Thursday 30 June 2011

A little Curio.

Like most bear makers, I relish an occasional challenge and making a small bear is certainly one of those!  You may remember my first attempt at a truly titchy ted a few months ago ...

My first truly titchy ted head

8" Artan (in progress)

As you may recall, little 'Artan' really was little by my standards - a proper teeny tiddler at just eight inches tall.  After I'd completed him, I promised myself I would create another wee bear, but this time would tweak my pattern to alter the shape of his head and adjust the length of his limbs.

8" Curio

At last I think I am beginning to find my way with these tiddlers!  My second 8" bear 'Curio'  can sit comfortably in the palm of a hand.  I guess you could say such tiddly teds really are a curiosity, emerging from the workroom of this maker of big 'uns!

Curio is now available for adoption from my website:

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Labelling the future

Today the postman brought me one thousand satin 'All Bear' labels ... I guess I'll be bear making for a while to come eh?!

Monday 27 June 2011

What exactly is an 'Artist Bear'?

I love finding time to meander through the annals of teddy bear history and to stroll along my personal teddy bear 'Memory Lane'.  Sunday afternoon was absolutely glorious, so I tucked myself under the sun parasol with a cool drink to hand and a stack of teddy bear publications to browse.

  Sadly, the 'Hugglets Teddy Bear Magazine' is no longer published.

The question 'What is an Artist Bear' has been hotly debated by 'teddy bear artists', for as long as I can remember - probably since the term was first coined in the US, back in the 1970's.  The topic still raises its controversial head with regular monotony some forty years later, with bear makers/designers/artists becoming hot under the collar as they staunchly defend their own interpretations.  In case you are curious, I am a bear 'artist' who much prefers to call herself a teddy bear 'designer' when pushed to define what I do, simply because this definition sits most comfortably with me, given that my drawing skills are on a par with those of the average four year old ...

So, after a rather magnificent heap of 'bruhaha' (a wonderful term I have recently coined from a bear artist friend!) among teddy bear 'artists' in response to a recently published magazine article on this subject, I had to smile when I opened a magazine binder yesterday and came across an old Hugglets magazine dating back to Summer 1993 ... eighteen long bear-making summers ago. Back then, I was still dreaming about launching myself into the magical world of teddy bear artistry as a bona fide 'bear artist', so on a hot summer's day yesterday, I must admit page 21, titled 'What is an Artist Bear,' made me smile. The first definition had been thoughtfully provided by the lovely lady who was kind enough to give me my first leg into the bear business way back in 1994 -  Michelle Chambers of the Rochester Teddy Bear Shop stated, "For a bear to come under the category of an Artist Bear, it should not be mass produced, but created in a cottage industry environment.  The bear artist is also someone who can turn bear making into a fine art, so that An Artist Bear is a bear with individuality and, most importantly, it has a unique style".

  1993 feature, 'What is an Artist Bear?'

Reading further on, Janet Clark of Teddystyle, a leading light in our world of teddy bear artistry, agreed by saying, "I don't even know that I'm an artist myself, that's up to other people to say .... a good bear maker can put a good face on a bear, but an artist can make that face come to life".  Maddie Janes, another well respected bear maker of that era, went on to say, "If you're a real teddy bear artist, you don't just have one pattern you keep making in different sizes ... you're making new patterns all the time and using new components."

A 'Chiltern Memory' created for me by Pam Howells in the early 90's

UK teddy bear royalty Pamela Ann Howells, chief designer for the Chiltern Toy Company for a decade from the 50's onwards and still creating today, fifty years later, under her own 'Bears that are Special' label, said: "There's just as much thought goes into the designing of a manufactured bear, even if it is mass produced in the end.  The term 'artist bear' is a new phrase really.  I've always considered myself to be a designer and maker.  I know a lot of people feel that a bear is their way of putting their art down, but I don't look at bears that way .... As long as the bear is nice when it's finished, I don't think it matters."
Well, if it's good enough for Pam, it's certainly good enough for me!

The Chiltern Hygenic Toy Company  (can you spot my artist bear Chiltern Memory, among his manufactured friends?)
Manufactured 'Hugmees' 1930 - 1950

And so it seems to me, definitions don't really belong with teddy bears.  After all, a much-loved teddy will appeal to his owner for any number of reasons, least of which is likely to be whether he has been defined as 'art' or not.  In my view, it's best we bear 'crafters' climb down from our high horses and concentrate our energies on creating bears from the heart, taking care not to slip into the murky waters of the ego trap. 

I would like to give the last word to Gregory Gyllenship, one of our finest UK and international teddy bear artists ...

  Gregory, a modest man, defines himself as:
'A bloke who makes bears.'

Well said Gregory!

Friday 24 June 2011

A happy, smiley tutorial!

A while ago I promised to put together a step-by-step tutorial to show how I create an inset open mouth, so here goes!

First I draw around the pattern piece I've designed for my bear's mouth.  I've chosen to use pink Ultra Suede for this mouth.

Then I start to mark my seam allowance ... I've used black pen so you can see clearly.

This is my finished seam line, with the four corners of the mouth marked, so I can clearly see where to line it up with the chin seam (top and bottom) and at the widest point of the mouth opening (left and right).

I cut out my head pieces.  This bear will be made from turquoise mohair with a white alpaca muzzle.

Before I go any further, I need to sew the muzzle to the head and stitch the ears together.

This is how the head looks before the head gusset is sewn in.

Now it's time to iron a piece of interfacing onto the back of the Ultra Suede mouth piece to strengthen it.

Next, I trim the excess interfacing away from the mouth piece.  You can still see the sewing markings through the interfacing.

Using a sharp pencil, I then draw where I want my bear's mouth edging to be.  This needs to be deeper than the seam allowance.

Using a black fabric marker pen, I very carefully colour round the edge of the mouth piece, taking care not to mark beyond the line I drew before.

While I wait for the mouth piece to dry thoroughly, I pin in the head gusset and baste the nose into place.

Then I colour the black area a second time and leave it to dry again.

While the mouth is drying, I machine sew the head gusset in place and remove the pins.

The next step is to pin the mouth piece into the muzzle opening, so that the sewing line is now visible and the thick black edge is inside the bear's head.  Using long pins with coloured heads, I line up the markers I have drawn at the four corners of the mouth -  top and bottom chin seam and sides at the widest part of the bear's smile.

Then I add a few more pins to make sure the mouth stays put!  The next step is to baste the mouth piece into place (I oversew) and remove the pins.

You can see the baste stitches in this pic.  Now I'm going to machine sew my mouth piece, the same way I would sew in a footpad.

I add a few additional back stitches along the sides of the mouth of the seam by hand to reinforce the mouth, as this will be the weakest point when the bear is stuffed.

This is how my laughing bear looks at this point, with his head turned fur side out.

The next step is to stuff the head firmly, paying carefully attention to the nose and chin area.  This is trickier than stuffing a classic bear head, so patience is required!  In the pic above, I've stuffed the head and am running an extra strong thread across the bridge of the nose to create indentations for eye placement.

Using coloured pins, it's time now to pin on bear's ears and decide where to place the eyes.

I complete the head by trimming the muzzle, embroidering the nose and inserting eyes (for this particular bear, lashes too)  Then I attach the head to the body and finish by assembling and stuffing in the usual way.

 And as if by magic, my happy, smiley bear comes to life!

Monday 20 June 2011

In an English Country Garden

We knew our first 'Father's Day' without Dad wouldn't be easy, so my next-in-line sister Fiona and I, decided to face it with our chins firmly up, just as Dad would have expected of his girls. 

Simon, Fo's other half, came up with a plan to bundle us into his truck with Bugsy the German Shepherd, then drive us to Goddington Place an impressive manor house with beautiful gardens, open to the public on Sundays.


 I absolutely loved the formal English gardens, so perfectly planted, with each delightful garden leading through to another.


I wish I could share the scent of the lavendar here with you today, but instead you'll have to breathe deeply and imagine it filling the air ...

You know me, I can't leave a flower unphotographed ... and these glorious gardens were so bloomin' beautiful, my little point 'n shoot camera was working overtime!

We packed cagoules and it was as well we had, as every time the sun burst cheerfully through, more heavy clouds rolled in soon after.  It was as if April had arrived in June!

Fortunately, the quintessentially English tea-room, prettily decked out in green and white gingham, was on standby to provide coffee and handmade Victoria Sponge cake ... oh yum!

Fo enjoying a rather large slice of Victoria Sponge heaven!

We walked through rock gardens, past sheltered pools, along green paths lined with imposing yew hedges, we sat on the lawn in warm sunshine with Bugsy, enjoying a falconry display, we gazed at the countryside vista beyond weathered garden walls and finally, moments before the heavens opened, discovered hidden treasure at the end of a wonderful woodland walk ...

For Fiona and me, finding these woodland foxgloves on Father's Day was treasure enough ... Dad, a keen gardener, was so delighted with his own display of these stately bells last summer, it was impossible not to smile when we stumbled across some yesterday.

Foxgloves weren't the only secret this lovely garden had to offer though!  But I'm not going to spoil the fun of discovering Doddington Place's secrets, so if you have an hour or two spare on a Summer's Sunday afternoon, why not visit and discover them for yourself!

 Fo, Simon and Bugsy

Thanks for yesterday you three, I'm so glad we were able to share Father's Day together x

Friday 17 June 2011

The colours of a rainbow

I was delighted to find an envelope on my doormat this morning, containing these little beauties! 

Pure wool felt by Sue Eggen of Giant Dwarf
Many thanks to Joanne Livingston of Desert Mountain Bears Blog for kindly sharing the name of Giant Dwarf an Etsy seller of handmade, eco-friendly goods.  I just love the colours of this pure wool felt - they are so cheerful and will be perfect for my clown bears!

Thursday 16 June 2011

Show Shopping

You didn't think I'd go to a bear show and come home empty handed did you? Heaven forbid! I didn't buy a bear, but I did treat myself to some lovely new mohair from Bear Basics ...

 And although I like to knit for my bears myself, these cute little waistcoats on Elanor's (Shantock Bears) stand (which was positioned conveniently next to mine!) were just too good to ignore.  Elanor's mum is a whizz with her knitting needles and knits the outfits for Elanor's gorgeous little mice and bears ... luckily for me, she still has time to design and knit bear clothing for sale at shows too!

My final Stratford show purchase (if you don't count a rather large slab of lemon drizzle cake ... ahem!) was this super wooden chair from
Christopher's Chairs 

The chair has a hand carved, sculpted seat, designed for bears with a 'wider than average bottom'!  I couldn't resist bringing it home for dear old Bobby Bear, a 1940's Chiltern Hugmee from my personal collection.  As you can see, it's as if it was made to measure, especially for him!


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