Thursday 30 May 2024

The Mists of Childhood


The original 'Ellie' wasn't made by me, it was in fact given to me by an uncle in 1963, the year of my birth. Back in those distant days, my little pink ellie had floppy ears and felt eyes, but as is the way of much loved childhood toys, they were worn away with many hugs, over the passage of time.

Ellie was one of a select group of soft toys gifted to me as a baby... Big Ted, my first Chiltern Hugmee teddy bear, given to me on my first birthday by my parents, Scotty, a handmade black dog made by my Nana's boarding house lodger, Sooty, a Chiltern mohair glove puppet given to me by an auntie, a knitted dolly wearing a striped skirt who came from a school jumble sale and my now earless ellie, who somehow managed to survive six long decades and although a little more careworn perhaps, is still much loved today. Which brings me to the other pink ellie in the photograph (left) created by me in 2007, in an attempt to replicate my childhood elephant toy.

I had the ideal piece of pink wool fabric which was tucked away in the bottom of my fabric box. Using memory to help me, I created new ears lined with beige velvet and rather than the felt eyes of my original elephant, I inserted tiny glass eyes, as this little elephant was to be given as a keepsake, rather than a child's toy and I preferred the look of the traditional glass eyes.

To achieve the simplistic style of the original design was a little more tricky than I initially anticipated - we live and learn don't we?! Despite my teddy bear design skills, it took several attempts to figure out the body gusset pattern so that my wee elephant could sit comfortably, maintaining the shape of the 1960's original and embodying all of its naive charm.

When I was a child, it wasn't unusual for special gifts to be handmade, so decades later, I was delighted to be able to continue this tradition for my sister and her new baby (who by the way, is now sixteen years of age!)

The next elephant I made was a funny little chap called 'Abe', created from vintage style mohair in 2008. I developed the original softie elephant pattern a tiny bit, to include a jointed head and a head gusset in what was a simple two piece head, to give the head more definition. I also took a little more artistic licence with his trunk shaping, but other than those minor adjustments, kept little 'Abe' ellie, pretty true to my original 1960's elephant.

After Abe, I wanted to tackle something a little more complex, so began work afresh in 2008, using one of my previous teddy bear designs as a starting point for a 16" jointed elephant, created in sparse vintage pink mohair. I was so thrilled with the result I sent a photograph of 'Delilah' to 'Australian Bear Creations' and they were kind enough to print it in their magazine.

I returned to my jointed elephant design in 2009, curious to see how it would work in alternative fabrics ... a
nd in 2009, my white standing circus elephant 'Starlight', was also featured in 'Australian Bear Creations' magazine!  

2010 was a challenging year creatively speaking, as I spent the first two thirds of the year working hard to develop my 'Careworn Collection' of teddy bears and the remaining third of the year simply trying to find motivation to work at all, after saying a sad farewell to my Dad that Autumn. Sad to say, there were no elephants in 2010 ...

My Dad would never have wanted me to lose my creativity, he always enjoyed my work and was proud of me; so in 2011, I picked myself up and dusted myself down and set to work. I wanted to develop my elephants' personalities further, so this time, designed two lovely new elephants with cute low slung ears and close set eyes, giving the ellies more character than ever before. 'Ma Cherie' and 'Forget-me-not' elephant worked their magic and soon had me smiling, inspired again, just as Dad would have wanted.

In 2013, I decided to make a Summer themed collection and came up with 'The Picnic Gang', a five piece group of friends including two bears, one rabbit, a clown and ... an elephant. This smaller design bridged the sweet naivety of my very first vintage style ellie design and the more sophisticated styling and personality of my later jointed elephants. 'Butterfly' elephant had a fun downturned trunk and nostalgic look, thanks to the vintage cotton print lining her ears and paws I used, together with her straw hat. I thought she was lovely, so in 2013, decided to take the design and use it to create Bluebell Ellie-Bear, part of my pastel 'Springtime Pals' trio, along with pals Hyacinth Bunny and Buttercup Bear. I knitted this pretty trio of friends sweet little jackets to complement their colouring.

It was ten years before another elephant came to life in my workroom. Last year, I made 'Jellybean' in the style of Ma Cherie and Forget-me-not, with large flappy cheerful downward ears, shaped arms and long, upward pointing trunk. This time, I wanted to introduce a new 'clown' element, by combining both pink and yellow mohair, contrasted with a cheerful Liberty print cotton fabric to line the ears and feet, giving Jellybean a bright, bold and cheerful personality.

In the sixteen years since my Great Niece Erin was born, I have created nine elephants,
 the threads of which are woven through the mists of my childhood and hers, inspired by a small straw-filled pink elephant, with felt eyes and loved away ears.

Friday 24 May 2024

The tale of Miguel the Magnificent


I began bear-making before the age of the internet and before it became the norm to own a computer in households throughout the UK.

British Teddy bear 'artists' were inspired by the amazing teddy bear makers in the US, who began a passion for handcrafted teddy bears which miraculously swept across the globe without the aid of the internet, eventually taking a strong foothold in the UK in the early 1990's, in a country well known for its own teddy bear heritage, since the early 1900's.

Creating teddy bears was a passion for me well before I was nudged into selling my work in the mid 1990's. In the 1980's I was a dedicated teddy bear collector of Chiltern Hugmee teddy bears, manufactured in the UK since the early 1920's. By the early 1990's, I had discovered the world of teddy bear artists and was in awe of makers such as Sandra Wickenden, Gregory Gyllenship, Janet Clark, Frank Webster and Sue Quinn, to name but a few! By the mid 1990's, I was inspired to create  my own bears and the rest, as they say, is my teddy bear history!

The years have since crept by and it recently it occurred to me that my earlier, pre-World Wide Web teddy bears, are probably little remembered nowadays because in the days when they were created, I didn't have a website or social media to share my work, so I took photographs of my creations on film cameras, walked into town to have them developed in a shop, then walked home again, to sort and post the photos to interested customers and specialist magazines (in the old fashioned way with an envelope and a stamp!) The spare photographs were dumped into bags, stored in my loft and generally forgotten about as the years ticked by. Many bags of printed teddy bear photographs made their way to the local tip when I moved house seventeen years ago, so will sadly never be seen again. In those days, I simply stored a few favourite teddy bear photographs in traditional photo albums on a shelf. I have promised myself to scan them into my computer and make a proper photo album soon, as it seems such a shame to have lost so much of my earlier teddy bear making history. The older I become, the more I appreciate a need to save images of my work and play my part in preserving the history of the British Artist Bear to share with future generations...

And with that in mind, I will start the process this very moment with one of the very first images scanned into my first computer, many years ago... I think it was taken in 1999, or maybe 1998 - definitely in the days before bear-making took a toll on my eyesight! I was perched on the steps of the house I had lived since 1983. Sat with me was 'Miguel the Magnificent', a huge teddy bear created in alpaca. I was very proud of him and we were having our photograph quickly taken in the garden, before I settled him into a large box and sent him aross the world to America, to meet his new owner...

Shortly before Miguel was made, I won my first 'British Bear Artist Award' in 1998 for a similar bear named 'Himself'. After the awards ceremony, 'Himself' was featured in the 'Teddy Bear Times' magazine and then somehow seen by a lovely collector named Sylvia, who lived in Chicago, in the United States. I wouldn't normally share a collector's name publically, but Sylvia was a huge support to my teddy bear making career, for which I will always be grateful and she was a very kindly lady. Sadly she is no longer with us, but she was an absolute gem within our teddy bear world and as I mentioned, a very kind lady...

One day, Sylvia contacted me and asked if I could make a huge teddy bear for a little friend of hers, a young boy who had been involved in a terrible accident. When she visited him in hospital, she was so sad to see how damaged and frightened he was, so asked how she could help him feel more safe... between them they decided a huge teddy bear would do just that and so she contacted me to make a bear similar to my award winner, 'Himself'. 'Miguel the Magnificent' flew out to his new owner, but sadly, too late. The little boy, too broken to stay, slipped quietly away, before Miguel the Magnificent arrived in the US and so my huge bear was given to his mother to help her through her grief instead. Later his mother donated the bear in her son's memory to a charity where she felt he could continue to help... and a kind donor presented the charity with a significent sum of money, in return for one great big teddy bear, who, before flying out from the UK, had with one fuzzy photograph taken with his maker, perched on her garden steps...

So that was the tale of Miguel the Magnificent. I don't know where he is now but I will never forget his story in my teddy bear history and the memory of a kind hearted lady named Sylvia.  


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