Doll house stories – all moved in

In this final part 5 in the Doll House Stories series, you will see the completed rooms in my newly refurbished doll house, along with its wee folk inhabitants. The house, which I built in 1975 while in art school, is on view in the exhibition “Bedtime Stitches” at the Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, MA through Dec. 19, 2020.

In addition to showing the original illustrations for my new picture book MY BED, the Cahoon Museum is displaying many rarely seen creations from my art school days to the present, including this doll house. These extra items are only included in the Cahoon Museum show and will not travel in the touring exhibition.

Since “Bedtime Stitches” opened in mid-September, I’ve heard from many people who’ve gone to see the exhibition with their children, grandchildren, parents and friends. One woman said, “After our visit, my husband said it was the best day of 2020.” Another wrote to say, “It feels like your art is the antidote to, I don’t know, maybe most of the rest of the world.”

I’m so glad the show will be up for another 6 weeks (through Dec 19), so that more folks can make the trip to see it. Not only has the Cahoon Museum done a beautiful job presenting my work in the gallery, they have protocols in place to ensure a safe and welcoming experience for their visitors, with timed entry in 1 hour intervals and required face coverings. Click here for hours, registration and Covid safely information.

For the past few weeks, you’ve seen several posts about the doll house. Here’s a list if you’d like to review them:
How the house was used over the past 45 years – part 1 (history)
Before and after shots of wallpapering – part 2 (wall-papering)
The process of making wee folk characters – part 3 (kitchen)
How I re-upholstered a 1930’s era sofa – part 4 (re-upholstery).

After arranging the furniture and figuring out who would live in the house, I moved the whole setup into the basement so that Rob could photograph it. He also made a little film, which pans from room to room throughout the house.

For the soundtrack, Rob recorded crickets and other night sounds outside. In the middle of summer, he sat on our patio with a microphone and headphones, listening in the dark, with the moon above.

I hope you enjoy this little house tour.

It was so much fun working on the house over the summer! I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to indulge in something so seemingly unimportant, if not for the deadline to get it fixed up for the “Bedtime Stitches” exhibition. But, after allowing myself the luxury of “playing house” again, I feel connected to my younger self – The child who spent blissful hours engrossed in creative play, the 13 year old who kept her love of dolls a secret and the self-conscious art student who lay in bed thinking about decorating her new doll house. Throughout my life, I’ve been on the same search – to find ways to make what I imagine into something real to share. And it makes me happy to share it with you!

What are they making in the kitchen? Cheese Straws! This cozy scene is printed on a card with my family recipe for cheese straws on the back. Cards are available in my shop.

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Doll house stories: kitchen

This part 3 in the Doll House Stories series shows how I made the family of dolls who are gathered around the kitchen table in my newly renovated doll house. The house, which I built in 1975 while in art school, is on view in my exhibition, “Bedtime Stitches” at the Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, MA through Dec. 19, 2020. Other posts in this series: part 1, part 2 (wallpapering), part 4 (re-upholstery.

Here’s a short video of the kitchen scene.

I suppose the boy could be rolling out dough for lots of different baked treats, but I imagined them making cheese straws, which is a family tradition going back several generations. In the past, I’ve shared the recipe for the best cheese straws in the world on this blog.

Since so many of you’ve enjoyed the recipe over the years, I decided to make a card with the cozy kitchen scene (above) on the front and the recipe for making cheese straws printed on the back. That way, it’s a greeting card (or Christmas card) and recipe card all in one.

The Cheese Straws card is available in my shop in packs of 4 or 8.

To make the figures in this scene, I started by painting their faces on wooden beads. After seeing their personalities come to life, I’m motivated to make the rest of their bodies. The doll making process is based on the instructions and patterns in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures.

I glued felt wigs to the crown of the bead heads, making a surface that a needle can grab onto. Then, I stitched their hair with mending wool, which is just the right weight for this kind of detailed work. It seems like all of my relatives kept cards of wool to mend sweaters, so I now have a nice supply of browns and grays to choose from.

I bent wire in the shape of hands and wrapped the fingers and palms with embroidery floss. I’m frequently asked to show in detail how I make hands, but I choose to keep that process private.

Just like I teach in Felt Wee Folk, their bodies are constructed with pipe cleaners.

Here, you can see how the skirt fabric is gathered and sewn to her waist. It can be messy because it will be covered by a sweater.

Since their clothes are sewn on, these dolls can’t change outfits very easily.

I used a chain stitch to sew stripes on this shirt.

To give this character a womanly shape, I sewed beads to her chest.

To finish off her cooking outfit, I made a little apron.

The dough is made with polymer clay. To give it a more realistic color, I kneaded in dried mustard, which is an ingredient in the cheese straws recipe. As mentioned earlier, Cheese Straws cards are available in my shop here.

Stay tuned for part 4 in the Doll House Stories series. I will share how I re-upholstered a vintage 1930’s miniature sofa.

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Doll house stories- wallpapering

This part 2 in the Doll House Stories series shows how a little light demo work and new wallpaper transformed the interior of my 45 year old doll house. It was a welcome indulgence to spend the summer fixing up the house. My excuse was that the house needed some home improvements to make it presentable for my exhibition, “Bedtime Stitches” at the Cahoon Museum (through Dec. 19, 2020). As you can see, the wallpaper was showing a level of wear and tear that strategically hung pictures could not hide much longer. Other posts in this series: part 1 (history), part 3 (kitchen), part 4 (re-upholstery).

Years of neglect as well as the Wee Folk Players theater troupe’s multiple set changes and general mayhem had taken its toll on the place.

The kitchen was in an especially sorry state.

I demolished the tile splash board.

And made new wallpaper.

I cut out separate pieces for each wall, cutting out the window and door openings. Then I glued them in place, covering up the grimy old paper with the new stuff.

For the other rooms, I used newly purchased scrap-booking paper and some other paper I’ve had in store since I first made the house 45 years ago. It’s true, I don’t throw out anything of an artistic nature that shows promise.

Once all of the rooms were newly wallpapered, I set about putting back the furniture and picking out new pictures to hang on the walls.

My son Ian made a tiny painting of a suspended egg, which is one of his favorite themes.

I printed out a miniature reproduction of the snow scene from my book “You and Me”, mounted it on mat board and hung it up in the kitchen.

It was fun setting up this domestic scene in the bright and cheery new kitchen. I already had most of the furniture and appliances, but I made a new wall clock out of a Timex watch face set inside a plastic curtain ring.

Stay tuned for part 3 in the Doll House Stories series. – I will share how I made the woman and children and give some clues about what they’re cooking.

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Doll house stories – history

This past summer, I renovated my 45 year old doll house, to get it ready to display in my exhibition, “Bedtime Stitches”, which is on view at the Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, MA through Dec. 19, 2020.

In addition to showing the original illustrations for my new picture book MY BED, the Cahoon Museum is displaying many rarely seen creations from my art school days to the present, including this doll house. These extra items are only included in the Cahoon Museum show and will not travel in the touring exhibition.

There are so many pictures and stories to tell about redecorating, re-wallpapering and re-upholstering furniture for the house, that I’ll be writing several posts about it. I thought I’d begin by giving a little history of when it was first constructed and how it’s been used up until now. Other posts in this series: part 2 (wall-papering)part 3 (kitchen)part 4 (re-upholstery).

I built the doll house in the summer of 1975, after taking a wood working class. I can remember using my father’s tools and workbench and later obsessing over the wall paper choices and other architectural details. To me, this was just another art project, but I knew enough not to talk about it with people who wouldn’t understand how a 20 year old young woman would rather construct and decorate a doll house than go out partying.

in subsequent years, the doll house has moved around with my family and me, from house to house, along with all of our other stuff. For a long time it sat neglected in the corner and my boys weren’t interested in playing with it. Then, a few years ago, my interest was renewed when some real live children visited my studio and made a beeline for it.

I looked at the house with new eyes and decided to spiff it up. I added some green molding here and there and painted leafy branches on the plain pink gable.

An opportunity to display the house at Highfield Hall’s Holiday event came up, so I decked it out in a Christmas theme. I went through my old family Christmas ornaments and spun cotton Santas and set them up in the rooms, together with the doll house family. There were Santa’s hanging out everywhere – even in the bathtub and sitting on the toilet. I found miniature lights and pine boughs at Michael’s and strung them up. To keep eager fingers out of the rooms, I covered the openings with Plexiglas. People really got a kick of peeking inside!

The house was also used in a photographic set-up that shows the doll house family project in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures.

Then, after the 2016 election, the Wee Folk Players theater troupe took over the house and staged their series of politically satirical scenarios. They ruthlessly rearranged the furniture and transformed the rooms into the White House and a Royal Palace, among other set-ups.

Women’s March

The doll house, along with characters from the Wee Folk Players was part of my exhibition, “Liberty and Justice” at the New England Quilt Museum in 2018.

During their month’s-long occupation, the theater troupe pretty much trashed the place, so when another opportunity to show the doll house came up this year, I decided to fix it up first. Stay tuned for more stories about the renovation. Other posts in this Doll house series: part 2, part 3.

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RIP R.B.G.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933- 2020

On Friday night, when I heard about the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I felt heavy with sorrow and trepidation about the future of our country. The next morning I pushed aside everything on my schedule and started making a mini tribute to the Notorious R.G.B., as she was affectionately named. To learn about her ground breaking contributions to civil rights and women’s equality in America, please read her obituary.

A high resolution file of the memorial photo above can be downloaded.

For me, the process of depicting Ruth in doll form was pure therapy – painting her face, stitching her hair, bending her glasses. Just holding her in the palm of my hand brought a sense of peace. For the past few days, I’ve been sharing the different steps along the way on Facebook and Instagram and the response has been overwhelming. This project has hit a chord with my followers in a way that goes beyond a focus on and curiosity about my techniques. Followers wrote to say that seeing the photos “made me catch my breath” and “made me smile and my heart calm.”

The finished R.G.B. doll will be on display in my show, Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit MA until Dec. 19, 2020.

To measure Ruth’s arm length, I used Greta as a model.

She had many collars to choose from, but I made a simple lace variety.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933- 2020. May she rest in power.

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Hand-painted wee folk faces

Recently, I’ve felt an urge to paint doll faces on wooden beads. Not just a few, but lots and lots of them. Like stitching, I find the repetitive process calming. This compulsion, or meditation practice, depending on how you look at it, has led to a new offering in my Etsy Shop.

Many of you who’ve made fairies and other wee folk dolls from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk, mention how frustrating it can be to paint the dolls’ faces. Now, with the option of buying painted doll heads, you can relax and concentrate on the stitching and wrapping part.

Hand-painted wooden doll heads and acorn cap hats

It all started while tidying up my studio, when I found myself confronted by baskets brimming with acorn caps and bags full of wooden beads. I used to collect acorn caps by the thousands when my fairy kit business was going strong in the early 2000’s. It was always a rush every Fall to harvest enough of the right size and type to fit the different bead head sizes. Even though I stopped making kits years ago, I haven’t broken the habit of scanning the ground under oak trees and picking up acorn caps. Just because they could be the perfect size and shape to top off some little character. So, I figured that I’d paint wooden doll heads to sell along with the caps.

Some of you were introduced to my work through the kits, which I made for 10 years from 1998 – 2008. They were mostly available through catalogs and Waldorf School stores.

Bud & Ivy Kit

As I culled through piles of acorn caps, separating them by size and quality, I had flashbacks to the time of my life when every spare moment was devoted to designing, sourcing materials, mass-producing and marketing these kits. The memory gave me pause to think about what I was getting into.

So, before deciding to mass-produce painted heads again, I convinced myself that this time was different. I told myself that I’ll just paint heads until I don’t want to anymore or when the acorn caps are used up.

Wee Folk Studio Kits 1998 – 2008

Actually, designing and figuring out directions for the kits gave me the experience and ability to write my how-to book Felt Wee Folk. In the 17 years since the first edition came out, many of you’ve written to say how much pleasure you’ve gotten out of making these little dolls. You also mention how habit forming they can be, so maybe the book should come with a warning! I love seeing and hearing about how you’ve adapted the patterns to personalize your own wee worlds. It was always my intention to introduce projects that encouraged imaginative exploration and I’m happy that you are doing just that!

In addition to the Felt Wee Folk book, flower petal skirts & wings and wool fleece fairy hair, my Etsy shop now has hand-painted wooden doll heads for sale.

hand painted wooden doll heads and acorn cap hats

Wooden bead doll heads with hand-painted faces and fitted acorn cap hats are available in my Etsy shop. A range of skin tones are grouped together in different size assortments of 12mm, 14mm and 16mm beads.

I just restocked the shop with packs of flower petals, which you can watch me assemble in this time lapse video.

I’m also selling naturally dyed wool fleece fairy hair, which was left over from the kit making days.

Wool Fleece Fairy Hair

Blueberry Blossom Fairy was one of the most popular kits. She still lives on as a note card in my shop. I hope that you find these supplies useful. As for other wee folk necessities, such as wool felt, I recommend A Child’s Dream, which has a great selection.

Blueberry Blossom Fairy Note Card

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This little piggy stayed home

We’re all homebodies now, like this little piggy, as we try to keep the corona-virus from spreading even further than it already has. In searching for comforting images to share during these unsettling times, I noticed that there are an awful lot of scenes with characters in domestic settings in my picture book, Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. In many cases, the people and animals are safe inside, peering out of windows, which seems to reflect our collective experience right now. So, as you shelter in place, please take a moment to escape into this warm and fuzzy world, where everything is all stitched up, safe and sound.

This coming fall, it will be 10 years since Pocketful of Posies was published. The book is a favorite baby gift, but it’s really for all ages, especially now, when we all want to feel safe and secure. Personally autographed copies are available in 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.

a virus-free wee world

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Are you wondering what to do while you’re hunkered down at home, staying away from crowds?  I must admit that the concept of “social distancing” isn’t very different from my normal life, so it’s not much of an adjustment. But, I realize that closed schools and work places, as well as travel and event cancellations, is a hardship for many of you. So, to help keep your mind off the worrisome situation, how about immersing yourself in the virus-free fairy and wee folk world? In this post you will find a source list of materials to make projects from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. There are also lots of photos and videos that I hope will inspire you to make your own wee world!

When I posted this idea on Instagram, several people, including a self-described introvert, commented that they were already in making mode:

  • “‘I adore your wee felt folk book and actually hunkered down yesterday and made a little jester. I’ve decided to make more to give to friends during this crazy time💕
  • ‘What a lovely idea! I admit, I’m more worried about craft supplies than toilet paper.”
  • “Introvert here reporting from a cozy studio! I secretly love a good excuse to stay in. I’ve got your book and will be making some fairies while we bunker down!!” 

Many of the supplies needed to make the dolls, such as embroidery floss, paint, brushes, unvarnished wood beads, pipe cleaners and faux flowers can be found at craft stores. Online sources for the book, wool felt, acorn caps, and other materials are listed below:

Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures, with bonus playing cards and flower skirts & wings

I’m keeping my Etsy shop stocked with wool fleece fairy hair and flower skirts & wings.

The dolls and their clothing are portable, so you can bring them where ever you want to settle in.

This is my work table on a random day, the way it really looks.

My Work Table on a random day

I made the Frost Family for a benefit raffle a few years ago. See more details here.

This is a little experimental video from a few years ago.

Of course, all of the dolls pictured in this post were made years ago and the raffles are long past. I just wanted to show you a variety of possibilities.

The Oakley Family was made for another benefit raffle. See the process of making them here.

And yet another fairy family raffle, which you see in more detail here.

I hope that the wee folk help keep your spirits up through this ordeal. Please stay safe!

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the Greta effect

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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.

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

BUY PRINTS and NOTE CARDS and support CLIMATE SCIENCE 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 whrc.org


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.

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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.

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

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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!”.

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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.

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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.

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

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a zippered anorak out of pink felt….

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

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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. If you live in the local Falmouth, MA area and want to avoid having the print sent in the mail, please contact me via e-mail so we can arrange a pick up time.

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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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