“I SMELT him and I knew exactly who it was. Oh my God, it’s Whitey!”
A video popped up on my Facebook newsfeed recently where a young woman exclaimed those words tearfully as she opened a gift she received from her fiance. The young man had just reunited her with her childhood companion, her teddy bear.
It is unclear how he got the teddy bear back, but the reaction of his wife-to-be was priceless and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear.
A teddy bear is a common childhood icon that most people have owned in their lifetime. The fact is some people never outgrow their teddy bears. I still own a couple that occupy half my bed. There’s Stevie, the red furry Liverpool FC bear that a close friend gave me, and then there’s Mr B, a World War 2 pilot teddy bear complete with goggles and all — a gift all the way from Berlin, Germany. As it is Teddy Bear Day today, I’ve decided that learning to make a teddy bear would be a suitable ode to my two constant companions.
THE STORY BEHIND TEDDY BEARS
The name “teddy” is believed to have been given by a candy shop owner in Brooklyn, New York, who created this stuffed toy in honour of President Theodore Roosevelt and his fateful hunting trip. The president couldn’t locate a single brown bear during his hunt in Mississippi. Unwilling to disappoint the president, his assistant caught one and tied it up for the former to shoot. However the 26th president of the United States refused to do so, believing such a kill would be unsportsmanlike.
News of this event spread like wildfire. Political cartoonist Clifford Berryman decided to lampoon the bespectacled President and the furry, sweet-faced bear he had refused to shoot. That cartoon inspired the candy shop owner to create a stuffed toy bear and name it Teddy’s Bear. This was later mass-produced with Roosevelt’s permission.
Since the teddy bear’s invention, Winnie-the-Pooh, Paddington Bear, Yogi and Boo-Boo Bear, Smokey, and Sesame Street’s Fozzie Bear, to name a few, have become much-loved friends and iconic toys from the bear kingdom.
Psychologists explain our connection with the teddy bear as “transitional”. Children rely on teddies as secret confidants that give them the courage to move gradually from being totally dependent on their parents.
“The teddy bear represents something comfortable, safe and a constant that children can rely on. Think about how life as a child is like; almost anything they see or experience is new, exciting and sometimes scary. Having a constant, reliable companion like a teddy bear can be very reassuring for a child,” explains Joel Low, director and clinical psychologist at The Mind Psychological Services and Training.
What about with adults? According to Low, when adults are overwhelmed with life due to stress at work or arguments with friends and family, they may long for objects that gave them comfort as children. “Some reach out to parents and loved ones. Others may turn to a favourite teddy bear or other objects of comfort,” he says.
MAKING A TEDDY BEAR
Stevie and Mr B have been my objects of comfort but it is time to expand my support system. My quest for another companion for my two bears led me to a craft shop in Bangsar. Craft doyen Harvinder Kaur Gill conducts teddy bear making classes on demand and it’s only fitting that I join her class on Teddy Bear Day!
Pulling open the glass door, I take in the splash of colours all around the small cosy shop. Quilts of different sizes and patchworks are stacked right in the middle while rolls of colourful fabric are piled against the walls. Neat rolls of ribbons and threads of all types occupy another spot. It’s a veritable treasure trove for sewing enthusiasts!
A woman with short grey hair, clad in a black knee-length dress, approaches me and introduces herself with a smile. She’s none other than Harvinder. “So are you ready to make your teddy bear?” asks the soft-spoken Harvinder and I respond with an enthusiastic “Yes!”
She tells me that beginners should start with fabric and learn to master the skills first before moving on to fur. “Get the technique right first,” advises Harvinder before revealing that her students range from 6- to 90-year-olds.
I get the accelerated learning version as the actual workshop can last more than four hours. She skips the early steps of cutting the fabric using a paper pattern, revealing that she draws these patterns on paper by memory.
Harvinder chooses a soft red and white polka dot woven fabric for my teddy’s body, with off-white and red chequered fabric for the ears, parts of the face, foot and paw pads. “The fabric is strong with high quality thread and an even number of weaves. It’s also washable,” explains Harvinder as she shows me the markings she’s made inside the fabric for the seams.
She then instructs me to pin the cloth together for easy sewing. Settling into a chair in front of a sewing machine, she begins to sew carefully following the markings, leaving a small opening on each part for the stuffing process.
PASSION FOR CRAFTS
“I find satisfaction in craft-making. You work out your emotions and feelings into something beautiful. It makes me happy,” shares the 60-year-old former nursing lecturer as we flip the sewn fabric and place all of teddy’s parts on the wooden table.
“Ok, now we can stuff the bear,” she says, smiling, as she brings out a big bag of fibre. As we start stuffing the bear, she continues: “I started the business in 1995 featuring mostly embroidery work. Today, I prefer making more practical things like travel bags and jackets.”
The grandmother of four admits to being fussy when it comes to selecting toys for her children and grandchildren. “I want something safe for them, which is why I prefer making my own toys. My first handmade teddy bear was named Lauren, after my eldest daughter. Now that I have grandchildren, I always make toys for them,” she reveals as she attaches the limbs to the bear with a needle and thread.
I watch in awe as she deftly sews a button on each side of the limbs. This method, says Harvinder, adds more dexterity to the limbs. After almost two hours being transfixed by the way she works her art, my new teddy bear is born. He looks rather dapper with a big beige ribbon around his neck.
Now, what should I call him? I wonder aloud as I carefully place the teddy bear inside my bag.
“Let him tell you what his name should be,” replies Harvinder, chuckling as she takes in my bewildered expression.
When I reach home, I place him next to Stevie and Mr B, trying to figure out a name. Looking at his long cheekbones and the wide space between his eyes, I realise how familiar he looks. There and then, it hits me and I finally get his name. Benedict Cumberbear!
Teddy Bear Making Classes
Where Quilt Gallery, LG 18, Bangsar Village 1, 1, Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur
When On demand
Contact 03-2282 5789