Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Teddy Bears from Recycled Fur and Mohair

By Christina VanGinkel

Constructing teddy bears is a hobby that many people enjoy. The finished bears appeal to both children and adults alike. While teddy bears may be crafted in a variety of ways, recycling old fur coats and mohair pieces, are a favorite.

The idea of reusing old materials to create something innovative is not a new idea, but when someone takes the time to create a teddy bear from old materials, the results are always unique, with no two bears ever the same. It lends each one a sense of uniqueness, of individuality that other stuffed animals just do not have, in this modern age of assembly line products.

The first time I encountered a recycled bear was actually at a craft fair. And, it was not a single bear, but a completely filled table of them. Some sat on the table, some under it sitting on crates and filling a small wooden wagon. More were also stacked on a display shelf that the artist had set up. As to me referring to her as an artist, that is what I would call her, as anyone who could take a pile of old stuff, and from the pile create the loving, funny, some serious looking, bears from it, was surely an artist and not just another crafter. The woman had taken old mink stoles and fur coat pieces and created bears ranging in size from just a few inches tall all the way to those that were about eighteen inches tall. Each bear was also dressed in salvaged materials. Several of the boy bears wore re-crafted jackets that were made from wool dress coats, and several more sported silk vests and ties, re-crafted from men's silk dress shirts.

The girl bears were decked out in lace and bonnets, crafted from old, damaged lace tablecloths. Several of them also wore spectacles, again, old, recycled ones. I even discovered what the artist who made them referred to as a granny bear. The bear wore an apron, and was holding a child's sized wooden rolling pin. Tucked into another corner sat a small boy bear, with knickers and a small cap, sitting atop his head at just the right angle that it made him appear as if he was on his way to school to maybe boss someone around. My favorite though was a small bear, obviously a grandma bear, with a very old pair of spectacles hanging around her neck, and a small ball of wool yarn in her one paw, with a crochet hook in her other paw. Each way I turned was yet another bear, another personality, and I would have bought each and every one if I could have afforded them all!

The only thing on them that I could ascertain was new was their glass eyes. In talking with the woman who made them, she said the hardest part of the whole process was selling them. She stated that when she began each one, she had just the roughest plan in mind, and just let her hands guide her. As the bears were assembled, she would then dress them in much the same way, with no real plan of action, just allowing each one to come together. This resulted in a gaggle of unique bears, with no two ever alike. While she used a sewing machine for some of the stitching on the bodies and the clothes, she also hand stitched on each and every bear, embroidering their noses, and some other small touches.

When I pressed her on why she made the bears, she at first looked at me as if I had asked her why she breathed. She just did was her first reply. She had been a crafter for as long as she could remember, and had always had a fondness for sewing. One day, a friend asked her if she had any use for an old fur jacket that she had come to own when her Aunt had moved from a much larger home into a smaller one. She also had a garbage bag of other odds and ends that her Aunt had thought she might have a use for, but after looking through the bag, there was not much of anything in it she wanted. She went on to tell me that the bag was actually filled with a huge assortment of old pieces of clothing and embellishments, including two pairs of spectacles.

She ended up taking both the fur coat and the bag, and that was it. She had seen a bear years before that someone else had made, and with a granddaughter just born, she thought she would make one for her. That had been many bears before, and she said she would continue to make them until her hands decided otherwise.

Making recycled teddy bears is a hobby that many people enjoy. The uniqueness of each bear is something that never loses its appeal. If you are interested in making your own recycled teddy bear, be sure to check out one of the many online resources for teddy bear supplies. For more information, be sure to check out's book selection on this favored hobby including Teddy Bears with a Past, by Nancy Tillberg, Ted Menten's Teddy Bear Studio: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating Your Own One-Of-A-Kind Artist Teddy Bear, by Ted Menten, or The Complete Book of Teddy Bear Making Techniques, by Alicia Merrett and Ann Stephens. Each of these books has something to offer anyone interested in the hobby of crafting teddy bears!

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