So, you are feeling sentimental about some clothing. You don’t want it in a box or wardrobe hidden away. You have the idea for a keepsake bear, but now what? It looks like a daunting task and you don’t want to mess up the clothing because it’s too precious.
Here are some of the secrets of keepsake making for you …
1 Practice first
Don’t go anywhere near that dearly loved clothing with a pair of scissors until you have practised on some basic fabric. I mean some spare fabric from your stash if you have one. Or some clothes that have been discarded by a family member as they are old or grown out of.
If you don’t have anything appropriate have a look in your local charity shop. You will be helping them, and also saving money on buying new fabric just for a trial run.
Either way try to use a fabric that is similar to the precious clothing your want to use for your keepsake bear, so you know how it will behave when sewn and stuffed!
2 Get a pattern that fits your ability
Some patterns are very carefully explained with lots of pictures. Or come with the ability to contact the pattern maker if you get stuck.
If the pattern says experienced sewers only, don’t buy it if you are brand new to sewing!
I know it sounds obvious but it’s easy to get carried away by a cute head shape or pretty paw pad…
I’ve done it myself and bought darling patterns that I later find out need me to know how to use cotter joints, or had me frantically searching YouTube for a tutorial.
This next piece of advice is linked…
3 Once you’ve got your pattern read it through first
And then put any terms you don’t understand into Google or YouTube. You might be a really experienced dress maker but not know how to use safety eyes. Or have made all sorts of home ware items but never used a ladder stitch.
Practice the new skill, before you start bear making…
4 Match the stripes or checks or use in a way that won’t show if you can’t!
When you lay out your pattern pieces on your precious clothing, if your stripes or checks are wonky your bear will look wonky. Fact!
If you are nervous about matching stripes, you can try turning them round so they run vertically on your bear not horizontally.
On the bears below I used the plain shirts for the bear’s bellies, and then placed stripes of different widths next to each other on the limbs. I sewed these two bears from a much missed grandad’s clothing. He was affectionately known as Grumpy, so I embroidered this on the paw pads.
5 Use all the details from the clothes
Using the details like button plackets, pockets, patterns etc will all add character. If the pockets are a bit big don’t be afraid to trim them to a better size and re hem.
The more details you can add the more memories the completed bear will trigger. Because you are going to use a good quality interfacing (see next step) you can use the clothing in which ever direction will best fit your pattern pieces. So go for it. Use the logos, the insignias, and the buttons, and anything else your clothing has.
6 Use interfacing
Clothing is often made with stretch in it. A bit of stretch makes clothes comfier. But when you stuff it your carefully crafted bear will stretch and loose it’s looks if you don’t stabilise it.
An iron on woven cotton interfacing will remove the stretch. Once the stretch has gone you can also use the fabric in any direction that suits you. No need to think about fabric direction. Purely about how to best show off the designs on the clothing.
You’ve chosen your test fabric, ironed on your interfacing, cut it out and you are ready to sew…
The bear above was sewn as a wedding anniversary present for a couple who loved to travel. Each flag is for a country they had explored.
7 Set your sewing machine to sew little stitches.
If you use a big stitch when you stuff your bear it will strain the stitches so you can see them all. So set a small stitch on your machine and the stitches will stay invisible. Especially if you’ve chosen a cotton thread that matches your fabric.
8 Snip the curves
Pinking shears will make this WAY faster. If you try to eliminate this step, you’ll get awkward shapes on the curved elements of your bear. You don’t want to make a ton of effort only to find once you’ve turned and stuffed your bear that its arms look kind of spiky!
While you are snipping it’s often worth trimming any excess fabric from the seam allowances. Then as you sew the next element to it you won’t get a bump and wobble where your machine has encountered a bulk of fabric.
This rule doesn’t apply though where you are setting 2 seams against each other and want them to match beautifully.
In this case nest your seams. By this I mean, fold or press the seams of one piece in one direction. Fold or press the seam of the other piece in the opposite direction. When you pin the 2 elements together butt the excess fabric of the seam allowances against each other and put a pin through the join. The fabrics will lock together to create a neat junction.
9 Follow the directions for the paw pads.
Match the fabric edges, pin from paw to leg all the way round. Turn the leg over and pin again from leg through to paw. You can’t pin too much! Once your paw pad looks like a bristly hedgehog place it paw pad down on the sewing machine and sew slowly. And clip those curves!
10 Stuff with little bits
All sewn and ready to stuff? Don’t hurry this step. Get little bits of stuffing and poke them into your bear one at a time.
Use a plastic chopstick or a knitting needle. Push the stuffing in all the way until it meets the end of the fabric. Then get some more. Repeat until your bear is stuffed. If your fabric maker has given directions for which element of the bear to stuff first follow them.
Once you have finished stuffing your keepsake bear, don’t close it up immediately. Put it away for 24 hours. When you return to it your original stuffing will have settled a bit and you will now be able to get some more in. This second stuffing will help your bear stay firm and gorgeous for longer!
A combo of good interfacing and good stuffing technique will make your completed keepsake look so much more professional.
11 Buy a good pattern
Buy a keepsake bear pattern that fits your needs & abilities.
This video is a Keepsake Bear I have made from a customer’s precious clothing using my pattern now available from my website shop HERE
Pattern featured is my own Charlie Bear pattern to see or buy the pattern click here.