Hazards of Being a Fiber Artist

What are the Dangers of Creating Art with Fibers?

Being a teddy bear artist or needle felter  is not all fun and games.  Sure, you get to bring darling little creatures made of fibers to life.  Sounds simple and safe, right?

Helpful Safety Tools

  1. Tool Caddy
  2. Wrist Pin Cushion
  3. Magnet on a Stick
  4. Face Masks
  5. Lint Remover
  6. Vacuum Cleaner with crevice or keyboard attachments

Beware of Sharp Objects

Most obviously, you are working with sharp pointy objects. I once was working on bears with tools all over my table. Somehow, I managed to knock a very sharp scissors off the table and it landed with one blade stuck in my leg!  There was blood. My husband rushed me to the Urgent Care where they fixed me up. I still have a scar to remind me to be careful. Now I have a jar or vase or some container handy to keep those pointy tools corralled and I put them back in whenever I am not using them!

Then there are pins and needles. When my kids were young, I often worked in the family room so I could be with them. I’d stick pins and needles in the arm of my chair or couch. That could be painful and I stopped doing it when my little boy got big enough that he wouldn’t fit in my armchair with me and started snuggling beside me on the chair arm.

The handiest place to store your needle when you are moving around is often in your shirt. If your hands are full and you need a place, that shirt (or whatever you are wearing) front is always there. Trouble is, if you make a wrong move, you can stab yourself! There is also the possibility of sending it through the wash. Heaven knows where that would end up. Wearing a wrist pin cushion gives you a handy place to stick those pins and needles

Of course, many of these weapons end up on the floor. They are not always easy to see down there, depending on the surface. A magnet on a long handle is a good tool to have in your defense arsenal.

Hand Injury

The small, often repetitive, motions involved in creating many fiber art pieces can result in injury to your hands and wrists. Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most well-known condition. You can develop cramps in your hands and fingers, numbness, joint pain, etc. Taking frequent breaks and varying your activities can help prevent wear and tear on your hands. There are many braces or gloves on the market that will help relieve these problems if you already have them. Topical ointments can also help.  See your doctor for advice and treatment.

Fibers are Forever

The next hazard is the very materials you use. You are working with fibers.  Fibers separate and float in the air.  It’s easy to breathe them in to your nose and lungs. Wearing a face mask is a good habit to form. Post pandemic, this should be a piece of cake!

I knew a woman who made and sold an incredible number of bears per year. She had a real production line going. She and her husband cut out so many bears that there was fur flying everywhere. Her husband solved most of that problem by cutting a slot in a table for a shop vacuum. Cut pieces were passed over the vacuum slot and the loose fur fiber was sucked away! Necessity is truly the mother of invention!

If you are making small pieces or needle-felting, you might find that sticky lint removers or a vacuum cleaner nozzle designed for cleaning keyboards or other small spaces will work for you.

Find Time for Fitness

Being a fiber artist is mostly a sedentary occupation.  Ever try to sew or needle felt while standing up or walking?  Then there are the increasingly necessary jobs of updating your website and keeping up your marketing efforts on social media. The human body is not designed for sitting for long periods and it can lead to all kinds of health problems.

Years ago I attended a presentation by an artist who explained how she made so many teddy bears.  Basically, each day, she got herself situated in a recliner with her materials all around her and did not move out of that chair for hours. I would be surprised if she is alive and healthy today. You certainly do not hear about her making bears, so maybe she gave up that sedentary lifestyle.

Set up a schedule for working that includes regular breaks for taking a walk, going to the gym, dancing, gardening, or however you  prefer to incorporate activity into your routine. Nowadays there is really no excuse for spending long hours seated at your work. You can ask your home virtual assistant to remind you or set a reminder on your smart phone or fitness tracker.

Be Safe, Have Fun

I hope if you take some of these precautions, you will be healthy and happy creating with fibers! If you have some more tips for the fiber artist community, please respond in the comments below.

Can you still find good old bears for a reasonable price?

Found Things

Can you still find good old bears for a reasonable price?

It appears the answer is yes – if you are in the right place at the right time. People always seem to put big prices on old bears around here even if they have no idea what kind of bear it is.  But, you still can find the odd vendor who doesn’t usually deal in old mohair teddy bears and views old toys in less than pristine condition as having low value.  I think the secret in bear hunting is to visit antique  and vintage shops frequently.
My daughter was in town and we went shopping on a Friday. I was thinking it was too bad I wouldn’t be able to find a fun bear. They are scarce around here. Imagine my surprise when I found this fellow at Found Things.
The vendor, a nice lady,  had just put him out.  She was surprised that I had swooped in on the bear which had been her childhood companion. She was downsizing and finally decided to see if anyone would want him. The price tag was $25. She looked a little dubious when I read the tag like she regretted setting the price so low, but said she was happy he was going to a collector. I thanked her and sped up to the front desk to claim my prize.
He has some issues, but, don’t we all. His mohair is sparse, but in good condition – no dry rot! His pads have been covered with a woven fabric and the visible felt has some moth holes. His nose and mouth seem to have been re-stitched at some point and his muzzle could probably use some extra stuffing. His joints are working fine. One eye is a bit cloudy. Cataracts?
I am guessing he is an American bear. From the looks of his former owner, he was probably made in the late 1940s . He’s 20 inches tall with a high, wide forehead that gives him a baby-like expression.
I was thrilled, especially when I could hear other shoppers asking about him when he was at the front desk waiting for me to finish shopping. (Dec 2017)

A Smiling Bear Comes Home

I have made a lot of teddy bears over the years. My friend Bettina Groh actually keeps track of how many she has made (over 6,000), but I have no idea how many of mine are out there. Bettina has continued to make and sell bears while I have been back at the office, so I am sure she is way ahead of me! One thing most bear makers have in common is that we don’t keep many bears that we have designed and made.

Katie an open mouth bearReconnecting with Bear Lovers

One of my favorite designs from my past is a 9-inch tall open mouthed bear designed with doll-like proportions so that I could easily dress him/her. My friend Marijke alerted me that one of these was up for sale on Bear Pile a while back. I had sold this teddy bear to Diana Helfand who had a shop, Nana’s Bears, in Hawaii years ago. I reconnected with Diana, and my bear, named Katie for my oldest child, was soon back home! It was great to reconnect with a fellow bear lover and get my little bear back.

Open Mouth Bears

I have always been fascinated by bears with open mouths. Many are not done well. It is not easy to pull off, especially on a small bear. When I joined the Iowa Teddy Bear Makers’ Guild, I met artist Nan Wright who specialized in bears with open mouths and leather tongues! Perhaps Nan influenced me to give it a try. I haven’t made many bears with tongues, notably one for my friend Janny depicting her son who always had his little tongue out while concentrating.

These teddy bears were all made as individuals using different fur and dressing them differently. I maybe made a dozen of them at most back then. There were a couple of witches, some in costumes I made, and some in vintage doll clothing. I made Katie’s dress. A testament to how well Diana kept her, Katie’s dress is just as crisply pressed as when I put her in the box to travel to Hawaii.

Dolls vs Bears

The whole reason why I changed from making dolls to making bears in the first place was highly influenced by the fact that bears didn’t need to be dressed. However, I enjoy finding vintage doll clothing that will fit the bears in my collection and dressing them for different occasions. I used to make cute clothes for my kids when they were little and still find fabric that I want to work with, so, lacking grandchildren, I sometimes must dress my bears.

Would I Keep Examples in the Future?

I haven’t been making many bears since the economy tanked and bear shows and bear shops started disappearing. I have a steady income, so selling bears is more a source of “play money” than necessity these days. Without that constant need to make bears for multiple shops and 10 – 12 bear shows a year, I haven’t had the need to make multiples of the same bear. This makes it more difficult to keep an example of each design for my own archives. Since I haven’t worked very hard at marketing what I make, there are unsold bears around the house. When I do have a sales opportunity, I confess there are some that I hold back. So, if I see a bear I made long ago come up on the secondary market, will I try to get it?  Of course, I will!

A Ray of Steiff Sunshine in the Pandemic

I haven’t posted since Easter for several reasons. First, all of my favorite shows which I chronicle on here were cancelled! I was sad at first. One after another of the highlights of the season were denied. We were forced to leave the office and work from home. As someone who does social media for a community bank, we were BUSY! Our CEO was interviewed by the news media. Our bankers were busy round the clock handling the Payroll Protection Plan loans. Our customers needed reassuring and we needed to adapt to our lobbies being closed to the public for a couple of months. My social media content calendar was full and subject to sudden changes consistent with the times.  I didn’t have much chance to think about bears or Santas or making things.

My garden became my focus away from my computer. I did, however, manage to find a little mascot to add to my collection.

Steiff mini bear on a chairMiniature Steiff Bear

This is a Steiff miniature with the best face! He was probably 1950s vintage and retains his button in the ear. I have a lot of these little fellows, but this guy’s face won my heart and he has kept me company by my computer while I have been working from home. You can still see the thread where his chest tag was attached. I would say he has pretty much all of his fur, so maybe wasn’t a child’s pocket companion! My friend Marijke sent me a package of goodies with this little chair included., so he sits here like someone’s toy waiting for the owner to come home and hug him.

If you position him carefully, he can stand by himself.

A lot of times, these little fellows have lost their fur, had their noses kissed off, had their buttons removed by protective parents, or have been squished into an odd pose from being stored away in a box or drawer. While this gives them a lot of charm, this guy is perfect. He was a lucky find and brought me a lot of joy in a dark time.

He won’t be relegated to a group display any time soon!

Bear Hunts in the Pandemic

The pandemic of 2020 has turned our world upside down. It’s been hard to find bright spots in all of the uncertainty.

Teddy Bears Give Comfort

It’s well known that teddy bears give comfort to young and old in stressful times. It’s why organizations like Good Bears of the World exist to provide teddy bears to emergency responders of all kinds – police, firefighters, medical professionals – to comfort people in distress. Teddy bears are a universal symbols of love.

Bears in Windows

I was heartened recently to hear of people putting teddy bears in their windows so that children walking or riding by could spot them. In this weird time in history, teddy bears are contributing to the delight and distraction of children in a massive bear hunt across the world!

Of course, there are bears to be seen at our house. I am going to try to mix it up a bit since a lot of people walk by our house and I am seeing a lot more families strolling by since people are staying at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Perhaps my bears can be a point of light in this darkness.

Making a Neighborhood Bear Hunt Fun

Children are going to see a variety of bears on their neighborhood bear hunts. To spice things up, families can try a variation of license plate games we used to play on car trips. Assign points for different kinds of bears they might see based on rarity. For example:

Type of Bear Points
Traditional Stuffed Brown/Tan bear 1
Panda Bear 3
Unusual Colored Bear (Red, Blue, Green…) 5
Advertising Bear 7
Carved Wood Bear 10
Realistic Bear 15

Of course, the prize for the most points could be just the satisfaction of finding the most bears, but wouldn’t it be fun to reward the hunt with some kind of bear? Gummy bears, bear stickers, or some other teddy bear trinket would do.

You might want to make it a family affair, especially if you have small children. When someone spies a bear, take a photo of it and print them out to make a craft when you get home.

Other activities might be a teddy bear picnic in the back yard, simple teddy bear face cutouts that children can color, or a teddy bear parade around the neighborhood.

Teddy Bear Collecting Starts with the Young at Heart

Those of you who know me or have followed me for a while know that my whole bear hunt/teddy bear journey started when I was very young. A lot of our future collecting is based on things we were attracted to, loved, treasured or wished for when we were young.

I hope these children remember the bear hunts and continue the tradition for generations to come.

Easter 2020

Easter 2020 is weird amid the Covid-19 pandemic. All of us who celebrate Christianity’s most holy day of the year are missing our families. We can attend church services virtually or replay the sound of dear voices raised in cherished Easter hymns in our minds.We can only hope that our social distancing is helping to stem the spread of this disease and we’ll be together next year.

I thought I would share a little Easter cheer in the form of some of my collection of bunnies. It’s not all bears, you know! Spring is time for bunnies. In fact, I scared the Easter bunny the other day as I poked around in my garden to see what is blooming and what is poking out of the soil to delight me in the weeks ahead. Boy, he sure can run!

This is my Easter cabinet display. The plush bunnies are all by Steiff with one Leghorn rooster in the lower right corner by Joel Hoy!

Blessed Easter, everyone! I am grateful today for my memories of Easters past.

My Birthday Bear 2020

birthday bear 2020When I found out that I was going to be at a board meeting in Kansas City on my birthday this year, I figured I’d better buy myself a new bear. Sounds good, right? I would have bought myself a new birthday bear anyway!

This happy fellow is a 14 inch tall chocolate brown fully articulated Steiff mohair bear. I am not familiar with this fellow. He seems to be a cross between a Teddy Baby and a Zotty. I collect Teddy Baby, but not Zotty. I am a sucker for open mouth bears done well, and this one is done well. He’s in perfect condition and has a beautiful growler. If you know anything about this guy, please let me know. Steiff EAN# 008504

My board meeting went well. It’s always great to see this group of women. I did not have time to do any antiquing, which was sad. It was just before we were really aware that this pandemic was going to change our lives dramatically. Many of the antique shows that I look forward to in the spring have been cancelled. Bear hunting is going to be difficult.

Purple Bears for Rett Syndrome Research

The First Purple Rett Bear – SOLD

Every year I do some fundraising for Rett Syndrome research in honor of Emma Larson who suffers from the condition. The Cure Rett Iowa Strollathon does a fantastic job and has raised an impressive amount of money each year. They have an silent auction of donated items and the first year I participated, I found that the people who come to these things do not understand what an artist bear is or how much it might be worth. I ended up offering it online at the same time as the auction and it sold for a respectable amount to Mostly Bears owner Trish Stoll. Thanks, Trish!

This year I am bypassing the auction and will just put the bear up for collectors to buy online with the funds going directly to my Rett fundraiser account on rettsyndrome.org. This has worked well for everyone in the past. It will also let me do my own thing as far as designing the bear without worrying about catering to potential buyers at the auction.

Stay tuned for updates!

A Teddy Bear Outstanding in His Field

Coming back from Christmas in the country with my siblings and their families, we stopped to take a photo. I am always on a bear hunt and couldn’t pass this one up!
hay bale bear
Turns out my sister’s co-worker knows the family who made the bear. I have seen bears made out of hay bales and odds and ends several times in my travels. It speaks to the universal appeal of the teddy bear as a symbol of love, peace, and good will.

2019 Santa Collection

In a nod to my love of all things Christmas, I have been making needle-felted Santas and reindeer every year. This year’s collection had make-do Santas mounted on various antique industrial spools. In the past, my Santas have pretty much all carried a teddy bear – obviously. But this year, I wanted to change it up a bit. I found a couple of lots of antique putz stick-leg horses that were affordable enough to include in my pieces without making them outrageously expensive. I have been collecting the spools for a few years, as artists do, trying to amass a group that I could use for something.

I was a bit stymied by a bunch of flat spools that I got from Sandee Millet at Greenwood Merchantile in Greenwood, MO. I knew they would be good bases for figures, but wasn’t sure how I would use them. It took me several months of back-burner ruminating, but I finally figured it out. I needed a tiny figure!

These little guys were well-received and I will be making more for next year. The flat spools are not as readily available as some of the other styles, so I will be on the hunt for more!

I did not have time to make any Santa bears, so I will work on those for next Christmas also. I have the one polar bear started and I think he will just be carrying a tiny Santa doll of his own.