Wednesday 30 January 2008

It's official!

Hooray! I can share my good news with you today and I am so thrilled! As Aleta said, this really is a bright shiny moment for me and I am completely buzzing with excitement!

Do you remember me agonising over whether or not to enter the prestigious TOBY Award programme for 2008, in an earlier blog post? (Please pop back and read my October 2007 blog entry if you missed it.) Well, I am delighted to tell you that plain brown envelope flew over the Atlantic to work some real magic and today I have received official confirmation that dear 'Billy Buttons' has won a ...

... ta dah (insert fanfare please!) ...

'TOBY Industry's Choice Award'!

What a fabulous start to my year! I have been completely in awe of the TOBY entries for many a long year; the competition is mighty fierce and totally international - very daunting! After taking the plunge to enter my own work last year unsuccessfully, I honestly didn't think I'd stand a hope ... which just goes to show, there is always hope!

So, now you know my news, please excuse me while I float around on Cloud Nine for a few days!

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Patience ...

Ooooh, I have such exciting news to share! Not just yet though ... I'll tell you very soon, I promise! Bear with me!

Thursday 24 January 2008

Clowning around

If you have ever taken a moment to plough through my earlier blog entries, you will know by now that I have a bit of a 'thing' for clown bears. I think it's because the possibilities for design are absolutely endless and so much fun for a designer; I can play with contemporary concepts, or work my creative thoughts all the way through the spectrum towards the more classical designs. I think 'Pedrolino' definitely falls in the latter category, paying tribute as he does, to the romantic French white-faced clown.

2008 Pedrolino 13"

It is always so easy for me to find inspiration for new clown bears, because I really enjoy designing them. I've hunted through my files to find a picture of my very first white-faced clown design to share with you - I created 28" 'Pazazz' especially for the 'British Bear Artist Awards' in 1999 and as you can see, even though they are both white-faced, Pazazz is very different in style and size from 13" Pedrolino. (In case you were wondering, 'Pazazz' achieved second place in his category. It was such a proud day for me! He was subsequently purchased by the Hong Kong Toy Museum. I wonder if he is still on display?!)

1999 Pazazz 28"

By the way, I discovered Pedrolino's gorgeous little buttons whilst browsing Ebay. Aren't they beautiful?! I love finding vintage trims to finish my bears and these really were a great find. They are 1930's glass buttons ... so dainty! The perfect finishing touch for my handsome little clown.

NB: It has just dawned on me that I'm having a lilac week, what with my new clown bear and my little cardigan ... maybe it's a sign that Spring is just around the next corner! I do hope so!

Monday 21 January 2008

Cousins and cardigans

Now I can show you the finished baby cardigan! I'm pleased to say my little keepsake elephant, hand knitted cardigan and a few other teeny weeny pretties, were well received when my daughter and I visited my sister, her husband and their children, at the weekend.

My new niece is absolutely beautiful and it was so lovely to have my very first cuddle with her. Sis looked the picture of health and happinness, and her gorgeous older daughter, Erin's big sister, was delighted to tell me how pleased she was that her new baby didn't turn out to be, heaven forbid, a boy!

Getting aquainted!

Oldest and youngest cousins - quarter of a century lies between them!

Hello Auntie Paula!

I do hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into our family album ... don't worry, I'll stop cooing and will resume normal bear making service a little later this week! (Although I must confess, I now have a pretty pink cardigan on my knitting needles to finish too!)

Friday 18 January 2008

Down sizing.

I was beginning to wonder if I would be able to take pics of my latest design today; it's been pouring hard, yet again! Dark, grey days are so depressing aren't they? I do hope Spring isn't too far away, I'm longing for the first Spring flowers to show! Anyway, as I was about to say, fortunately the rain gave up briefly about half an hour ago, just long enough for me to nip out and photograph little Philbert.

Philbert 13"

I mentioned a while ago I wanted to work on some smaller designs and at 13", Philbert is quite little by my gargantuan standards! I'm hoping to create even smaller designs eventually, but first things first, I need to get comfortable with these little fellas gradually, rather than suddenly plunging my sizing down from 20 inches plus, to under ten inches! It's important to me that whatever size of bear I make, it doesn't compromise the 'ALL BEAR' identity.

I'm so used to making big bears after creating them for such a long time, that I wanted to make sure I had adapted my bear-making techniques sufficiently, so the small bears look as beautifully made and as well proportioned as their much larger counterparts. As well as exploring an entirely different range of fabrics than I usually use to ensure correct pile lengths and density, this project has meant reconsidering the sizing of component parts too .. joints, eyes etc.

It has also been necessary for me to change from using my usual sturdy stuffing tool, to using a far smaller doll maker's stuffing tool instead, so that the bears feel perfectly stuffed (I found the ideal tool for this at one of my favourite online stores! It's a 'Barbara Willis' stuffing stick and I must say, it works brilliantly). When it came to stitching my nose and closing seams, I found it worked most successfully if I used finer embroidery and extra-strong threads, than I would normally use.

Compared to the art of making big bears, there certainly seem to be many subtle changes necessary when making smaller bears. I am certain that the smaller the bear, the more things there are to be considered in the making and design processes and although I can't ever see me getting as small as miniature, I would love to eventually create a successful little bear of about eight inches ... I think it's time I challenged myself!

So, to summarise, this is 'Philbert' and at 13", I think he's a lovely size. I am very pleased with how this new design has turned out and I am looking forward to developing it further. Mind you, I won't be giving up on my big bears, oh no! I love them way too much for that!

Wednesday 16 January 2008

Day Job.

Yes, I am still working hard at my 'day job' despite the baby knitting - I promise! Just to prove the point, here are my two newest bears.

'Posy Panda' 17"

'Posy Panda' was created in defiance of the dismal dark grey days we've been having in Kent lately. I really needed a burst of colour and so a little 'pink sunshine' panda cub really perked me up. Posy was snapped up straightaway and will be taking up residence in the States very soon. My other bear 'Humble', is hot off the press. He only had his ears stitched on last night! The rain finally stopped this morning, so I dashed out to the garden to take his photos about an hour ago.

'Humble' 19"

I will be cutting out my next design this afternoon and then it will be back to my armchair to finish knitting the sleeves of my lilac baby cardigan for little Erin Rose, when I settle down to watch Corrie this evening.

I wonder if those of you living outside the UK have heard of Coronation Street, our favourite soap? It was first launched on our screens in 1960, three years before I was born and it has been a British instituation ever since. I remember watching it on a black and white television set with my mother when I was a little girl and I'm sure my own daughter will remember growing up with it in years to come too!

If you are curious to know more about dear old Corrie, this link should help enlighten you:

Monday 14 January 2008

New Arrival!

I have a some lovely news to share! I was made an Auntie again on Saturday! My youngest sister safely gave birth to a healthy little girl and so after a dash to Hobbycraft, I have been able at last, to begin my baby knitting.

Naturally, I didn't want to start knitting until I knew what flavour the baby was and my sister didn't want to spoil her surprise by finding out early, so it's been a guessing game for quite some time!

I selected some delicate lilac 4ply and some pretty double knit in white with a little sparkly thread running through ... oh and the buttons! They are so cute too! Dainty lilac flower buttons and for the white cardigan, little pink buttons with bumble bees in the centre! Such fun!
I haven't met my new niece yet, but I'm hoping to very soon; in the meantime, I must get back to work so that I can spend some time knitting in my armchair this evening, so that I have the cardigans ready for my visit. There's something very special about hand knitting to welcome a new baby into the family, don't you think?

Thursday 10 January 2008

72 years young.

Celebrating our Dad's 70th birthday in 2006

It's our Dad's birthday today, he's 72 years young. Dad is the least likely 72 year old I've ever met and although I know he's frustrated that he can't climb Mount Everest at least twice a day (!) it's still impossible to think of him as 'getting on a bit'. He doesn't even have grey hair for goodness sake!

So, here's to you Dad, sending many happy returns and much love on your special day. I hope you enjoy the 'Showdown' CD; it's one of my absolute favourites, guaranteed to get you jigging ... just the way you've always liked it! xxx

Wednesday 9 January 2008

A bit of a yarn.

Nine days into 2008 and only now can I announce my first new design! It's not exactly the conscientious 'back to work' attitude I had hoped for, but given my recent sewing machine crisis and the fitting of my new gas fire this week (hallelujah!) I suppose it's not too bad of me really ... ish.

'Bobble' my first new bear of 2008!

I don't usually choose to play around with themes, but something started ticking quietly away in my grey matter once I decided I'd like to work with wool fabric, rather than my usual mohair. When the overall fabric choice has been decided upon, I felt drawn to using wool felt for this little bear's paws, it just seemed to complement his wool coat so well and then, as I came to finish him, it seemed only natural to knit a simple scarf ... and thus 'Bobble' came to life.

And the background to this design? Well, after spotting a beautiful, if somewhat grubby, vintage woollen teddy bear on an auction internet site, I started to think about the wool fabric I had tucked away in my stash and felt the urge to celebrate wool as a bear makers' fabric choice once more; after all, where would we all be without wool? I found myself scouring the internet for information about the history of wool and the craft of knitting and for me, as both a bear maker and a knitter, it was fascinating stuff ... Wickipedia in particular was great for background reading ... if you are interested, please take a moment to visit , if nothing else, it will give you an idea of the lengths bear designers sometimes take to research the background to their designs.

I would also recommend This is a terrific source of historical teddy bear information. I have found the Bourton guys extremely informative when I've been researching in the past and so I popped over to see what they could tell me about early bears made from wool:

"During the years of World War 2, few bears were manufactured as factories were used to produce uniforms, blankets and other items needed in the war. When the war finished, materials were short and this gave us a period of interesting bears. As manufacturers started up again they used anything they could to get teddy bears back into production. Bears were made out of Sheepskin, cotton plush and even woollen blankets left over from the war were used. Bears were also produced dressed to save on using large amounts of plush."

Useful information indeed!
As I mentioned, I have occasionally come across elderly sheepskin teddy bears for sale on the secondary market and I think they hold great appeal. More humble perhaps than their vintage mohair counterparts, they are most endearing, inherently honest teddy bears.

On a broader note, I do think it's a shame our traditional crafting skills are so overlooked in today's schools. After all, in the absence of instruction, how will these wonderful skills continue to be handed down from generation to generation and how will our crafting heritage be appreciated and respected in the future? It also concerns me how are our children will be able to appreciate the beauty of handmade items when they aren't encouraged towards making them in their formative years? I'll get down from my soapbox now, but it's food for thought, don't you think?

Thursday 3 January 2008

Brrrr - knit one, purl one ...

It's cold here in Kent today. We don't have the forecasted snow yet, but with a sharp chill in the air and heavy grey skies, it feels as though it may be on its way. Brrrr!

I'm still waiting for the arrival of my new sewing machine, so rather than chop into any mohair, I thought I'd treat myself to an afternoon of knitting instead. After hunting through my stash last night, I've started work on this gorgeous multi coloured yarn, the shades are lovely and it feels so soft, it's the perfect craft for this cold January day!

I think it's just right for a simple teddy bear scarf in stocking stitch and with luck, I might even squeeze a matching hat from the three balls I've found. I really like the idea of making little ear holes in the hat ... we'll see! No, I don't have a bear ready to wear this knitting, but never mind, it's so pretty and snuggly, it will no doubt inspire me to create the perfect bear especially for it!

Wednesday 2 January 2008

The sorry tale of Miss Claus and the sad demise of one faithful Pfaff!

Imagine the scene, it's Christmas Eve and little Miss Claus, with only an hour to spare before her big night out, decides to adjust the fitting of her little red number using my faithful Pfaff sewing machine.

'Miss S. Claus 2007'

Mummy Claus (me!) is dutifully visiting family, so can't give helpful advice and in the giddy whirl of tinsel topped Christmas preparations, thinks no more of it.

In true Time Machine fashion, we now switch to the day before yesterday ... with the festivites over for another year, Mummy Claus can now be found back in her workroom, like the good little bear maker she is. She decides to sew up her latest teddy bear design, using her trusty sewing machine. She threads it, flicks the lightbulb switch and firmly presses the foot pedal ... Calamity! The machine jams more solidly than fast drying cement. Upon further close examination a tell tale thread in festive red (!) is exposed and the maternal finger of accusation points squarely at Miss Claus (Oh She of the daft penguin slippers), who is out celebrating the New Year in tried and tested fashion.

A nail bitingly frustrating two days pass before Mummy Claus manages to locate her son and begs him shamelessly to don his 'surgical whites'. He agrees readily (never one to cope well with womanly whining) and spends several painful hours shaking his head meaningfully, whilst attempting to breath life back into the desperately defunct Pfaff. One exhausted toolbox hopelessly bursting with surgical instruments later, Mummy Claus is firmly told she should face facts, the Pfaff's condition may well be terminal.

Doctor A. Carter

So, the prognosis being what it is, I've been forced (!) to order a shiny new Pfaff sewing machine so that I can work on my new bears this week.

What a start to my New Year!



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