If you are thinking of making a memory bear for yourself, or starting a business making them, you need to know what skills and equipment are needed. As an experienced maker of memory bears, I have learnt a lot along the way.
So, here are all the insider tips you need. And I’ve put it in list form to help you… So if you are just sitting down to make a memory bear (also known as a keepsake bear or baby clothes bear) or you’re thinking about buying one and you wonder what work went into it… here’s the full how-to from someone who knows!
1.The best memory bear pattern
The very best pattern is from Funky Friends Factory and it’s called Signature Bear, Calico Teddy Bear. Just click the link to see it and buy it. This pattern has nice long wide pattern pieces so there’s plenty of room to show off the designs on the baby clothes that you are using. It’s a really easy to follow pattern, and the pattern maker Pauline McArthur provides you with a handy tick list so you can keep track of the steps you have completed and what you need to do next.
If you are going to use this pattern to sell bears you must follow this statement from the pattern maker,
The Funky Friends Factory patterns, concepts and logo are protected by international copyright protection: It is acceptable to make these toys yourself
for personal use and gifts or to sell in limited numbers if the toy is labelled or tagged ‘Made from a Funky Friends Factory pattern’. If you are selling
the toys online(eg Etsy,Facebook etc) EACH online listing/Facebook post MUST state that the toy is made using a Funky Friends Factory
Pattern. It is unacceptable to mass-produce the toys or to reproduce the patterns.
2. Choose your baby clothes well
To make a memory bear / keepsake bear you will need 6-7 pieces of clothing. Think about what will look great on your finished bear. Choose clothes that have cute designs or characters on. Pieces can look good together because they match or because they contrast.
Look for details that will add interest such as pockets or cuffs or bows. Try to think outside the box too. If there are some little characters on a fairly plain piece of fabric, maybe cut them out and sew them onto a more interesting background. Here I have used the characters from one piece of clothing to climb out the pocket of another piece of clothing. All the little details add interest and personality to your finished piece.
3. Trace the pattern
When you have printed the pattern from your computer, trace the pattern onto tracing paper or grease proof paper. Because this paper is see-through it will allow you to best place the pieces to show off the designs on the clothes.
Trace the full number of pieces that you will need to make the bear. So, you will need to trace the arm pieces 4 times, 2 internal arms and 2 external arms. Mark the pieces left internal, right internal etc. Make sure you draw on the placement of the buttons. Because you have made yourself 4 arm pieces, when you have your baby clothes laid out you will then be sure to cut out 4 different pieces of fabric to make the arms etc.
4. Place your pattern pieces wisely
As you place your pattern pieces onto the clothes fabric, think of how the designs will look when they are on the bear. So, external arms and external legs will show more than internal arms and internal legs. this is why it’s a good idea to mark your pieces up as internal and external.
On the external arms and legs the buttons will cover a bit of the fabric. Make sure you draw the button placement onto the pattern piece to start with (and you sew the button into the correct place when the bear is being constructed) so you don’t loose a crucial part of the design. If you have a cute-as-pie little character with a face it would be a crying shame to cover that character’s face with a big button, wouldn’t it!
The bear’s front will be more visible than it’s back. So get good pieces of clothing on all the 4 body panels but get the very best on the bear’s tummy.
5. Use interfacing
Once you have selected your pieces and cut them out, iron on a light weight interfacing. Baby clothes fabric is stretchy and soft. It is easy for it to pull into the wrong shape as you guide it through your sewing machine if you haven’t stabilised it with interfacing.
You will also be using pieces of fabric in different directions to which they were designed to hang. So instead of worrying about the warp and weft of the fabric, use interfacing. Buy a soft light weight interfacing, and iron it onto the back of every piece of fabric before you sew. Now your fabric is stabilised it is ready to be shown to it’s best advantage.
6. Use the right needle and stitch length
You need a ballpoint needle to sew effectively on stretchy jersey fabric. Ballpoint needles have a rounded tip. If you try to use a ‘normal’ needle on jersey fabric you will get skipped stitches and damaged fabric. In addition to using a ball point needle you must sew using a short stitch length. This will give a neater appearance to your finished bear, and it will hold the stuffing better without distorting.
7. Make a mock up head first in scrap fabric
No word of a lie, the head and in particular the placement of the ears is hard the first time round. Save yourself the headache (and swearing) of getting it wrong when you are sewing your treasured pieces of clothing by making it first in plain cotton. You might get it right first time and think I was silly to make such a fuss, or you might well think, “oh yes, this is a hard piece that needs practice I’m glad I bothered’.
8. Clip all the curves
Every time you sew a curved area, snip the curves before you start the next part. Your head piece, legs, arms etc will all look wonky instead of gently curved if you forget to clip the curves. Cut little snips into the fabric at right angles to the sewn line at intervals of half a centimeter or so. DO NOT snip through your sewn line or it will all go wrong when you try to stuff your keepsake bear.
9. Watch this video…
…before sewing the feet. Watch this video here before you start because if you get them wrong they will look messy and spoil the overall look of your memory bear. Use loads of pins, yes absolutely loads, so nothing moves into the wrong place. Feet are a brilliant place to show off a couple of extra details, like these labels and poppers.
When you have made all the sewn areas of your memory bear it is time to start stuffing it. DO NOT repeat DO NOT be mean with the stuffing! A really plump bear will look better, will sit better and will age better. Because over time the stuffing will settle. You don’t want your keepsake to go saggy and baggy…
The best way to add the stuffing to your keepsake bear is to put it in a little bit at a time and push it down with a plastic chopstick! If you put big handfuls in you will get lumps in your finished bear. Small bits put in a piece at a time and pushed in firmly before you add the next bit will give a nice even appearance.
11. Sewing the openings closed
You will have 5 openings to sew closed. 1 in each arms, 1 in each leg and one at the back of the neck. Do the arms and legs first as if they are less than perfect they are hidden in part by the curve of the body. Have a look at this video to see how to do ladder stitch, also known as slip stitch. Once you are sure you have the technique mastered, and your bear’s body and head piece is firmly stuffed sew the back opening shut.
It does make sense to sew some guide stitches (in a contrasting coloured cotton) onto either side of your opening before you sew your ladder stitch as you will have a lot of stuffing in your bear. The stuffing can cause the opening to ping open causing uneven stitches. So use your guide stitches to follow as I have on the back of this rag doll’s head.
12. Attaching the arms and legs
Before you try to sew the arms and legs to the body sew the buttons on. Don’t just sew them through the external piece of fabric but go straight through the limb. Like so,Sew them firmly using the positioning shown on the pattern. Hopefully you will be sewing them in a perfect position compared with the design detail on each limb if you followed point 4 above!
Next, and this does sound strange but it works, attach the legs then the arms using dental tape. You will find dental tape next to the floss and toothpaste in the dental care area of the chemist or supermarket. It is incredibly strong. I use it to attach arms to my rag dolls and mermaids and it easily holds 9.2kg to pass the most stringent weight limit in the CE test.
Get a long doll needle, I use a 174mm or 6 7/8”size. Sew from one leg through the body to the other leg and repeat the circuit three or four times. Start and finish in the bears groin for the legs, and arm pit for the arms so you can tie the tape off out of sight. I like to pin the tape in place once i have attached the limbs, then pull it tighter the following day as it gets a bit warm and stretchy and hard to work with after all the circuits. Don’t be tempted to wash the dental tape to remove the minty smell as it will get in a shocking tangle that you will not be able to untangle again. Just enjoy the scent!
Bonus tip: Adding just that last piece of cuteness to your memory bear…
Sew a really smiley mouth onto your keepsake bear. All those sweet little clothes and all your hard work deserve a really big smiling face.
So, if you have read this and think you are going to have a go at making your own, good luck! These are such cute characterful bears and you can really have a lot of fun choosing how to place your clothes fabrics to add maximum wow to your finished bear. If how ever you have read this far and feel a bit nervous about taking the plunge why not contact me and ask me to make one for you. Click this link, click the ‘ask a question’ box to check how long my waiting list is and I will make a gorgeous bear just for you.