Once Upon a Thread
by Salley Mavor
I have always liked forming and manipulating small materials with my hands. Paper and pencil were never enough for me. Somehow, in my experience as a child, my own art was unfinished and plain unless something "real" was added. Treasures would be glued, stapled or sewn onto a creation to make it complete. Years later, while at the Rhode Island School of Design, I rediscovered my childhood delight in sewing and creating miniature scenes. In the illustration department there was freedom to create in any medium as long as the work was narrative in nature and solved the class assignments. Working in 3 dimensions was an exciting way to communicate my ideas. I never thought that the assemblages and experiments I presented for critique would ever turn into a workable illustration technique. After graduation in 1978, I made and sold stuffed fabric pins, designed sewing projects for women's magazines, and worked on a series of housewife dolls and their stuffed domestic appliances. Soon, I began creating pictures in a relief format with people, animals and houses sewn on to a fabric background. It took 10 years to develop my fabric relief technique to a level where I could consider illustrating a book. My first picture book, THE WAY HOME, was made during a 1-½ year period when my children were very young. After my boys were asleep in the evening, I would sew the elephant characters and methodically embroider blades of grass. To make a book, each picture starts as a clear, vivid scene in my head. I do not know exactly how the pictures will unfold and it will go through many steps to get from the imagined to the finished product. I start by working out a rough layout in small thumbnail sketches. They are blown up on a copier to full book size and made into a dummy to show the editor. She then checks to see that the content of the layout works with the text and that there is enough room for the type. After making any necessary changes to the layout, and with the trust of my editor, I start work on sewing the fabric relief pictures. Each illustration requires about a month of hand sewing, so it takes more than a year to complete all of the pages. The original fabric relief pictures are then photographed and used as illustrations in the printed book. THE HOLLYHOCK WALL, written by Martin Waddell, is a story about the power of the imagination. Some of the illustrations are photographs of a miniature garden created with live plants and a winding stream of real water, colored blue with a drop of food coloring. My how-to book of sewing projects entitled, FELT WEE FOLK: Enchanting Projects, was named Gold Winner in the Crafts and Hobbies category of the 2003 Book of the Year Awards by Foreword Magazine. My newest children's book, POCKETFUL OF POSIES: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the fall of 2010.