Friday, September 11, 2009
What Bears Are Made Of ~ It's Not Just Sugar And Spice And Everything Nice!
I had a post I was going to make today about another topic, but a comment I received two posts ago made me realize it's time for an informatory post on the types of materials I use and what goes into making a bear.
I have two teddy bears that belonged to my Father when he was a kid. They are still in excellent condition despite being played with for two generations. When I embarked on bear making as a career I knew right away that I wanted to make something that would withstand the trials of life and tests of time the same way these two guys have. I am really detail oriented and just flat out picky about how I do things. I could never take on any assistants because they would never do the work to my standards and they would end up hating me as an employer.
I have one bear, Phineas Edgewater...Edgy for short, (shown above) that I made and kept that has been traveling the world with me doing shows for many many years. He has had a well loved but tough life and the dubious honor of being my crash test dummy so to speak...just don't let him hear you call him that! He has been stuffed into carry on luggage, gone through the x-ray machine so many times he should glow at night, bumped around in back seats, been carried all over, and gotten attention and hugs from friends and strangers alike. The only thing that has ever happened to him is that one of his thread claws caught on something and got pulled loose. I was able to fix it of course...but when that happened, I set about figuring out a way for this to (hopefully) never happen to any of them again.
Some years ago a major company approached me to do designs for them. (No it wasn't Boyds, this was before them.) While the money would have been good, I turned them down because I knew seeing my patterns manufactured overseas and made of lesser grade materials in stores would drive me nuts. I would be critiquing faces and assembly, picking fur out of seams and straightening bows every time I saw one.
The most common material for jointed artist teddy bears to be made from is mohair. Back in those days however, there were no suppliers in this country. So if I wanted to get mohair it meant scouring antique shops and secondhand stores. Army jackets used to be lined with mohair, furniture was upholstered in it, and carriage lap robes used to be made of it. Even theater seats were made out of it sometimes.
But what is mohair and where does it come from? Mohair is sheared from angora goats, and then woven into a cotton backing. This type of mohair is only produced in a teeny tiny quantity in the US in Texas, but the majority of it comes from Germany and a little from England. It comes in a variety of colors, styles and lengths. In order for bear artists to use the highest quality mohair we have to get it through an importer. There are only two importers in the US. All of my supplies come from Edinburgh Imports. Mohair is incredibly expensive, and costs on the average about 200.00 a yard but can go up to 400.00 a yard. I even use a higher quality thread to assemble each piece.
I also occasionally use alpaca which is created in the same way, but comes from alpacas. There are also a lot of quality german synthetics, but I don't use those. I prefer to stick to traditional mohair.
Their paw pads are made from imported German wool felt. (This is also what I have used for the little bears in the previous posts, as well as any other felt I use on my pieces.) The difference between German wool felt and regular craft store felt is pretty much like apples and oranges. Craft store felt is not sturdy, and made of a synthetic. It costs about 25-50 cents a square. German wool felt is made of a combination of virgin wool and merino wool. It's finely felted, leaving it very smooth and thick and you don't see any light through it if you hold it up, unlike craft store felt. You can wash it, you can stitch it, you can turn the pieces, and in order to poke a hole in it you have to apply a good bit of pressure. It costs about 45.00 a yard. Craft store felt would not survive those things. I have noticed wool felt being offered in fabric stores now, but it's still no where near the quality of what I use.
All of my pieces have glass eyes, which is a large part of why they are collectibles and not for children. Glass eyes are hand blown with a wire loop to set them into the bear. The noses are done with pearl cotton which is purchased also from the importers, however this can be found in needlework shops.
Inside the bear, in order for it to have five way jointing like a doll(The head turns, and the arms and legs move) I use metal and hardboard or wood joints. Hardboard is used on the smaller pieces which also comes from the supplier. Wood, which I cut out with a drill and a hole saw is used on the bigger pieces. Actually R does that part for me now, but I used to do it myself before he came along. The metal parts are bought at a hardware store. There is no way for these to come apart without destroying the bear once they are assembled.
They are then stuffed with a combination of polyfil and plastic pellets to give them that wonderful feel everyone who sees me at a show comments on. I have been told many, many times they are so huggable. That is my goal! *Smiles* It's a shame you can't feel things and see the attention to detail when you buy them on the internet. Sadly photographs just can't tell the whole story.
Last but not least is the distressing process...however that is my secret. Hey a girl has to keep a little mystery right? I have developed techniques over the years that work for me. It's kind of a smoke and mirrors process to create something that looks stained and worn from years of being played with, but really isn't. I am extremely picky about things being hermetic, and I have worked very hard to create a well loved look that is sanitary and won't fade away or harm the mohair. You have to be careful what you apply to the mohair because certain things can erode the cotton backing over time.
When all of this is done, the bear is costumed, photographed and put out there for adoption. Many of their costume pieces are hand made as well.
The quality of supplies combined with all of the work that goes into each piece accounts for why they cost what they do. Despite that, I keep my prices on the lower end of the scale so that they are affordable.
While my works are meant as a collectibles, they are also assembled with the intention of lasting for many generations even if they are handled a great deal. No artisan can insure that nothing will ever go wrong, but I do my very best to try to make sure they are going to last for many years to come.