to teach or not to teach

Quite often, I am asked to teach how I make things. Requests for classes, tutorials, patterns and directions from groups and individuals who are eager to learn my methods regularly fill my email box. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask such questions and I’m happy that people are interested in learning new ways of working. But for me, these inquiries only remind me of how much I operate outside of the mainstream, in a different needle and thread universe. In this post, which is a rewrite of a story published 5 years ago, I will do my best to explain my approach to making art and my personal philosophy about sharing knowledge.

Stitching foliage in the S. America scene.

There’s a strong needlework tradition of teaching and learning through imitation, with instructions and patterns aplenty. It used to be that women passed down their knowledge to the next generation in the family. Today, a vast needle-craft industry is built around a technique driven culture of copying, with businesses supplying materials, equipment, tools, patterns and kits for embroiderers, knitters and quilters of all kinds. It’s a challenge to find my place within this culture because that’s not how I came to do what I do. I learned how to embroider from diagrams in a simple booklet I bought at the Needlewoman Shop in London in 1978. And I only use half a dozen basic stitches in my work. Everything else I taught myself through experimentation and lots and lots of practice.

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 wrote Felt Wee Folk, a how-to book about making dolls. 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. Through the book, I share my techniques for making the dolls, which I see as a much-needed opening for people to play and express themselves.

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.

But, where does the artist who creates original work with needle and thread fit into the imitation model ingrained in and perpetuated by the needle-craft 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 frequently ask if I have a pattern to make Birds of Beebe Woods. Others want directions for making the illustrations from Pocketful of Posies. The idea of providing patterns for my fabric relief pieces has me totally baffled. I think that artists working in other mediums would be equally taken aback if asked for patterns and instructions.

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.

Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe from “Pocketful of Posies”

Even though conventional needlework businesses don’t completely mesh with what I do, I am a part of it because I’ve authored a how-to book which is marketed within this world. But other than that, I operate independently, outside of the mainstream. That 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. I suppose that writing Felt Wee Folk opened me up to being categorized as a teacher of doll making techniques. And since delving into political satire with the Wee Folk Players, my work is proving to be even harder to classify!

Props and characters from “Liberty and Justice” animation
MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World

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.

Cover Up
MY BED in progress
MT BED in progress

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.

Wee Folk figures

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 BED in progress
Horn Book magazine cover in progress

So, the simple explanation is that I show what I’m willing to share and don’t show what I’m not. I will continue to offer glimpses into my world through the wonders of social media and I hope you come along on the adventure!

MY BED in progress
MY BED in progress

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the Greta effect


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.

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

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.


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.


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


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!”.


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.


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.


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


a zippered anorak out of pink felt….


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


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.


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Judy Sue in miniature

I don’t know why it’s taken so long, but I finally made a miniature version of my friend/teacher/agent Judy Sue Goodwin-Sturges. We met over 40 years ago at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she still teaches illustration. Judy Sue has guided countless art students, urging them to follow their own path. And I feel lucky to be one of them. All those years ago, when she saw me sitting in her class, stitching pea pod pins, she said, “For goodness sake, do this for your assignments!” Up until then, I’d been under the impression that illustration was only painting and drawing and had kept my interest in crafts separate. With her encouragement, I started incorporating 3-dimensional elements and sewing into my work. Instead of trying to keep in step using traditional mediums, I discovered that with stitching, I could dance the fandango! So, the least I can do is make her a little Judy Sue doll!

April Prince, Judy Sue Goodwin-Sturges and Salley Mavor

For doll-making inspiration, I found this photo from a few years a ago, when Judy Sue and April Prince, who work together in the boutique agency Studio Goodwin Sturges, came for a visit. Of course, the Judy Sue doll would have to be dressed in a huipil, which is the most distinguishing feature of her wardrobe.

(Huipil [ˈwipil] (from the Nahuatl word huīpīlli [wiːˈpiːlːi]) is the most common traditional garment worn by indigenous women from central Mexico to Central America.)

She has quite a collection of huipils, which all came from a friend who lives in Guatemala. She stores them folded up in shelves. It was surprising to see some of of my illustrations from the ’90’s hanging on the adjacent wall, because I’d forgotten that she had them!

I stopped by Judy Sue’s place last week to pick up a piece from “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, that she’s loaning for my upcoming retrospective exhibition, Once Upon a Thread, which will be at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020. GALLERY TALK: December 13, 2019 – 4:00 – 5:30 pm. RECEPTION: December 13, 2019 – 5:30 – 7:00 pm. FAMILY GALLERY TALK: January 4, 2020 – 1:00 – 2:00 pm

Pages 8/9, Mary Had a little Lamb, 1995

Now that you have some background information, let’s move on to making the doll. I made the pipe cleaner body the same as the 4″ sturdy doll in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures. Then I painted her face on a wooden bead and glued on a felt wig.

I embroidered the felt huipil with flower thread, which is thicker than 1 strand of floss.

Toward the end, I outlined some shapes with 1 strand of violet colored floss.

Judy Sue also likes to wear bold and colorful jewelry, so I made her a seed bead necklace.

Her hair is made with hand-dyed fingering weight Merino wool that I recently bought from Flying Finn Yarns.

Here’s the real-life Judy Sue, with her wee folk replica. Thank you Judy Sue, for your generous spirit and for instilling a belief in the trans-formative power of art to so many!

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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

Wee Folk playing cards!

I am excited to announce a new set of Felt Wee Folk playing cards! Aren’t they a perfect way for all ages to enjoy the wee folk? C&T Publishing has just added the cards to their product line, which also includes the 1st and 2nd editions of my how-to book Felt Wee Folk. After selling out earlier this week, they’ve been restocked in my Etsy Shop. I also want to take this opportunity to let you know that I’ve added some doll-making supplies to the shop – wool fleece fairy hair, flower petal skirts and wings.

Playing cards

C&T Publishing’s catalog describes them this way:
The popular Felt Wee Folk, created by best-selling author Salley Mavor, spring to life in an imaginative deck of playing cards. Each felt doll is shown in exquisite detail, so their outsize personalities shine through. So cute you will want to play with them all, these popular playing cards make a great gift for crafters and children, but will be loved by all!

• Unique set of playing cards based on Salley Mavor’s much-beloved Felt Wee Folk books
• Adorable characters handcrafted with love 
• This set makes a fun gift for everyone—especially crafters, children, and the young at heart

Standard Size: 2.375″ x 3.5″

Retailers please take note:
The cards are sold in boxes of a dozen in an attractive POP (point of purchase) display.

C&T Publishing – ISBN 978-1-61745-806-4

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Surprise Find!

I am happy to offer a very limited supply of discontinued Wee Folk Studio note cards, which were recently discovered in storage. Most of these designs were originally released in the early 2000’s and have been out of print for over 10 years. They come from a time when my business was dominated by fairies, with dozens of varieties of kits and cards sold on a wholesale basis to catalogs and stores.

Back then, I could be seen photographing fairies all over town, along the roadside, at the beach or on the bike path. This all-consuming experience led to writing my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk, which gives step-by-step instructions for making your own fairies and wee folk characters. My work has taken me in other directions since then, but I look back fondly at this period when the possibilities to expand the wee world seemed endless. I don’t think I would be making the kind of art I am today, if I hadn’t gone through this “fairy period”.

The cards will be sold in packs of 8 different designs, 4.25″ x 6″, with envelopes, in a vinyl wallet. The watermark will not appear on the cards. Each set will include 8 different cards, selected at random from a choice of 16 different images — Bay Berry, Morning Glory, Princess Dill, Harvest Folk, Swamp Rose, Dandelion, Lavender, Crystal, Flora and Rosebud, Sweet Pea, Milkweed, Bitter Sweet, Blueberry, Petite Pea, Moon Shell, and Rosita.

UPDATE: The discontinued cards sold out quickly, but there’s another 8 card sampler of fairies and baby wee folk available, which is a good substitute. 

Please enter my Shop HERE.

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 Africa (part 3)

This is the third post about the North African illustration for my new children’s book. To see more, click the links for Part 1 and Part 2 in the series. The scene will be included in  My Bed: Celebrating Children’s Beds Around the World. 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. and Iran.
To see a list of all my books, click here.

After constructing the houses with felt, wire and clay beads, and stitching the landscaping, I made this child to sleep on the rooftop terrace. With the exception of the fingers and toes, she is made the same way as the dolls in my how-to book Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures. Her bare feet are similar to the hands, but it’s a bit more tricky to make them look natural. (Sorry, the hand and feet technique is proprietary.)

Hair styling with thread brings out their individuality.

Her nightie is made from an old monogrammed hankie that was part of a relative’s trousseaux. I took advantage of its white edging while cutting out pieces of fabric for the garment.

Here she is, settling down for a cool night’s sleep on the roof deck.

I made my first palm tree for this scene, which required some photo research.

The tree trunk texture was fun to replicate with lots of fly stitches. I played around with light and dark colors to give it definition and dimension.

To give the right appearance at the top, just below where the palm fronds fan out, I sewed a clump of glass leaf beads.

And then there was the really fun part, when I got to use variegated silk ribbon thread! It’s one the few new needlework products I actually buy. I really like the selection of straw silk from Silk Road Fibers.

A felt moon appeared from behind the leaves.

and started to shine with the addition of some metallic thread.

So, that’s it for this illustration. I’m working hard to complete the whole book by next winter’s deadline and will be sharing more scenes in the coming months.

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

Update: Signed copies of My Bed can ordered in my shop here. 40 pages, 9″ x 9″, words by Rebecca Bond, pictures by Salley Mavor, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-544-94906-5

Honeydew – Ltd. Edition Fairy

Please meet HONEYDEW, the newest Blossom Fairy! She is 3 3/4″ tall, with crimped blond hair, spiky acorn cap hat, embroidered wool felt tunic and petal skirt. I don’t sell one-of-a-kind dolls, but every once in a while I offer a ltd. edition of 25 dolls similar to the ones in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. You see, I only work on them outside of my studio, while traveling, so there’s no predicting when a set will be finished. This is my way of controlling the urge to make them all the time. As some of you’ve discovered, making wee folk can become addictive! That isn’t such a bad thing, but if I succumbed to the impulse, I would be less inclined to commit to long term projects like our animation Liberty and Justice or the children’s book I’m working on right now. To see previous ltd. editions in the archives, click here. Information about purchasing HONEYDEW is at the end of this post.

When painting their heads, I slide the wooden beads onto a pipe cleaner, so they won’t roll around.

Their felt tunics are small and portable, which makes them easy to work on while traveling. Airplane stewardesses are always curious about them!

Wrapping their pipe cleaner bodies is another portable activity.

I usually dress them in their petticoats at home because it requires room to spread out the petals.

Their wings are sewn onto the back.

HONEYDEW has a different variety of acorn cap than previous fairies. This collection of spiky burr oak caps were sent by a fan in Georgia. Of course, she will be getting a fairy as a thank you gift.

Each fairy will have a signed and numbered tag.

In an effort to be fair to everyone, the sale of 25 HONEYDEW dolls will be announced on this blog, Facebook and Instagram. They will be listed for $75.00 each in my Etsy Shop on Sunday, June 17th at 10 AM, eastern US time. That gives more of you a chance to read about it in advance, so you can plan on being ready to shop. I’m sorry if this hour isn’t convenient for other time zones around the globe, but I can’t figure out how to accommodate everyone. The last edition sold out very quickly, so if you really want one, act fast! Sorry, no reservations ahead of time. The dolls will be sold on a first come first served basis.

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Polly’s Fair Isle vest

Polly just returned from a trip to Scotland, where she wore a new travel outfit. Her vest features the distinctive bright and bold horizontal patterns found in the Fair Isle style. She hopes to eventually make it to the Shetlands, where the knitting technique originated, but this time she went to the Isle of Islay, in the Inner Hebrides. To see Polly’s complete travel wardrobe and other places she’s been, click here.

Before being fitted for her new clothing, Polly removed the previous costume that she’d worn ever since her trip to Ireland last fall. The Irish knit sweater and cap came off easily, with the help of a seam ripper.

She held still, while a new skirt and sleeves were sewn on. Then a vest began to take shape.

It took rows and rows of chain stitch, blanket stitch and fly stitch in different colors…

and then seed bead buttons.

Polly had a wonderful time in Scotland and will be sharing photos from her trip in future posts. Here she is in Edinburgh, climbing the sculpture in St Giles Square.

To keep up with new posts, 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.