Tuesday 29 April 2008

Brightening a grey day

Leaden skies and heavy rain are washing the colour out of my day, painting it a miserable grey. Luckily I'm about to go to my sewing room to work on a colourful themed competition project I have been invited to participate in by the 'Teddy Bear Scene' magazine, so the weather really doesn't matter to me!

I think this one is probably a honeysuckle ...

I'm working with a blast of red, white and blue mohair to create a patriotic bear. I still need to find some suitable snippets to detail him with, which hopefully I will find somewhere in the World Wide Web today. When my bear is finished, he will be photographed for the magazine to take part in their special competition feature, due to be published in two or three months' time. As I can't share him with you just yet, I'm feeling the urge to brighten this dismal day with a splash of bold colour anyway ... enjoy!

My flaming pink azalea

Monday 28 April 2008

Tabling my frailties

'Elgar' 21"

I wish I could tell you I enjoyed creating this quirky chap, but if I did, I'd be fibbing! He has been such hard work, a real trial. Now that he's completed, I still can't look at him without seeing all the problems he has caused me, not to mention wishing I'd had enough fabric to make him a slightly larger head ... not quite the catastrophe I feared, but not the dream outcome I had hoped for either!

On arrival, this seemed like a good sized piece of mohair. I was entranced by the richness of colour and the wonderful autumnal leaf pattern, but by the time I had carefully placed each pattern piece to avoid the most worn areas, I realised there wouldn't be a spare inch anywhere and if I didn't want to completely waste my money (this wasn't an insubstantial purchase!) I would have to proceed with utmost caution.

I think this particular mohair must have begun life as a table covering or similar all those years ago, because the backing didn't have the strength of the other antique mohair I worked with previously, which was probably intended for use as upholstery once upon a time. With the exception of Elgar's arms, I found it necessary to line each pattern piece with interfacing to ensure both the fabric's integrity and my sanity.

Once or twice I almost gave up in despair as the closing seams threatened to weaken, but I persevered, making sure I took substantial stitches with my ladder stitch and giving myself sufficient seam allowance for the stitches to hold firm.

Now that Elgar is finished I can at least say I am very satisfied with the placement of the tapestry on his body and I do like his antique boot button eyes, particularly as they are gently pitted and undeniably aged - I think they give him a unique expression quite different from my contemporary bears. I also love the 1960's 'aurora borealis' buttons I've used from my little magpie horde, as they give him an extra special zing. I guess all in all, he's not quite what I was aiming for, but he does have a certain awkward charm and if nothing else, is definitely one of a kind!

Button detailing

With gentle handling I think this unusual bear will see out his days in comfort, but he will need treating with respect, just as an elderly gentleman should be. He will probably stay with me for the forseeable future and who knows, maybe we will become more accustomed to one another eventually! For now though, I'm more than ready to take a short break from my foray into vintage mohair and instead indulge myself in something modern, something completely 'All Bear' and dare I say it, something wholly more predictable!

Thursday 24 April 2008

Bringing the past to life ...

Peregrine 16"

After creating Peregrine from a beautiful piece of antique mohair earlier this year, I couldn't resist purchasing some more wonderful vintage mohair when it was made available to me a few weeks ago. I also had the good fortune to purchase some original German boot button leather eyes! There's something very exciting about making a teddy bear from such venerable material and it really is a privilege to be able to bring it back to life!

Antique mohair with tapestry

I've been working with an amazing piece from my new antique fabric stash this week; it has a beautiful patina and a fabulous tapestry design woven through it. So far, this has been a nail biting exercise because parts of the fabric have been a little too frail for purpose and of course, I wanted to utilise the tapestry design to its fullest potential to create a truly striking big bear, so it was crucial I made certain I didn't waste any of the precious mohair.

Work in progress ...

As I write, I have two arms, two legs and a body ready and later today I will work on the head, no doubt with baited breath! I'm not at all sure I will be offering this bear for sale, but nonetheless, I thought you might enjoy watching him evolve. Please keep your fingers crossed for me, I simply can't afford to have any head catastrophes today!

Original vintage German boot button eyes

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom 20"

As it's impossible not to enjoy the fabulous display of Cherry Blossom trees currently adorning the English countryside and it really doesn't take much to inspire me when Spring is in the air, I'd like to introduce you to my latest teddy bear design, hot off the press today! This is 'Cherry Blossom', a 20" teddy bear with a pretty twinkle in her eye!

If you would like to know more about 'Cherry Blossom', please pop over to http://www.allbear.co.uk/ where she is now waiting to meet her special someone!

Update: 17.15 ... Cherry Blossom has just found her very special someone and will shortly be taking a plane to live in America! Yay!!!

Monday 21 April 2008

In a forest, in a wood ...

Do you remember me mentioning a while ago I've been waiting for the bluebells to arrive? I love it when that beautiful blue swathes the woodland floor! So yesterday, when the sun came out briefly, I persuaded Stuart to come walking with me in the woods and of course, I took my camera out to play.

Unfortunately, I was a few days too early for the full canvas of bluebells because they were still a little shy, but once we'd picked our way carefully over tin cans, past rusty supermarket trolleys, burnt out tyres and heaven only knows how many plastic carrier bags, I found all kinds of pretty things to photograph! What a shame some youngsters can't enjoy the woodland without spoiling it.
When my sisters and I were kids, one of our greatest pleasures on a Sunday afternoon was to tramp through the local woods with Dad, eyes peeled for cheeky squirrels, evil witches and of course, all kinds of hungry woodland monsters. We squelched over banks, (the muddier the better) and chased along leafy trails, our pockets full to bursting with pine cones, conkers, acorns ... whatever the season had to share with us. For us, the woods were fantastical storybook settings, feeding young imaginations with colour and excitement.

All these years later, I'm still entranced by the fusty magic of ferns, how they unfurl in dark, damp, secret places and I love the dainty wildflowers taking shelter at the foot of trees, such unpretentious beauty!

A child's eye view, courtesy of Photoshop!I don't think there's anything more guaranteed to set life firmly in perspective, than to stand in the heart of woodland, chin lifted to the sky, peering through dense tree trunks and feathery branches, to catch a glimpse of clouds as they skud past way, way, up high.

I came to the conclusion yesterday, that life is about what you want to see; if you choose to look beyond the rubbish, there will always be something beautiful and it's probably right under your nose!

Friday 18 April 2008

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside ...

Brighton Trio

Fergus and Elijah

Dillon 14"

Fergus 20"

Elijah 16"

Yes, it's time for me to send some of my bears to Sue Pearson's shop in Brighton again! For this group I have worked with Sue's brief to create a trio of 'warm beary coloured bears,' as shop exclusives: http://www.suepearson.co.uk/

20" growler 'Fergus', 16" Elijah and wee 14" Dillon, will be travelling to their new temporary home beside the seaside, early next week.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Never too old!

Never too old to blow out the candles!

My son had the bad manners to turn 23 on Sunday. I think I will have to stop being seen in public with both my children in future because there's now't as ageing as standing beside two twenty somethings, especially when one of them is a strapping 6' 3"!

Anthony's amazing birthday cake was lovingly created by the gorgeous girl who has put up with him for eight long years ... believe me, that dear girl qualifies for a sainthood.

Isn't it an incredible work of art? I truly believe you can put inches on your hips just by looking at this cake!

The years between this picture and the first have flown by way too quickly, but one thing remains the same, this is a boy who still loves his footie and has done ever since he was two, when he used to play in his bunny slippers!

Happy birthday Blossom, with much love, your Muvva x

Monday 14 April 2008

Eye, eye!

It has been said the eyes are the windows of the soul and of course, this is true for bears too! A teddy bear's eyes help create his personality, so making the right choice of eye for a new design is vital. I like to keep a wide selection of good quality glass eyes in many different sizes and colours. There are many colours and styles available to choose from these days, ranging from plain black matt or gloss, through to realistic styles with veins and pupils! Aside from those offered by suppliers, it is also possible to purchase clear glass eyes and paint them for a personalised result, one of my favourite things to do!

As eyes are such fiddly little blighters and so that I can see what I need at a glance when I am working, I like to keep them organised like this ...

Inserting glass eyes can be fiddly, but the process isn't terribly difficult. As the end result will be responsible for bringing a bear to life, a simple but effective method should help to guarantee a professional finish.

This is my favourite method:

1. Holding the bear's head level (I like to balance my bear's head between my knees!) use two coloured head pins to mark each eye placement. I like to set mine just outside the head gusset seam, but this is a personal choice and will vary from maker to maker. Take your time to decide exactly where you would like your eyes to sit as this is an important factor in determining the bear's final expression.

Tip: I find it helps to have embroidered the nose before placing the eyes, to ensure the eyes are level.

2. Cut two long lengths of extra strong thread (carpet thread or bonded nylon will do very nicely). Each thread should be approximately twice your own arm's length. Using one of the threads, fold it in half and slip the eye onto the doubled thread. Tie the doubled thread tightly in the middle, so that the eye is caught securely in the knot. Repeat the process using the second thread, so that once both threads have been tied, the eye is secured in the middle and eight threads hang loose.

3. Using an awl, make a hole in the mohair backing where your first eye is to be positioned.

4. Using a sturdy doll maker's needle (in this case I am working on a 20" bear's head, so I am working with an unbendable 10" needle) thread two of the eye threads and insert the needle into the hole you have just made with your awl, exiting at the centre of the head, just above the head joint at the back of your bear's head. Repeat this process with two more threads, so that you have four threads hanging loose from the back of your head.

5. Using the same process, exit the remaining four eye threads on the opposite side of your bear's head, just behind his ear placement. (The ear will cover the finishing knots when it is sewn onto the head). Pull all eight stitches firmly until the eye post fits snuggly into the eye hole.

6. With your thumb to guide the eye into position, use a little pressure to create a 'socket' effect, whilst balancing the head between your knees and pulling on one set of threads from the base of the head. Then take one pair of threads from the base of the head in one hand, and the other pair in your other hand making sure you maintain a firm tension (this sounds tricky, but if you get comfortable it soon becomes an easy process! You may need to tilt the head forwards at this point to see what you are doing) and tie them tightly together, at least three times, to secure.

Tip: try not to catch mohair in the knot, for a professional finish.

8. (At this point I usually repeat steps 2-7 with the second eye, ensuring that both eyes are secured at the base of the head. It is important to ensure you have pulled both eyes back into their sockets equally.) Taking both sets of threads from behind one ear, use tension to determine the final position of your eye. Note: This will raise the eye slightly from its previous position. When you are happy with the positioning, tie threads tightly as for base of head.

9. Repeat process for second eye.

10. Using a curved needle, weave all the remaining threads through the backing fabric several times, making sure you take the needle back into each exit point so that your stitches are invisible, then trim off all excess thread as close to the backing as possible.

11. Give your bear's head a good brush and using embroidery scissors, trim away any excess mohair from his eye area until you can see his beautiful new eyes gazing adoringly right back at you!

Friday 11 April 2008

First love

I was hunting through some old black and white photographs yesterday and found these. Of course I couldn't resist scanning them in to share here with you. They were taken in Nigeria when I was a wee, toddling 17 months old. The beautiful bear is my first ever Chiltern Hugmee 'Big Ted,' back then he was just about as big as I was!

All say 'aaah' now!

First date: Paula and Big Ted 1964

He's the one for me? Really Mum?

Checking out Big Ted's pedigree!

Falling in love for the very first time!

Friends for life.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Lilac Whisper

' Lilac Whisper' 2008

As promised and by the skin of my teeth, here is the bear I mentioned yesterday! I have called him 'Lilac Whisper' because his colouring reminds me so much of my beautiful lilac tree which grew at the bottom of the garden at my last house. Is it daft to tell you I miss that tree? Well, I do! I loved its perfume in the early evening and when it bloomed, I knew Spring was here to stay ... ah, this bear whispers such memories to me!


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