzag to the border.



The collection of heads have doll wigs similar to the ones in the new edition of my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. Some whiskers are painted, but the glasses and embroidered felt beards are a new development, since the book was written. So, here are the fellas…

I had a blast researching and making the bearded guys and I hope that you enjoyed meeting them! It’ll be the women’s turn next, when I show another new piece, Cover Up in future posts. You can get a preview on Facebook here and Instagram here.

Whiskers, Face Time, Cover Up, Birds of Beebe Woods, Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion and more will be included in my exhibit, Intertwined – Needle Art of Salley Mavor at the Bristol Art Museum, Bristol, Rhode Island, Sept. 16 – Oct. 30, 2016.


Whiskers (part 2)

WhiskersblogMy apologies to those of you who received notice of this post prematurely as I mistakenly clicked “publish” before any text was added!

Early on in the process, when I was mulling  over the idea of making this piece and starting to do research, I envisioned a large, bearded face. I wanted to create a structure that could serve as a display mechanism for the group of little men. And because most people never see my original artwork, it was important that there be a strong graphic image that would translate well when reproduced in different image sizes.

At first, I was attracted to the “green man” concept, but veered more in the direction of Assyrian sculptures, which have wonderful stylized beards. I stayed with the green palate and added blues and browns.








In this post, I will show photos of the process of making the beard, which turned into a separate piece that could be used as a costume!


The beard is made up of small scraps of felt, that are pieced together like a crazy quilt. I drew peep holes on a paper template and matched felt pieces like a jig saw puzzle to fit. The pieces are sewn together on the back with a slip stitch and then embroidered along the front seams with a fly stitch. I made a lot of progress while on vacation, which is further evidence that I work all the time. The view out the window was nice, though!IMG_2731


I used my felt covered wire technique to outline the beard and facial features.



To keep the holes rounded and firm, I stitched wire around the openings. The smaller curls on the mustache and beard top are made with floss wrapped wire.



The next post (part 3) click here shows the finished piece, with close ups of the bearded men. To read Whiskers (part 1) click here.

Whiskers-1-33 Whiskers-1-32


Whiskers (part 1)

Ok, it’s been awhile since I’ve checked in. My only excuse is that it’s winter – my favorite time to hunker down and go full throttle on a project. There’s no way I’m going to some place warm! And I know that some of you are of like mind, but we happy hibernators generally don’t get much agreement out there. I’m happy to say that I just finished a piece I’ve been working on since fall. Cover Up depicts cultural and national forms of head coverings and tribal markings that reflect notions of female modesty, fashion, status and conformity from different times and places. I’ll show lots of photos of Cover Up on this blog in the future. My Facebook and Instagram followers have been getting frequent glimpses throughout the process, so head over to one of those sites if you’re curious.


For now, let’s play catch up with a series of posts about a 24″ x 30″ piece I finished last summer. Whiskers focuses on beards and mustaches, showing an array of male characters from different cultures and historic periods.


Little men peek out and display themselves like an unlikely collection of international souvenir dolls. Their painted wooden heads appear in vertical lines, within a large man’s beard, which acts as a holding place. The bulk of the large beard is comprised of small pieces of felt that are patched together by hand with embroidery stitches. The large man’s bas relief face and beard are defined with lengths of wire covered with felt or wrapped with thread. Whiskers explores diverse societies and their origins, using needle and thread to signify the unraveling and mending of human cultures throughout history.



I made the heads like the wee folk dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures. Some beards are painted on the wooden bead head. I also tried something new, by gluing embroidered felt beards to their faces.


FaceTimeDetail1WMI had a blast researching beard styles for the collection of characters. This piece is a continuation of a new series that explores history and fashion.  Face Time (shown left) is a previous piece showing cameo portraits from early civilizations to the present day. See Whiskers Part 2 here.IMG_20150711_101219

Birds at Highfield this summer!


I recently cleaned the glass which protects the Birds of Beebe Woods. While the piece was uncovered and exposed, Rob took some new photos. This time he didn’t aim the camera straight on. We thought we’d try coming from the side a bit, to emphasize the sculptural quality of the birds.


Birds0001blogWMI think these photos better translate the experience of looking at the real piece. Of course, it’s best viewed without glass, but it’s necessary for protection from light and dust.

Printed reproductions in the form of posters and cards are available from my Etsy Shop.

Birds of Beebe Woods is on display at Highfield Hall, Falmouth, MA until Sept. 15th. I’m also excited about the upcoming outdoor exhibit, Fairy Houses of Highfield Hall (June 28 – Aug. 31), which I’m curating again this year.


FELT the noun, not the verb

detail from “Pocketful of Posies”

I’m in love with wool felt! Aren’t you, too? Quite often, it’s my material of choice, along with embroidery thread. Once you use the wool variety, it’s hard to go back to handling the cheap acrylic type commonly found in craft stores. It’s like retiring your polyester pant suit in favor of cotton, wool or linen. Wool felt is seductive– it not only feels better, but has an integrity and durability not found in imitation fabrics. I primarily use wool felt that comes in sheets of different thicknesses.


detail from

detail from “Pocketful of Posies”

People inquire about wool felt all the time, so I’ll address that right away. The cottage industry that made the plant dyed felt I used in the illustrations for Pocketful of Posies no longer dyes felt.

Pocketful of Posies 2010

Pocketful of Posies 2010

Many online businesses sell wool felt, from garish commercially dyed colors to softer, plant dyed and “heather” shades. A Child’s Dream has a nice selection of  premium quality 100% wool felt. Sweet Emma Jean sells a less expensive rayon/wool blend. Of course, 100% wool felt is pricey, but it is certainly worth it. The doll clothes pattern pieces from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk don’t require very much material, so a little can go a long way. If you want to try natural dying your own colors, take a look at this informative blog post from Willodell.

nativity project from Felt Wee Folk

nativity project from Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures


Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures 2015

I want to clarify something — I use felt (noun) in my pieces. I do not make felt or do felting (verb). I don’t know why it bothers me, but my work is often described as “felted” when it is not. Felting has a rich history and has been around since ancient times. The verb to felt involves the manipulation and meshing of wool fleece fibers to form sheets of felt or a 3 dimensional felted form. Needle felting is immensely popular now a days, so I can see how the noun and verb are becoming interchangeable in some people’s minds. I’ve tried felting and think it’s fun, but find myself more interested in embroidering and decorating existing felt pieces.


from Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures 2015

Many of you have said that embellishing and stitching together little outfits is your favorite part of making the dolls from Felt Wee Folk. Women of a certain age have fond memories of sewing felt clothing for their Troll dolls during their first invasion in the 60’s. The later version of wide eyed Troll dolls where much cuter and not as appealing, in my opinion. I can still remember sewing snaps on my Troll clothes and trying to figure out whether to make the stitches jump from hole to hole or go outside the snap. I decided that it doesn’t matter which is the “right” way and tried both. Decades later, I’m still figuring out new ways to make and clothe little dolls and my early experience with making Troll clothes may have been what spurred me into writing how-to books.

project from Felt Wee Folk - New Adventures

project from Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures

When to tell how and when not to

cropped-salleymavorselfportraitfull3.jpgQuite often, I am asked to show more details and to expand on how I work. I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject and wondering how to respond to these requests. In this post, I will explain how I choose when and when not to tell how I make things.


Salley, Jimmy and Anne, with parents Mary and Jim Mavor 1956

But first, I want to say it’s my birthday today and my sister Anne’s, too. 60 years ago, my mother’s water broke while she was making a bunny cake for Anne’s 3rd birthday. So, she went to a hospital in Boston and had me. Needless to say there was no birthday party for Anne that year. So, I can’t think of my birthday without thinking of Anne. When we were young, we had joint parties, but nowadays we rarely spend our birthday together, as we live on opposite coasts. Growing up, we spent a lot of time making things and my most vivid memories are about creating art, making music and dancing. Today, Anne and I are both artists, bringing our own visions into the world.


Salley at age 2

Turning 60 has emboldened me to share some thoughts I’ve been mulling over.  As I’ve grown older, I can see more clearly what works in my life and what doesn’t. I try to remember to do what makes me feel whole and alive and to not feel obligated to do everything I’m asked or expected to do. And since a big measure of my well-being comes from making art, I want to set things up so I can continue to develop my art form for as long as possible.


Anne and Salley, 1956

I could stay cordoned off in my studio, shielded from the distractions of the world and the internet and thereby turn out a higher number of pieces. But, I enjoy communicating with the larger world through this blog, Facebook and Instagram. It take’s up A LOT of time, so I have to find a balance. Interestingly, in terms of artistic output, I was much more prolific before the internet, even with little kids around! When you’re connected like this and the pool of people gets larger, more questions, requests and suggestions come forth. The kind of people who follow me are wonderful and gracious. You are so appreciative when I share behind the scenes photos, especially process close-ups. Your encouragement to keep doing what I’m doing has made a big difference in my life. Your excitement comes through in your comments and it makes me happy! girlindoorway62blog

April 14, 1960

April 14, 1960

So, why do I describe how to make some things and not others? I’ll get to that eventually, but please indulge me a little bit longer, just because it’s my birthday! I also want to address the issue of how embroidery and handwork has been and is still, for the most part, perceived today. Besides being designated as “women’s handiwork”, needlework has a strong tradition of teaching and learning through imitation, with instructions and patterns aplenty. Today, a vast needlecraft industry is built around this technique driven culture of copying, with businesses supplying materials, equipment, tools, patterns and kits for stitchers, knitters and quilters of all kinds.

largegirl62blog I realize that people need a place to start and they derive great satisfaction from being guided through the process. That is why I used to make kits and have written how-to books about making dolls (Felt Wee Folk). My goal is to show the basic framework, with a variety of possibilities, so that the reader can gain the confidence to add more personal touches and create something that is uniquely their own. I want to share my techniques for making the dolls, which I see as a much-needed opening for people to play and express themselves.

Siblingsblog Even though the mainstream needlework network doesn’t mesh with what I do, I am a part of it because I’ve authored how-to books, which are marketed within this world. But other than that, I operate in a different needle and thread universe. This is not surprising, since my work is generally an anomaly in any group I’m lumped into; embroidery, stumpwork, dolls, art quilts, miniatures, fiber art, children books, etc. The narrative and decorative style of my fabric relief pieces doesn’t really fit into the abstract, conceptual contemporary fiber art scene. And I suppose that writing the Felt Wee Folk books opened me up to being characterized as only a teacher of doll making techniques. Showing how to make these “cute” dolls, illustrating story books and organizing fairy house exhibits may have compromised my status in the serious art world, but knowing my work has touched many lives is of more value to me personally.

I identify myself as an artist first and foremost. To me, it doesn’t matter what medium or materials you use for your work to be considered art. Not today, in an art world that recognizes all manner of expressions. Not in this age of the internet, where individuals can build careers and gain followers, despite the hierarchy of the art establishment and opinions of curators and critics.  I don’t want to be the kind of “serious” artist who, in an effort to have their work recognized as legitimate, dissociates themselves from the world of hobby needlework. There is too much real humanity and power in stitched objects that are labored over so lovingly. Just read the comments in last week’s Give-away post to understand the meaning and importance we give to making something by hand for another person. Your stories are so touching and life-affirming!

snowstorm63blog But, where does the artist who creates original work with needle and thread fit into the imitation model engrained in and perpetuated by the needlecraft industry? In order to explore new concepts and ideas, I have found it necessary to educate the public and protect myself from misconceptions about my work. For instance, people ask (not once, but many times) if I have a pattern to make Birds of Beebe Woods. Others want directions for making illustrations from Pocketful of Posies. And I am constantly asked how I make the little hands with fingers. I can understand asking about the hands, but the idea of providing patterns for my larger fabric relief pieces and illustrations has me totally baffled. I think that artists working in other mediums would be equally taken aback if asked for patterns and instructions.

With needlework, the distinction between art and craft is particularly fuzzy (no pun intended). That subject will still be discussed and debated long after I’ve threaded my last needle. For me, it points to the question of when to tell how and when not to. I am not worried about individuals copying my techniques, I just don’t want to spend my time and energy telling how I do it — time and energy that would otherwise go toward artistic growth. I find reviewing and explaining in detail the process of making something I’ve lived and struggled with for months like sliding backward into the muck, hindering any movement forward.

My children’s book illustrations and stand-alone pieces are much more involved and complicated than what I teach in Felt Wee Folk. Through 40 years of experimentation, I have devised methods of working that I consider proprietary knowledge. For instance, the way I make hands with little fingers is too linked to my personal artistic expression to show how in detail. I don’t want to upset the creative process by constantly organizing the steps in my mind and thinking in terms of explaining it to another. That would hold me back and limit the possibilities. I think the act of creating something new shouldn’t be overly dissected, else it lose its magic.

Mavor kids 1964

Mavor kids 1964

As an artist, I draw the line on what parts of my process to share and what parts I want to remain a mystery, even to myself. People wonder how I can give away “all of my secrets”, but I don’t look at it that way. In Felt Wee Folk, I’ve simplified some doll making techniques to a point where I can teach them step by step. Nonetheless, I won’t be writing any more how-to books or teaching classes. But, I will share projects in progress, thoughts, inspirations, travels, and give glimpses behind the scene. My sketchbook is brimming with ideas and I intend to devote as much time as I can to making new work.


First book 1963

This blog is full of photos that show the development of projects. What is shown and what is not usually depends on how engrossed I am and if I can remember to take pictures. Sometimes I take photos of different stages of making a piece, but that just skims the surface and may be perceived is a tease of sorts. I see it as documentation, not as a tutorial, which takes a different, more systematic approach. My husband Rob and I sometimes document with video, which we did for my outdoor environmental piece, Hither and Yon.

So, the simple explanation is that I show what I’m willing to share and don’t show what I’m not. I hope that I’ve explained my position on when to tell and when not to in a way you can understand. It mostly comes down to one’s personal preference and when you’re 60, you get to decide. Even though there’s no denying that I’m a grown up now, I’m still going to play with dolls! Thank you for reading my birthday musings all the way to this point. For now, I will continue to offer glimpses into my world through the wonders of social media.  For the past few weeks, many of you have followed along on Instagram and Facebook, while I construct a fairy house for this summer’s exhibit (June 28 – Aug. 31, 2015), the Fairy Houses of Highfield Hall in Falmouth MA.  There will be many more needle and thread adventures ahead, so please come along on the journey!

Updated on April 19th — Thank you so much for your supportive comments. Some of you may have gotten the impression that I do not want to give directions because I don’t want others to copy what I’m doing. That is not my concern. It’s OK with me if people make work that is similar to and inspired by mine, as long as they have the experience of figuring it out themselves and they make it their own. I’m more interested in protecting my creative process, so that I can keep my muse alive and focus on growing as an artist.

Posies goes to Lexington, MA


I am pleased to announce that, after a few month’s pause, the Pocketful of Posies Traveling Exhibit has resumed and will be shown in several venues this year. Just yesterday, Rob and I drove to Lexington, MA, to deliver and hang 33 original embroidered illustrations from the book. Luckily, it wasn’t snowing that day, but there were tall walls of snow lining every street and sidewalk around town!

My artwork is on display at the Lexington Public (Cary Memorial) Library, Lexington, Massachusetts from now until March 30th. The exhibit is in the meeting room gallery, so I recommend contacting the library ahead to find out when the room is not being used for an event. It would be disconcerting to make the trip and find out that there’s a meeting going on in the room. I’ll be giving an Artist Talk and book signing on Wed., March 4th @ 7:00 pm. A collection of wee folk dolls from my new book, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures will make a special appearance!

This exhibit came about because someone came into the library last year looking for my work. When she found out that the Pocketful of Posies Traveling Exhibit  was actually in Lexington, Kentucky, she suggested that the library get in touch with me to see if it could come here, too. Well, I’m happy that they did and we arranged to have a show this month.

The next stop on the tour is April 2 – 29 at the Newton Free Library, Newton, Massachusetts, with an Artist Talk on April 21 @ 7:00 pm.

Then the artwork will go south to these locations:

August 17 – Sept. 25, 2015 at the Harford County Public Library, Bel Air Branch, 100 E. Pennsylvania Ave, Bel Air, Maryland.

Oct. 17, 2015 – Feb. 28, 2016 at the Upcountry Museum – Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. Artist talk to be announced.

Will there be any more shows after this? Perhaps.The artwork has been touring for 5 years, and at this stage, I’m involved with other projects and am too busy to search out for more locations and send out proposals. But, I’m always willing to discuss the idea with interested venues who contact me.