Bears I have known

Rusty & friendsBears I Have Known

As a child I had no bear of my own, which may explain my later preoccupation with the species. I was given many dolls, but they never captured my heart. My elder brother acquired a bear as a first birthday present, and although he never, as far as I could tell, ever played with Ted, he sturdily resisted all my efforts to annex him.

When Reg was twelve, and I ten, our aunt decided that we were too old for such toys, and said we should give them to the children’s ward at the hospital where she worked. To my surprise and rage, mother agreed, and Ted and two of my least battered dolls went off to “The General”. The other dolls were too knocked about to be acceptable, being the survivors of train crashes, car accidents, and any other fearful games we could think up. I was the only girl in a gang of my two brothers and several boy cousins, so I played boy’s games and thoroughly enjoyed them, much to the disgust of my aunts, whose constant cry was “Why can’t she be more ladylike?”

Ted and the dolls spent all of three days on that children’s ward, and then, with all the other toys and books on the ward, were consigned to the incinerator, as there was an outbreak of scarlet fever, and they were condemned as “Fomites”. When we discovered that this hitherto unknown word meant carriers of infection, it became our favoured term of abuse for quite a time.

During the war I made sock dolls for small friends, but not bears and it wasn’t until I had children of my own, in the 50s, that I thought of trying. I made a set of Winnie-the-Pooh glove puppets, adapting a Dryad pattern for some, and making up the others, from mohair coating offcuts and any other fabrics I could find in the local market. They weren’t marvellous, but the children loved them and I was encouraged to try other toys. The longest lived of these were the tiny bears and pandas I knitted by what seemed to be the dozens, and one of which, Rusty, has survived and belongs to a grandson.

Margaret Hutchings and Rudi de Sarigny, whom I met through the W.I., provided patterns, and it was Rudi who encouraged me to start designing.

My bears are loosely based on A.A. Milnes hero, Teddy Bear, who is “short and fat”, having grown “tubby without exercise”, and come in many colours and sizes. Henry Moore, a scarlet ted about four inches high is still mourned by my daughter who left him in her room when she checked out of an hotel in Thailand. Try describing a teddy to someone who has never seen a real bear, let alone a teddy, in a language which hasn1t got the words!

Clubs is a sleek black bear made at the request of my second daughter who collected a number of bears in her childhood, and still has some of them. Pud, whose full name is Syrup Pudding Esquire, is, alas, languishing in our loft, waiting to be disembowelled and re-stuffed. He was one of my very early efforts and was stuffed with offcuts of plastic foam, as I knew no better in those days. His fur is the colour of a really good ginger pudding, but not of very good quality, so I don’t know how he will stand up to his renovation.

The last bear I restuffed was a Wendy Boston Safety bear, Pinky. His foam stuffing had turned into a dark reddish brown sludge, which had to be scooped out with a teaspoon! Luckily all the little bits sticking on the inside washed off nicely with a good Dreft lather. He is now on his second spell of duty, at boarding school with my grandson, a little faded, it’s true, but still good for a lot of comfort.

Our two senior bears are Hairy, who was made from a left over piece of long haired furnishing fabric, and Aloysius Augustus, who was for years never stuffed, but used at toy classes to demonstrate jointing. I wasn’t very keen on his pelt, and never intended to finish him, but I was asked to set up a toy display, and it needed a dark toy to balance the design, so I finished him and he promptly became my favourite.

I’ve never counted how many bears and their relations I have made, but it must be well over a hundred, mostly for charities, and as gifts and they are to me still the most fascinating toys. I’ve just bought a most beautiful piece of fur fabric, like a red fox fur – I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

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