bed book peek – cow

Today, I’m happy to show how I made this cow, which will be used as a spot illustration in my upcoming picture book, MY BED. The story is about children’s sleeping places in different cultures around the world. It’s written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Oct. 2020. A touring exhibition of my original embroidered artwork for the book, Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches, will travel around the United States beginning in Nov. 2020. See the updated tour schedule here.

Each country or region represented in the book has an animal icon that appears on the text panel adjacent to the full illustration. The cow shows up next to the Scandinavian scene, which I’ve written about here.

To see the other animals from the book that I’ve written about so far, please click on the following links.
Animals (spot illustrations) – Rooster, Camel, Parrot, Elephant, Goldfish, Cat, Duck, Sheep, Rabbit

I’ve enjoyed making cows over the years, including the one below, which is from the 2005 board book, Hey, Diddle, Diddle! (Sorry, it’s out of print) Cows are fun to depict because they are so distinct from other animals.

Close Up from “Hey, Diddle, Diddle!” 2005 board book

To begin, I drew sketches that exaggerated the cow’s squarish head, outspread ears, big eyes and prominent nostrils.

As always, I wrapped the legs first, leaving enough extra pipe cleaner to shape the body.

It’s been a while since I made this, so I can’t remember how I attached the felt body. From the looks of it, I first added a thread wrapped wire tail and then stitched pieces of felt to the front and back of the pipe cleaner form.

Then, I made a little pink felt udder with seed bead teats.

For the cow’s face, I embroidered a nose and sewed on bead nostrils.

To make the eyes more prominent, I outlined them in white.

The ears are felt, edged with blanket stitch and wire.

After sewing the ears in place, I looped Silk/Merino wool thread on the top of her head.

The first cow collar I made was embroidered with pretty flowers, but I had to change it to a plainer version because decorations like that are a Swiss specialty and not Scandinavian.

Before (above) and After (below).

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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

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.

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.

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

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!

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.

Hither and Yon installed

HitherandYonblogThere’s going to be another outdoor art exhibit at Highfield Hall in Falmouth, Massachusetts, Portals and Passageways.  I’m excited to be a part of this Cape Cod Art and Environmental Sculpture Exhibit.
June 29 – Sept. 7, 2014 ~ Portals and Passageways, Highfield Hall, Falmouth, MA. Artist Reception: June 29, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm.

Update: See the Hither and Yon video here.

Last summer, I curated the Fairy Houses of Beebe Woods Exhibit at Highfield Hall (to return in 2015), but this year I am happy to be just one of the artists who’s made a portal or passageway for this year’s show.

My piece, Hither and Yon  uses the same felt covered wire lettering technique that I’ve used in other projects (see here). But this time, the scale is LARGE!

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Last winter, after being invited to make an installation, I walked around the Highfield property, looking for a spot that called to me. Coming down the path along the west garden, I saw a beech tree leaning toward the path and envisioned a curved branch arching over, creating a space to pass under. I immediately knew that this was where my passageway would be located! I wanted to incorporate words into a kind of sign. 

HitherandYondrawingI searched the woods around our house and located an 8′ young tree that had grown with a natural bend. I cut it down and brought it over to the Highfield site to see if it would work. Rob took a photo of me holding the branch up against the leaning beech tree and it was the perfect size and shape! I reduced the photo’s contrast and printed out a bunch of copies. After settling on the words, “Hither and Yon”, I drew on top of the photo, outlining the branch with a marker, trying out several designs. I carried the branch into my studio, lay it on my work table and drew out the letters to scale on a large piece of paper. This would be used as a template to form the felt covered wire letters.

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I wound wire with 1/2″ wide (or larger) strips of felt and embroidered it with rows of seed stitches. I used acrylic felt because it’s cheap and I figured that it would hold up through rainy weather. There had to be decorative stitching, of course, even though the sign would be hanging up high, away from close inspection.

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I bent the wire, writing out the letters and sewing them in place.

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Being an outdoor sculpture, the sign had to withstand the forces of wind and rain. I attached screw eyes to the wooden branch, which anchored the wire (covered in white) and reinforced the lettering, helping to keep it stable and in position. I sewed the letters wherever I could to the grey underline strip and the white covered wire.

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Yes, it had to be strong, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t add another stretch of decorative zig-zagged wire and wooden beads along the top.

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The last challenge was figuring out how to attached the sign to the beech tree without hammering or drilling into the trunk. My engineer husband Rob’s suggestion of using ratchet straps worked beautifully! I padded the lower part of the branch with an old yoga mat and covered it with some cotton fabric that  was a close match to the tree’s bark. The glaring red ratchet straps were also padded and covered with the camouflage fabric. Hither and Yon is now installed and hardly moves at all in the wind– just the suspended beads at the tip flutter around. Let’s hope that it holds up through the summer. It is so satisfying to have an idea, not knowing exactly how it will come out and working toward making it appear as you envisioned. And it’s come out exactly how I saw it in my mind!

I’d like to thank Annie Dean of  Highfield Hall for her perseverance and vision in making this show a reality. Portals and Passageways looks to be an exciting event and I hope that many of you can come see it. You can walk around the grounds any time, not just when the museum is open.

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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.

another hand-stitched corporate logo

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After stitching the Facebook widget for this blog (see how I made it here), I couldn’t resist the temptation to personalize my Etsy shop widget that’s on the blog’s home page side bar. To make my version recognizable, I decided to keep the logo’s ubiquitous white letters on a field of orange. It was the first time I’ve tried forming wire letters with serifs, so it was a bit more tricky than writing out flowing script like I’ve done on the banners, which can be seen here.

etsywidget5WMAfter covering and wrapping the wire with variegated white and light pink embroidery floss, I gathered scraps of different shades of orange-colored felt.

etsywidget6WMI arranged the scraps like puzzle pieces and stitched them together for the background. Then, I made some additional words — “my” and “shop” out of wire and variegated turquoise floss.

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It needed some jazzing up, so I added french knots and seed beads to the background.

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In this close-up you can see how I wrapped the letters.

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I’ve recently added some new items to my Etsy shop, so please visit!

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I’m on facebook, finally!

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It’s taken a long while for me jump into the Facebook craze, mostly because I was afraid that my compulsive side would be totally smitten and I would spend way too much time at the computer. I’m very protective of my time working in the studio, or else I wouldn’t ever make anything new! Well, my (professional) Facebook page has been out there for a few months and I’m having fun! I like how easy it is to share other artists’ work as well as show what I’m making. With both a Facebook page and this blog to keep up, I have to be careful not to let it become too much of a time sink. So far, it’s manageable, but I really have to work at maintaining a balance between creating and writing about creating. The hibernation months of winter are my most productive, so it’s back to the sewing table (or chair near the wood stove) for me!

The hard-edged graphic logo didn’t seem to go with my style, so I just added a new hand sewn “Facebook” button to the right side column of the home page.  Here’s how I made it:

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I enlarged and traced the Facebook logo and cut out the letters with a blade. It’s difficult to write on felt, so I turned it over, so that the letters were backwards and traced the letters on a piece of fusible interfacing. I fused the interfacing to a piece of blue felt. Then, I cut out the letter shapes with scissors and sewed a blanket-stitch around the edges.

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The interfacing helped give the felt some structure, so that it kept its shape during the stitching process. I added more stitches, creating a thicker outline.

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After all of the letters were cut out and stitched, I started making a wavy chain-stitched pattern around the word.

Curly ques showed up– It’s impossible for me to sew a straight line!

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I sewed the blue felt on top of a piece of white cotton batting material and sewed blue beads inside the a, e, b and o’s.

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Please check out my Facebook page! It is developing its own flavor and spice, with a sprinkle of this and a dash of that.

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

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Birds of Beebe Woods: robin

Back in the spring, when I started working on Birds of Beebe Woods, robins were in abundance,  hopping around the yard. After making the larger, dominant crow, I added a robin to the piece, placing it in the center, down on the ground. Compared to the smaller, realistic looking birds that were made later, the crow and robin’s bodies are more abstract, with stylized patterns on their wings and breast. My approach to rendering the birds seems to have changed during the 4 months that I worked on the piece. Toward the end, when I sewed the nuthatch, chickadee and warbler, I referred to photographs more closely and was caught up in making them identifiable and naturalistic. I like to combine realism and abstraction.

In keeping with the robin’s perky nature, I curved the bird like a sideways apostrophe, with its tail flaring upwards.  The red breast presented a opportunity to play around with warm tones and metallic thread.

To see more posts about the making of Birds of Beebe Woods, see the archives here. A 18″ x 24″ poster (pictured at the beginning of this post) is available through my Etsy Shop. Note cards of details from the piece, including the robin, are also sold as mixed sets and separately.

Note Card – Robin
Note Cards – Birds of Beebe Woods

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.

Birds of Beebe Woods: warbler

I wanted to include a warbler in the Birds of Beebe Woods piece and found that a handful of varieties live in our area, each with their own distinct markings. I liked the look of the black throated green warbler best and thought its color patterns and striped wings would show up against the brownish gold background fabric.

To start, I found many photographs of warblers in books and on the internet and sketched until I found a pose that fit into the  scene of birds. After making paper patterns, I cut out the bird’s shape from acid free matt board and cut pieces of white, green, black and yellow from wool felt. Thinking ahead, I glued cheap acrylic felt to the back of the matt board body, so there would be something to grab the stitches while the front felt piece was later being sewn in place. I also basted thick wool felt padding to the top of the matt board piece.

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I embroidered the texture and markings on the warbler’s green head. The bead eye is sewn inside a cut out hole in the yellow felt. Periodically, I would hold the bird up against the background fabric, to make sure there was enough contrast.

I used a combination of blanket stitch, fly stitch and lots of little single stitches.

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The wing’s stripes were defined by chain stitched lines.

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To finish, I made a little felt tail and added thread wrapped wire legs. Then, the black throated green warbler was ready to join the flock.

To see more posts about the making of Birds of Beebe Woods, see the archives here. An 18″ x 24″ poster (pictured at the beginning of this post) and note cards are available through my Etsy Shop.

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