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!