How to make a memory bear from a shirt
1. Cut the collar, pocket and cuffs away from the shirt
Before you start to cut out your bear, remove and save all the details. Using the buttons, cuffs and other details can really add character to your finished bear.
Cut the collar and button placket away from the remainder of the shirt leaving around 3cm or an inch of fabric margin around it. You are leaving the margin so you have enough to work with later on. The placket is the folded and hemmed strip at the front of the shirt where the buttons and button holes sit. Also cut away, with a fabric margin, the shirt cuffs and the pocket if there is one.
The bears pictured in this article are:
The two bears below were made by Niki Lamb from a shirt and jumper. These clothes were worn by her client’s sadly departed Father. You can see more of Niki’s work at Little Lamb Loves on Facebook
2. Plan your bear
if you are using more than one shirt decide whether to use different patterns on the insides and outsides of the bear’s arms and legs. Or you can choose to make most of the bear from one shirt, then use a contrasting shirt for the ears and paws.
Decide now which details you want to use from the shirt(s). If you want to use the cuffs fold the fabric margin under the cuff out of sight, and tack or glue them onto the bear’s arm pieces
To use a shirt pocket you will probably want to reduce the size. So fold under the excess and trim it. Then sew onto your bear’s chest.
You do not ‘have’ to use any of the details from the shirts. This memory bear below by Louise Brown is sewn from the fabric of the shirts and looks perfect just as he is. Louise says “This bear was made from my Dad’s shirts. Sadly, we lost Dad this year and I made this to give to my Mam as a surprise on my Dad’s birthday in July, he’s my first attempt at Charlie bear and my Mam loves him.”
3. Interface the remaining shirt fabric
Shirt fabric can stretch and bulge when you stuff your memory bear. So to prevent this happening interface all the pieces of fabric before cutting them out and sewing them together.
Which interfacing should you use for a memory bear? I use a medium weight cotton woven interfacing. It stabilises the fabric, stops the stretch and helps give a smooth finish to the completed memory bear.
The trio of bears below were made by Jo-Anne Wingrove. She says “I made these chaps using 5 of Gramps’ shirts. One for my Nan (they had been married 70 years) and one for my mother and my auntie. I’m going to gift them to them at Christmas as it will be our first Christmas without him.”
4. Sew and stuff your bear
All of my bear patterns come with a photo tutorial so use this to help you sew.
Sam Roberts (whose bear is shown below) says “This is my first attempt at sewing! My Dad recently passed away and I have nieces and nephews in Australia. My Mum is flying out this week for two months – my challenge was to sew three bears for the Aussie kids from Grandad’s shirts as Christmas presents. I’m really chuffed with them.”
5. If you are going to use the shirt collar
Do this step last. Prepare the collar by folding the fabric margin inside out of sight and hem it neatly, trim away any excess. Pop the collar over your completed bear’s head. Check if the collar fits nicely.
Often the collar will be too large. To reduce the size turn it inside out. Put it back on the bear and at the center back of the collar pinch the excess. Pin it to the correct size. Turn the collar through and put it back on your bear to double check. Once you are happy with the size sew the back of the collar and cut away the extra fabric. Press the seam open so it is neat.
Put the collar onto the bear and attach it with a ladder stitch. You will be able to run the needle just inside the edge of the collar and then dip it in and out of the bear’s body fabric. Pull the ladder stiches tight as you go so that they disappear.
Laura Farley sewed this next bear from a single red striped shirt. He is absolutely fabulous and Laura sews bears for customers, you can find her at Farley’s Angels on Facebook.
These next 2 Betsy Bears were sewn by Jennifer James from a customer’s Grandad’s rugby shirt. She says “I just cut the collar off the rugby top leaving about 2cm from where I cut to allow me enough to turn it under and sew a neater edge. Then I just hand stitched it in place.”
Of course it’s not just bears you can sew from shirts! JLPC made this mouse using my Rowan pattern. She says “It’s lovely fabric to sew. I am an amateur sewer who sews only for a hobby. I made these from my friend’s shirts. I helped his wife to clear his clothes, it was too hard to part with things, but what do you do with them? So many memories held in that fabric. The family really love the bear and mouse I made, which makes me very proud.”
And here are more gorgeous bears
Di Holloway didn’t just sew this bear from her client’s shirt and tie, she also adapted her customer’s Dad’s dressing gown to fit. Di says “I make memory bears as a small business my page is on Facebook at Granny Di Creates”
Teresa Brown sewed this blue bear and 4 others using her Dad’s shirts and other items of clothing. She made the hat from a pair of his trousers.
Jill Vaughn Boon sewed this delightful checked bear from her Pastor’s shirt. She says “I tried this one with keeping the buttons intact as the shirt was.” I love the way he’s looking up!
Ann Norman says “This (next bear pictured) was my 2nd Charlie Bear which I made for my Mum in memory of my Dad who passed away in 2020. I made Charlie from 3 different shirts and a tie of Dad’s. My first Charlie Bear was made for my daughter for my grandson also made from my Dad’s shirts, sadly he didn’t get to meet his 5th Great Grandchild.”
Katie Nelson says “These bears were made using my Grandparents’ shirts, my Mother’s parents. My Mom had been saving the shirts for 5 years, hoping to do it, but didn’t have the time. I thought your Betsy Bear pattern was the perfect fit! The turquoise check is my Grandma’s shirt, and the blue is my Grandpa’s shirt. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed making them, and following along with this group!
If you would like support as you sew your memory bear – my Facebook group is at Cwtch and Bloom Makers Club. The group members give each other support and encouragement as they sew, and share photos of their Cwtch and Bloom makes.
This next memory bear was sewn by Angie Cuthbert from her daughter in law’s Uncle Tony’s shirts who died after contracting Covid. She says “these bears bought comfort to all the family after such a tragic loss.”
Liz Gregory added a ribbon to match the blue of one of these shirts. She says “I love making Charlie Bear out of a shirt, I think they look really smart.” Liz also sews memory bears for customers, her business page is at Cherished Teddy Bears.
And last but definitely not least…. This fabulous pair were made by Caroline Morrison of Unique Memory Bears and Keepsakes…. These are not just bears made from shirts but bears who are also wearing shirts!
The bears pictured in this article are
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