Monday, 31 December 2007

First footings ...

I thought you might enjoy this picture ... at just five months old, Puddle Kitten absolutely loved her first Christmas morn! You'll have to look carefully to spot her, she's the little black monster diving deep into the wrapping paper!

The feet? Oh, they belong to my son and daughter ... needless to say my daughter is the one wearing the daft Penguin slipper socks!

And this picture is just to prove I'm not back in my workroom yet. Okay, I know it's a cheat to be working on the living room rug instead, but I have plans for a New Year project and I can't wait to get started on them! Yesterday I sourced some very exciting vintage fabric which is now on its way to me. So I'm working on some smaller designs in the hope they will be suitable for the fabric when it arrives ... watch this space for further developments!

I am really looking forward to bringing you more special teddy bears direct from the All Bear workroom in 2008 and in the meantime, on this last day of 2007, I wish you all a safe and happy New Year's Eve, wherever you are x

Friday, 28 December 2007

For the sake of auld lang syne ...

After the traditional festive family hustle and bustle, the time has come for Christmas to slip into memory and for us to look towards the New Year. At the moment, the biggest event on my family's horizon is the imminent arrival of my youngest sister's baby, so we are waiting with baited breath for that all important call to tell us things are underway. What a wonderful symbol of hope for the start of our New Year!

Naturally, such a special event requires a special keepsake for the new baby, so just before Christmas Eve I tucked myself away in my sewing room for an afternoon and set to work creating a little woollen elephant with a tale to tell ...

Ellie Elephant 1960's

After many years living in my previous house, I finally plucked up the courage to sell and move to a new place in February of 2007. Just before Christmas, I decided to delve through the trunks I had moved from my last loft, to my new loft, so that I could decorate in readinness for our first Christmas in our new home.


Everything was hickledy pickledy and I wasn't sure which trunk to search through first, so I heaved boxes aside and unclicked the first trunk I came across. There was no Christmas sparkle inside, but tucked carefully away within layers of old tablecloths, I found one of my childhood toys ...'Ellie the Elephant' had been made for me by my uncle when I was nought but a wee baby, way back in the early 1960's.


A train line ran across the back of Gran's garden and my mother's youngest brother had quite literally taken his life in his hands one day, by playing on the track. By some miracle he survived when the train inevitably rattled over him. He spent a long time in hospital and when he was sufficiently healed to work on his co-ordination, he was given the materials to make a 7" elephant ... my little Ellie.

Ellie was one of my much loved softies and over the years, her felt eyes and floppy ears were completely loved away, but I've never quite been able to bring myself to part with her. Which leads me to part two of my tale! As soon as I saw my worn out little elephant, I knew exactly what the perfect keepsake for the new baby would be!

Ellie Elephant 2007

I had the ideal piece of wool fabric tucked away in the bottom of my fabric box and using my memory to help me, created new ears, lined with beige velvet. Rather than the felt eyes of my original elephant, I used tiny glass eyes, because this little elephant is to be given as a keepsake, rather than a toy and I prefer the look of the traditional glass eyes; my fumblings with felt looked way too clumsy, even for a softie!

To achieve the simple look of this design was a little more tricky than I initially anticipated - we live and learn don't we?! Despite my teddy bear designing skills, I confess it took me several attempts to work out the body gusset pattern so that my wee elephant could sit comfortably, maintaining the body shape of the 1960's original.

This project has been a welcome distraction from the bears for me and I am delighted with the result, which I think holds all the naive charm of the original. When I was a child it wasn't unusual for special gifts to be handmade and now, several decades later, I am delighted to be able to continue this tradition for my sister and her new baby!


And for those of you who aren't familiar with 'Auld Lang Syne' by Robert Burns, here is the English translation ...

Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne ?

CHORUS:

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
And surely I’ll buy mine!
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We two have run about the slopes and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine (dinner time)
But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.
CHORUS

Here's to a peaceful and prosperous New Year for us all ... Cheers!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

... and finally.

On this chilly December afternoon, I would like to share my '... and finally' bear with you. With only a few days until Christmas, I think it's time now to quietly close my workroom door for 2007 and hang up my stuffing tool until the New Year.

'Phineas Bear' seems a fitting bear to end the year with. He is a bear whose design pays respect to his fabulous 1930's forebears, yet introduces a thoroughly modern twinkle. Definitely the ideal bear with which to celebrate the old and welcome the new!

Before I am swept along with the festive tide, I would like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have shared my dream this year. Without your enthusiasm, I really couldn't make a success of my work, so please accept my heartfelt thanks and deepest appreciation x

Happy Christmas everyone!

Friday, 14 December 2007

Pouting and pining ...

What a nightmare day! I was suppposed to have a new gas fire fitted today, but when the fitters arrived they decided they couldn't do the job, so I have been frozen all morning (no heating because the gas had to be turned off) and I still don't have a new fire. Such is life! On a slightly more positive note, they did manage to install the new hob and oven before they shrugged their shoulders and left, so at least I should be able to cook our Christmas turkey without cursing too much. I inherited the old oven when I moved in earlier this year and it's strange attitude towards temperature control has driven me barmy ever since.


Don't you just hate it when things don't go to plan? I'm feeling pretty grouchy right now (can you tell?!) Today has been such a waste of a day and it's put me behind with the bear I'm working on, which is guaranteed to make me grumpy. Grrrrr!


To elimate my grrrrrr, I've taken a deep breath, turned the heating back on and made myself a mug of hot chocolate. I think I'm starting to thaw a little now! My daughter decorated our Christmas tree yesterday evening and the smell of pine is wafting right through the house; it's very therapeutic! I think before I start work on my sewing, I'm going to take my mug of chocolate, snuggle in an armchair and just inhale a little Christmas tree magic for a few minutes ... *sighs*

Oh, I almost forgot! The Blog Land taggers nabbed me! Jenny Johnson of Three O'Clock Bears (please pop over to her blog ... I've just listed it in my blog links .. you'll love her work!) has invited me to play, so I have to reveal five little known facts about myself before I go ... okay, let me think ... I'll keep them bear related ...

1. Lovely Frank Webster (Charnwood Bears) once told me, many years ago, to pay careful attention to my noses ... excellent advice and one of the keys to my bear making progression!

2. Dear Sue Schoen of Bocs Teganau fame (sadly no longer making bears) once accidentally threw a large glass of red wine over my cream trouser suit at an awards event, I made the mistake of trying to wash the wine out and promptly shrank my trousers. A week later a parcel arrived at my house - inside was an adorable little bear made by Sue, aptly named 'Oops, sorry I shrank your trousers!'


3. Years ago, Pam Howells (designer for the Chiltern Hygenic Toy Company) made a fabulous 'Chiltern Memory' for me, to add to my collection of vintage Chiltern bears. These days he watches over the proceedings in the All Bear workroom from the top of on the cupboard.
 
4. The first bear I was bought as an adult was called 'Sebastian' a handsome black limited edition teddy bear, created by the 'Little Folk' company, based in Devon. I found Sebastian in a magical little shop in Saint Ives, whilst on holiday in Cornwall with my family about fifteen years ago. These days Sebastian stands proudly next to Pam's 'Barty', my Chiltern Memory, making sure I work hard!
5. If I had to choose a completely new style of bear to work on as a challenge, I'd have to try either a little bear, or an old looking, shabby kind of bear (or even a little shabby looking bear!) I don't feel confident with either of those styles and would love to conquer them one day!

Right, time to think about who to tag next ... !

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Once Upon a Design ...

Paula and 'Big Ted' 1964

With only a few more days to spare before the All Bear workshop closes it's doors for 2007, I'm so pleased I have managed to completed Cognac! I even put off a shopping trip today so that I could take advantage of the clear, dry day to photograph this bear as soon as he was finished. Photographing bears outdoors at this time of year is very frustrating and fraught with hindrances, rain and low sunshine, being the worst them!


'Cognac' designed by Paula, December 2008


It's such a treat to work with this straight dense pile Schulte mohair, it really is beautiful. The quality of this fabric is second to none and is absolutely perfect for this style of bear. My design leans towards the style of early English bears, stout gentle bears with wise faces; Cognac's hand painted eyes are my only concession to a little contemporary sparkle!


1930's/1940's English Chiltern Hugmees 'Bobby Bear'

and 'Baby Bear'

I love the early English bears, particularly those made by the Chiltern Toy Company. My own childhood bear was a Chiltern and of course, I still have him. I also now own several other wonderful examples of this manufacturer's work and for me, these old fellas surpass all other bears.



1930's English Chiltern Hugmee 'Samson'

Chiltern bears are reknowned for the quality of their mohair which truly can stand the test of time and I love the mystique of their apparent simplicity of design, which in reality, disguises a complicated truth: to achieve such wisdom of expression and bearing over time, the design relies on perfectly balanced posture created not only by the original pattern design, but also as a result of a wonderful blend of fabric choice, proportion and critically, of stuffing materials, used in harmony with classic bear making techniques.



1930's/40's English Chiltern Hugmee 'Biggest Bear'

The Chiltern Hugmee range is for me, the ultimate in teddy bear design. Those overly large heads, resting heavily on stout bodies, are just so endearing ... surpassing modern day contrivances, I think they say absolutely everything a bear needs to say about comfort, security and dependability.



1930's English Chiltern Hugmees 'Rochester' and 'Stockport'

Whilst we bear 'artists' as we like to call ourselves, strive for the next great discovery in design, tweaking and embellishing our work along the way, I think we could take a lesson from the golden oldies because in my humble opinion, they really understood exactly what bear design should be all about!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Family Fun

Christmas came early for our family yesterday with a grand gathering of the clan. Three of my sisters, their 'other halves' and an assortment of grandchildren ranging in age from six (nearly seven!) through to twenty two, descended on Mum's house to squeeze into sofas, share mince pies, guzzle drinks, munch on nibbles and do what we all do best ... natter!
'Auntie Paula'
A peek into our gathering of the clan 2007

Mum's house was like Santa's grotto, twinkling with festivity and challenging the National Grid's manful attempt to maintain the country's electricity supply, which must be groaning under the weight of seasonal sparkle right now!

Christmas Pazazz!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Christmas card creating

Official 2008 'All Bear' Christmas Card

There's so much to do at this time of year isn't there? One of the festive tasks I've been working on lately is designing the official 'All Bear' Christmas card. Thank heavens for online printing facilities!

www.vistaprint.co.uk is a very useful site for creating cards and stationery of all descriptions. Those of you who collect my bears, or have visited me at shows over the past couple of years, will probably have hangtags and postcards I have created using this facility.

This year I have selected a wonderful photograph of 'Gorgeous George' and with a helping hand from Vistaprint, have personalised my official 'All Bear' Christmas card. I'm delighted with the results and will be posting the cards very soon!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Gran's pud

It's official! My Christmas preparations are well and truly underway. Yes, I know it's only December 4th, but even so, I am determined to introduce a little festive sparkle to my world! For me, Christmas is all about warmth and family and this year especially, I want our first Christmas in our new home to hug us all tightly together.

My office/dining Christmas tree

This weekend has been the perfect time to hunt out my fairy lights, purchase a tiny tree for my workroom, hide away gifts in preparation for wrapping and for the twenty fourth year in a row, mix my Gran's Christmas pudding recipe! Next weekend I plan to hunt down a real pine tree for the living room and decorate that room too!
The All Bear workroom's teeny tiny Christmas tree! Yes, it really is purple and pink!
On Saturday, I spent a lovely day shopping for Christmas presents with my mother and my daughter. A triple generational Christmas gift hunt! We shopped 'til we dropped, Fay and I squirted perfume samples until we couldn't remember which was which and then took Mum to our favourite shops. We spent ages choosing goodies in 'The Pier', a shop bursting with beautiful bits n' bobs and as my youngest sister has a new baby arriving in the New Year, we also had the perfect excuse to visit baby departments and coo over teeny tiny baby clothes.

When our tiddler arrives, there will be almost a quarter of a century between the oldest and youngest grandchildren in our family, Fay, my daughter, being the oldest. In the New Year there will be ten grandchildren in all! The big question is, will Laura have a boy or a girl? To-date we only have one boy in the family, my son Anthony, so the family is in a guessing game spin!

Later this week as many of us as possible (I have four sisters!) will wend our way to Mum's for a mince pie evening. Mum has been busy setting up her Christmas lights in readinness for her grandchildren and this year, has even added a nodding reindeer to her grotto! With family spread far and wide these days, this is an important time for us all.
Gran's Christmas pud

Well, as I mentioned earlier, I've mixed my Christmas pudding, steamed it for the required eight hours and it is now ready for a further three hours steaming on Christmas morning. The recipe for this pud has been handed down through my family and even now I can clearly remember the wonderful spicey aroma wafting through my parent's house on Christmas morning when I was child. I've always used this receipe for my own family Christmasses, with a slight adaption so that Fay, who is diabetic, can enjoy it with us. If you would you like to share our Christmas pudding, here is our receipe ... enjoy!

TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS PUDDING

Cooking time: 6-8 hours
Preparation: 45 minutes
Utensils: One 2 pint basin. Saucepan. Steamer. Foil or greaseproof paper.

Ingredients:

4 oz flour (use wholemeal for diabetic option)
2 oz breadcrumbs (use wholemeal for diabetic option)
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
1 level teaspoon cinnamon
1 level teaspoon nutmeg
4 oz shredded suet (use vegetable suet for diabetic option)
40z brown sugar (20z for diabetic option)
4 oz grated apple
1 small grated carrot
4 oz crystallised peel (no peel for diabetic option)
2 eggs
4 oz currants
4 oz sultanas
8 oz raisins
2 oz chopped prunes or dried apricots
4 oz chopped blanched almonds
grated rind 1/2 lemon
1 tsp black treacle (don't use for diabetic option)
1/4 pint guinness (or stout/beer/milk if preferred)

Method:

1. Mix all ingredients together.
2. Leave overnight.
3. Stir again.
4. Put into greased 2 pint basin.
5. Cover with foil or greaseproof paper. Grease inside of paper to keep pudding dry.
6. Steam for 6-8 hours.
7. Remove wet covers as soon as pudding is cooked.
8. Put on dry greased covers and re-steam for 2/3 hours on Christmas morning.

To Serve:

Turn pudding out of bowl, bring to table, slosh a spoonful of brandy over and for dramatic effect, flambe! (Carefully!)

Serve with brandy butter made by creaming 4oz butter, 6oz icing sugar and 2 tablespoons of brandy. (Not recommended for diabetics!)

Or, (my personal favourite!) serve with clotted cream.

Or, serve with double cream, ice-cream, brandy or cointreau flavoured cream ... oh yum ... let your imagination and your tastebuds go wild!
'Angelica'

Finally, I would like to share my latest 'Santa's Sack' bear with you. She is pictured sitting on my dining room table, did you spot her? 'Angelica' is the little peach panda cub I was thinking about in an earlier posting ... I hope you like her!

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