Friday, 22 November 2013

Christmas is coming, and I'm in a flap!

I must apologise, I've been so busy making & selling, blogging came a long way down on the 'To Do' list! With so many fairs, both craft & Bear, booked for the next few weeks, and having sold nearly half the stock I took with me at the last Salisbury Guildhall fair, I've been in a minor panic! However, despite having our new puppy, Minnie, to cramp my style, I've managed 6 bears/bunnies/elephants this week, so feel a bit less pressured!

Minnie is very small & cute, but has serious separation anxiety, having always been with her mother till she came to us. She has transferred that security aspect to me, so it's like having a toddler again - i.e. I can't even go to the loo without her!  But she's been very good about not helping herself to the bears, tempted though she clearly is!

I've made quite a few buddies with Christmas in mind, but not so 'Christmassy' they'll be out of place all year round - bears need hugs all the time to to sustain them, after all! I shall be doing the Beaulieu Bear Fair on Sunday the 1st December, and there is a competition on the theme of 'Fruits of the Forest', so here is a quick preview of my entry :o)

I don't expect to get a prize, but it's always fun to work to someone else's choice of theme.  On the 30th November, I shall be at the last Sherborne Artisan fair, at the Digby Memorial Hall. This is a lovely little fair, small but always quality, both exhibitors and public - roll on next year's dates!

As you can see, much of my Christmas theme is based on red & white, subtly accessorised, which certainly isn't an exclusively winter colour combo! On the 5th of December, there's a short, Christmas fair at The Exchange in Sturminster Newton, from 5pm - 7.30pm - give my Fayre Exchange friends a last chance to grab a festive bear! Then things get a bit frantic, on the 7th we're back at Salisbury Guildhall (be nice to have good sales, but please don't clean me out!) then straight down to Brighton, for my biggest Bear Fair since returning to making bears, at Hove Town Hall - I think we'll be dishrags by Monday morning!

After Brighton, assuming I don't sell out, I only have one more fair - back to Salisbury Guildhall on the 14th, when I plan on reducing my prices to give everyone a chance at a bargain as my seasonal gift to my customers! Anything left after that will go onto the website at seriously reduced prices for my online buddies, so everyone gets a chance.

So, there's a taste of my upcoming festive friends, and a reminder of dates where you can come and have a trial hug! I'm taking the weekend off, so the hole in my finger from sewing so much can have a chance to heal, and I'll be making more next week (a blue bunny is cut out, ready to go on Monday)

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Monday, 23 September 2013

The Illustrated Bear

I have been taking photographs of the stages of making a realistic bear, for the purposes of illustrating the instructions for its pattern - some of the processes are quite complex, and I'm not quite sure my immortal prose is up to the job! Although most of you probably haven't the remotest desire to make a bear, I thought you might, none the less, like an insight into how one of my bears comes to be. Above are all tne pieces cut out, clockwise from top left:
Body & tail, back legs & paws, front legs & paws, Neck gusset (for a double jointed neck, so it is fully poseable) and the 2 side heads, central gusset and ears for the head proper.

Here are all the pieces stitched together, giving you a rough idea of how they all fit to make a bear.  After this, they are turned right side out, and I start by stuffing the legs, and 'pulling' their toes!
Then it's the crucial bit - the head, which is firmly stuffed, especially the muzzle. You may have seen bears with very tiny noses on a rather pointed looking face, this is because the muzzle was not firmly enough stuffed, and it collapsed under the pressure of embroidery! Once stuffed, the eye sockets are needle sculpted, and eyes set in. Most bear makers use glass eyes, with a metal loop at the back, but as I see my bear making in an older tradition than commercial toy making, I prefer to use beads, such as a home toymaker would have had access to, in making a doll or other cuddly for her/his child. This is also why I prefer to use button joints for the limbs - but that's a whole other blog post!

Here is what he looks like once his eyes have been put in, and the initial head joint. Then I have to fit the neck onto the split pin at the back of his head, stuff that and fit the 2nd neck joint, so that the wedge shaped piece enables him to look down, up or sideways, according to how the neck is arranged - thickest part down, and he looks up, thinnest down and he looks down etc. Now it's time to give him a nose & smile.
I stitch the nose & mouth with the head upside down - this helps me to get it even, as we all have a dominant eye, and a tendency to see what we expect to see, and this makes the brain think twice! Once his face is complete, and I've sewn his ears on, the whole assembly can be jointed to the body. the split pin projecting from the neck gusset goes through the shoulder seam, and a fibreboard disk and metal washer are fitted over the pin. Then I use fine, long nose pliers to turn the 2 halves of the pin in opposite directions, coiled tightly against the metal washer, to make a firm, lasting swivel joint.
So. now we have a head and neck, joined to a body, which now has to be equally firmly stuffed, else the body will become very skinny when I stitch through it to make movable limbs.
If you imagine each little disc by the top of each limb is a button, this roughly shows you how button jointing works. Strong thread, and a long needle, are used to go through limbs and body, to & fro repeatedly, so the thread forms a swivel around which the limb moves. The button stops the thread pulling through the fabric, and forms a washer to help the limb move more smoothly. Obviously, if a child were to move the limb round & round in the same direction, sooner or later the thread would snap, but, mostly, children who only had home made toys were rather more careful with them than most modern children!
And here is the final result, as you can see, the neck wedge has the widest part at the bottom, so the bear is looking more or less straight ahead, as it would be while walking on all 4 legs. Obviously, this has been a whistle stop tour, it actually took me nearly 2 days to make this bear, and many more photographs were taken for the benefit of pattern users!

Hope you enjoyed this, it exhausted me to make the collection of pictures, switching from bear making brain to photographer/teacher brain, but I think it was worth it!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness . . . . .

Wow! September already! This will be the last 'quiet' month for us before we start an increasingly busy run up to (sh!) Christmas. I am also preparing for 3 specialist Bear Fairs in the last 3 months of the year, which will mean I'm putting my bears in front of a more knowledgeable sector of the public (not that my existing customers aren't knowledgeable, but they're not, on the whole, people who are so bear obsessed that they go to specialist fairs!) So, to impress people who are that immersed in bear 'stuff' I'm going to have to show my best work! Of which, at present, I don't really have enough for one show, let alone 3!

The first Bear Fair I'm doing is the Telford Teddy Bear Parade, at the Park Inn, in Telford on October 27th, run by the excellent Mohair Bear Supplies, who have a truly inspiring range of bear making fabrics and components.  I did this fair a few times in Orkid's first incarnation, when it was run by Bears On The Square, in Ironbridge, and it attracted an impressive array of exhibitors and discerning, but not too bonkers, customers! I do hope the same customers come as used to, and maybe some of my Gloucestershire customers will consider a day out and a wild, new experience?! Check out for more information ;o) I'm really looking forward to it, though we're going to be exhausted come Monday morning!

 This month I only have 2 fairs - Sturminster Newton's Fayre Exchange next Saturday morning, and the Artisan Fair at Sherborne's Digby Memorial Hall on the 7th, but next month I still have The Fayre Exchange on the first Saturday, but there's Telford and the first of 4 fairs booked at Salisbury's Guildhall, on the 19th. This fair is run by Kevin Murphy, and the very first outing for my bears, in 1997, was to this Salisbury fair, so a circle is being closed!  

My 'realistic' bears seem to be being well received, so I shall pursue this further, perhaps in both larger and smaller scales, and I can see I shall have to get some more of the very long pile, dense velvet as soon as I can afford it! It's quite expensive, but obviously you, my lovely customers, like it, so what you want, I must supply ;o) 

I also have some loyal knitting customers, so they're keeping me busy - mittens for the coming cold weather at the moment, but my selection of Aran patterns is with a customer now, for her to decide what she wants, so I'm looking forward to that challenge!
The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is coming, with all those rich colours and yummy harvest from the summer to look forward to - how inspiring!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

New directions.

Well, here we are again, nearly the end of another month! Where on earth has 2013 gone?! It's absolutely whizzed by.  They say time flies when you're having fun, and I've certainly enjoyed this year, so far - I do hope it's been a good one for all of you, too! In June I did the first Bear fair I've done in many years, and it was very satisfying - not simply because my work was appreciated, but because several bear makers remembered me from Orkid Bears' previous incarnation, and expressed pleasure to see me return - that was very gratifying!  As a result I have booked 3 more, slightly higher profile, bear events for this year, and am making some bears specially with them in mind - here's a sneak peek!

These Bear events mean that I shall be, briefly, more accessible to those who like my bears but don't live in Dorset! The first is the Telford Teddy Bear Parade, at the Park Inn in Telford, on Sunday the 27th October - hoping to see a few of my friends from Wales, Shropshire and Gloucestershire!  Then I have 2 in the run up to Christmas, for those who would like huggy Christmas presents, either for themselves or friends, on the 1st December, I expect to be at the Beaulieu Bear Fair, where I'm rather hoping some of my old customers might discover I'm back in business!  Then I have a completely new direction to go in - on the 8th of December I expect to be at the Great Brighton Teddy Event in Hove Town Hall. Sussex was always a very 'beary' area, but I never did any shows there, though, back in the 60s, I did go to boarding school in Brighton! Maybe I'll have time for a quick nostalgic visit ;o)

The other bit of news, hot off the press, is that I will be running a 2 day bear making workshop on 4th & 5th November, in Seaton, Devon. There is a lovely coffee house/craft centre there, with excellent food, who close to general business on Mondays & Tuesdays specifically to have making workshops, and we have got together for this project. They will be supplying lunches, snacks and drinks included in the cost, and I will be providing all materials, tuition and pattern etc.  In 2 days we will go through the whole process, from scratch, to end up with a little velvet bear that you can take home. The bear will be fully jointed, with button jointed limbs and a split pin joint for the head, you will have enough fabric to make another bear when you go home, and you have free & full use of my pattern.  The bear will be a bit like this -

but without the complex paw pads, so get in contact if you're interested! (

Lots to look forward to! Hope I can keep up with myself ;o)  I'm experimenting with new pattern ideas, and have some new directions to go in bubbling at the back of my mind - when I can find a suitable fabric, I want to make dragons again, but the right 'scaly' fabric is eluding me at the moment :(  The elephants and rabbits/hares seem to be popular, so I will explore where else I can go with those in the near future - I love 'star gazing' hares, so I'd like to design my own version of those! Onward and upwards, all the latest is on my Facebook Page ( The website requires Jiffy to update it, so it tends to lag behind just a little :(

Friday, 5 July 2013

Stop the world, I wanna catch my breath!

Since the Alton Teddy Bear Festival on June 20th, life seems to have picked me up by the scruff of the neck and hurled me off in several directions at once! We had already decided that we wanted to stay in this neck of the woods, close to where we were both born, but putting it into practice has gone so fast, it feels like life is saying ' At last! Right, now you've made your minds up, let's get on with it.'
The bear world has also grabbed me and hurled me into a social whirl (online) that didn't exist when I was last making bears, I've joined several bear groups, resulting in bargain fabrics and appreciation of my work from directions I could only have dreamed of 10 years ago. Not at all sure I can keep up!  My bears are continuing to evolve, becoming more like those I made 10 years ago, with larger feet and longer muzzles - a bit more like real, adult bears, but with human characteristics, too.
We have cancelled the Bath fairs we were doing, as we weren't really doing that well at them, and it's a long way to travel - made for a very long, wearying day. However, Alton was such fun, we are booking more Bear Fairs and hope to be at Beaulieu in Decenber - and. of course, plan to do Alton again next year! I'm also hoping that the shows at Kensington Town Hall will give me a chance sometime, that really being the top show in this country, so an important showcase for any serious bear maker.

In terms of craft, rather than bear, fairs, we plan to do The Exchange fairs in Sturminster Newton on the first Saturday of each month, and the fairs at Digby hall in Sherborne every 3 months, run by the same person - the lovely Millie! *waves in the hope that Millie reads this* These fairs have a lovely atmosphere, and the other stall holders are all quality makers, so I heartily encourage anyone who can to give them a visit - you won't be disappointed! We will both be exhibiting at Sturminster tomorrow, and at Sherborne next Saturday - looking forward to seeing how Jeffery's paintings are received ;o)

If you would like to see more of Jeffery's work, check out his Facebook Page
If all goes according to plan, I hope to be running a 2 day bear making workshop, in Seaton, Devon, in early November. No details yet, as the venue are still sorting things out at their end, but let me know if you're interested and you'll be at the top of the list!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Brave new world!

I'm going to turn my newsletter into a blog, in the hope of reaching more people! Presumably, if my current subscribers can receive emails, they should be able to click on a link to my blog, so I hope no one has a problem with this - I can also include more information!

A week on Saturday is the Alton Bear festival, which I am really looking forward to. It's many years since I exhibited at a Bear Fair, this is my first since I returned to making bears after a long spell of injury & bad health, so it's quite a landmark from my point of view!
When I had to stop making bears, in 2005, I had reached quite a respectable standard (modest, aren't i?!) The pinnacle, for me was this open mouthed bear, which is much larger than I can manage now, but maybe, if I persevere, I can eventually make a small version!

When I first returned to bear making, I had much to re-learn, so the idea of doing a bear fair was far too daunting. Were my new bears good enough? Craft fair selling is one thing, mostly they're not packed with Bear afficionados! However, we recently visited a bear fair, and I was astonished by the low standard, compared to the exhibitors I had known in the early 2000s, quite depressing, really. I know there are many fine bear artists selling on line, so I obviously went to the wrong one!
This experience gave me the courage to book a fairly light hearted bear event, so off we go to Alton next weekend! I hope the Hampshire folk will like my little creatures, I'm quietly confident, but not over ambitious! Hope we might see some familiar faces, but it's along way from my usual stamping grounds!
P.S. I'm very proud of my new, tiny bears!
(And don't forget to check out for all the latest!)