Tuesday 16 February 2016

Tips for novice teddy bear makers

Hello - welcome to my blog!  I am writing this post in conjunction with a sewing pattern for a little 9" teddy bear which I hope to release soon.  Here I offer 6 tips to help people who are new to bear-making, and show a few of the fantastic bears made by my pattern testers.  I hope you find it helpful - good luck!

When I had written up the pattern for my teddy bear, I had to find some people willing to test it for me.  The whole process was more complicated than I thought it would be, but I have had some fantastic results back.  However, a couple of the people I asked - really good sewers - didn't finish.  They assured me there was nothing wrong with the pattern, so I can only assume that some motivation was lost along the way.  

I have been thinking about the problems that I had when I started out - motivationally and otherwise - and came up with a list of things that I think would have helped me at the time.  I hope they will be helpful to people who have a go at making my bear.

  • Keep in mind, they do take a while to make.  After 10 years, I can just about make one of these bears in a day - and that's when I'm giving it my full attention.  If you're not familiar with bear-making - and indeed, if you have anything else to do with your time - this may take a couple of weeks.  Don't expect him to appear just like that!
  • It really helps to have the right tools.  Whilst you don't want to be splashing out on expensive equipment before you know what you're doing, take it from me: it's well worth making sure you have spanners in the right sizes, rather than trying to improvise with pliers!  There are two joint sizes in my pattern, and you need two spanners or nut-drivers for each.  Also, you will absolutely need a doll needle.  These are generally available in haberdashery stores, albeit usually in sets of 3 different sizes.  The one you want is about 5" long.  Strong thread is also really important; it will be an irritating, off-putting faff - not to mention unsuccessful - if you're trying to make do by doubling up ordinary thread.  
  • Whilst some aspects probably seem self-explanatory, it's really important to follow the order of things set out in the pattern.  One of my testers stuffed the bear before jointing, which doesn't work because you need access to the inside of the bear to attach the joints.  Another tester fixed in the eyes before attaching the head - then had to take them out again.
  • Teddy bears often don't look 'recognisable' until the very last moment, when their facial features go on - and even then, it can take me, at least, a while to get to like them.  So don't panic if your bear is looking very strange, midway through.  Making is always a messy process and, to some extent, when you start out, you just have to keep pushing on and see where it takes you.
  • If something goes wrong, remember that 99% of the time it can be sorted,  although this might involve undoing some of your hard work!  Feel free to email me if you get stuck with my pattern.  Tell me the problem, send me a picture, and we'll get it sorted!
  • Teddy bears are very forgiving creatures, and small flaws do really add character.  Sometimes its difficult to appreciate this when you made something yourself, and are mad that it didn't go perfectly, but I look back now at some of the bears I made when I first started out, and think how charismatic they are - even with their obvious mistakes.  That's not to say there aren't mistakes which are not particularly charismatic of course, but for those I refer you back to the previous point - 99% of the time they can be sorted!

So, let me introduce the bears which were made by my lovely pattern testers!  These were all people with no experience of bear-making (although Katherine's doll-making skills would have come in handy, I'm sure).  I was really pleased with them and I hope the testers were too.
This first one was made by Andy and Heather of Avocet Arts - friends from the art and craft centre, where I have the bears.  Provisionally named Murf, he is made in the Ipswich FC colours, interfaced fleece with a scrap of mohair for the muzzle.  He has a slight tilt to him, and a minor bagginess about the chops - none of which matters, since he's so sweet!  

 Next in was this little pink patchwork bear, made by Lynne, my aunt - maker of beautiful knitted lace shawls!  This bear is made from mohair remnants, and the two shades to her face are very distinctive.  Her loose limbs and heavy head gave her a very appealing fragile, antiquey feel.

 And finally, this one, made by S Katherine Sanders, a doll-maker I met on Facebook, who very kindly agreed to test the pattern at the last minute.  I sent her some of the mohair I usually use.  Her bear has very interestingly little frown lines!  I didn't get to see this one 'in the fur' unfortunately - too far away - but I would imagine that the lines are something to do with the stuffing of the head (although Katherine hinted that she did go off-script at one point, at least).  Anyway, I think they add character and individuality.

I hope this has been helpful.  If you would like more information on the different fabrics that are suitable for bear-making, have a look at this post.  And if you don't do much sewing at all, have a look at this post - which introduces the stitches you will need for my pattern.

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