Thursday, 11 August 2022

Peggy's progress

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PEGGY

Earlier this year, I told you about my Grandmother's childhood doll Peggy, a 1920's Armand Marseille doll, manufactured in Germany. Peggy was presented to me in a box, as naked as the day she was born, so I decided to research turn of the century knitting patterns and knit Peggy suitable clothes that my Gran might have approved of. So far I have made her a pair of pants, a dress and a bonnet to protect her real hair wig. I have also knitted one teeny tiny sock in crochet cotton on very skinny needs, which sent me boggle eyed! I will finish the other sock and knit a pair shoes and coat in the coming weeks... but in the meantime, here is Peggy wearing her new knits and looking much more like a well-loved dolly, a hundred years after she was first created.

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Summer Smiles

 

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'SUMMER SMILES'

This summery trio of 18" teddy bears, was recently commissioned by an overseas collector.

I was so pleased with them I couldn't resist sharing them with you here!

xxxxx

If you would like to chat about having a special teddy bear created especially for you, please drop me a line!

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Peggy

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PEGGY

I first met my Grandmother's childhood doll Peggy many years ago. She was carefully wrapped in a soft white cloth and lived in a stout cardboard box, which for many years was tucked away in the depths of one of my mum's cupboards, safely out of reach of my sisters and I. Peggy, an Armand Marseille bisque doll, was one of a few cherished belongings which passed to Mum when her own mother, my lovely Gran, sadly passed away in Autumn 1975, at the age of just 54 years.

Gran was born in 1921, so my guess is that Peggy must now be fast heading towards a hundred years old. Imagine that! Armand Marseille dolls were produced from 1885 until about 1930 and their bisque heads were created from unglazed porcelain with a matte finish, which gave a realistic, skin-like, texture. The thing that immediately resonated with me is how loved Gran's doll must have been to have survived for almost a century! In the 1920's and 1930's, these china dolls were very fragile so must have been dressed and carried with immense care ... it is a complete wonder, not to mention tribute to their careful young owners, that any survive intact today!

I have loved dolls and bears from childhood, through adulthood and don't mind admitting to adopting an occasional elderly dolly to share with my own Granddaughter ... in fact we seem to have gathered a lovely little collection of 1960's dollies over the past couple of years and they are regularly 'fed', dressed and taken for walks by their dedicated, almost-but-not-quite-four year old, custodian.

When Mum arrived at my house for a cuppa recently, I didn't notice a cardboard box tucked in her bag. We sat on the sofa, chatting about everything under the sun as usual, while we sipped mugs of hot tea (Mum) and coffee (me) ... then Mum handed me the box. At first it confused me as I instantly knew what was in the box, but wasn't sure why Mum was handing her doll to me. I carefully slipped the lid from the box and gently unwrapped Peggy from her blanket, taking care to support her china head as if she were a precious newborn baby.

I asked Mum if she would like me to dress her doll as poor Peggy was as naked as the day she had first been created by Armand Marseille (a popular doll manufacturer situated in Koppelsdorf, Germany). Somehow Peggy's original clothes had been lost through the passage of time. Mum smiled knowingly and that was when a strange thing happened, or maybe not so strange after all...

So, Peggy now lives with me and while she waits for me to finish knitting her an age appropriate dress and undies, she has borrowed a pretty cotton dress and knickers from my Tiny Tears doll, to cover her modesty. I have had a fascinating time researching vintage knitting patterns from the 1920's and 30's, so that I can knit something akin to what Gran and girls of her era may have dressed their dolls in. It has been an interesting dip into the social history of my Grandmother's day but more importantly, Peggy has given me a wonderful means of reconnecting with my Gran. Taking care of the dolly Gran cherished as a very young girl, has bridged the decades since her loss when I was only twelve years old and offered me a fresh view into my Gran's life as a young girl ... an elderly dolly always comes with a window into history, you just have to take the time to peek through the layers of dust and try to piece together the past.

I am so grateful to my Mum for passing Peggy into my care for the future and absolutely thrilled to be able to show her to my Granddaughter and tell her about how my Gran, her Great-Great-Grandmother, loved her dollies too.



Incidentally, for those of you wondering who Peggy's little teddy bear friend is ... he was made by the wonderful Pamela Ann Howells of 'Bears that are special'. Pam, a doyenne of the UK teddy bear world and on a personal note, a very lovely lady and old friend from my show days, was previously assistant designer to the famous Chiltern Hygenic Toy Company, in the 1950's.

Friday, 22 April 2022

A black and white memory

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A BLACK AND WHITE MEMORY

There is something so appealing about a panda bear don't you think?! I don't make many each year, but as a teddy bear maker, I always enjoy putting my own vision to the panda theme...

The panda bear is a member of the bear family and is called 'Da Xiong Mao' in China, meaning Giant Bear Cat. Giant Pandas mainly live in large bamboo forests in mountain areas of southwest China’s Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. The mountains are about 1200-3500 metres above sea level and covered with dense bamboo forest, which is the giant panda’s food.

One little panda bear cub called Chi-Chi, was caught in the wild in 1955 and taken to Beijin Zoo in China. She subsequently travelled from China to Russia, where she failed to mate successfully so was moved to Frankfurt Zoo, prior to being loaned to several further European Zoos. Poor Chi-Chi was shunted from pillar to post and even sold to a US zoo in Illinois (but refused entry to the US as a result of a trade embargo)... Chi-Chi eventually arrived in England and in 1958, was purchased by London Zoo for the princely sum of £12,000. There had been several pandas at London Zoo since the late 1930's, but sadly earlier panda bears had only lived short lives in captivity, so it was hoped Chi-Chi might be successfully mated to produce cubs.

Chi-Chi the panda cub was playful and cute and quickly became a much loved attraction at London Zoo, drawing visitors and media coverage from far and wide. I recall the thrill of visiting her with my parents at London Zoo's Mapin Terraces, in the mid 1960's.

As pandas were worringly rare in the wild and generally lived short lives in captivity, attempts were made to breed from Chi-Chi. It is believed they were unsuccessful because she had been raised by humans and simply didn't know how to respond to a male of her own species. Nevertheless, Chi-Chi became the inspiration behind the original 'World Wildlife Foundation' logo (a poster I proudly displayed on my bedroom wall as a young girl!) and the symbol of international wildlife conservation and hope for the future.

At age eleven years, Chi-Chi sadly died in captivity in 1972 and was mourned by the nation. Her body was preserved after her death and is now exhibited in London's Natural History Museum. It is worth noting, that in the wild, panda bears are known to live for twenty to thirty years.

The first toy panda bear toy was designed by Richard Steiff in 1938, in recognition of the first giant panda bear arriving in America, in 1937. Thanks to Chi-Chi and the other London Zoo pandas, panda bear toys became popular gifts for young children in the UK from the 1960's and were produced by British manufacturers such as Chiltern, Deans and Merrythought.  Like many other children, I was given a panda bear toy as a baby in the early 60's and have an old black and white a photograph of me, snuggled with my panda bear, as a baby. I can only assume that this gift, together with the visit to see Chi-Chi at London Zoo as a little girl, stayed with me and continues to inspire my own panda bear designs!

Sadly the panda bear, considered a national treasure in China, still has 'vulnerable' status in the wild today, a status upgraded from 'endangered' only recently. There are currently only 1,864 wild pandas recorded in existence, but thankfully, due to the work of the WWF to prevent further human encroachment onto their natural habitats, together with the recognition of the importance of the panda by the Chinese Government, numbers of these beautiful bamboo eating creatures are slowly increasing; although it should be stated that they still remain scattered, vulnerable and in need of awareness to further protect their habitat.  

After being taken from the wild as a cub, poor Chi-Chi lived out her life behind bars, at the beck and call of mankind. It is a sad tale witnessed through the eyes of an adult, yet through the eyes of a child I admit, it was a magical experience to be able to visit her in the UK.

If you would like to read more about the panda bear and support the work of the World Wildlife Foundation, please follow this link...

https://support.wwf.org.uk/adopt-a-panda 

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Lonesome Lonnie

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LONESOME LONNIE

I found myself at a loose end for a few hours over the Easter break, so decided to give Lonnie bear's nose a beautiful sheen. Waxing is a slow process, requiring patience and a steady hand, but I hope you'll agree, well worth the effort as it lends a lovely finishing touch to a traditional teddy bear.

Lonesome Lonnie is currently waiting for his special someone, so fingers crossed his smart new leather bell collar and posh new snoot help him catch someone's eye soon ... he really is far too lovely to stay sat on my workroom shelf!

Update: Lonnie has been adopted.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Thirty nine years

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THIRTY NINE YEARS..

I was just twenty years old when my baby girl was first placed in my arms, not much more than a girl myself. Thirty nine years have raced by and my baby girl has become a daughter any mum would be proud of ... independent, free thinking, compassionate, hard working and always determined to create the best in life, both for herself and for those she loves.

Happy Birthday to you Daughter, may all your days be full of the sunshine, love and laughter, you so deserve.

All my love always,
Mum xxx

Sunday, 13 March 2022

A moment to recharge

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A MOMENT TO RECHARGE

So what do teddy bear makers do in their free time? Well, Leeds Castle is not far from where I live, the perfect place to grab a camera and take a stroll in the beautiful grounds, breathe in the peace and enjoy the scenery.

This week I visited with my mum, armed with our cameras for a leisurely stroll round the lake, snapping away as we wandered through the gardens. Then we bought hot drinks, found a bench to sit on and had a natter as we watched the many birds who wander around, stopping to say an occasional hello to visitors as they busy their way around the lake. It was such a lovely way to recharge our batteries and take a moment out from the worries of the wider world.

Thursday, 3 March 2022

Dolly Days

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DOLLY DAYS

I wonder if you recognise this dolly? If you do, I am guessing you were probably a child of the fifties or sixties, like myself. I stumbled across dolly by chance on Ebay recently and before I could talk myself out of it, had contacted the owner to see if I could buy her...

She reminded me very much of a slightly larger version I owned as a little girl. I think my dolly was around 19" tall, and a more substantial doll. This smaller, more manageable version, is just 15" and fits comfortably into my granddaughter's dolly pram. Izzy promptly named her 'Grumpy Dolly' and took her to the local playground for some fresh air. Grumpy Dolly (also named 'Rosemary') arrived at my house tightly sealed in a plastic bag with two other 1960's dolly friends, a little Rosebud doll and a larger Palitoy baby doll. I like to think she appreciated her new dress, hairbrush and a caring young owner to take her out in the pram for walk and a play on the swings after being stored for over half a century.

Tucked away in my knitting pattern stash, was a vintage knitting pattern featuring the 'Chiltern Babykins', so I knitted her a pink dress and matching knickers to cover her modesty. I think I will make the socks this weekend. After so many years, she was due a new outfit!

For anyone still wondering, my sweet dolly was designed by the Chiltern Hygenic Toy Company, the same UK company responsible for creating our wonderful Chiltern Hugmee teddy bears. She was modelled to suck her thumb, with knees bent, just like a real baby. All Chiltern Babykins dolls had hair that looked as though a child had been left alone to hack it with a pair of scissors!

In the days of glamorous dollies, these dolls were sturdy, a more unusual style with their 'grumpy' faces but nonetheless, very endearing. In fact, I have rather a soft spot for them!

Sadly, my original Babykins doll 'disappeared' in my teens, most likely in a garage sale. As you can imagine, as one of five daughters, it wasn't always possible to keep childhood toys, so I have loved this trip down Memory Lane with my little Granddaughter, sharing dollies and making new memories together.

Friday, 25 February 2022

Weaving a gentle magic

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WEAVING A GENTLE MAGIC..

Years ago I established 'The Guild of Master Bearcrafters', celebrating the work of teddy bear artists around the globe. Our group ran successfully for many years, uniting the creative work of many international bear artist members. Some of the most outstanding and imaginative creations presented on the Guild, were designed by talented teddy bear makers from both Russia and Ukraine, teddy bear makers who seemed to weave a gentle magic through their work. I was always in awe of their skill and learned much from their inspired vision of the teddy bear.

To hear this week of the invasion by Russian military forces into Ukraine is both shocking and heartbreaking. To think of the fear now instilled into the lives of the creative people I knew as talented needlecraft and soft sculpture artists from both countries, makes no sense to me. To think of the wider issues implied by this act of aggression from one country to another, is simply too frightening to fully comprehend...

The teddy bear makers I knew from both Russia and Ukraine, worked with a passion for their craft, inspiring creativity in others as they pursued gentle, homebased businesses, creating teddy bears to share with the wider world. They were deft with their needles and generous with their knowledge.

They don't deserve this war.

No one deserves this war.

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Teddy bears, a tradition

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TEDDY BEARS, A TRADITION

Not that I don't enjoy the challenge of contemporary design, I do very much, but traditional bears were my first love and they still tug at my heartstrings today ...

In fact, I remember my early classic bears as old friends.  'Becks' and 'Scrump' for example, two gold teddy bears made by my sister and I way back in the mid 1990's.  They were made from glorious kid mohair in two alternative shades of gold. As sisters, we didn't collaborate beyond choosing the mohair together over a cuppa and yet when completed, our bears looked just as though they were brothers, meant to be together!

Then there was Orwell, another early 90's bear, beautifully big and totally traditional. I think I made about ten of these bears for collectors around the world, but never kept one for myself ... now I so wish I had!  I recall being absolutely delighted with my 25" teddy bear because it was the first time I felt as though I had succeeded in creating the kind of teddy bear I would truly like to buy for myself.

Not long after Orwell, came 'Timeless', a whopping 26" growler of a teddy bear. I made him for the  final Hugglets' 'Festival of Artist Bears' show in Stratford Upon Avon, in the mid 90's.  I stood behind the exhibition table with my sister Fiona and as the doors opened, a lady flew across the room to scoop him into her arms ... we watched as she fell hook, line and sinker in love on the spot! We had a super time at that show standing among the most famous bear artists of the time ... it was a completely thrilling day for two bear-making sisters, quite new to selling their own range of handmade teddy bears!

Luckily for me, traditional bears really are timeless and a decade later they were still very much in demand.  'Gorgeous George' was another bear of whom I was immensely proud. I gave this bear a gentle nod to modernity by introducing hand painted glass eyes and subtle shading to the eye socket, which really brought him to life.

Leaping forward several years, reminds me of dear 'Bellamy,' a magnificent 23" bear commissioned by a devoted gentleman collector.  Fabulous German mohair helped me achieve this very handsome bear ... there is definitely something about kid mohair, which lends itself to creating teddy bears of distinction.

I have designed many, many traditional teddy bears over the years, some large, some smaller, but all with a special simple charm. There is no doubt in my mind, traditional teddy bears should never grow old or become outmoded. They are bears to care about, bears to cherish and most definitely bears to take with us into the future. They are where the teddy bear began and have earned their place in every collection.

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Cherish

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CHERISH.. THE LOVE

A simple red heart says so much doesn't it? A teddy bear made with love, a gift given with love, a hug shared with love..

This teddy bear put me in mind of an old pop song called 'Cherish the love', by Kool & the Gang (and now playing in my head!) ... 

'Cherish the love we have, we should cherish the life we live
Cherish the love, cherish the life, cherish the love
Cherish the love we have, for as long as we both shall live
Cherish the love, cherish the life, cherish the love

Cherish the love
Cherish the life'

A verse with a positive message all those years ago (mid 80's I think)... and it occurs to me that after two years of pandemic heartache, these lyrics could easily apply to today too...

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

The green shoots of hope..

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THE GREEN SHOOTS OF HOPE

I always think there is something so fresh and hopeful about a green teddy bear and this new year, found myself drawn towards creating thi lovely apple green teddy, full of promise for the new year, as my first teddy bear of 2022.

Happily Myrtle was adopted quickly from my website and is now on her long journey to Australia, to share her message of hope for the future, with teddy bear friends 'Downunder'!

Monday, 3 January 2022

Portfolio of a Numpty

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PORTFOLIO OF A NUMPTY

Over the Christmas holiday I have been busy creating my annual portfolio of teddy bears. This is something I have done since around 2006, which would have been around the time I first became aware of the convenience of photobook software. I find photobooks a handy way to record each year's collection of teddy bear designs and it's lovely to be able to flick back through previous years' work; a great way of sparking new ideas, or developing old favourites.

I usually add a page of personal photographs taken during the year too, the idea being that they place my work within the context of my life. For me, making bears isn't a separate element of my life, it is very much part of the whole and ideas for teddy bears are often inspired from snippets of daily life.

When I finished adding last years' creations to the portfolio, I noticed colour was a dominant force throughout 2021, with lovely lilacs, pinks and soft pastels being particularly popular, pandas made a welcome return and the few festive teddy bears I made, were adopted straightaway.  Also, for the first time in a while, bigger bears were very much back in demand, leaving me little time to develop smaller ranges... in fact, I only made one 8" Tiddler Teddy this year! Regrettably, I didn't make a single Tweedy Ted in 2021 either, so there will be plenty of creative areas for me to consider working on during this coming year. I am delighted to say, all the bears I made found new homes and now reside in countries around the globe.

Happily, I started work on my first bear of 2022 yesterday. Not so happily, there was a bit of a disaster in my workroom when, for the first time in almost forty years of sewing machine ownership, I managed to sew a perfect stitch right through my fingernail and fingertip... not my finest hour and apologies to the universe for turning the air bright blue in my workroom while I extracted said throbbing digit from my faithful Pfaff. I now have firmly embedded, pale gold thread, hanging from my throbbing fingernail. Needless to say, after almost thirty years of injury free teddy bear making, I now feel rather a numpty...

As I approach the end of a year, I always ask myself if I think I will have any more teddy bears in me left to make in the coming year and so far, the answer has always been a resounding 'of course you do Paula!'  So, I hope you will be happy to hear that 2022 will be no different as I am buzzing with plans for lovely bears and can't wait to start sharing them with collectors again. I have new mohair on order, a tidy workroom and the first bear of 2022 in progress! 

Hello 2022. Here we go!

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