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A Stitched Autobiography

Feb 02, 2010
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Salley Mavor's Hand-stitched Self Portrait Autobiography

Salley Mavor’s autobiography project was born in the summer of 2007 when she received an invitation from the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod to provide a piece for an art exhibition entitled “Self Portrait Cape Cod.” The show, which opened in winter 2008 at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, in Cotuit, Massachusetts, included dozens of self portraits done by Cape Cod artists in a variety of mediums.

Since Salley didn’t have a self portrait ready to offer, she needed to create one. Her first inclination was to construct a face with found objects and stitchery, but decided it would be more effective to design a time-line of her life of 52 years (her age at the time). Her early design sketches concentrated on dolls standing in different straight-line configurations, but she didn’t think the idea successfully expressed the seamless evolution of her life. When she considered using a spiral, she knew the spiral worked more effectively to show the passing of time.

She made the youngest dolls first depicting her childhood, increasing the doll size as each year passed–a different doll representing each year of her life. The dolls’ armatures are made from thread-wrapped pipe cleaners, like those featured in her how-to book, “Felt Wee Folk: Enchanting Projects.” She dressed each figure in an outfit that she might have worn that year–taken from memories, family photos or imagination. Since she made many of her own clothes throughout her life, it was easy to remember specific outfits from the past. She recreated the garments using smaller-scale fabrics and embroidered wool felt. The wooden-bead faces are painted and glued onto the pipe-cleaner necks. The hair is made from embroidery floss sewn to a felt “wig” that is glued to the bead head. Salley even showed the evolution of her graying hair with strands of white intermingling with the dark brown thread.

Her husband appears the year they were married, and her sons are included during the years when they were young and “physically connected” to her. The tatting outside of the circle was made by her grandmother about 100 years ago. The wool felt spiral is mounted on upholstery fabric, which she embellished with multicolored french knots. Making all 52 dolls and embroidering the background took about six weeks to complete. Her husband, Rob Goldsborough, made a cherry-wood shadow-box frame to display and protect the piece.

In 2008 after the end of the Self Portrait Show in Cotuit, Salley’s “autobiography” was moved to Highfield Hall in Falmouth, Massachusetts, where it hung as part of “Rhymes with Stitches” a solo exhibit of her work.

In addition to “Felt Wee Folk: Enchanting Projects,” Salley has a new book coming out in the fall. “Pocketful of Posies” is a 64-page children’s anthology of nursery rhymes illustrated with photos of stitched scenes including hand-stitched people, buildings and animals. She’s also written and illustrated several other children’s books in the same fashion. We at Threads are proud to have Salley among our list of contributing authors (issue #82, “Closures,” issue #41, “Fabric and Floss in Relief,” and issue #32, Back Cover). She’s written for several other publications as well including “Needle Arts,” “PieceWork,” “The Cloth Doll,” and “Quilting Arts.” In addition she’s appeared on the Carol Duval Show airing on HGTV where she has shared her novel techniques with the television viewing audience.



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  1. FabricEnabler May 29th

    Absolutely enchanting! Hated to see the spiral tapaering to and ending--there are many years left--should have left it openended!

  2. User avater stef2609 May 29th

    Wow this is absolutely amazing!! You made is so personal and detailed! i wish I could see it in person, very inspirational!! Amazing job!

  3. User avater clothingeng February 10th

    Fantastic!! I just can't stop looking at it...and I see your birth date is April too, but in 1952. Great work!

  4. ladydragon52 February 9th

    What a wonderful way to celebrate a life in art! I also love you "Wee Folk" book! Simply enchanting!!! Thank you so much for sharing your artistry.

  5. User avater irespess February 9th

    I am just in awe of your artwork! What a fabulous treasure of your life and your talents. This is truly a blessing to all who see it. Thank you Salley for sharing your creativity with all of us.

  6. Salley February 9th

    Thank you for leaving such encouraging comments. To answer some of your questions, the size is 28 in. x 28 in. and the piece is framed under glass. Each adult figure is about 3 1/2 in. tall. The self portrait is not currently on public display, but I will announce any showing on my website. The piece is available for loan to invitational exhibits. I'd love to have it displayed as much as possible!

  7. paula45870 February 9th

    I can hardly find the words to express the historical, familial and artistic value in this beautiful piece. It is so gorgeous and so meaningful! What are the dimensions? I am inspired to do a similar spiral for my two boys to depict their first 18 years.

  8. User avater msbyrdt February 9th

    Just beautiful. Oh how I wish that I was that creative.

  9. trombone February 9th

    SO many stitches, so much time, so Lovely!! Thank you for sharing this beautiful work of art!

  10. User avater grits222 February 9th

    Absolutely Fabulous!! I love that you included husband and children. The tatting of grandmother also makes it extra special. I would like to see more of your work. This is so special.....

  11. User avater RSAdams February 8th

    April, This is incredible!
    I have never seen such an original & confident work of textile art. From an anthropological & genealogical perspective, this becomes absolutely invaluable. I really love this. The tatting around the edge is the crowning glory. Bravo, Salley!

  12. Peggylozny February 8th

    How utterly delightful! What are the deimensions of this piece?

  13. bodica February 8th

    This is Brilliant! At first I thought it a family tree, but reading other comments, I see it is your own blooming. What an exceptional idea! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!!!!!

  14. Rosellen February 8th

    It would be great to see this displayed at a national quilt show, but a good substitute would be a close-up shot in Threads. Is it possible?

  15. Cat_In_The_Cupboard February 8th

    This is inspirational - both in design and subject. Where can we go with this? I've done self portraits in paintings, but I haven't approached it from a textile point of view.

  16. User avater sewingbabe February 6th

    What a great way to use old photos and show your changing fashion and body type as you age...Imagine the stories you can tell just pointing to a figure...much smaller than a quilt but contains all the stories in fabric. Inspiring. Thanks!

  17. WAK February 3rd

    Oh my gosh, I love this. Wonderful, I would love to see this in person as well. Fantastic.

  18. User avater megamom February 3rd

    What a great idea!! Loved the way you told the story of your life.

  19. lou19 February 2nd

    very touched by this. Spiral just the right shape, life does go round in circles. Would love to see this on display.

  20. Ckbklady February 2nd

    That is so touching and so beautiful that it made me misty-eyed almost immediately. What a simple, sweet and elegant way to tell a story. Thank you for displaying it here! I wish I could see it in person.

  21. User avater yimlas February 2nd

    Very intriguing to say the least. Had to go buy the book.
    Can see using this to tell stories to the folks at the
    Retirement Home. Keep up the great work and unique ideas!

  22. so_pat_sew February 2nd

    Absolutely AWESOME!!!
    What a unique idea.

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