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Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern - Part 1

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

In my Anatomy Of A Bear series, I covered the many steps involved when I make a bear.  There are no hard and fast rules on how this should work, but I hope it is useful for any new beat makers that stumble across it :o)

 I thought I'd do a bit of a progress series on making TBB II for anyone curious about how a bear is born (and even for those of you aren't ;o) )  The first bears that I made were from patterns made by other makers sold either individually or as kits with all the mohair etc included (Bear Basics in the UK, Intercal in the US ), however in the same way as for other sewing patterns, you usually cannot sell bears made from these patterns, so when I started selling my bears, I had to design my own patterns.

From the patterns I had already used I had a good general idea of the pieces I would need, however there are many variations, eg 1 piece versus 2 piece legs, 2 piece versus 4 piece bodies, 2 piece versus 3 piece heads, and let's not start on the whole idea of inset pieces to get tonal effects!  Ted Menten's Teddy Bear Studio is a great book to show you how patterns can be drawn and altered for different effects.

For TBB II, I'm using Maple's base pattern shrunk down, but my first step in designing a bear is usually to draw the pattern out on paper.  I do most bits freehand except for the foot pads and head gusset (when doing 3 piece heads), where I break out my flexible curve ruler (you can get flexible curves both with and without measurements, but if you want those pieces to fit, I'd suggest one with a ruler ;o) )

Once I'm happy that I've got the proportions right (using the terribly technical, layer the pieces of paper, lining them up at the joints and holding up to the light method), my next step is to dig out the template plastic.  Now this is actually sold for quilters, but hey, what's a little multi-tasking between friends ;o)  Armed with a Sharpie, I then trace all my hand drawn pattern pieces using a light box:

I mark out one pattern piece for every time I will need it - ie for a 2 part leg, I mark out 4 pieces - then I arm myself with a pair of sturdy paper scissors to cut them all out.  Whilst it's tempting to just cut one of each, trust me when I say that this method is invaluable for allowing you to work out the best layout of pieces on the 'fur' so that you get the least waste.  It also ensures you actually have enough 'fur' for your chosen project (unless, of course, you fancy changing your plans to make a pirate bear because you're one leg short...)  

On your 'fur' of choice, you will then need to find the nap, that is, the way the furry bit actually runs.  As you stroke it in different directions, you should be able to see which way the pile lies - note this may be obvious on some fabrics, but rather less so on others, like TBB II's curly mohair.  Lay your pattern pieces out on the fabric backing so that the pile is running in the right direction for the part, noting that the ears can generally fit in any wee gap you have in your layout:

My next tool of choice is a gel pen.  I usually use white, but there's no hard and fast rule here!  I use it to trace round all the pieces.  

Now I can just see you quilters with your rotary cutters thinking 'why would I need to do that last step, I'll just run the cutter round it'.  But that would be bad, very bad... 

At this point I use Fray Check (I use Prym brand) between the points where I have all the openings marked where the fabric will be turned through:

Initially the backing fabric will look very dark, but it does dry lighter:

You will have noticed that I applied the Fray Check to either side of my cutting line, this ensures that when I cut the pieces out the Fray Check goes right to the edge that it is meant to be protecting.  I don't apply huge amounts of it, just a thin line from the bottle (which will spread a bit) - you want to protect the edge, but you don't want to see it on the finished bear!  As well as between the openings, I usually add a drop to the nose pieces as well.

Once the Fray Check is dry, It's time to start cutting.  I use small embroidery scissors for this job, as you need to slide the bottom part of the scissors along the backing on the fur side, to avoid cutting through any of the fur.  Below you can see the difference between a piece of mohair which has been cut properly (headpiece) and a piece that has been cut through, fur and all:

The problem with you cutting directly through the fur is that you would end up with unnaturally short fur around the seams, which would emphasise the seams rather than hiding them, which is what you would ideally want to achieve.  The longer the pile of the fur, the worse the problem would be, and it would be especially noticeable around the face.  On the head piece above, you can see how the fur curls over the edges, which lets the seam blending happen.

Once the pieces are all cut out, I then move on to trimming the fur on the seam allowances. This is one of those things that no-one ever writes on a pattern, in fact they don't ever mention how to cut out the pieces either!  Trimming the seam allowances reduces a lot of bulk when sewing, but it also saves you from having tufty seams.  This is Oracle, my very first bear. 

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

I used a pattern I'd bought at a tiny fair from a now defunct bear supplies shop - I should point out that he looks nothing like the bear on the cover photo, and no matter how I have examined both the photos and the pattern since, I still can't work out how you would achieve the cover photo, which makes me think that perhaps there had been a bit of a photo-sticking mishap when packaging the pattern!  Anyway, at least he looks like a bear, but if you look at his muzzle you'll see that around the seams there are very thick bits of fur that no matter how hard I tried to trim them back once he was finished, would not disappear!  

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

In comparison if you look at this photo of Glinda you can see that there is no tuftiness on the muzzle: 

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

Taking the scissors that I use to cut the fur out, I then carefully trim back the fur on my seam allowance, which you can just see round the top of this head piece: 

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

Now we're ready to start assembling the bear.  

I thought it was worth taking a week out to look at all the materials and tools I use when I'm making a bear, some of which you probably expect, and one or two of which might surprise you!

Firstly, the materials:

1. Mohair - the main fabric used for the bear (note that for regular sized bears you can also use faux fur, viscose or recycled fur, but make sure with both of these that they are not cheap version, and that they will stand up to years of hugs!  For minis there are a number of short pile options)
2. Ultrasuede - used for paw pads (note that you can also use suede, leather, wool felt, cotton and more)
3. Stuffing - I use bouncifil stuffing, which I have an entire bale of in my hallway.  I kind of feel like it's the elephant in the room when my flatmate has friends to visit, but I enjoy perplexing them ;o)
4. Eyes - I use mainly glass eyes with wire loops on the back, although I have used boot buttons on a couple of occasions
5. Joints - Depending on the style of bear and the size, I use cotter pin or nut and bolt joints, and sometimes a combination of the two.  You can buy packs of 5 joints suitable to make a single bear, but I buy the disks, nuts and bolts separately by the 100!  Cotter pin discs have small holes for the pins to pass through, while nut and bolt discs have wider openings to allow the bolt to pass through, but both types are usually made of a compressed wood.  The nuts are usually lock nuts, with the exception of the ones used for the head joint
6. Sticky back felt - I use this to create the base of my noses
7. Perle cotton - I use this both on my noses and on my feet for the pulled toes
8. Glass sand and steel shot - I use this to add weight to my bears both to help them stand, and to give that heavier feeling that traditional bears have over their modern plush counterparts
9. Pop socks - yep, I really did mean pop socks!  I use these in a couple of places - firstly to hold any glass sand or steel shot that I'm using for weighting, as the mesh is too fine to allow them to seep through, and secondly to pop my growlers into so that none of the stuffing gets into the workings
10. A growler - I don't always use these, but they come in a variety of sizes to fit different bears.  They come in both cardboard and plastic, however I only have the cardboard ones on hand (and fear not, this huge one isn't for TBB II, his is in the post ;o) )

Secondly, the pattern drafting and transfer tools that we've already seen in use: 

1. Pencil and rubber - invaluable for sketching the pattern
2. Paper to draw the pattern onto - I also have A3 sheets for the big bears
3. Flexible curve - used to measure foot pads and head gussets to ensure they will fit the other pattern pieces they are set into
4. Template plastic - used to transfer the pattern to the fabric
5. Sharpie - used to draw the pattern onto the template plastic
6. Scissors - used to cut out the template plastic
7. Gel pen - used to draw round the template plastic onto the fabric
8. Fray Check - used to reinforce the fabric at the openings where the pieces will be turned through

Thirdly, the cutting and sewing tools: 

1. Small, sharp pointed, small bladed scissors - used to cut out the fabric pieces, trim back seam allowances, and clip curves
2. Regular standard needles - used for tracking and for the hand sewing portions of the assembly
3. Bright contrast thread - used for tacking and basting as it's easy to see to remove
4. Thread to match the mohair - used with the sewing machine and hand stitching portions
5. Seam ripper - used to ease fear from seams
6. Pins - used to hold pieces together when sewing
7. Sewing machine (not pictured) - used to sew large pieces together

Fourthly, the stuffing, finishing and jointing tools: 

1. Fine embroidery scissors - used for scissor sculpting
2. Chopstick - used for stuffing small places
3. Stuffing stick - used for stuffing larger places
4. Locking forceps - used for pulling through little pieces, and occasionally stuffing
5. Bradawl - used to make holes for the joints
6. Doll needles - used for needle sculpting, pulled toes, eyes and ears
7. Topstitching thread - used for needle sculpting
8. Linen thread - used for eyes
9. Adjustable spanner - used for nut and bolt joints
10. Socket set - used for nut and bolt joints
11. Super glue - used to stick the head joint bolt in
12. Needle-nosed pliers - used for cotter pin joints and for eyes
13. T-pins - used to mark out ears and toes
14. Pearl-headed pins - used to mark out toes
15. Position eyes - used to test out eye placement
16. Pet brush - used to fluff up the seams
17. Measuring tape (not picture) - used to measure joint position

Finally, the decorating tools:

1. Copic markers and blender - used to shade the bear
2. Hair dryer - used to set the shading and fluff up the bear
3. Ribbons - used as the finishing touch

Now the thing with bears it that they're very curvy (it's all the honey you know).  I found, through much experimentation, that the easiest way to ensure that the small, rounded pieces didn't slip against each other during sewing, was to tack them together first (remember that the mohair will make it slippy).  I start with any darts that I've added to the pattern, so in this case, I have 2 darts in each side headpiece, and 2 in each body piece.  Then I move on to any other free pieces that have no darts in, adding the paw pads to the inner arms, putting the ears together, and putting the legs together (leaving the bottom open to insert the foot pads).  I use a whip stitch when tacking rather than the usual running stitch as it seems to, again, prevent slipping:

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

I take these to the sewing machine first, so that I can then do the main tacking in one sitting.  A good rule is to start your darts at the edge and work in to the point, back stitching a little at the edge, but tying off at the point. 

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

Now I remove the tacking stitches and snip down to the point, because I want to sew the main pieces together with the dart seams open.

Round 2 of the tacking is to do the chin section of the head, putting the arms together, and putting the body pieces together, then back to the sewing machine again before a final round of inserting the head gusset and foot pads.  For the head gusset, I originally used to only hand sew the piece, although lately I've built up to machine sewing down to the muzzle part and finishing by hand.  I always do the foot pads by hand, because, try as I might, I can't get my footpads in nicely by machine, I think because I do very shaped pads, which have a sharp turn in them on the ultrasuede side, but not on the mohair side.  For all my hand sewing I use tiny backstitches: 

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

Now you have all the major sewing bits done: 

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

It's time to break the seam ripper out now.  No, not to remove any stitches, but to release any trapped fur.  Although I trim my seam allowances, I tend to sewing a tiny fraction onto the fur side, so I like to go round and ease any strands back through from the stitching to prevent seam tuftiness.

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

At this point you might think that we're ready to stuff, but alas, there's one more stage...

For any of you familiar with making curvy things, such as bags, you may know exactly where we're going now, but for those of you who have thus far lived life on the straight edge, you will need to arm yourself with a pair of small, sharp pointed scissors now, as we're going to start clipping the curves.  Now for curve clipping, it has to happen at regular, and small intervals - what you're trying to achieve is to ease the fabric on the seam allowance so that your main piece can keep a pleasing curve, if you leave the clip points too far apart you'll end up with a curve that has lots of straight lines on it!

When clipping, I snip only the curved parts, as well as the transition point between straight and curved pieces, such as where the top of the foot meets the bottom of the leg.  On the ears, I also clip off the corners:

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

Once the curves are clipped, we're still not quite ready to stuff, sorry!  I found over the years that if I tried to stuff at this point I would get bumphly seams in some areas (that's a totally technical expression you understand).  In order to make sure that when stuffing I didn't mash up the seam allowance, I now take all my seams open (thanks to a suggestion from a beary forum).  Yes, I know, you just want to get on and stuff, but I like my bears to have a nice, professional, non-lumpy finish ;o)

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

When I get to the paw pads, I tack the ultrasuede seam allowance to the mohair side, so that I don't put holes in the ultrasuede, where it would be permanently visible:

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

You'll see I use bright thread (in this case purple) taking long stitches, because I need to be able to both find and remove them again easily after the bear is stuffed.

Okay NOW you can turn the pieces the right way out :o)  I use my locking forceps at this point to turn the arms and legs out.  They allow me to grip the seam allowance and a bit of the main pattern piece and push it through the opening let for turning:

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern

Here are all the pieces ready to go:

Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern


Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern PART 2 >>


Teddy Bear DIY Tutorial and Pattern


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