Sunday 11 October 2015

Stitches for bear making

Hello - welcome to my blog!  I am writing this post in conjunction with a sewing pattern for a little 9 inch teddy bear which I hope to release soon.  I hope it is helpful - particularly to those who don't have a lot of sewing experience.  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I'll be sure to get back to you.

This post covers:

  • Choosing the thread
  • Anchoring the thread for a back stitch
  • Sewing an ordinary back stitch
  • Ladder stitch (for sewing up openings after stuffing), and
  • Satin stitch (for embroidering the nose).

Please note that the last two stitches do take practice.  I have been making teddy bears for years, and I still have to undo these stitches sometimes and start again.  Be as neat as possible, but do not worry too much if they are slightly askew.  Remember, some flaws just add character to the bear!


Choose a thread as close in colour as possible to the fabric you are using for the bear.  This is very important - particularly with non-fur or short pile fur fabrics.  When you turn the bear right side out and stuff him, the stitches will become visible.  If they are the same colour as the fabric, you will barely notice them.  If they are, e.g. black stitches on a blonde bear, you will certainly see them!


I haven't been able to find an online tutorial to link you to for this, so I'm afraid you will have to make do with a rather laborious description from me(!)

Step 1:  Take your two identical pattern pieces and match them right sides together.  The 'right side' is the side that will be showing on the outside when you have finished the bear.  Pin the pieces together if you wish to.  Take note of any gaps you may need to leave for stuffing (these gaps will be marked on the pattern) and decide where you will start sewing.

Step 2:  Take a small stitch (i.e. a couple of millimetres long), bringing the needle into and out of the fabric, about 5mm inside the edge.  Pull the thread nearly all the way through, leaving a 'tail' of 1-2cm.

Step 3:  Take a second stitch close to, or even on top of, the first - pulling the thread all the way through the fabric so it sits flush and flat.  Be careful not to pull too hard and lose your 1-2cm tail of thread though.  You will not see these stitches when the bear is finished, so exact placement does not matter too much.  Just make sure they are small and flat and close together.

Step 4:  Take a third stitch close to, or on top of, the second.  This time, when you are pulling the thread through the fabric, do not pull it so the stitch is completely flat.  Instead, leave a little loop.  Push your needle through this loop and pull the thread all the way through until the loop pulls flat again.

Your thread should now be anchored firmly in the fabric.  In cases where extra strength is required - e.g. where you are sewing up the openings after stuffing - you might wish to repeat step 4, but don't do it too many times or it will be lumpy.

When you have finished sewing around the pattern piece (leaving any gaps required for stuffing), you need to anchor the thread again.  Use the same method as you did starting out.  Take three stitches very close together, or on top of one another.  When you are taking the last stitch and pulling the thread through the fabric, leave a little loop.  Tuck the needle into the loop and pull the thread all the way through.  Cut off the thread, leaving a 1cm 'tail' behind.


If you are hand-sewing your bear, this is the simple stitch you will use to sew around all the pattern pieces.  There are several Youtube tutorials available which will show you how to do this.  Wendi Gratz has a good one here.


When you have sewn your bear, jointed him, and stuffed him, you will need to sew up the openings that were left for stuffing.  For this, you use ladder stitch.  Again, Wendi Gratz has a brilliant Youtube tutorial showing how to do this.  Find it here.  

Keep in mind that your bear will look very different from the item Gratz is sewing in the video above.  If you are using fur fabric, your edges will not fold in, or pinch together, so neatly.  That does not mean that your finished seam won't be neat.  Just make your stitches 5mm inside the edge of the fabric, rather than on a neat folded edge, as in the video.

A note about finishing a ladder stitch

In the video linked to above, the stitching is finished and anchored in the same way described at the top of this post - albeit the needle is put through the loop of thread twice for extra strength.  It is then re-inserted next to the last stitch and brought out elsewhere, before the thread is cut off.  This is a method of burying the loose end inside the bear.

It should be possible to bury the knot too.  When you re-insert your needle and bring it up elsewhere, pull the thread all the way through, then give it a sharp tug.  The knot you have made at the end of the ladder stitch should just slip through the fibres of the fabric, so it ends up on the inside, no longer visible.

Again this is something that may take practice.  Don't worry if it does not go right.  Having the knot visible is not so bad - particularly if the thread is the same colour as the fabric.


When you are embroidering the nose of your teddy bear, you will use a satin stitch.  To anchor your satin stitch, you will use a slightly different method from that described above.  Thread your needle, so one end of the cotton is much longer than the other, and tie a knot at the bottom of the longer end.  Push your needle into one of the seams of the muzzle of your bear, somewhere near the nose.  Try to push it between the stitches.  Bring it out at the base of the nose template, right next to the felt.  This needs to be quite exact if you want the nose to be neat.

Pull the thread all the way through, and when the knot reaches the seam, give it a sharp tug (or two).  The idea is to pull the knot through the seam so it ends up on the inside of the muzzle, out of sight.  

Pull the thread taut.  You are now ready to begin embroidering the nose with satin stitch.

Gratz has another Youtube tutorial demonstrating this stitch, here.  Note that she has outlined the shape she wants to embroider, instead of using a felt template as I have in my pattern.  I prefer the template, because it hides any gaps in the stitching.  Just embroider over the top of it, as the outline is embroidered over in the video.

Another note: in my experience, when embroidering teddy bear noses it is much easier to be precise about the location that the needle goes in than it is about the location it comes out.  For this reason, I prefer to start with the thread emerging from the bottom of nose, so that the needle goes in at the top edge and the top edge is as neat and straight as it can possibly be.

And that's about it: these three stitches should get you through the process of making your first teddy bear.  Good luck!

In this post I have linked to Youtube videos made by Wendi Gratz of Shiny Happy World.  Check out the link to her website.  She has lots of other great videos on quilting, embroidery and soft-toy making, which you can find by checking out her Youtube channel.

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