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.

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

Here I am with Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book.

bed book delivered

Before delivering the finished illustrations for MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World to the publisher in Boston, I cleaned up the studio and invited friends and neighbors for an impromptu “Show and Tell”. It felt good to pack up my supplies, which had become a huge mess during the past 3 years of working non-stop on either the book or the Liberty and Justice animation.

This was a good opportunity to organize my felt by color and size. A frequently asked question is, “Where do you get your felt?” The felt I use for much of my work is a thick, plant dyed wool/rayon mix. Unfortunately, the source for this most extraordinary product disappeared a few years ago. I could tell that it wasn’t going to be available forever, so I hoarded enough to last me into old old age. The closest thing that you can buy now is sold through A Child’s Dream, which has all kinds of felt and supplies. Some people dye their own felt to get those gentle soft colors, but I’m more interested in making things out of it than producing it. But, if I didn’t have this stash, I could be motivated to get out the dye pots.

For the “Show and Tell”, I set up the illustrations around the big center table in my studio, saving space by propping up a row of stretchers, back to back. It was risky to display the pieces unframed and exposed, but my “Do Not Touch” signs kept fingers at bay. Right now, the artwork has raw edges overflowing onto a stretched white background fabric. That’s so that the photographer can shoot the images with extra room for cropping later. When the pieces are returned next winter, I’ll add fabric borders and Rob will make frames, making them presentable for exhibition.

It was so nice to see friends and meet younger family members. They really loved seeing the detail and 3-dimensional quality of the artwork, which is totally different than looking at the printed pages of a book. Even with excellent photography, there is no way to replace the experience of seeing the real thing. That is why I’m organizing a touring exhibit of the originals, which will begin after MY BED is published in the Fall of 2020. The exhibit, “Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches” will premiere at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit, MA in Nov. 2020 and travel to a dozen or more venues in the United States. As locations are confirmed, I will add them to the Exhibits and Events page. Museums that are interested in hosting the show can contact me for information and a shipping cost estimate. If you want to have the exhibit shown near you, please let your local museum know about this opportunity!

Last week, I packed up the artwork into 4 huge plastic bags and delivered it to the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Boston.

The publishing production team and other staff members came out of their cubicles to see the scenes, which we spread out in the conference room. They mentioned that since artists work digitally so much these days, they don’t often get to see “real” art. It was wonderful to see their excitement about sending this book out into the world. I’m excited, too!

The next step is very important: photography. The publisher has hired Rick Kyle, of 5000K, who also took the photos for Pocketful of Posies. We met in his home studio and talked about lighting the pieces. I also had a chance to look over everything, removing lint and making sure wires didn’t get bent during packing and unpacking. I enjoyed seeing Rick again and have full confidence that he will do an excellent job!

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.

MY BED is made

I am happy to say that the illustrations for MY BED are finished and ready to go to the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt! Please also know that I’m not finished sharing posts about the process of making the artwork. Until the book is released in the fall of 2020, I will periodically show details of more scenes and animals.

The project has been a slow and steady 3 year marathon and I haven’t yet adjusted to the idea that it’s really done. Hand stitching is slow and methodical and that’s probably why I’m attached to the process. It forces you to slow down and figure things out as you go, one stitch at a time. That’s where innovation happens and happy surprises show up. I need time to translate what’s in my imagination into something real. Simply put, machines can’t do what I do; their stitches are too regular and they can’t get into the little nooks and crannies. People comment on my perfect stitches, but that isn’t what I’m after. Yes, it’s all neat and tidy, but I know there’s a subtle imperfection that only the human hand can make.

When I began working on the book, I thought my artistic path for the next couple of years was clear. That sense of security was interrupted by the 2016 election. I quickly shifted gears, feeling a pressing need to do and say something about what is happening in our country. I told my editor that the book would have to wait. For 1 1/2 years I was totally immersed in making cartoons and the stop-motion animated film, Liberty and Justice. When the film was finished, I resumed work on MY BED and stitched my little heart out to meet the extended deadline. I’m very pleased with how the book illustrations turned out and think that my detour into real world issues has only made my work stronger, even in a sweet and comforting book like this.

The project is ready to move into its next phase, when lot’s of people will work to make MY BED into a hard cover printed book; photography, editing, book design, printing, marketing, etc. Making a high quality picture book is a long and involved process.

It’s also time to shift gears and clean up 3 years worth of clutter, grime and stray threads in my studio. Oh, I’ve vacuumed occasionally, but the place looks like it’s overgrown with piles of misc. fabric, dusty thread balls and “interesting things” that just might make their way into a piece. Once, I gave a talk where I described what happens to my work space during a years-long project, how it’s like sitting in the middle of a tangled nest, with a narrow path in and out. I’m sure that I exaggerated for effect, which triggered a question from a man in the audience, who wanted to know what my husband thought of all the mess. I answered that it didn’t seem to bother him and that I’d never asked him what he thought about it. — I feel lucky to have a place of my own, where I can freely mess around, with no one looking over my shoulder in judgement.

After the original illustrations are photographed and returned, I will add borders made of upholstery fabric. These are not for the book, but will be part of their 2nd life as a framed piece of art. Each one will have a unique border that compliments the colors in the scene. I had to make the borders now, while I could match the colors, because after the illustrations are delivered to the publisher, it will be months and months before I see them again.

After the original art comes back home, I’ll scramble to get everything ready for a touring exhibit, which premieres at the Cahoon Museum in the fall of 2020. Like in the past, Rob will help by making his wonderful shadowbox frames. He’s also putting together a video to accompany the exhibit, which documents my working process. The first year (2021) is booked, with availability beginning in 2022. Inquiries from museums are welcome – Please  contact me for information about hosting “Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches.”

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: Scandinavia – part 4

In this 4th and final post in the series about the Scandinavian scene, I will show extra details, such as the ladder, shoes and rug. Part 1 is about making the framework for the cubby style bunk beds. Part 2 gives a glimpse at what’s outside: the balcony, flowers, mountains, sun and trees. Part 3 focuses on the chair and the children.

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 the Fall of 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth AfricaNorth America, Holland and Iran.


Pocketful of Posies Exhibit at the Upcountry History Museum, Greenville, SC – 2015

The photos I show on this blog and the reproductions printed in my books are a way of sharing my artwork with a large audience. But seeing the actual 3 dimensional hand stitched pieces is a different experience. No matter how good the photography is, there is no substitute for the real thing. When the originals from Pocketful of Posies toured the country (see photo above), the response was terrific. So, I want to do something similar with My Bed.

A touring exhibition of the originals will premiere at the Cahoon Museum of American Art (Cotuit, MA) in Nov. 2020 and travel on from there. So far, 2 more venues have signed up for the first year: Cedarhurst Center for the Arts (Mt. Vernon, IL) and New England Quilt Museum (Lowell, MA). Openings are available beginning in 2022. My goal is to have the show travel to as many different regions of the country as possible. I wish I could wave a magic wand and send the artwork to all of the places you live. I’m doing my best to spread the word about this opportunity and encourage you to talk it up with your local museums. Inquiries from interested venues are welcome. They can contact me via e-mail to find out more about hosting the exhibition.


Back to this scene – The bunk beds needed a ladder, of course. To make it, I began by picking driftwood from my collection. I wanted wood with a bit of curve to it, as a relief from all the straight lines in the design. For some reason, I decided to make the ladder rungs out of wire instead of wood. Maybe I thought it would be less fragile. After attaching the wire through drilled holes, I wrapped it with embroidery floss.

In this book there are several instances where I use the space behind the backdrop layer to create more depth. In this illustration, I put the children inside their cubby beds, in a shallow space framed with a 1/2″ deep box of made of balsa wood covered with felt. I didn’t think to take a picture, but you can see what it looks like in the photo below, which is from the Holland scene.

This is what it looks like before the background fabric is added to the back of the box. You can see my studio wall through the open area behind the child.

I’ve always thought that the area inside the back of the stretched fabric was wasted space. So, I’ve been figuring out ways to use it, with interesting results. I cut a hole in the stretched fabric, inserted the box and secured it in place with stitches.

With this extra layer, the viewer has the experience of looking into the picture and entering the children’s world.

The last touch was a pair of little shoes, which show up in many styles within the illustrations in this book.

And I made a red rug for the floor. The fly stitch is turning out to be one of my favorites.

What can I say about making the hiking boots? I basically copied the structure and stitching details of real shoes, only shrinking the scale to about 3/4″.

I’m happy to say that all the illustrations are finished and will soon be heading over to the photographer and production team at HoughtonMifflin. Leading up to the book’s publication in the Fall of 2020, I will continue to share more peeks behind the scenes about making the spreads and animal icons for MY BED.

For more about making the Scandinavian scene, please look at Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

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: Scandinavia – part 3

In this part 3 of the 4 part series about the Scandinavian scene, the children and the chair are the focus. Part 1 shows parts of the inside, such as making the framework for the cubby style bunk beds. Part 2 gives a glimpse at the what’s outside: the balcony, flowers, mountains, sun and trees.

This illustration will be included in My Bed, a book about where children sleep around the world, with each spread depicting a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by HoughtonMifflin in 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America,JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth AfricaNorth America and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

As with all of the characters in this book, I paint their features and personalities on 20 millimeter wooden beads with tiny brushes. Then, I make their wigs and bodies, using the same techniques taught in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures.

This little girl has a custom made nightie, patterned with little embroidered flowers.

Even before threading the first needle to make the finished illustrations, I mapped out the entire book, with sketches of each page. It’s a square book, with artwork covering 3/4 of the double page spread. The remaining 1/4 page will hold the text of the story and the animal icons.

When making the parts of the scenes, I match the layouts pretty closely. Books come with certain constraints: number of pages, dimensions, titles, credits and text. Drawings serve as guides, but there are always little changes here and there to the finished illustrations. Surprises are bound to happen – that’s what keeps it fun! Of course, to do this, your editorial team needs to be supportive. You just have to be mindful of the outside measurements and avoid letting anything important get lost in the center gutter.

I could have made the chair in a lot of different ways, but these cactus thorns called out to me. Please don’t ask where I got them – I’ve lost track, since they’ve been in my stash for decades.

Generally, I use a combination of flat pattern and sculpture in my work, without much regard to formal perspective. In this scene, I felt that the chair seat needed to appear more dimensional than usual, so I tapered the angle, with the yellow stripes accentuating its depth.

I am happy to announce that the original illustrations for the book will tour the country after the book is published in the fall of 2020. The Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, Massachusetts will host the premiere exhibit and other venues will follow. As with Pocketful of Posies, I am scheduling a traveling exhibit, so that more people can see the “real thing”, which is a totally different experience than looking at reproductions on the printed page. Interested museums and art centers are welcome to contact me for information about hosting the exhibit. You can help bring the show to a place near you by reaching out to your local venues and telling them about this opportunity. It would be wonderful to have the original illustrations make their way across the whole country!   

Stay tuned for Part 4 in this series, which will show more interior details.

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

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.
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.

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.

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.