bed book peek – Ghana (part 3)

This is Part 3 in a series of posts about how I made the stitched bas-relief scene set in the West African country of Ghana. A photograph of the piece will be reproduced in my upcoming picture book, MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World. An accompanying US tour of the original artwork used to illustrate the book will begin in the fall of 2020. Information about the exhibition is on this page.

Part 1 shows the process of making the smaller house and figure in the background and Part 2 is about making the child and his house in the foreground.

The book is 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 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Sept. 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth America, ScandinaviaHolland 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 this part, I’ll show how I made the shade tree and the bird. Please bear with me while I try to explain ways of working that don’t easily fit into a logical sequence. These are techniques I’ve figured out intuitively over many decades of manipulating materials in my hands and I will do my best to translate into words what my hands have taught me.

In the beginning, I made thumbnail sketches of all of the pages in the book and enlarged them to full size. I used the drawing of the Ghanaian scene to trace and cut out a template of the tree.

Using the template, I traced and cut the trunk shape out of acid-free mat board. Over the years, I’ve gotten more diligent about using archival materials that won’t deteriorate or stain over time. You can read how I learned my lesson in this post about repairing an older piece.

To give the mat board a stitch-friendly surface, I glued layers of thin quilt batting to the front and back of the mat board. That way, there was something to catch the needle onto. I built up the thickness of the trunk by sewing tapered layers of felt to the top.

To make thinner branches, I sewed insulated electrical wire to the top where the trunk divides into 3 sections. I covered the tree trunk and thicker branches with brown felt, using a gazillion stitches on the back to pull it tight around the front.

I stitched a zigzag bark texture to the front with variegated pima cotton (Watercolours by Caron). To make the knot in the tree, I cut out a donut shaped piece of felt and blanket stitched it to the trunk.

To make leaves, I cut out pieces of felt and edged them with blanket stitches. Then, I stitched jewelry wire around the outside edges and formed stems by twisting wire.

I attached clumps of 3 or 4 leaves to the tree branches by winding the thin jewelry wire around the thicker insulated electrical wire.

Then, I wrapped the thick and thin wire with embroidery floss, covering the bumps and lumps until it looked smooth.

The original sketch didn’t include a bird, but after watching the scene come together, I decided to add a third blue focal point to catch the eye. The other 2 are the boy’s blue shorts and the blue skirt worn by the woman in the doorway. They stand out in contrast with the overall orange, brown and green color palette. I researched birds in West Africa and found a spectacular bird called the splendid glossy-starling.

For the bird’s head, I painted a wooden bead blue and formed a beak out of jewelry wire, which I wrapped with embroidery floss. Then I stuck the wire through the bead hole and used the extra length of wire to make the bird’s feet.

I made the bird’s body out of felt and added a wire tail. This starling is really glossy, so I stitched some bling with purple metallic thread on its tail and underbelly.

After sewing the bird’s wire feet to a thick branch on the tree, I could almost hear it sing!

Please stay tuned for Part 4, which will cover how I made the plants and woven fence.

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The Red Chair

During the 80’s and 90’s, life was simpler. At least it seems that way, looking back. All I did was take care of my family and make art. That was before the internet, social media, Netflix and all the other ways of “connecting” and being entertained. So, I look back nostalgically at some of the artwork I made back then, like The Red Chair. It is one of the few pieces that I held onto from that period. I just couldn’t bring myself to sell it and it’s been hanging in my studio for 26 years.

From time to time, I’ve offered printed reproductions of The Red Chair in my shop, where they’ve been a favorite gift for new mothers. The cards have also been popular with breast feeding organizations, who’ve purchased them in bulk. Note Cards and Prints are again available in my shop.
Set of 4 Note Cards – $10.00 Buy here
8 x 10 Print – $15.00 Buy here

Back when I made the piece, my figures were flat in the back, in shallow relief (about 1 inch max). For the skin, I used an old woven wool petticoat of my grandmother’s (she was born in 1890). The cloth had been laundered so many times in hot water that it had felted to the point where you couldn’t see the weave. After painting the cloth with fabric paint, I’d embroider the faces. I had to rip out the stitching over and over, until their expressions came out the way I wanted. I used every last inch of that petticoat until it was all gone and I’ve never been able to find anything comparable. So many of the materials and found objects I’ve used over the years are one-of-a-kind, which forces me to adapt and tailor my approach to meet the needs of every new piece.

The chair was modeled after one in our living room that came from my (wool petticoat) grandmother. I changed the straight angular back into a rounded curve, which seemed to better reflect the subject matter. I sculpted the chair feet with Fimo dough. I used upholstery fabric for the chair, wallpaper (embellishment added), floor and carpet.
If you’re wondering about the Buddha, it’s been treasured by my family for 4 generations, ever since my great-grandfather, James Mavor bought it from a missionary while visiting Russia in the late 1800’s.

Opportunity to Pre-order MY BED

My upcoming picture book My Bed is now available for pre-order in my shop here. It’s release date is isn’t until Oct., 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!

It’s been 10 years since Pocketful of Posies came out and for years I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever feel like doing another picture book. With such a labor intensive techniques, illustrating a book is a big commitment! I needed the freedom to make other kinds of art, which I’ve done. But, I missed being a part of the children’s book world, so here we are!

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.

scavenger hunt

The scavenger hunt at my retrospective exhibition of original picture book art at the Cape Cod Museum of Art has been a hit! Not just with kids, but with all ages. Searching for the details is a fun way to engage with the artwork and helps you see things you might not otherwise notice.

I got the idea from my friend Deb Coulombe, who 10 years ago, put together cards for school groups who came to see the touring exhibition of original art from Pocketful of Posies. With the hunt, the kids experienced my artwork in a playful way that enhanced their museum experience.

So, I took the scavenger hunt concept and brought it to “Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Stitch”, which will be on display for only one more week, until Sunday, Jan. 26th. People are coming from far and wide to see the show, driving and even flying in from out of state. If you’re thinking of making the trip, please note that the Cape Cod Museum of Art is open Thursday 10 am – 7 pm, Friday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, Sunday 12 noon – 4 pm. 

Rob and I spent last fall photographing closeup images of the artwork to use in the scavenger hunt. Because my pieces are sculptural, its a challenge to take pictures that bring out the detail and 3-dimensional quality of the real thing. We’ve tried different approaches, sometimes using a light box (above) to diffuse the light and soften the shadows. I’m constantly getting in the way, fussing and tweaking, which drives Rob crazy!

Rob printed the images on good quality paper on his super duper Epson printer and I cut them up. Even though they’re all square, it reminded me of playing with paper dolls.

Then I divided them up into groups of 4 that I knew would keep people moving around the gallery, like an aerobic activity.

Anyone can play the game and choose from about 20 different laminated cards in the gallery.

You can also do the scavenger hunt at home by searching for the following images in my books. Each group of 4 that you see below is labeled with a list of books where you can find the images. Have fun!

Details from “Pocketful of Posies”
Details from “Hey, Diddle, Diddle!”, Pocketful of Posies and “In the Heart”
Details from Pocketful of Posies”, “The Way Home”, “Hey, Diddle, Diddle!” and “Wee Willie Winkie”
Details from “Pocketful of Posies, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, You and Me” and “Come to My Party”
Details from Pocketful of Posies” and You and Me”
Details from “Pocketful of Posies” and “Jack and Jill”

SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch
Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020

Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Winter hours: Thursday 10am – 7pm,
Friday – Saturday 10 – 4, Sunday 12 – 4

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Studio goings-on

After being almost exclusively in making-mode for the past few years, I now wake up every morning with a different agenda. Besides paying attention to my husband Rob and having lunch with friends, I’m photographing my work, organizing exhibitions, and preparing lectures. Making art is one thing, but if you want to share it with the world, you have to figure out ways get it out there. It’s a different creative exercise that not all artists can or want to take on. Although I would rather be stitching right now, I know that doing the promotional part is worth it down the road.

Before showing what’s happening in my studio, I’d first like to invite those of you in the Boston area to an Artist Talk I’ll be giving in Watertown, MA. It’ll be at the Quilters’ Connection, on Thursday, October 24, 2019 at 7:00 PM at St. James Armenian Church, 465 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, MA. $10.00 guest fee for non Quilters’ Connection members.

I will share the joys and challenges of making art that ranges from precious to poignant to provocative, as well as explain where this doll-infested needle and thread universe comes from. I’ll also bring along some original pieces, including Birds of Beebe Woods (pictured left) and books to sell. I look forward to meeting you!

Over the past few weeks, Rob and I have been photographing a lot of older artwork. My pieces are displayed in cherry wood shadow-box frames that Rob makes. Glass protects the bas-relief embroidery from dust, bugs and curious fingers.

The process includes removing each piece from its frame, taking its picture and then putting it back in the frame. So, why didn’t we take photos before framing them behind glass? It’s a long story involving deadlines, a broken wrist, and consequently being behind schedule. So, here we are, doing the job years later. Many of these pieces will be part of a solo exhibition this coming winter at the Cape Cod Museum of Art.

The family-friendly exhibition, SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch, will feature a wide selection of original embroidered artwork from my 25 year career illustrating children’s books. You can see them here. Several pieces will be on loan from private collections. These are rarely seen by anyone other than the owner’s friends and family. This is a unique opportunity to see the detail and 3-dimensional quality of my artwork in person.
SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch
Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020
Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Opening Reception: Friday, Dec. 13 – 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm ~ Artist Galley Talk at 4:00 pm

To photograph the art, we set up the equipment in the spare room, with a light box to minimize harsh shadows. The room’s sky light affected the light balance, so we covered it with another defuser. The camera was propped up on a tripod, facing straight down. To counteract the weight of the heavy camera lens, we hung a bag of stones at the other end of the extension pole. When I asked why the camera had to be so far above the art, Rob told me that the long 100 mm focal lens maintains the correct perspective. I’m glad that he understands this stuff!

For closeup shots, we lowered the camera.

The closeup photos will be used for a treasure hunt for kids (and adults) that I’m putting together for the Once Upon a Thread exhibition.

An advantage of taking high resolution close-up is that the photo quality isn’t lost when they are blown up big. For the exhibition, I’m playing with scale by juxtaposing extra large details with my miniature artwork.

This week, we had a storm and the power was off for 3 days. So, instead of working at the computer, I settled in near a window and stitched, like a character in a Jane Austen novel. Although I’m glad to have electricity back, so that I can write and publish this post, I’m missing the simple pleasure of making things by hand by the light of the sun. That and a cup of tea is my idea of heaven!

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Self Portrait poster is back

I am happy to announce that a newly designed poster of Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion is available in my Etsy Shop. When the first edition sold out a few years ago, I thought that would be it. But, this piece continues to resonate with a lot of people and I regularly receive requests to reprint the poster. So, here it is, back by popular demand!

Self Portrait – 18″ x 24″ Poster

The 18″ x 24″ high quality reproduction is off-set printed on extra thick gloss cover 100 lb. paper. The poster will be rolled and shipped in a heavy duty mailing tube. As with most items in my shop, shipping is FREE within the United States.

Salley with her Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion in the Woods Hole Public Library

Here I am in 2007 at the Woods Hole Public Library, where the framed original bas-relief embroidered sculpture is on semi-permanent display. The Self Portrait is a time-line of my life from birth to age 52, with a spiral of dolls dressed in outfits I would have worn each year. When choosing the fashions, I relied on family photographs and personal recollections. Since the clothes are so tiny (the dolls range from 1″ to 3″), I had to embroider felt or find fabrics with prints that fit their small scale.

As well as clothing memories, we all have a personal soundtrack that goes with different times in our lives. This video is a nostalgic tour through fashion and music that my husband Rob and I put together. At the end, there’s a list of the music.


I’m glad to once again offer the Self Portrait in the poster section of my Etsy Shop. These affordable reproductions are the next best thing to seeing the original embroidered pieces. A customer just wrote a 5 star review about the Birds of Beebe Woods poster, saying “Absolutely excellent photo quality. Love it!”

For those of you in the Boston area, I will be speaking in Watertown in October. This event is open to the public, with a $10.00 guest fee for non-members of the Quilters’ Connection. I hope to meet you there!

  • Salley Mavor will give a lecture about her art at Quilters’ Connection
  • Date: Thursday, October 24, 2019
  • Location: St. James Armenian Church, 465 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, MA
  • Time: Doors open at 6:00 PM, meeting starts at 7:00 PM.
  • $10.00 guest fee for non Quilters’ Connection members

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be 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.

The Art of Cute

This post is playing a bit of catch-up, since The Art of Cute exhibition opened way back in the spring. The good news is that it’ll be at the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk, ME for another 6 weeks, so there’s still time to see the show (until Aug. 31st). The exhibit, which is curated by the Illustration Institute, includes a broad spectrum of art and products that could be considered “cute”, from cloying to edgy and from innocent to provocative. My topical and political work is part of the Meta cute or “beyond” cute category.

People ask, “How do you feel about having your work called cute?” In the context of this exhibit, I can happily embrace the label. Otherwise, I find the term cringe-worthy, even though I know it’s a valid description of much that I make. It’s just that the word “cute” can sound belittling and dismissive when characterizing art. But recently, I’ve experienced the power in making art that draws the viewer in, in a non-threatening way, so a message gets through. This show is thoughtful and wide reaching in its interpretation and begins with this premise — “The Art of Cute is an exhibition that takes a serious look at a powerful aesthetic that is often not taken seriously. Our culture has a love/hate relationship with “Cute”.”

The exhibit is spread throughout several adjoining buildings, so that the displays move seamlessly from one theme to another. My work is grouped together on a wall in the Meta Cute room, with a nearby station set up to sit and watch the film Liberty and Justice.

At the opening, I met some wonderful folks, many of whom were seeing my work for the first time.

Cover Up, a bas-relief embroidered piece about women’s head coverings is there…

…as well as Displaced.

The exhibit also includes some of my political satire, which is definitely cute and provocative at the same time. There are photographs from the Wee Folk Players series and a display case with characters and props we used to make the Liberty and Justice film.

Museum goers can sit and watch the film with head phones, so they don’t disturb others. I loved watching people pick out the different characters from the film in the display case.

It has been a pleasure working with the curators of this exhibit, Scott and Nancy Nash of the Illustration Institute. They found out about my work from news stories covering the controversy surrounding my previous exhibit Liberty and Justice: The Sweet to Satirical Art of Salley Mavor. Having my work shown in the context of cute art has been an unexpected delight!

If you’re going to Maine, Kennebunk is in the southern part of the state, right off Rt. 95. The Art of Cute will be at the Brick Store Museum until August 31st.

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.