Thursday 29 March 2012

Recycle, Reuse ...

As I was saying yesterday, I've been hard at work on my latest project, a 'Scrap Heap' bear for the Guild of Master Bearcrafters' latest challenge.  I remember buying my pair of Levi jeans years ago, then loving them into a faded, shabby looking 'me' shape.  Eventually, as is the way of most old clothing, those jeans lay forgotten in the bottom of my wardrobe, waiting in vain for me to shed a few pounds. Despite a little nostalgic reluctance, earlier this week I made that first vital snip along the leg seams, sacrificing my worn out, too-snug-around-the-waistband Levi's, in the name of creativity.

'Red Levi' 

'Red Levi' has vintage buttons for eyes and I have tried to incorporate the most 'interesting' elements of my jeans, such as the famous 'Red Tab', pocket, Levi Strauss button and printed pocket linings, into his design. I was interested to read that the Levi Strauss Company, founded in 1853, actively supports a sustainability and recycling ethos within their business today, so now it seems all the more appropriate to have sacrificed my comfy old jeans for the 'Scrap Heap Challenge'!

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Scrap Heap Challenge

Once every quarter, I put my thinking cap on and try to come up with an interesting challenge for the Guild of Master Bearcrafters; something to help crank up those creative artistic juices!  With news bulletins constantly reminding us to be more frugal, recycle and generally 'draw in our belts', it dawned on me this time, that a return to the wartime 'make do and mend' ethos could be fun ... and so our 'Scrap Heap Challenge' was born!  We are avoiding the temptation to use expensive mohair, instead we're hunting around for suitable fabric scraps with which to create our bears!

As usual, I'm way behind the rest of the group and am aware the deadline looms this Saturday.  I will be working on my Scrap Heap Challenge bear this week and have decided to sacrifice an elderly pair of much-loved Levis ... it's time to face facts Paula, they won't ever fit you again, so they might as well be put to good use!

I've never made a denim bear before, so this should be fun!

Monday 26 March 2012

An Englishman's home is his castle

I have lived in Maidstone, with the brief exception of a couple of years spent in London, since I was a mere snippet of just twelve, which is now not far short of forty years ago ... goodness me, where do those years go?  One of the local places of interest I have always wanted to visit, but for some inexplicable reason never have, is Leeds Castle 

My favourite castle photograph of the day!

Isn't it strange how we often travel far and wide to visit attractions, but somehow overlook what is virtually on our own doorstep?  Leeds Castle is only a ten minute drive from my house and yet, despite hearing of its grandeur, I haven't ever set foot in the castle grounds!  A visit was long overdue and last week, Stuart and I set that to rights.

The Castle

It was a classic Spring day with cheery yellow daffodils and warm sunshine beaming, making it the perfect day to wander through the grounds of our lovely local castle, amidst the delightfully regal peacocks.

Welcoming us to the castle grounds, a very regal peacock!

One thing's for sure, we certainly won't be leaving it another forty years until we return!  We have promised ourselves a visit in May to enjoy the bluebells in the ancient woodlands surrounding the castle grounds and as I am sure the formal gardens will be ablaze with Summer colour from June onwards, no doubt we'll be back to admire those too.  We were so enchanted with the grounds, we haven't seen the inside of the castle yet, but as our tickets last all year, I am happy to say, we can afford to save that treat for another day!

Hooray, the maze exit sign at last!

One thing I definitely don't want to do again though, is tackle the castle maze - it's tricky and we took absolutely ages to find our way to the centre grotto and escape from the neat hedgerows, by which time I was quite grumpy!

Showing off, a white peacock!

After our lovely afternoon in the sunshine at Leeds Castle, we strolled back towards the car and were treated to a spectacular display by a pure white peacock who decided to put on a show for us.  It was such a fabulous ending to our visit ... not only have I never visited Leeds Castle before, I've never seen a white peacock either!

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Learning Curves

Making and selling teddy bears might seem like a dream job and in many ways it can be, but believe me, it certainly isn't all about sewing!

When I first began making bears, I didn't even own a computer and the potential for internet exposure had never entered my consciousness.  In those days, cameras used film to capture images and it was necessary to wait several days for photographs to be developed in town before I could sift through them and put them to good use. Marketing my bears relied heavily on sending pics through the post to collectors and I think it's fair to say working life definitely moved at a more gentle pace!

But times have changed.  Technological advancements mean these days the internet is at our fingertips, eager to help us sell and the world of teddy bears continues to leap forward, as more and more collectors embrace the World Wide Web.  Keeping up with progress has meant learning a raft of new skills throughout the past decade and like so many other bear makers and craft workers, I have had to teach myself not only to use a computer, but also to maintain a website to market my work on the internet.  This in turn required a move from the film photography I was once so comfortable with, to the unfamiliar complexities of digital photography.

Needless to say, soon after I bought my first digital camera I realised I would have to learn how to create a studio for my photography and master photography software programmes to create professional images of my work.  Luckily for me, my sister Tina inherited our Dad's passion for photography and as a consequence, spent several years studying to become a professional photographer.  As they say, sometimes it's not what you know, but who you know!  Initially I relied heavily on Tina's photographic skills to help me, but over time, she shared her knowledge, teaching me how to set up a little studio, take my own photographs and edit them for marketing.

This week I decided it was time to 'push the envelope' further by teaching myself how to use a light tent to photograph my new, smaller bears.  My first port of call for advice was of course, my sister.  Once we'd identified exactly which equipment I would need for this new project, I placed an order and yesterday, set the afternoon aside to play!

I soon worked out what went where and positioned my first teddy bear subject.  The light tent was quite a bit larger than expected, so my first task this morning was to order a smaller one, to fit more comfortably on my dining room table! 

I found mastering the manual settings on my camera for the light tent, a very different process than my usual tungsten lamp set-up; but by a process of trial and error, combined with posting photos 'real-time' on my Facebook page for Tina's running commentary, I slowly began to grasp the mysteries of 'depth of field', 'aperture', 'shutter speed' and that all-important 'white balance'!

It didn't take very long before I wanted to try things 'my way', so I stuck in a piece of card I'd saved for pattern making with masking tape, weighted it with some of my pots and started tweaking the camera settings all over again.

As you can see from the pic above, I didn't get it right straight away!

After several long hours of intense concentration and many unsatisfactory pics, I slowly began to understand what my camera was asking from me and eventually produced a few photographs I was actually quite happy with!

By tea-time yesterday, I was confident I would be able to make good use of the light tent, so decided to put my new equipment away, feeling rather pleased with myself.  Silly me, I should have known better!  After an afternoon of progress, the bloomin' pop up light tent finally defeated me by belligerently refusing to pop down. I battled with the wretched thing for ages, so did Stuart when he came home from work, but neither of us could beat it.  Every time we thought we had it trapped into submission, it sprang back out at us.  I swear those things have a life force all of their own!

I'm going to add these pics of little 'Jeremy' to my website after lunch; there's no point in learning a new skill, if it's not put into practice!

Monday 12 March 2012

Up, up and away!

Up, up and away?  Well maybe if my vertigo would permit me the freedom to cut loose and soar, but given that I'm the kind of girl who finds herself clinging desperately to handrails whenever she climbs the ramparts, it's unlikely I'll ever find myself in the basket of one of these ...

It must be an amazing sensation to float on the breeze and watching this hot air balloon rise majestically towards the beautiful clear blue sky in Mote Park yesterday afternoon, was quite a treat in itself!

Thursday 8 March 2012

A New Direction

This little fellow made his way to my website for adoption this morning and was adopted so quickly I'm sure my head spun!  It seems my new 'Tiddlers' may well be a welcome addition to the wider All Bear family!

8" Harry

There's nothing quite like a speedy adoption to give a bear maker confidence when taking a new design direction, so thank you to everyone who has been so enthusiastic about this latest project!

Monday 5 March 2012


I have been itching to start work on the new little bears mentioned in my previous post, but restrained the impulse until today, to make sure the bear waiting patiently in my work basket wasn't overlooked.

 11" Wilf' and little bro' 'Chip'

I'm happy to say both Chip and his bigger brother Wilf both found new homes very quickly, so now I'm about to dive in to my lovely new little bear fabrics and start creating again!

Friday 2 March 2012


After a major show, I always feel the need to take a few days away from bear-making to recharge my batteries, so this week I have been working on the computer rather than in my sewing room.  It is starting to feel as though Spring is just around the corner here in the UK, so I've been inspired to give a fresh new lilac look.  While I was about it, I introduced three new bears for sale on the site, then one thing led to another and I decided to teach myself how to add Paypal buttons to make payment easier for customers - but as always with all things website based, what I thought would be a simple task, of course, proved otherwise.  Several frustrating hours later, I eventually managed to sort things out and thankfully now my website is working efficiently again!

8.5" Chip

Once I'd sorted out the website and a few other marketing bits 'n pieces, my thoughts turned to Spring bears.  As you know, I'm far better known for creating substantial, armful sized bears, than tiddlers, but the little chap in the pic above was such fun to make, I've decided to dabble further! Although I've always steered clear of making little bears because there are many other bear artists who already do the job exceedingly well, I've decided to be brave and try to include little bears in my 2012 range.  With that in mind, I spent several hours hunting on the internet for suitable fabrics earlier in the week and was thrilled when they were promptly delivered from Germany yesterday!

I would like to create some colourful little bears for the Spring, maybe in clown style, so these pretty shades will be perfect!

And this more realistic brown bear mohair should result in some very handsome tiddly teds!

I was exactly like the proverbial kid in a sweetie shop while I um'ed and ah'ed over which fabrics to work with and although I had chosen plenty to be going on with, just couldn't resist this gorgeous selection of alpacas too! I'm hoping they will make really cuddly little bears.

I still have a couple of larger bears in my work basket to finish before I can start on the tiddlers, but once they are finished I'm going to make time to play with my lovely new fabrics ... please watch this space for progress updates!


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