Monday 30 April 2007

Sisters are doing it for themselves!

You may have noticed a few subtle changes on the All Bear website. With my clever sister Tina's photographic wizardry, computer skills and
sheer determination, the All Bear
website is undergoing a graceful facelift!

Self taught, Tina and I have been muddling our way a step at a time, through the mysteries of digital imagery and website building. Occasionally the fog lifts and all the elements slot into place, giving us hope for the final outcome! It's far from a simple process and I swear we're keeping the telephone company in business with our long-winded calls, but gradually we're getting there. So, today's blog entry is by way of a thank you ... I couldn't have achieved any of this without Tina. She has been spending long hours working her magic to create the feminine effect I've been hoping for.

I think the graphics she has achieved are beautiful and I'm in awe of her technical ability and fog clearing tenacity, but most of all, I'm touched by all effort she has gone to, just for me.

Thanks Sis xxx

Friday 27 April 2007

Times they are a-changing.

Just watched Beverley Knight sing her latest on TV, what a voice, so soulful. Must buy a copy of her new album. Surprised myself yesterday when I heard a country singer called Keith Urban sing live on TV. I always swore I'd never buy a country album after years of Country & Western overload especially on Sundays (when I was a child mum would stack the radiogram with eight vinyl albums, usually Jim Reeves and Slim Whitman and that was Sunday's never-ending musical interlude taken care of. How I longed for something bright and bouncy to bop along to instead!) but 'Stupid Boy' caught hold of me and now I just know I won't be able to resist the temptation to add his latest album to my collection.

Yesterday, Stuart booked us tickets to see Jools Holland in May and I'm really looking forward to the show. We've seen his superb show several times before and each time it has been like an exhuberant party! Ruby Turner is his special guest and her voice is so powerful it takes my breath away! The guy in the picture? Oh yes, that's Stuart by the way!

I've not just been thinking about things musical today, I've also been contemplating a holiday. We need to find somewhere relaxing and preferably close the sea. I love visiting Cornwall here in the UK and have been there many times, so this time I'm going to see if I can find a little cottage in Devon, Cornwall's next door neighbour. Fresh sea air and a slower pace of life will definitely be the best possible tonic after the stresses and strains of selling homes and starting again.

In fact, right now I'm waiting for a call from my solicitor. She'll tell me when contracts have been exchanged on my old house. It's a strange sensation. Twenty three years bursting with family life, tears and laughter for me, etched forever into those four walls. The house is empty, echoing memories; if I step into my bedroom even now, twenty two years later, I can still hear my son's first cry and once again, feel his warmth as he was bundled into my arms for the very first time. The kitchen rings with our family chatter, but our table is no longer there and now there's no one to sit with me. It really is time to let go. When I cook our evening meal tonight, my son and daughter will tumble in from work to share it. Time's moved on and though it's been tough, so have we.

Time moves on ...

25th August 2010 - As I was browsing through a few old blog posts today, I came across this entry written almost three and a half years ago.  I had almost forgotten how deep a wrench leaving our old home and starting a new life with Stuart was at the time, but I'm happy to be able to say the four of us have since built a happy, secure home life together thanks to the very special man prepared to take on the challenge of building a new life both with us and for us.  Stuart surprised me by formally asking me to marry him a few days ago, so now we're both looking forward to next year, when we will quietly take the final step to cement our life together ...

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Now and then.

I was so pleased when I found my 'Hugglets' folder in my loft space at my last house as I was packing up to move. At the time I remember promising myself time to flick through the contents at my leisure, if I ever sorted myself out in my new home ...

The red folder, lettered gold, is full of 'Hugglets' magazines, the very first UK specialist teddy bear publication. Sadly, the magazine hasn't been published for a very long time since those first enrapturing issues ... (mine are dated from 1993, but I know the first issue was published even earlier). The Hugglets team, Glen and Irene Jackman, are now better known for their fabulous London based teddy bear shows and annual Teddy Bear Guide, yet should also be heralded for the introduction of artist designed teddy bears to the UK and subsequently, for the dedicated promotion of both UK and internationally artist designed teddy bears.

As I time warped back to 1993, I revelled in the reflection of what was to me, a golden era in teddy bear design. Many of the designers mentioned have since changed direction and so seeing their work again was like meeting old friends once more. I found myself smiling broadly as I rediscovered pictures of their bears, long since forgotten.

Teddy bear shows were reported with much enthusiasm. Leading lights Janet Clark, Frank Website, Sandra Wickenden, Gregory Gyllenship, proudly filled their stands at those early shows with magnificent display pieces without concern for size, after all, big bears were highly sought after! It was fascinating to see their early work again and to begin to understand how far they have travelled since they first set out on their artistic journey into teddy bear design.

Back in the early 90's, teddy bear design was less flambuoyant than it is today, more based in traditional techniques. Simple teddy bear features expressed nostalgia;
hints of Steiff, Bing, Herman, Chiltern, Chad Valley, long since passed, were brought lovingly back to life. Wide eyes, warm natural colours, smart black embroidered noses, these teddy bears were created with a firm sense of security instinctively crafted into each gentle detail.

If I flick through the pages of my most recent teddy bear magazine delivered a few days ago, the differences leap out at me! Today's artist bears are generally speaking smaller and so much less naive in expression; the gentle soulful expressions of a decade ago have been replaced with bold flirtation, cheeky grins, arms that really hug, legs that bend and perch, necks that twist and turn, these modern day bears have evolved human characteristics which have been cleverly moulded into bear form so that each bear may pout and pose for any PR opportunity. The pages are bright with colour; fur, eyes, noses and even ears, their shades are as bold or a subtle, as any skilled artist's palette could hope to achieve.

Reading those magazines made me think about my latest range of bears. When I started designing my own bears back in the early 90's, my goal was simple, I wanted to create beautiful bears I could love, bears which would stand the test of time and remain true to their forebears. Bears which could one day equal the appeal of those created by the UK artists and manufacturers I most admired. Real English teddy bears.

Don't get me wrong, I'm just like everyone else, I love to try new techniques and am so grateful for the fabulous array of coloured mohair now available. Playing with design is what makes the process of bear craft so enjoyable, it keeps designs vibrant and interesting, yet as I fiddle with an eyelid, or a second neck joint for example, I sometimes question why and whether these embellishments are for embellishment's sake, or whether they remain true to my original goal. With this firmly in mind, I have recently returned to my roots to create my 'Timeless Teds', a range of teddy bears developed in tribute to the endearing qualities of traditional bears, yet with I hope, a fresh modern appeal.

Today teddy bear design is a popular craft, so it seems to me more important than ever to create identity in my work. I want collectors to recognise my pieces whether contemporary in style, or indeed traditional. Needless to say, identity is not something I can add to my designs in a practical sense, but instead is passed from me to my bears by subtle osmosis; I like to think it boils down to an enduring passion for what I do and an inherent respect for those wonderful early bears that first inspired me.
I don't doubt I will soon feel the urge to work on my contemporary designs again, but in the meantime, I hope this entry goes some way towards explaining my motivation for keeping my teddy bear designs true to me.

Friday 20 April 2007

More to it?

... and what, pray tell, does a bear-maker do in her spare time? Now there's a question! It's one to be answered this Friday evening, while my wine glass is half full, lest I draw a cloak of invisibility around me and shy away from answering the question.

I haven't done any for a while, but there are times when I dabble and by dabble, I do indeed mean DABBLE (!) in a little overly creative and glaringly cringe making writing. The evidence? Oh go on then, after all, what do I have to lose by owning up to a little 'extra curricular' activity?

Okey dokey, here goes:


From my den, I watched the grey dove nestle in his hands. Head bowed, he sank to his knees, an image of prayer as the sun casually eased behind the Saracen stones, lazy golden shadows reaching for a land beyond.

The incantation reached me gradually, borne on an idle breeze as the final burst of fiery glow bathed the circle. His voice rumbled like the first warning of a thunderstorm and I felt my heart pound to a rhythm unfamiliar to me.

When he rose from his knees in quietude, tenderly placing the dove on the mossed altar before him, I was transfixed. The bird swooped for freedom, circling the great stones and when, as if bidden, it descended once more to the altar, every hair on my body shivered disbelief.

The man reached inside the folds of his cloak and as he did so, a blinding flash pierced my vision. Blinking frantically, my eyes found focus enough to witness the dove’s life force drip steadily onto the hound, hunched at his master’s side. Moments later, I witnessed the soft carcass placed on the altar once more.

I could not tell you how many moments passed me by as I waited in the shadow of those great stones. With the first opalescent glimmer of an early crescent moon, the man and his dog drew slowly away. My gaze, unable to relinquish the mysteries of this ancient circle, clung once again to the altar. Dusk fell stealthily around me, its breath chilling my skin as I waited silently, until the dove swooped once more.


She had gained a few pounds and on closer inspection, a few delicate lines etched around those pretty eyes too. I raised a hand, sweeping back my unruly hair, determined to see her more clearly.  Once a sassy mane, her nut brown hair had faded, vitality tiring under an opening sally of powder grey. Her skin, in my mind’s eye radiating freckled vivacity, now a watercolour of honey pastel.

Alerted by my gaze, her elegant brows arched questioning my study.  I returned a wry smile and the soft bow of her lips mimicked me. I sighed the merest hint of relief, those eyes at least remained untouched by time’s mischievous stroke, sooty lashes framing crystal green familiarity.

As I leaned closer to the glass, misting her features, the fleeting illusion of yesteryear’s confident beauty crumpled. Stumbling from the mirror, my hands trembled as I slipped the gold band from my finger, placed it carefully on the hall table beside my key, reached for my case and opened the door.  

Putting it all together!

To give Freddie his arms, I need the following tools and components:

4 Hardboard discs to make the moveable joints, 8 steel washers and 2 good strong split pins ... I buy those from a local fixtures company. I am their only teddy bear maker customer apparently!

I also need my two pairs of pliers, long nosed and round nosed to make the crown joints I described in my earlier post about assembling the head because I'm going to assemble Freddie's arms using the same technique. This will give nice free moving arms. I need my trusty fabric tape measure, my sooper doopha stuffing stick, my awl and an implement such as a small chisel to make the holes in the discs slightly larger so they accommodate the heavy duty split pins. I also need a curved needle (like the kind used in upholstery renovation) and some extra strong thread.

Please ignore the screwdriver and ratchet thingy ... they will be used to assemble Freddie's legs later.

Finally, I'm going to use some 5 ounce thick polyester wadding so that the paw pads can be beautifully even when stuffed ... no lumps and bumps! I'm going to cut this into 4 rough rectangles, each piece big enough to cover the paw pads of both the arms and the feet. (Put the legs aside for later).

The first thing to do is to lay the polyester wadding piece over the inside of the arm paw pads, then tack it to the arm piece taking care to keep the tack stitches (I use a running stitch) on the outside of the machine stitching seam.

Once that's done, I simply trim round carefully to make a neat finish and then turn the arm inside out so that the mohair is on the outside.

The next step is to slip a washer over a cotterpin, put that to one side and slip a hardboard disc into the top of the arm cavity. (You will note I've stitched around the entire arm when sewing it together, but have left an opening big enough to insert the hardboard disc into.)

Now I'm going to use my awl to make in the arm for the split pin to go through. I put the awl through the centre of the disc and out through the fabric to do this.

When the hole is made, I wiggle the split pin through the disc and out through the fabric.

Then I trim around the cotter pin to enable the arm to move freely when assembled and to ensure I get a nice tight joint when I turn the cotterpin using my pliers (as per the head - see below) into a crown joint.

Now it's time for me to stuff the arm making sure it's even throughout. Suitable stuffing is important for good finish. For Freddie, I'm using a polyester fibre/cotton mix, which will give a lovely weighty feel to the finished bear. I like to stuff firmly into the paw pad and take care to keep the stuffing even for a professional finish. As I stuff, I constantly feel the arm until I'm happy with the result. I want my stuffing to be even throughout and reasonably firm, but I don't like a rock hard finish. I like my bears to be huggable!

When I'm happy with the stuffing I can close the seam using the curved needle and extra strong thread. I prefer to use ladder stitch for this as it gives an invisible finish if done well.

To ladder stitch, I don my faithful thimble and after fastening my thread to the top of the seam, take small alternate stitches from each side of the mohair.

After every few stitches I take, I use my thumb to press down on the stitches and carefully pull them tight until the seam closes neatly. The I finish off the seam with a couple of tiny stitches sewn tightly over the seam before weaving the end of the thread back and forth invisibly through the arm.

To assemble the finished arm, I measure from the base of the neck joint down the side seam of the body and mark where I prefer to place the arm using my awl to make a small hole in the fabric just behind the seam. Then I place the split pin which is sticking out from the top of the arm, through the hole and assemble in exactly the same was as I assembled the head to the body previously, inserting a disc and washer over the split pin on the inside of the body cavity, then turning the split pin as before, using the crown joint method.

So that's arm number one and needless to say, to position arm number two, I simply repeat the whole proceedure and assembly the second arm on the other side of Freddie's body!

The legs are completed similarly, but instead of using split pins, I like to use nylock nuts 'n bolts through the discs. I stuff to halfway up the leg, taking great care with the footpad in particular, then I insert a hardboard disc, this time with the hole make larger to accommodate a small bolt. I slip a washer over the bolt, put the bolt through the disc and fabric and into the body cavity. then I slip a matching disc and washer over the bolt on the inside of the body cavity, beofre tightening with a screwdriver and ratchet tool. To measure where to place them on the body , I decide where I want them placed, then use a long doll makers' needle which I insert through the upside down body where all the seams join. I then slip my fabric tape measure over the end of the needle and measure down from the seam, marking the appropriate spot, once again with my awl, slightly behind the seam. Because the bolts are wider than the split pins, it may be necessary to make a larger hole in the fabric to assemble the legs.

Once the leg is assembled, I repeat the process for leg 2 and finally, stuff firmly, paying special attention to the area around the joint, which needs very firm stuffing. I close the seam using ladder stitch and hey presto, Freddie has arms and legs!

All he needs now is a tummy full of plastic pellets, his body stuffed good and firm so that he doesn't slump until he's a very old bear and a voice ... of course! I always add a traditional growler to my bears' tums! Once his ears have been stitched in place using my curved needle, extra strong thread and ladder stitch and I've stitched some teddy bear claws with embroidered thread, I can slip his smart new sweater over his head and ...

Very pleased to meet you Freddie!

Wednesday 18 April 2007

Fresh as a daffodil!

I know, I know! It's been a couple of weeks since I checked in here, so please accept my apologies for my sudden absence! I've been busy completing new 'Timeless Teds' and organising my new sewing room for work. I'm so pleased with it!

My lovely 'other half' Stuart spent the entire Easter bank holiday decorating for me and painted the room a pretty daffodil shade of gentle yellow, complementing my new chalk pink check curtains and cushions perfectly. I even bought a little flowering cactus to sit on the shelf so that I can enjoy the blooms when they open.
The room feels very inviting now, so I thought I'd better take some pics to share with you quickly, while it's still tidy enough to show off!

As you can see, I can now tuck myself away to work in comfort ... I have included a tv, dvd, video and hifi to keep my company, after all, a bear maker's life is quite isolated for most of the year.

Well, I must be brief today because I'm on my way upstairs to work on a new white bear ... also, I have some bears to create especially for the BAO (Bear Artists Online) summer show at the end of June ... so I really do need to get back to work!

Don't worry, I'll tell you more about the online show a little nearer the time ... I'm very excited about! In fact, the website is a fabulous showcase for artist bears and I'm very proud to have been invited to take membership. I now have a super, personally designed webpage on the site showcasing my work ... please take a look if you have time!

Oh! I nearly forgot to mention that I've decided to enter the 'URSA's this year too. I thought it would be fun to take part in a competition, especially one that is voted purely by visitors to the website ... I'll let you know when the time comes and if you like my entry, please consider placing a vote! I may also be entering a couple of other competitions this year, so watch this space for further news!

Monday 2 April 2007


I had intended to add Freddie's arm's to my blog today. I have taken all the pics, but I'm finding it extremely frustrating when it comes to incorporating more than a couple of photographs in a single blog post, so I've decided to come back to the arms when I have a little more time to fiddle with the blogging software. Instead, today, I'm going to do what comes naturally and just ramble ...

I really must start another bear straightaway; I'm feeling very enthusiastic about getting on with it and my website is crying out for new bears! Freddie and Charlotte have both been particularly time consuming because their knitted clothing took so long to make. Today I have promised myself I will hunt through my fabric box and immerse myself in making a decision as to what to get on with next. I'm not sure exactly what it will be yet, but as soon as I take the lid off my wooden toy box I'm sure that lovely mohair will take me where I need to go!

A friend of mine decorated the toy box for me using an artists' technique called pyrography; it involves burning the design into the wood using a special heated tool. The effect is produced by burning the surface of a wood panel to various depths of brown to make a picture, giving a similar effect to that of a pen and ink drawing. As I love old Chiltern teddy bears, my friend Sarah captured the images of my own collection of Chiltern bears for a very personal touch. See the bear on the far left of the lid? That's my childhood bear I showed you in the black and white photograph earlier in the blog.

These three handsome chaps below are from my own collection of Chilterns and my first bear 'Big Ted' (actually he's middle-sized in this pic) is sitting in between two other 1950's Chiltern teddies. These bears are truly representative of quality English teddy bears. The firm of Chiltern ceased manufacturing in the 1960's and their range of 'Hugmee' bears are now very sought after. I have been lucky enough to stumble across several over the past few years and have been unable to resist allowing them to retire with me! I think they have magnificent character and great dignity.

It's a beautiful Spring day here in the South East of England. The sun is warm and I'm certain the two trees at the front of my new house are about to blossom! Definitely a good day for creating new bears.

By the way, I finally settled on a paint colour for the workroom, it's called 'hint of daffodil' and it's a delicate yellow. Easter weekend is allocated for decorating, so by Thursday evening I must have everything cleared from my room in preparation for painting over the dreary hospital blue colour ... that reminds me, perhaps I'd better get cracking with some work today before I lose my workroom!


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