After working with Magnolia's fluffy, nose tickling, alpaca last week, I decided to have a break from all things fluffy and work with the other end of the teddy bear fabric spectrum this week ...
As regular readers will know, I love Harris Tweed, a beautiful pure wool fabric, woven in a fabulous array of colours and patterns and perfect for making creative cloth bears. For my current project, I have opted for a herringbone pattern, contrasted with a simple stripe (but I'm afraid you will have to wait for the colours to be revealed when he is finished in the next day or so!)
Designing and making a cloth bear is a slightly different process from creating their furry cousins and I tend to pick and choose techniques used in both cloth doll and teddy bear making, to create my own range of 'Tweedy Teds'.
For anyone considering making a cloth bear, here are a few thoughts that spring to mind:
Keeping an eye on proportion at the pattern design stage is very important, as tweed has a looser weave than the usual mohair backing, which means a body and limbs can easily looked overstuffed and far too wide, which in turn can make poor teddy look very uncomfortable and far too big for his own head!
Closing seams and inserting glass eyes is also a challenge because of course, without fur, there will be nowhere to hide any finishing stitches ... and as any professional teddy bear maker will tell you, finishing work must be as invisible as possible! Nose stitching can be tricky too, as it's not easy to stuff the nose area as firmly as you can in a mohair bear, without distorting the muzzle shape, so the tension of your embroidery thread becomes all-important to achieve a perfect finish.
When it comes to stuffing a cloth bear, care has to be taken to not only ensure the weave of this wonderful fabric (if using tweed for example) isn't pierced with the pointy end of a stuffing tool (easily done!) but also to make sure teddy isn't lumpy, is suitably firm to hold and won't have misshapen paws ... and speaking of paws, I line those with wadding so they have a nice smooth finish when stuffed. I prefer to add a few plastic pellets in the centre of teddy's tummy cavity to weight, whether furry or not, so I contain those in a separate bag to ensure they don't pop through the weave when cuddled.
Jointing can be done with hardboard joints and cotterpins/nuts 'n bolts, but depending on the cloth used, size of your bear and it's purpose, (ie., will it be a gift for a child* (please see note below) or is it intended as an adult collectible?) you may prefer to reinforce the fabric at the site of the joint and line the joints. Alternatively, why not try buttoned thread joints? They are often used in doll making and can look fab on teddy bears too, especially if you make your own buttons!
Lollipop, an award winning thread jointed cloth bear
designed by Paula Carter
For anyone wondering if making a cloth bear is easier than making a mohair bear, the answer I would give is a resounding 'no'. In fact creating teddy bears from fur-free cloth is a great way of laying bare any teddy bear artist's true bear-making talents! That said, it is great fun to choose fabrics which reflect your own themes and ideas and have the freedom to create truly unique and original teddy bears!
*NB: if creating cloth or fur teddy bears for children to play with, please do not use glass eyes or any parts which could be a choke hazard. Use plastic safety joints rather than hardboard/cotterpin joints to attach limbs. If preferred, you could stitch head and limbs to body with extra strong thread, rather than jointing. Don't include plastic pellets in the tummy cavity and most importantly, check very carefully that all pins have been removed from teddy before he is given to the child to play with.